ExpressionEngine - the Content Management System for Designers and Developers
Updated July 09, 2015

ExpressionEngine - the Content Management System for Designers and Developers

Steve Garcia | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 9 out of 10
Vetted Review

Software Version

Version 2.x

Overall Satisfaction with ExpressionEngine

620 Studio uses ExpressionEngine for both the company website and is the default content management system we use when building websites for other companies. It allows us the ability to design and build websites without any limitations to pre-existing templates or requiring us to build our HTML files just to take them apart again to fit into PHP templates; our code and designs stay completely intact. ExpressionEngine has the flexibility to create any type of website from the ground up; it's a giant box of sand with an arsenal of tools and I can build any type of castle I want for us and our client.
  • First-party and Community Support - ExpressionEngine has a large support base both from EllisLab, the maker of ExpressionEngine, and the vast community of users. Any challenges that arise during a project, there is either a third-party plugin or a solution already posted on a discussion forum.
  • End-User Experience - Every website we build is custom from the ground up; no two are alike. Each install of ExpressionEngine is built and organized to fit that specific client. With the use of custom fields, our clients can easily update and maintain their website while keeping the styling intact. Many systems will give one large WYSIWYG box and it's up to the user to ensure the styling of the content matches the page and branding. ExpressionEngine allows us to create a entry form guiding them through the process of creating or editing a web page. We can decide how strict or loose the content areas are based on the technical expertise of the client or website administrators.
  • Templates - The templates built into ExpressionEngine use native HTML for rendering. Within the HTML, we're able to inject their tags into our code to process the functionality. This makes moving our front-end code into the back-end quick and seamless. This is incredibly helpful for maintenance purposes as we find reading HTML is far quicker and easier to read and diagnose than PHP code.
  • Third-party Plugins - ExpressionEngine has a large community of module, extension and plugin developers to help solve any challenge. Custom fieldtypes can be easily installed for better user experience. Powerful add-ons for eCommerce and site searches developed by well-known and highly reputable companies ensure support is always available. ExpressionEngine does not suffer from an over-abundance of third-party plugins questioning the level of support especially with ExpressionEngine system updates.
  • License - ExpressionEngine is a licensed product and has a license fee that comes with each install. Most of the additional first-party functionality that is available outside of the core ExpressionEngine install has a license attached. For large websites with a lot of functionality, software licenses for ExpressionEngine and third-party plugins as well can cause the price to exceed the budget of a client.
  • Third-party Plugins Required - EllisLabs has been making strives in adding native functionality into ExpressionEngine that would have required third-party plugins in previous versions. They tread carefully not to punish plugin developers who are selling their plugins by building it into the system at no additional charge, however certain functionality like page organization for site navigation should be already included and more streamlined for the client.
  • System Updates - Compared to other content management systems, ExpressionEngine is not the easiest when updating to newer versions. Its a manual process of copying, uploading and moving files. There is no "push-button" approach without purchasing a commercial add-on by a third-party developer. With the requirement of third-party plugins to be added for user experience, each system update will require a proactive approach by the plugin developers and the admin updating the system to ensure the plugins will work on future versions. Most admins will wait several months to ensure plugins and minor bugs are ironed out prior to updating.
  • Our main goal for our company is to design, build and launch a website that the client loves and is proud of. ExpressionEngine gives us that luxury while making it as customizable as possible. We can design and build a site quicker and easier as we have fine-tuned our process of modulating certain aspects of the sites that are included by default.
  • With the wide array of plugins available, we have been able to solve any challenge quickly and easily with the great support from EllisLab and the third-party developers.
  • With the speed that we can convert our front-end code into the system's back-end, we are able to simplify and decrease what was the more time-consuming stages of a project.
  • WordPress,Modx
I've used WordPress for much smaller sites with a very limited budget and fast turn-around time. WordPress does well at installing, adding a theme, minor customizations and launch in a very fast timeframe. This can all be realistically done in a single sitting. ExpressionEngine requires much more attention and understanding of the system to build a functioning website. The install has an option to install a default theme, however I have found it more useful as a working example for learning to build with the system than as a template to build another site in though it is possible.
The two main factors for my suggestion to use or not use ExpressionEngine for a client are budget and scope. If the website is for a small three to five page website that is strictly informational and have a smaller budget, then I always recommend using a system like WordPress. Most of our clients are usually already on WordPress and ready to "graduate" to a larger system. They understand the need for a custom design and ease-of-use for site maintenance so recommending ExpressionEngine is easier as they will often have more budget available. Very rarely does a client request a specific system and trust our recommendations.

I did not give a ranking of 10 as there are some instances where other systems would handle the job better than ExpressionEngine; it's not the end-all-be-all. If a client is looking strictly for an eCommerce site, there are other systems that are better prepared for the task and will cut down on development time reducing the overall budget for the project.

ExpressionEngine Feature Ratings

WYSIWYG editor
Code quality / cleanliness
Admin section
Page templates
Publishing workflow
SEO support
Bulk management
Availability / breadth of extensions
Community / comment management
Internationalization / multi-language
Not Rated
Role-based user permissions

Using ExpressionEngine

2 - Steve is the main website developer who installs, organizes and implements the ExpressionEngine environment. This includes developing the functionality based on the scope of the project. We have a Junior Developer that handles basic maintenance within ExpressionEngine and also manages the content for existing websites or enters content for newly developed sites.
2 - To create websites and maintain page templates, there needs to be, at minimum, an understanding of HTML and CSS for ExpressionEngine. For more custom development, understanding Javascript and PHP will be necessary as ExpressionEngine's template tags support basic functionality but does not encompass all that PHP has to offer. ExpressionEngine makes it easy to incorporate PHP, however it does not write any code for you.

For basic content management, it only takes a general understanding of online forms to manage the information on the website itself. As long as the system is organized well (depending on the experience of the website developer) anyone who has experience using word processing programs like Microsoft Word or Excel can use ExpressionEngine. We've trained a wide range of clients to manage their own website content with a single training session.
  • We built our own website using ExpressionEngine including two other associated websites using the same system install.
  • The speed at which we can install, convert our HTML templates and implement within the system saves us a lot of time which, in turn, saves money.
  • We have successfully transitioned to becoming the primary developer for several ExpressionEngine sites that were not originally developed by us. This often involved a website redesign and we were able to transition easily while using their existing data.
  • Having trained clients on several other content management system, I've found the training sessions for ExpressionEngine tend to take less time from start to finish and the client's understanding is more concrete by the end.
  • I've been able to use the same ExpressionEngine install and database to run both our company website and also my personal portfolio. Since the data is shared, I only need to upload my project assets once and assign which website I'd like for it to be shown, on one site or both.
  • We've created an asset management system to be used internally by our employees. This allows us to see our catalog from anywhere without needing to be on-site.
  • We are considering developing a client portal with the ability for our current clients to get a snapshot of the progress of their project. There are existing systems, however they do have their limitations as they are created for the masses. Having the ability to build the system specific to our needs and also live on our domain would be ideal.
We will continue to use ExpressionEngine as our default content management system for clients who require a level of functionality and/or customization that would require a system capable of handling the request and as long as their budget is sufficient. We have considered other free systems that are more equipped for custom templating similar to ExpressionEngine for the sake of client budget.

We recently completed a website project using a similar content management system. By the end of the project, we felt it wasn't a good comparable option and will not be using that system for any future projects. For the smaller budget projects, we have begun using WordPress, however we would not consider that a viable option for site that need the functionality and flexibility of ExpressionEngine.

Evaluating ExpressionEngine and Competitors

  • Product Features
  • Product Usability
  • Product Reputation
  • Vendor Reputation
  • Third-party Reviews
The ability to keep my HTML files intact which makes taking my front-end code and easily integrate it into the system. The other systems I evaluated were WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal back in 2008 and ExpressionEngine fit my business model much better than the others even with the license fees attached. It is not for everyone, however our clients have been extremely happy using the system.
If I had started by search today, I would look at other content management system similar to how ExpressionEngine renders templates and organizes content fields. I have only found one that is similar and is open-source but have yet to build a site with it. We have it in our business plan to build at least one site this year with the new system so we can get a true evaluation. We still would not consider WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal in future projects unless specifically asked by a client.

ExpressionEngine Support

For each ExpressionEngine release, I will often wait a few months before upgrading existing sites just to make sure it's had time to settle and get real-world use. This will allow the developers to handle any initial issues they may find and update the system accordingly. For all new sites, I will always use the latest version and any issues that arise can be handled while in the development phase while on a staging server.
Quick Resolution
Good followup
Knowledgeable team
Problems get solved
Kept well informed
No escalation required
Immediate help available
Support understands my problem
Support cares about my success
Quick Initial Response
No - The community support from other ExpressionEngine developers is second-to-none. Very rarely do I need to speak directly with EllisLab as the question I'm asking about has more often than not has been asked and responded by others. There is bug reporting available to which I've seen EllisLab respond very quickly, either to get more detailed information from me or a hotfix is given. I have found a majority of the questions I need answered are directed at the third-party developers for the plugins I am using. ExpressionEngine itself is a solid foundation.
Yes - Every bug report I've submitted has been responded to quickly and with a resolution. Most of the resolutions have been hotfixes to solve the issue quickly and I've noticed that the subsequent version released will have the issue listed as fixed in the changelog. There has not been a bug report I've submitted that has collected dust.
With each version of ExpressionEngine that is released, an update to their Multiple Site Manager module is released as well. This can be a bit confusing as the version numbers don't align and if I'm updating ExpressionEngine to a newer version, but not the latest, I may not have downloaded the most recent version of the Multiple Site Manager plugin as only a small portion of my clients use multiple sites. I contacted EllisLab and they were able to supply me with the correct version of the module very quickly avoiding any downtime.