WordPress vs Joomla vs Drupal: Which is best?

Article read time: 7 minutes

If you’re looking at getting a new website and are trying to choose a content management system (CMS), then you might well be feeling a bit overwhelmed by choice.  There are hundreds of agencies trying to tell you that one system is better than another, or that you need them to build a custom CMS for you.

So I want to try and give a bit of guidance to help you make a decision.  Yes, we are a WordPress agency so we are naturally fans of WordPress, but we also recognise the merits of other systems and I’m going to try and be as unbiased as possible.

 

First of all, let’s get one thing clear:

There is no single CMS that is better than all the others.  They all have their pro’s and con’s.  If you blindly assume that one system is the best in all scenarios, then you’re greatly mistaken.  So let’s be open minded and compare the three most popular open source systems (WordPress, Joomla and Drupal) and also a custom CMS as an alternative.

Custom CMS – Pro’s and Con’s

Let’s not beat around the bush.  Building a custom CMS is a HUGE amount of work.  It is going to take a lot of time and cost you a lot of money.  What’s more, you’ll be forever tied to the developers that built it and they will have you under the thumb for the rest of time.  So why would you want to do that?

There are a couple of good reasons:

  1. You need a website that does things that no other CMS does (though perhaps an existing CMS could be more easily modified)
  2. You are concerned about security issues of off the shelf solutions (though these can be overcome in almost all cases)

Both reasons are completely valid, but they don’t apply in 99.9% of cases.  So think carefully about whether you really are that special 0.1% that needs something completely different from everyone else, and if so, can you really afford the time and money that it is going to cost you to be different?

WordPress CMS – Pro’s and Con’s

Now there are people who will tell you that you shouldn’t use WordPress as a CMS because it is a blogging system, and not a real CMS.  Quite frankly, those people are living in the past and probably still think that Tony Blair is the Prime Minister and that Bill Gates is the richest man in the world (neither of these are true, if you’re wondering).

So what is the reality?  WordPress has become a serious CMS that can meet the needs of a huge proportion of businesses and individuals.  It’s origins as a blogging system are actually its core strength, because that is why it is focussed on being user friendly and search engine friendly.

The key benefits of WordPress are:

  1. It is open source, so the core code is free (unlike a custom CMS)
  2. It is extremely easy to use, and is therefore loved by non-techies around the world
  3. Search engines love it (Google has actually stated that)
  4. It is incredibly flexible (with over 19,000 free plugins available for extra features)
  5. It has a huge support community, so you’ll always find help when you need it

A significant proportion of our customers here at Wholegrain are people who are moving over to WordPress from other systems, because they are unhappy with their custom CMS, with Joomla or to a lesser extent with Drupal.  WordPress is perfect for the majority of corporate websites and blogs, and also has a huge range of potential customisations that allow it to be used for membership sites, forums, job boards, comparison sites, portfolios and even simple e-commerce.  So the quesion is, why would you not want to use WordPress?  Here’s a few reasons why it might not be for you:

  1. You have unusual/complex requirements and there is no solid precedent for doing what you need in WordPress
  2. You want more advanced e-commerce than what WordPress can offer
  3. Your developer is an expert in something else, and you don’t want to leave them

Some people might also argue that WordPress is not as secure as a custom system or Drupal, but if you take the right precautions it is as secure as anything and you have nothing to worry about.

It isn’t a mystery why WordPress is used by over 70million websites worldwide.  It has been built from the outset for non-technical users, and as a result non-technical users have always loved it.  Since most people who manage corporate websites are sales and marketing people (not developers or IT support dudes), WordPress suits them down to the ground.

Joomla CMS – Pro’s and Con’s

Joomla to all intents and purposes is another very comprehensive CMS that can meet the needs of most people.  It has lost some popularity in the last few years as WordPress has captured the hearts of non-technical end users and Drupal seems to have captured the hearts of developers.  Joomla is a solid system but seems to have been left hanging in the middle.  So here are a few great things about Joomla:

  1. It is open source, so the core code is free (like WordPress and Drupal)
  2. It is very flexible (with almost 10,ooo free extensions available)
  3. It has a huge support community, so there is no shortage of developers to help you out

Joomla fans also claim that it is more secure and more flexible than WordPress, though we have not yet found anyone who can substantiate this claim (feel free to comment on this either way).

The same reasons not to use WordPress also apply to Joomla, but with the addition of a couple of significant factors that in our experience, turn people away from Joomla.Firstly, a lot of users (again, non-techies) find the interface confusing, with no clear logic of where information is stored/edited, and sometimes with the same information appearing in different parts of the CMS.  Secondly, it can be a real pain to set up all the on-site SEO elements of a Joomla site so that everything is exactly the way Google wants it.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, but just that it isn’t so straight forward to do it.

So if you and/or your developer happen to already be fans of Joomla and you feel comfortable with it, then there is no good reason why you should be told not to use it.  After all, if you are happy, then it is the right solution for you.  However, if you’re sitting on the fence then you’ll probably end up happier with WordPress or Drupal.

Drupal CMS – Pro’s and Con’s

Drupal is a really great option as a CMS and we know that a lot of people are really happy with.  As mentioned above, WordPress has a huge fan club amongst non-technical users, whereas Drupal has a very distinct fan club of developers.  It is only recently that Drupal has even acknowledged that a CMS needs to be user friendly (as oppose to developer friendly), but they have now woken up and are starting to take some big steps forward to make it more enjoyable and simple to use.  The great things about Drupal are:

  1. It is open source, so the core code is free (like Joomla and WordPress)
  2. It has an open architecture that makes it a dream for developers to expand and mould it
  3. It is incredibly flexible (with over 17,000 free modules to help you add fuctionality)
  4. It has a huge support community (which you will need!)

We find that while some people move over to WordPress because they find Drupal too confusing and technical, there is also a certain amount of flow the other way, from users who want to expand their websites functionality far beyond the core of any off the shelf CMS.  Drupal offers them almost endless possibilities.  It is often said the Drupal is the Enterprise grade CMS, and that pretty much sums it up.  While most people’s needs are met perfectly by WordPress and they enjoy the benefit of its easy to use interface, there are a certain number of companies out there who want to stretch boundaries.  For those companies, Drupal is awesome.

So which one should I use?

In summary, all three open source content management systems are really strong and whichever one you choose, you’ll have a solid product.  However, there are some advantages to each system in some situations, which I think can be summarised as follows:

  • WordPress – perfect for most business and personal websites, and is the right choice if you want something that is user friendly and has great SEO out of the box
  • Joomla – a solid CMS that isn’t as user friendly as WordPress, or as techically brilliant as Drupal, but if you/your developer already know and love it, then it could be right for you
  • Drupal – a serious enterprise grade CMS with endless possibilities.  You’ll sacrifice some user-friendliness, but if WordPress can’t meet your needs the this likely can
  • Custom – there are occassionally situations where you might need an entirely custom CMS, but chances are that your custom requirements could be met by Drupal

I hope that helps you make an informed decision about which CMS to use.

We can have long and heated arguments about which CMS is the best (and you’re welcome to throw your 2 cents worth into the comments), but when it comes down to it, everyones requirements are slightly different.

Finally, it should be pointed out that there are loads of other systems to choose from and you might find that none of the above options is the perfect fit for you.

If your website does what you want it to and you are happy with it, then what more do you need?

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