Which Content Management (CMS) should I use? This is a question that comes up pretty much at almost every client meeting. Should we use Wordpress? What is this Drupal thing? Which framework is the "best"?
The truth is that "best" is a relative term, and the choice of CMS is really based on a case by case basis, depending on the intended current and future use of the website. Are you building a website that is going to offer different levels of user access, with content available depending on the role of the user? Is this a complex e-commerce website or perhaps going to to scale into a store in the near future? Is this a simple corporate / marketing site? Are you going have different types of content, such as a blog articles, team pages, offices, products information, etc?
Another thing to consider are the skills of your in-house team, your developers, or the company you are looking to hire. Many of these applications have similar capabilities when it comes to certain needs, so the strengths of your development team will in many cases determine which one you end up going with.
This article was not written for people who are just getting started with web development and looking for the easiest choice. Let me save you the trouble of reading this article, go with Wordpress if you have never built a website and plan to do it yourself.
This article is aimed at the decision makers and developers looking to decide which platform is best for the intended use. The fact is all these applications are built on PHP with a connected database, and at the end of the day, you can write a custom module to make the any framework do anything you can imagine. With enough time and money, anything is possible.
The intention of this article is to find the correct tool for the correct challenge. Just because we can use a mallet to put a nail in a wall or use flat head screwdriver to take out a Phillips head screw from the wall, does not mean we should. There are usually good reasons to use the right tool for the right problem, and these usually come down to reduced risk, faster results, better scalability, and potentially fewer mistakes.
Wordpress powers approximately 25% of all websites because it is extremely easy for nearly anyone to learn and use. In fact, it is so easy, you don't need any CSS or HTML skills, any prior experience, or any programming knowledge. Simply download a theme, install some plugins, and get going. When equipped with a basic understanding of HTML and CSS, you can take advantage of its impressive plugin library (hundreds of thousands of plugins), to add a variety of features to your content management system (CMS).
This, combined with the many out of the box theme options, allows you to better customize the tool to your website’s needs and build a high-quality website in no time. In addition, WordPress’s easy-to-understand user interface clearly lays out and marks each of its functions and customization options.
Wordpress is a great choice for simple corporate sites, blogs, product marketing websites, and landing pages. Wordpress can scale to serve millions of visitors, and really excels at offering simplicity out of the box.
Where Wordpress falls short is when we start to get into websites that have various requirements or uses, all rolled up into one package. Say you want to have a small store, a blog, some product pages, team bio's, and office pages. In this situation, Wordpress begins to get a little messy due to its patchwork of 3rd party plugins, lack of clear content structure, and inability to customize the backend. Additionally, the user access permissions and rules systems are not as advanced as in Joomla or Wordpress, making implementation of complex workflows or various user roles a bit difficult. With Wordpress, going out of the box, always feels a bit like a hack. For example, while you can build multilingual sites in Wordpress, they are just so much better with Drupal or Joomla.
I know some people will say: "I built the most massive and complex ecommerce website on Wordpress and it was great". Sure, that can be done, but with tools such as Drupal or Magento, tit can usually be done in a much more efficient and scalable way, without breaking upgradability and without requiring custom programming or hacks. Sure, I can use a hammer to break down a brick wall, but wouldn't a sledge hammer be better?
On the other note, if you need to get a website out in under a day, or even a couple hours, Wordpress is the unrivaled leader.
Good for: Small corporate sites (without too many variations of content types), blogs, product marketing websites, landing pages, and simple publications.
Drupal does not have the market share that Wordpress has, mostly because Drupal is a lot more complex out of the box. While you can get a Wordpress site up and going in minutes, Drupal requires a little more work to get it going.
I will admit I am a bit biased. I love Drupal! Drupal can be anything you want it to be, like a Swiss Army Knife. I often tell customers that you use Wordpress to build a blog or simple website, you use Drupal to build Wordpress.
For a complex, highly customized site requiring scalability and complex content organization, Drupal might be the best choice. Drupal can be used to build ecommerce sites, corporate websites, real estate listing sites, publications, institutional sites, corporate intranets, applications, and pretty much anything else you can think about. Drupal is supported by modules, which unlike Wordpress are owned by the open source community and provide a much more stable upgrade path. Gone are the days of having to replace a module in Wordpress because a developer fell of the face of the planet or the days of upgrading a security patch in Wordpress and finding some of your plugins broke.
Drupal is harder to get going out of the box, but an experienced Drupal developer can use precooked scripts or prepackaged features to spin up a website as fast as Wordpress.
Drupal is used by a lot of large organizations, including the White House, NASA, City of Boston, Harvard University, and Weather.com. The benefits of Drupal are even more apparent in large complex websites such as these, requiring multiple content silos with various administrators, different teams and departments, and a lot of content types (Team pages, product pages, landing pages, FAQ, etc). Wordpress simply cannot reach this level of complexity in an easy way.
Good For: Small and Large Websites Company Websites, Large Publications with many writers/editors, Websites requiring publication workflow, Large Organizations, Ecommerce, Content Management, Corporate Intranets, Websites with complex rules and workflows
Joomla is like the compromise between WordPress and Drupal. It offers much more flexibility than Wordpress and is not as difficult to get going as Drupal. It’s powerful enough to operate a wide variety of websites without any problems, and it does not require the same level of technical experience to run as Drupal.
Joomla offers many of the same features as the others. Good security, a large library of plugins and themes, and many standard features out of the box. It is easy to build many kinds of sites with Joomla, including networking sites, corporate sites, e-commerce, etc. Multi-lingual sites are a breeze with Joomla. Joomla also has very nice administrative features that make maintaining a site a breeze.
Interestingly, at one point (8 years ago), Joomla had the largest market share of the 3, but over the years, Wordpress has overtaken Joomla due to it's simplicity, and Drupal has taken away a large portion of the enterprise and large organization market share. Many large organizational sites that used to be built on Joomla, now are built on Drupal.
Good For: E-commerce, Social networking websites, Multilingual sites, Corporate Sites
The winning CMS is really dependent on your needs. For those looking for an easy site that can be put up in minutes, or something that is going to have a single function, such as a blog or company site without too much complexity, Wordpress works great, but so does Joomla and Drupal if your development team has a a lot of experience with those platforms. For those looking for ecommerce, Drupal and Joomla work really well, but you might decide to not go with any of these and actually go with a dedicated ecommerce platform such as Shopify or Magento. For complex sites with many users, many editors, and various organizations or uses, Drupal is probably your best choice, but Joomla will work just as well.
Our advice, if you are a first timer and doing it yourself, go with Wordpress. Otherwise, listen to a trusted development team or consultant and go with their suggestion.