WordPress, Joomla or Drupal: Which is the Best Open Source Content Management System?

May 22, 2019 by Staff Writer
WordPress, Joomla or Drupal: Which is the Best Open Source Content Management System?
The number of people interested in developing a website grows by the minute. Whether it is a simple blog outlining a person’s day-to-day activity, or an enterprise-level website with all the bells and whistles, there is no stopping the fascination people have for websites and the Internet. Despite this interest, there are some hurdles, and one hurdle people quickly encounter is cost - as anyone that has taken this route can tell you, the cost of building a website can often be excessive.

While engaging website developers and programmers might have limited impact on the bottom line of large corporations, for the rest of us – individuals and those involved in smaller businesses – such costs can be prohibitive. Recognizing this fact, and to ensure that (as much as possible) the Internet remains a level playing field, developers around the world invest time and energy into providing people with the tools they need to set up websites independently and without crippling cost.

Known as the ‘open source’ movement, these developers create solutions that can be downloaded by anyone free of charge. Many developers focus their efforts on developing Content Management Systems (CMSs) that underpin the development and management of entire websites. Today the bulk of websites are built using CMSs, and while there are a myriad to choose from, three have absolute dominance: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

Just to give you an idea of the level of their dominance, seven out of ten websites on the Internet were developed using either WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. In the same way that some people use Android mobile phones, and others use iOS phones, whether someone uses WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal pretty much depends on his or her history and which one he or she came in contact with first. However, if you are just starting out and have little or no knowledge of any of these solutions, the natural question is this:

‘Which one is best?’

While this article does not attempt to offer a definitive answer to this question, it will try to compare the three solutions and offer insights that might help someone (you) make a better choice of CMS.

The Basics

You should note that WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal do the same thing - they underpin websites. They are all downloaded from the Internet and each is licensed under the terms of the ‘GNU General Public License’. As we said before, anyone can use any open source solution free of charge, and CMSs are no exception.

While WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal are similar in what they do, how they do it differs, and each solution has its benefits and limitations. It is difficult to compare things of a similar nature, so in this article we will consider a few criteria and see how each solution shapes up.

History: Oldest is Best


If you were choosing a car you would probably consider the history of a company like Mercedes or Daimler has indicative of quality, especially over brands like Kia Motors that haven’t been on the scene for very long. However, as far as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal are concerned, there is little in it.

WordPress launched May 27, 2003 as a personal blogging solution and over time morphed into the complex CMS it is today. Joomla was an extension of the old Mambo project that started in 2000, and from the outset it was designed as a solution for building websites. Drupal launched January 15, 2000 and was developed by two University of Antwerp students who initially used it as a reliable and secure way to communicate and share ideas. From a historical perspective, each solution has very similar roots.

Customizability

Each solution does pretty much the same thing. Each provides a core framework that facilitates website development and each offers templates that change the look and feel of a website. Such templates are either developed for free use by the communities that support a solution, or offered at cost by commercial organizations. More importantly each solution offers additional functionality using ‘add ons’ (WordPress ‘Plugins’, Joomla ‘Modules’ and ‘Plugins’, and Drupal ‘Modules’) that can be installed into the framework. Again, these are provided free of charge or at cost depending on the source.

If you want your website to have a rotating image where the header should be, there are add ons that provide this functionality. If you want to add a complex email form to your site, again, there is an appropriate add on to use. Whatever your requirement, there will be something you can add to your site. To determine which solution has the greatest customizability, we have to establish which has the greatest number of add ons available.

There are more than 50,000 plugins in the official WordPress directory, while Joomla suggests it has around 8,000 extensions in its official directory. Drupal states that is has 30,000 official modules available to users. Logically, with the largest number of add ons, WordPress should have the greatest customizability. As 25% of all websites on the internet use WordPress, this might be a fair conclusion.

Costs

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Likewise there’s no such thing as a free website. All websites need hosting. Fortunately, WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal are designed for ‘PHP’ - a cost-free server operating system that many web hosts use. There is an abundance of the Linux hosting that PHP-based solutions require, and being so popular such hosting is often quite cheap. You can get a great hosting service for up to $10 per month, so that shouldn’t break the bank. Beyond this, the commercially available add ons and templates that you can use for your websites will prove the greatest cost. And they can be expensive.

The cost of a template isn’t usually more than around $50, but if you want to change your website into a fully functional hotel room booking site, the relevant add on could cost between $99 and $500. Although expensive, it is a lot less than the cost of a developer, but still an amount most people have to think about. Generally, the costs of modules are reasonably similar between solutions, although when you compare individual add ons, WordPress items often come in a tad cheaper.

Complexity/Ease of Use

Whether you regard something as complex or not depends on your familiarity with it. Familiarity with one particular solution does not though indicate how complex it is per se. If you are starting from zero knowledge as far as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal are concerned, there’s going to be a learning curve before you can really understand what you are doing.

WordPress was made for the masses and in general is regarded as the easiest of the three CMSs to use. It is recognized for its usability and intuitive design. Joomla has a more complex structure, and as such the learning curve for Joomla is steeper. While Drupal is noted for reliability and performance, this comes at a price in terms of usability.

In our experience, while WordPress and Joomla can be mastered fairly easily, Drupal is more difficult to use. A quick look at each system’s control panel/interface might underscore this view - Drupal needs a bit of thought while WordPress is more immediate. Joomla is somewhere in the middle.

You also need to understand that being open source there are no user manuals for these CMSs (unless you purchase a ‘CMS for Dummies’-type text). When you have an issue you take it online to a community member. The bigger the support community the more opportunity there is to reach out to someone and get an answer to a “How do I…?” type question.

The WordPress community is significantly bigger than the Joomla community, with Drupal community members far less abundant. How easy it is to access each community and how helpful members are is though a matter of personal opinion.


The bottom line here is that if you choose a solution that’s difficult to use it increases the likelihood of a ‘regular Joe’ end user like yourself having to get a professional developer involved when you are stuck. And that is very probably going to incur (perhaps considerable) costs. Bearing everything in mind, we feel the chance of this occurring is higher with Drupal.

Security

If you are just starting out with WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, security is probably not one of your main concerns. In a time of cyber threats that include websites being completely hijacked and only usable again when a ransom has been paid, security should be your primary concern.
Before considering the three solutions it’s important to note this:

Open source solutions are free and accessible to everyone

This means that if I am a hacker I can download WordPress, Joomla or Drupal and potentially access the software’s code. I can then take my time considering the code for vulnerabilities. All three solutions are vulnerable as far as this is concerned. However, if someone has nefarious intentions they would want the highest impact possible. Viewed like this WordPress would probably be more vulnerable to security issues than Joomla, and Joomla more vulnerable than Drupal.

From another perspective, there are more people working in the WordPress community to make WordPress secure, and fewer in the Joomla and Drupal communities. That said, Drupal’s history of initially being developed for security and reliability reflects on the current Drupal situation. Since inception it has been built with security in mind and although it had some issues over the last couple of years, traditionally it is proven to be the more secure of the three solutions. It also offers more in terms of security reports.

It is though worthy of note that the security of any website is bound to the quality of the hosting service being used. Thus, a Drupal installation on poor quality hosting is likely to be less secure than a WordPress or Joomla installation on topflight hosting. If you are reading this article it is highly unlikely that you are a web hosting expert who knows the ins and outs of a server. In this case, regardless of your choice of CMS, opt for ‘managed’ hosting.

Managed WordPress, Joomla and Drupal hosting costs more, but the host is in charge of making the required changes to the server that supports your website. This means that managed servers are generally optimized for security as far as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are concerned.

Performance


Website performance is key to getting good ranking in Google. Websites with fast loading pages often rise to the top of Google’s ranking, while those with slow loading times often languish at the bottom. As with security, the performance of WordPress, Joomla and Drupal is often dependent on the hosting used.

Hosting that is optimized for WordPress, Joomla or Drupal will offer better performance than hosting that is not optimized for any of the solutions. That being said, there are some basic differences between these CMSs.

As WordPress started as a blog solution and transitioned into a CMS, some suggest its performance is not as good as Joomla or Drupal, which both started life with a strict focus on website development. Others point to the page loading times of WordPress sites being only fractions of a second.

Joomla has a number of features that are designed to improve performance, as does Drupal. Although each solution offers add ons that are designed to enhance performance, as we said at the outset, Drupal was built with reliability in mind, and is probably the better of the three in this respect.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Unless you have a big budget for advertising, the number of visitors your website receives depends on issues like Search Engine Optimization (SEO). There are countless issues as far as SEO is concerned. As we said before page speeds play a part in determining where a site ranks in Google, as do issues like the number of links a site gets from other sites.

There really is a lot to learn and do as far as SEO is concerned, and as a solution WordPress makes things a little easier (although you will need to add particular plugins to get the best results). Drupal on the other hand has many SEO features built directly into its control panel. As we said before though, Drupal can be considered complex to use and this SEO functionality is no exception. Like WordPress, Joomla relies on modules and plugins for SEO capability.

The jury is very much out on this one, but Google itself suggested that WordPress addresses many of their concerns as far as SEO is concerned. With that in mind, WordPress seems to be the solution to go for.

Conclusion

It is very frustrating when articles like this offer the promise of recommending something and then don’t, but that’s the nature of comparing like with like. Based on all the suggestions above, WordPress seems to have the edge on Joomla and Drupal. With that in mind though, it’s highly unlikely the legions of Joomla and Drupal users are going to jump ship.

Our best advice is this: If you are close to someone who knows one of the solutions really well and wouldn’t mind you pestering them, choose the solution they use! That way when you get stuck you have your own customer support! Beyond that, WordPress is probably the most straightforward to use, and that is probably why more than 75,000,000 websites were built using WordPress. You shouldn’t have too many issues picking up WordPress, especially considering the plethora of WordPress tutorials available on YouTube.


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