Top WordPress CMS Plugins Compared and Reviewed

If you’re developing WordPress sites for clients, or if you want to make the user interface a bit easier to work with for yourself or add custom content without writing code, you may well need a CMS plugin.

CMS plugins give WordPress additional Content Management System functionality and appearance. The way in which they do this varies between plugins, but they tend to give you one or more of the following:

  • The ability to add your own branding;
  • The option to remove elements form the admin screens such as dashboard widgets and metaboxes;
  • Improvements to the user interface, making screens easier to work with;
  • Changes to the admin menus, letting you remove menu items you don’t need or rearrange the menu to suit your needs;
  • The ability to create content without writing code, such as custom post types and custom fields.

So if you want to make WordPress easier for your clients to use, customize it with your own branding and logo, or hide the fact that it’s a WordPress site altogether, there will be a CMS plugin for you.

In this post I’ll review nine CMS plugins, which between them cover a range of these features. I’ll split them into two categories: plugins for customizing the admin branding and interface, and plugins for creating custom content. If you want to create a fully CMS-like experience with your WordPress site, the chances are you’ll need at least one of each.

Plugins for Admin Customization and Branding

Plugins in this category generally let you add your own logo, customize the look of the admin screens, and/or remove elements of the admin screens such as dashboard widgets and metaboxes on editing screens.

I’m going to rate them according to five criteria:

  • Ease of use;
  • Branding functionality;
  • Improvements to the UI;
  • Improvements to admin menus; and
  • Ability to edit or remove screen elements such as dashboard widgets and metaboxes.

So, let’s take a look at some plugins.

Ultimate Branding

Ultimate Branding

Ultimate Branding

The Good

  • Wide range of branding options
  • Add your logo to the login screen, admin footer and admin bar
  • Remove dashboard widgets and add your own welcome widget
  • Add custom help content
  • Multisite compatible – brand your entire network
  • Amend the look of the admin screens by adding CSS

The Bad

  • Some parts of the interface aren't very intuitive (e.g. adding help text)
  • Few options to improve the UI
  • Only one admin menu item can be removed
  • No option to remove metaboxes in editing screens

Ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Branding Options:
  • Improves UI:
  • Admin Menu Options:
  • Dashboard Widgets / Metaboxes:
  • Overall:

CMS Tree Page View

CMS Tree Page View

CMS Tree Page View

The Good

  • Makes managing lots of Pages much easier
  • Can also be used with posts and custom post types

The Bad

  • Only does one thing! (but does it well)

Ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Branding Options:
  • Improves UI:
  • Admin Menu Options:
  • Dashboard Widgets / Metaboxes:
  • Overall:

Admin Branding

Admin Branding

Admin Branding

The Good

  • User-friendly branding customization with a color picker
  • Customize the login screen with your logo and color customization
  • Remove dashboard widgets and rename the dashboard
  • Custom admin footer text and message
  • Option to hide mentions of
  • Option to add custom CSS

The Bad

  • Limited menu customisation options - no option to remove or reorder items
  • No option to add your own dashboard widget with a welcome message
  • No option to remove metaboxes

ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Branding Options:
  • Improves UI:
  • Admin Menu Options:
  • Dashboard Widgets / Metaboxes:
  • Overall:

WP-CMS Post Control

WP CMS Post Control

WP CMS Post Control

The Good

  • Restricts which user roles can administer which post types
  • Flexible options to restrict use of specific items on editing screens (e.g. discussion, featured image etc.)
  • Works with Pages, Posts and custom post types

The Bad

  • Only does one thing (but does it thoroughly)
  • The interface could me more intuitive

Ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Branding Options:
  • Improves UI:
  • Admin Menu Options:
  • Dashboard Widgets / Metaboxes:
  • Overall:

Plugins for Creating Custom Content Without Code

These plugins let you add custom content without having to write code in functions or template files. The content types they’ll let you create will be one or more of custom post types, custom taxonomies, custom fields and shortcodes.

In some cases these are aimed at developers who will create content types for non-coders to then add content to, meaning that the developer can add template tags to theme files so that the custom content is displayed. But the best plugins of this type will also let you create and display custom content without having to write code, even if the options offered via this route aren’t as flexible.

Here I’m going to use five criteria to rate the plugins:

  • Ease of use;
  • Improvements to the UI;
  • Custom post type options;
  • Custom taxonomy options; and
  • Custom field options.

CustomPress

CustomPress

CustomPress

The Good

  • Makes it easy to add custom post types, taxonomies, fields and shortcodes
  • Add custom fields using a variety of field types including text, drop down lists, radio buttons and more
  • Provides shortcodes to add custom fields to content
  • Lets you specify which post types are displayed in which archives
  • The only plugin letting you add custom post types, taxonomies, fields and shortcodes

The Bad

  • The screens for adding custom post types and taxonomies can be daunting for people unfamiliar with how these work

Ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Improves UI:
  • Custom Post Type Options:
  • Custom Taxonomy Options:
  • Custom Field Options:
  • Overall:

Pods

Pods

Pods

The Good

  • Create 'pods' for custom post types, taxonomies and settings pages
  • Extend existing content types with custom fields
  • Flexible components which you can switch on or off
  • Create shortcodes for your custom fields

The Bad

  • The use of 'pods' rather than standard WordPress terminology can be confusing
  • No obvious guidance on editing screens helping users to add content of pods to pages

Ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Improves UI:
  • Custom Post Type Options:
  • Custom Taxonomy Options:
  • Custom Field Options:
  • Overall:

Advanced Custom Fields

Advanced Custom Fields

Advanced Custom Fields

The Good

  • Comprehensive tool for creating custom fields
  • Option to extend further with premium add-ons
  • Wide range of input types and field types including maps, galleries and more
  • Uses native WordPress content types and database tables
  • API gives you developers more flexibility
  • Shortcodes allowing non-coders to insert field contents in to page or post content

The Bad

  • Complex system which takes some time to get to grips with

Ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Improves UI:
  • Custom Post Types Options:
  • Custom Taxonomies Options:
  • Custom Fields Options:
  • Overall:

Custom Post Type UI

Custom Post Type UI

Custom Post Type UI

The Good

  • Admin interface for adding custom post types and taxonomies
  • Manage your post types and taxonomies
  • Uses native WordPress content types and database tables
  • Useful contextual help guiding you through the process

The Bad

  • It would be more intuitive if the plugin's main screen let you start adding content

Ratings

  • Ease of Use:
  • Improves UI:
  • Custom Post Type Options:
  • Custom Taxonomy Options:
  • Custom Field Options:
  • Overall:

Summary

As I’ve already mentioned, the plugins reviewed here come under two quite different headings, each of which complements the other. So if you want to create a more CMS-like experience for your site’s users (or yourself), you may well need one or more from each category. Having said that, within each category there are plugins that do different jobs, so these comparisons won’t be as useful as reading the reviews themselves.

Plugins for Branding and Admin Customization

Comparison

  • Ultimate Branding:
  • CMS Tree Page View:
  • Admin Branding:
  • WP CMS Post Control:

None of these score very high because none of them does everything. I would recommend each of them in different scenarios:

  • White Label CMS lets you add limited branding to your admin screens and add and remove dashboard widgets.
  • CMS Tree Page View will be useful if your site is built on a long list of hierarchical pages or posts of a custom post types.
  • WP-CMS Post Control gives you the most flexibility for removing unwanted items form the editing screens.
  • Ultimate Branding offers the widest range of branding features. It is the best for Multisite though, as you would expect from WPMU DEV.
  • Admin Branding gives you a user-friendly color picker to help you change the way your admin screens look but doesn’t let you add anything to the dashboard or customize admin menus.

Plugins for Creating Custom Content

These plugins are also difficult to compare directly, because again they don’t all do exactly the same job. Some will help you create custom post types and/or taxonomies while others are more focused on custom fields. However there are a couple which include all of these.

overall

  • CustomPress:
  • Pods:
  • Advanced Custom Fields:
  • Custom Post Type UI:

My recommendations are:

  • If you want to add custom post types, taxonomies, custom fields and shortcodes with just one plugin, use CustomPress. If you want a free alternative which is not so easy to use, go for Pods.
  • if you just need custom fields choose Advanced Custom Fields for its advanced options and flexibility.
  • If you’re looking for a plugin for custom post types and/or taxonomies but not custom fields, choose Custom Post Type UI.

Do you use a CMS Plugin? Tell us about your experiences with CMS plugins in the comments below.

21 Responses

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    Wish I could give this a plus. Though well written and organized, it doesn’t hit the mark for judging content management systems. It’s more about tools to set administration for CMS’s.

    A review of CMS’s should discuss tools that make actual content management easier, and workflow for publishing content easier. That would be plugins that make organizing page, post, image, video, custom post easier to upload, organize, position, display, and publish actual content. The closest one on this list is CMS Tree Page View. The rest seem to be admin tools, not content management tools.

    Who really thinks that managing content is about having your logo where you want it?

    • New Recruit

      Hunter,
      I tend to agree with you. By doing CMS activities really well, ideally you help a non-geek use the system, I would think.

      I did enjoy the article. Ironically, I think it’s more directed to someone like me, a developer.

      Along that line, I, too, am a fan of Types. It’s very capable and improving all the time. I’ve used it on a bunch of projects. It is big, certainly.

      If someone can write code to display them, Brads Custom Post Type UI is very simple and effective.

      For custom fields I like Custom Field Suite, which is very capable and continuously improving.

      I liked using Pods, but I felt about like Rachel did – somewhat eccentric terminology. I don’t know if it’s better now, but the documentation was a bit lacking when I used it, and when I posted on their rudimentary forum I got no answer at all. I eventually moved on, but I do think it’s a powerful system.

      WCK has a lot of fans for its Custom Post Types and Custom Fields tool – I wish they had checked that out, I haven’t yet.

      Dave

      • Thanks Dave – it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who struggles with plugins that use terminology that isn’t consistent with what’s used by WordPress itself (you’ll see that I made similar comments about some Theme Frameworks in my post on those last month).

        Sorry I didn’t check out all of the plugins you were interested in – I’m sure you’ll understand that time and space is limited so I chose the plugins which I rate highly and/or which get a lot of downloads.

        • New Recruit

          Thanks so much, Rachel!

          No need to be sorry about not covering “infinity” – if you reviewed/tested everything, it’d be doomsday before getting done. :) I like to “shop” for plugins now and then. Theme frameworks… even bigger! People will always chime in that their favorite (even with just 27 users) is absolutely the best. :)

          Speaking of terminology, I just had “fun” figuring out Thesis 2 on a job. Talk about throwing out what you know. :) But I get a bit cussed and persevere on those things, and now I pretty much have it – some parts are nice. But I won’t be buying it.

          Thanks, Dave

  • New Recruit

    WordPress Creation Toolkit PRO by Cozmos labs is a pretty good plugin.

    http://www.cozmoslabs.com/wck-custom-fields-custom-post-types-plugin/

    It has features like Custom Fields Creator, Custom Post Type Creator, Custom Taxonomy Creator, Swift Templates, Options Page Creator, Front-End Posting, and Extra Custom Field Types: (WYSIWYG Editor, Upload Field, Date, User, CPT Select, Country, Text Input, Textarea, Drop-Down Select, Checkboxes, Radio Buttons).

    They have a feature without the front end posting and Swift Templating capability if you don’t need that. But overall it is a decent plugin to use once you get the hang of it. Has a lot of features built into it.

  • The Crimson Coder

    I’m sorry but I don’t think that ACF rating is fair.
    it is by far the best plugin for custom fields and it’s also awesomely coded and packed with tons of options and hooks (included easy make of option pages, hooks to tweak the population of fields, and many others).

    in particular I’m not sure why you gave to it just 1 star for taxonomies and post types. I am wondering if you have an old version of the plugin, because in the recent versions (I mean at least since 10 months ago), there are many fields types which consider custom taxonomies and post types (like the taxonomy field itself, and the relation fields).

    a part from this, I agree with the other plugins rating, and I enjoyed reading the post, though as Hunter said, probably the title of the post was not the best for the actual article…

    • Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for your feedback. I think if you read what I wrote (and don’t place too much emphasis on the grading system), you’ll see that I actually rate ACF very highly – I think it’s a great plugin and if you’re creating custom fields, it’s the most versatile one out there. However the stars for custom post types and taxonomies related to whether a plugin lets you create those, which ACF doesn’t (and nor should it as that’s not its job).

      I would urge anyone scanning this post and looking at the stars to please read what I’ve written too – as I’ve said a few times in the post, it’s difficult to compare these plugins directly so the star system is not as revealing as the reviews (and my conclusions) themselves.

      I hope that clears things up!

  • New Recruit

    Incredibly biased towards WPMU plugins…

    I’ve tried CustomPress, and compared to ACF it’s incredibly weak. CP: 1/5. ACF: 4/5 would be more accurate when it comes to sheer functionality.

    Also, the review on ACF isn’t exactly up to date. Reviewing v4 when v5 has been out for the better part of 6 months is kinda silly. v5 does not have add-ons for example, there’s just a pro version with all features added.

Comments are closed.