Why you should use Zola for your WordPress projects

Today, a large portion of websites are powered by WordPress and because of this, it is easy to fall in to the trap of thinking that it is the go to choice for your website needs. For some cases, WordPress can be a suitable choice but for many sites, WordPress can be overkill and often costs more. Enter Zola, a tool you can use to create static sites easily. These type of sites are extremely light weight, performant and can often be deployed and hosted for free.

Zola is a static site generator (SSG) built in Rust. It is similar to other SSGs like Hugo or Jekyll. On the other hand, WordPress is a content management system (CMS) built with PHP and tightly coupled to a database, usually MySQL. It can be used in variety of sites from simple blogs to E-commerce. However, for many types of simple websites, it can be overkill. In this post, we give an overview of Zola, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both platforms, and also when to use them.

An extremely brief overview of Zola

Zola markets itself as “your one-stop static site engine”. When you use Zola, all the things you need to create a static site are already included in a single binary. Features like markdown to HTML, search, SASS to CSS compilation, shortcodes and more are already included by default.

To use Zola, you first need to create HTML based page templates. Then you author your contents in markdown. Zola then takes your markdown files, pulls the content from them and inserts them into your HTML templates all in a few milliseconds.

At the end of the day, Zola gives you a static site, although not part of Zola, you can freely extend the capabilities of your site by adding popular CSS and JavaScript libraries like tailwindcss or Alpine.js.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of Zola

  • Performance: Static sites generated by Zola, do not need to do expensive database calls or other server side processes aside from serving the page. Pages are extremely lightweight and responsive.
  • Security: The attack surface area of a static site is extremely minimal. Because you are only serving static assets, there isn’t much to attack in the first place.
  • Dynamic Functionality: Static doesn’t mean you can’t have dynamic data. Many static sites achieve dynamic content by interfacing with a wide variety of web APIs.
  • Reliability and Scalability: The job of the host server is only to serve static assets. This means your site is always readily available despite heavy traffic.
  • Themes: Zola has some readily available free themes that you can use to jump start your project.
  • Budget: Static sites are often free or extremely cheap to setup and host.

Disadvantages of Zola

  • Not Fully Dynamic: Because Zola doesn’t interact with a database, it is more difficult to create a fully dynamic site that can change content on the go.
  • Learning curve: If you are familiar with the basics of HTML/CSS/JS and markdown, then you only need a few minutes to get a hang of Zola. If not, you may need to ask someone to create the initial site for you. Zola doesn’t come with an online site designer like WordPress, but in terms of design and creativity, the sky is the limit.
  • Community is Limited: Zola is still new, therefore the community isn’t as large as WordPress.

Advantages of WordPress

  • Fully dynamic pages: Powered by a server, you can freely create dynamic pages by interacting with the database to serve and retrieve data.
  • Plugins: The WordPress ecosystem has a wide variety of plugins that you can add to your site easily with a single click or with a few steps.
  • Themes: WordPress has a large selection of both free and paid themes that you can use to get started quickly.
  • Community: The WordPress community is huge. The community is composed of both technical and non-technical users, which makes it easy for anyone to jump right in to WordPress.
  • Easy Content Management: Because WordPress is a CMS, it comes with a content editing interface that makes it easy for non-technical teams to create content.
  • Site Building Tools: There are a huge variety of visual site building tools like elementor.

Disadvantages of WordPress

  • Security Vulnerabilities: Since it exposes a server to the internet, WordPress has a larger attack surface area than a static site. WordPress does provide periodic updates with security patches. However, some of these updates can cause incompatibility issues with some plugins and hence why many websites do not opt to update.
  • Scalability Issues: If the host server is not properly equipped to handle high traffic, your site may become unavailable for some users. Scaling up the server to add more capacity also requires additional costs.
  • Higher Cost: In general it costs more to host a WordPress site than a static site, since the host needs to keep your WordPress instance running in order to keep your site up.

When to use each technology

Zola shines for smaller sites used to present content to users. These sites usually have a small team creating and curating content. Due to its flexibility, it is also suitable for developers who want to write blogs or experiment with new technologies and designs.

Zola can also be used for landing pages or sites which incorporate simple forms. For more dynamic and user interaction heavy web sites, WordPress or another web development tech stack might be more appropriate. For example, it will be difficult to create an e-commerce site we Zola, but the tools for this already exist in the WordPress ecosystem.

To sum things up. Zola is suitable for smaller sites with minimum user interaction requirements. The high performance and high availability of static sites also makes it suitable for high traffic. On the other hand, WordPress is suited for more user interactive heavy sites, where user authentication, user accounts, e-commerce and other database heavy operations are necessary.



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