Compare Top 3 CMS (2017): WordPress vs. Joomla vs. Drupal

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  • Web Tools
  • Sep 05, 2017

Building your own website is easier than ever – thanks to content management systems (CMS). With these platforms, you won’t have to write a single line of code for activities like developing content, installing a theme, and adding functionalities.

Statistics show that WordPress is the most popular CMS in the online world today. It powers 27.8% of all sites on the web; with about 50,000 new sites being created daily. However, just because it is the most popular CMS, doesn’t mean it’s the only option.

CMS usage and market shares according to W3Techs (source).
CMS usage and market shares of top 1 million sites based on stats published by BuildWith (source).

When it comes to web design and development, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Whether you’re an aspiring blogger, entrepreneur, or corporation, your website will serve as your digital extension. To build your authority, you need to instill your personal brand in everything – from blog posts to your site’s layout.

By picking a CMS, you’re essentially setting the direction of your web development endeavor. While most CMS can accomplish the same goal, which is to create a professional-looking site within hours, there are several key differences that will impact the way you run and maintain your website.

In this article, we will take a look at the differences between the three most popular CMS platforms – WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

A Quick Comparisons

Before everything else, here is a quick overview of the three platforms (based on data by Internet Lives Stats):

WordPress Joomla Drupal
Cost Free Free Free
Usage 311,682 million 26,474 million 31,216 million
Free Themes 4,000+ 1,000+ 2,000+
Free Plugins 45,000+ 7,000+ 34,000+
Pros Customizable, easy to use, tons of learning resources, excellent community & support Easy to learn, great help portal, can be used for social networks, updates integrate seamlessly, more built-in options More technically advanced, websites generally perform better, enterprise-level security
Cons Needs code for major visual customizations, updates may cause issues with plugins Modules are hard to maintain, middle-ground CMS (not as easy as WordPress, not as advanced as Drupal) Users need basic knowledge of HTML, PHP, and other web development languages

WordPress vs Joomla

WordPress is considered to be the most suitable platform for beginners. Joomla, however, isn’t too far behind. It also has a smooth learning curve, a user-friendly interface, and modules that can make adding functionalities a breeze.

Whether you’re a new blogger or an experienced web designer, both systems are great options for you.

WordPress vs Drupal

Without a doubt, WordPress is a lot easier to learn than Drupal. However, it is not nearly as powerful or as secure as Drupal. You don’t have to be an expert in coding to work with Drupal, but you still need a bit of experience to build something functional.

If you are new to blogging, then WordPress is the better choice for you. But if you’re experienced with HTML, then Drupal will give you better scalability.

To help you come up with a decision, we will take a closer look at each of them.

WordPress

Sites powered by WordPress

Let’s start with the most popular in the pack. First of all, WordPress is often considered as the best CMS for beginners and simple bloggers. It’s perfect for those who wish to have a site up and running in no time. With a plethora of available themes, plugins, and external tools, you can build just about any site you can think of in less than a day.

Pro #1: Easy to Use and Customize

One of the perks of being the most popular CMS is that most hosting platforms already include easy installation features for WordPress. These “one-click installation” tools save a lot of time and prevent common errors that new site owners make.

Apart from installation, the WordPress dashboard also makes it very easy to get around the CMS. Everything from blog posts to site settings is directly accessible through here. Within minutes, you can start writing your very own blog posts. And if you’re not happy with the appearance of your dashboard, you can pick your own theme by going to Users > Your Profile and editing your “Personal Options”.

personal-options
WordPress interface configurations.

Take note that WordPress installs a default theme for new websites. You can easily change this by going to Appearance > Themes. Although there are thousands of free themes available for WordPress, it’s still easy to end up with a generic site.

Fortunately, each theme allows you to quickly customize certain visual elements such as background images, menus, and headers. Other than themes, you can also customize other aspects of your site such as menus, pages, and the comments system.

themes
Choices of WordPress themes.

When it comes to adding functionality, you can rely on WordPress plugins to quickly integrate certain features for you. Be it for an opt-in form, image slider, or contact forms – all you need to do is install the right plugin, and you’re good to go.

To look for plugins that can suit your needs, go to Plugins > Add New.

plugins
WordPress plugins directory.

Pro #2: Lots of Learning Resources & Excellent Community

Again, thanks to its popularity, the internet is filled with WordPress tutorials, guides, and other learning resources. A good place to start is the WordPress Codex, which is the official knowledge repository of the CMS. You can also refer to the support forums to get answers to your specific questions.

Of course, you can’t expect users to become experts just by reading online guides. That’s why you need to look for multiple learning resources to refine your skills – be it a YouTube tutorial series, eBook, or a WordPress-related blog. Individual plugins and themes also come with their set of tutorials that can help you make the most out of them.

What you might not like about WordPress:

  • Learning how to use each plugin can be tedious. Although installing new plugins is easy, users may be confused on how to modify their settings. Most of the time, plugin settings can be found under the Settings menu. Plugins may also integrate straight into the dashboard, which makes it a lot easier to find and modify them.
  • In-depth customization requires coding knowledge. WordPress has a very high ceiling when it comes to what you can do. By going to Appearance > Editor, you can modify every single element in your site through PHP, HTML, and CSS. However, experimenting with small changes at a time can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. That’s why you have to be patient with learning these languages.
  • Certain plugin and theme installations may endanger your site. Other than the WordPress library, you can also obtain themes and plugins from external sources. Just be careful as these third-party sources may contain security vulnerabilities that compromise the integrity of your website.
  • WordPress can be resource-hungry. Overloading on plugins can slow your site down – compromising user experience and the ability of your site to generate traffic. To compensate, you may need a more powerful hosting solution, which increases the overall cost of maintaining your site.

Joomla

Popular Websites Powered by Joomla:

Joomla is similar to WordPress in many ways. It is also easy to use, easy to install, and can easily be expanded with the help of modules – the equivalent of WordPress plugins. As a result, it is the second-best options for beginners.

Pro #1: Easy to Use and Learn

Although appearance is a matter of preference, the user interface of Joomla is more modern-looking and cleaner. One of its advantages over WordPress is that the menus are already expanded to boot, so it’s easy to get around the CMS and perform functions like creating new articles, configuring templates, and so on.

dash
Inside Joomla system.

However, beginners might be more intimidated to explore Joomla because of the number of available options. In addition to the left menu, there is also a menu on the top bar right above the “Control Panel” logo. To avoid confusion, remember that some of the items from the left and top bar menus are similar, including “Content,” “Users,” and “Extensions.”

Just like WordPress, Joomla has some styles and templates that can quickly give your site a distinctive look. But out of all three content management systems, Joomla offers the easiest solution when it comes to creating a social network. With platforms like EasySocial and JomSocial, you are just minutes away from your very own social networking website.

joomla
Joomla extensions.

Joomla also offers great support through the Community Portal. Here, you can discover useful information such as guides, tips, and tricks. You can also look at the security checklist for a step-by-step guide on how to protect your Joomla website.

Pro #2: Seamless Updates

With WordPress, updates may cause compatibility issues with plugins and prevent your site from functioning correctly. This is almost never the case with Joomla, which is why it is slightly less tedious to maintain in the long run.

To update Joomla, simply look at the “Maintenance” menu and wait for the system to check for new updates. CMS, as well as extension updates, are checked whenever you go to the Control Panel, so be sure to check often.

Pro #3: More Built-In Settings

As compared to WordPress, Joomla is a lot more comprehensive regarding configuration. By going to Configuration > Global, you can change different settings such as your website’s name, default captcha, content rights, and permissions. You can also specify SEO settings that can improve the rank-worthiness of your website in search engines.

Despite having a lot more options, Joomla’s configuration page is a lot more navigable because it already aggregates the settings for all components.

options
Configurating Joomla

What you might not like about Joomla

  • Just like WordPress plugins, modules take more time to learn and maintain. Furthermore, the number of available modules for Joomla is a lot less than the number of plugins for WordPress.
  • The user interface is not very beginner-friendly. Given enough time, one could argue that Joomla has the better interface regarding organization. But for beginners, it can be downright confusing.

Drupal

Popular Websites Powered by Drupal:

Experienced web developers attest that Drupal is the most powerful CMS. However, it is also the most difficult to use. Due to its flexibility, Drupal is the second most-used CMS in the world, but it is not a favorite amongst beginners.

Pro #1: Most Advanced CMS

A key difference between Drupal and other content management systems is the installation procedure. With Drupal, you are already asked to configure your site during installation. Just follow the on-screen instructions, and you’ll be fine.

drupal
Installing a new Drupal.

Despite being more advanced, Drupal offers a simple, minimalistic interface.

You should be able to access basic functions such as adding content and installing themes with ease. These are all accessible from Drupal’s main menu, which can be found at the top of your site by default.

add-content
Adding content inside Drupal.

However, Drupal follows a more technical approach regarding building your website’s layout and structure. For example, website sections such as menus, headers, and content follow the “block” system. Each block is created and run through pure HTML code. There is a set of pre-made blocks for common elements like shortcuts, footers, and messages, but you’ll most likely spend a lot of time coding your own blocks in the future.

bock
Building a custom block in Drupal.

Fortunately, there are still available guides out there that can help you learn and understand how to use Drupal. They also offer extensive documentation and excellent support through their website. You can also depend on distributions that can provide you with pre-configured structures and components – allowing you to build a specific type of website without extensive coding quickly.

Pro #2: Enterprise-Grade Security

For a CMS that powers government websites, there’s no reason to doubt Drupal’s security capabilities. As soon as security vulnerabilities are detected, they immediately publish them on their site to keep users aware.

You can also go to Manage > Configuration > System > Cron to allow the CMS to check for updates automatically.

cron
Running cron tasks inside Drupal.

Since Drupal-powered sites rely less on plugins, they typically perform better – as long as they are configured correctly. The main reason for this is because they are less resource-intensive.

What you might not like about Drupal

  • Drupal has a steep learning curve. To successfully build a “complete” website, you need to get your hands dirty and learn the basics of coding. Knowing your way around the CMS is also challenging for beginners.
  • Major updates require intensive work. The upgrade to Drupal 8 from Drupal 7, for example, is a complete re-design. Although content can be easily carried over to the newer CMS, you may need to re-write some of your codes.

WordPress vs. Joomla vs. Drupal – Which one is the best for a beginner?

David Attard at Dart Creation has recommended WordPress as the CMS for a beginner. “As a web designer who has used all three of the above CMS, I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that WordPress is surely the easiest of the three.”

Joomla has been around as a CMS longer and has focused mostly around the CMS aspect of things, whilst WordPress started off as a blog which then expanded into a CMS.

Whilst WordPress has always focused on keeping things simple, with the general idea of it being used by the public, Joomla’s audience has always been a bit more technical. In fact, most Joomla beginners will complain about the steep learning curve – though once you’re over that, it’s very powerful. However, for sure if you had to have somebody set up a website quickly, without much previous knowledge, WordPress is the way to go.

Drupal on the other hard has always been a bit of a niche tool for designers / developers and was always meant to be used and built-upon by developers who are working on websites for their clients.

David Attard, DART Creations

Jerry Virgo, owner of Virgo Web Design mention that “All 3 can make great websites – but with the popularity of WordPress it has more theme design options which [are] a huge benefit for beginners, so it’s easy to recommend it as a go-to for beginners.”

Of the three, Drupal is by far the worst for beginners. It’s counter-intuitive user interface is difficult to use, and many tasks are best performed using the command line, leading to a steep learning curve.

WordPress has the easiest to use interface, and is also the easiest to develop on as users become more comfortable with programming.

Joomla is somewhere in-between, as its user interface is nearly as easy to use as WordPress, while still having a more modern architecture (MVC), however developing or modifying extensions will also have a learning curve since MVC architecture is more difficult to grasp.

Modern architecture and having an inherit development framework like Drupal and Joomla have are great for developers, but beginners will have fewer difficulties starting with WordPress.

Jerry Virgo, Virgo Web Design

Reed Adler at Comrade Web Agency has mentioned that their clients have chosen WordPress compare to others. “When it comes to ease of use, our clients have overwhelmingly chosen WordPress.”

As a professional website design & development company, based in Chicago, we have been creating websites for nearly nine years. Naturally, we have experimented with a variety of platforms.

[Our clients] tell us that managing their websites has never been easier [with WordPress]. For most, the ability to add, delete and modify text, photos – and even videos – gives them a sense of control over their own digital destinies.

Beginners love WordPress’ intuitive features; and especially the ability granted to roll back to previous versions saved. That way, if page “improvements” get out of hand, they can start over again with no hassle.

In contrast, Drupal presents an overabundance of options, and often confuses novice webmasters. Joomla, in an effort to serve up choices on a silver platter, winds up duplicating buttons & links that achieve the same functionality.

Reed Adler, Comrade Web Agency

Nick Savov, the Director of Support at OSTraining has voted WordPress as the best CMS for an absolute beginner. “Because OSTraining is the number one training site in the world for open source CMS’s, we are in a unique position to analyze these 3 CMS’s objectively.”

For an absolute beginner, WordPress is definitely the best CMS to get started with. It’s simple and easy to use. The user interface is intutive and, once you learn the simple workflow, you’re able to easily manage the site.

Also, because it powers over 25% of the web, it has a big community and ecosystem. Companies and individuals have created a wide variety of products and services to support you and your website.

For example, there are theme companies, WordPress specific hosting companies and training companies.

If you need a plugin to expand WordPress’ capabilities, there are 50,000 available. The plugin search makes it easy to find the one you need and explore new ones.

Finally, WordPress offers excellent backward compatibility between upgrades.

For those reasons, WordPress is our top choice for absolute beginners.

Quick Wrap

Picking a CMS is a crucial step for would-be site owners. Make sure to dig deep to determine the right platform that will adequately match your needs.

Article by Christopher Jan Benitez

Christopher Jan Benitez is a professional freelance writer who provides small businesses with content that engages their audience and increases conversion. If you are looking for high-quality articles about anything related to digital marketing, then he's your guy! Feel free to say "hi" to him on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

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