Most modern websites use content management systems (CMS) which separate the public front-end from the private admin panel. This allows the administrator an easy access to create and update pages, posts and other type of media. There are hundreds of CMSs on the market, with a wide range of specialisms between them. Some are better suited for blogging, some are great for sites with a lot of functionality. Usually it is easiest to start with either an open source platform such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, or a SaaS platform such as Tumblr, Blogger, or Wix. We will focus on WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla in this article as they are the most popular free open-source content management systems at the time of writing. So let’s look into these platforms more in detail.
WordPress was released back in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg and it has grown from a simple blogging system into the world’s favourite CMS powering millions of websites. WordPress has a huge active developer community, tons of free and premium paid-for themes and add-ons. The standard package comes with a famous five minute manual install, and many WordPress hosting providers also offer one click installation of WordPress. This makes it very appealing for beginners to start a site in no time. It is free to use and has an extremely easy to use interface for a non-technical blogger to get started. The initial configuration is relatively simple, it is easy to administer, and the platform is generally pretty secure assuming that the latest version of the platform and the add-on updates are installed regularly. WordPress is an excellent choice for simple websites such as blogs, small businesses, and corporate websites.
Joomla too has been around for a quite a while and has gained a loyal fanbase. It was initially released in August of 2005 but has its roots in the Mambo CMS since its development team decided that it should continue as an open source project. Joomla may not have the popularity of WordPress, but it still the second most popular CMS on the web at the time of this writing according to BuiltWith®. Joomla has steeper learning curve than WordPress, but it may be well worth it. E-commerce, education, and technology sectors are something Joomla excels at, and it has a great developer community. Joomla comes with numerous add-ons and templates that are similar to the ones available for WordPress. The developer community have come up also with many inspired solutions that are hard to replicate within WordPress. Out-of-the-box SEO has been traditionally one of the weaker areas of Joomla, and additional plugins are recommended to make it work correctly. Regardless, many say Joomla has found a great balance between user-friendliness and customisation possibilities making it a great choice for small to medium sized businesses and online stores.
Drupal was created as an open source framework in 2001 by Dries Buytaert. At the moment, it is the third most popular CMS in the world. Drupal is also based on PHP like WordPress and Joomla and with advanced coding experience you will make the most of it. Many notable companies, such as Best Buy, Yahoo, AT&T, etc use Drupal in some areas of their businesses because of the features and flexibility it offers. Drupal also powers The White House website, and benefits from over 2,000 different free themes and over 26,000 free plugins. This CMS requires the most amount of technical skill to use and if you are new it will take time to learn how the interface works. Big organisations often hire full-time administrators to operate their sites. Drupal excels in running online stores or websites that hold any amount of complex data. It is known for its ability to host even the most advanced websites with great performance but for small sites and beginners it is usually just too much. The coding architecture is very stable and robust giving it strong performance and security. The platform is incredibly flexible to serve websites, forums, blogs, ecommerce, network sites, and other applications. Bear in mind that skilled Drupal developers are fairly scarce and you may have to spend some money if you want to have custom features. You can also add features endlessly via extra modules but a high number of modules is going to slow down the site speed. Drupal is probably the most functional and flexible open source CMS available today but the user experience for beginners is a bit complicated.
Things To Consider When Choosing a CMS
All the three CMSs, WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, have a lot in common as all are free open source software released under GPL license, all are written primarily in PHP supporting MySQL as their database, and all of them have huge developer communities producing numerous free and paid-for website templates and extensions for additional features. While some may be better suited for blogging and others might be great for complicated projects the starting point should be to consider your specific use case, write a list of requirements and then compare that with the available CMS options. The following chart compares some of the key decision points you should consider.
|Easy to Install, low learning curve, technical experience is not necessary||Easy to install, user-friendly admin panel, some PHP and HTML knowledge required to develop||Some basic knowledge of HTML and PHP required, relatively easy to install, steeper learning curve to develop and maintain|
|Themes and Add-ons|
|4K+ Free Themes, 45K+ Free Plugins||1K+ Free Themes, 7K+ Free Plugins||2K+ Free Themes, 34K+ Free Plugins|
|Extremely SEO-friendly, additional SEO plugins available||Does not offer great out of the box SEO support but many purpose built SEO plugins are available||Entirely SEO-friendly and many additional SEO plugins are readily available|
|Yes, with special plug-ins such as WooCommerce you can convert your site to an online shop||Joomla has more native support for setting up ecommerce functionalities and it can be a lot faster and easier than with Drupal and WordPress||Can be configured to become fully featured e-commerce site by integrating powerful modules such as Ubercart.|
|Handles traffic well but a better hosting plan is recommended as the traffic grows. Use a caching plug-in to improve speed.||Can consume server resources rather quickly. Caching is recommended as well as minifying and compressing website resources.||Is typically the fastest out of the box of these three. Still well worth spending some time optimizing the code|
|Countless articles, forums, documents, video tutorials, A large user community and many ways to ask for free support, many affordable freelancers and contractors.||Many documents, tutorials, and forums, and a large and helpful user community. Finding professional expert help is easy but be prepared to pay more than for WordPress support.||A very proactive community of users, an extensive documentation, support forum, mailing lists, user groups, irc chatrooms. If you want to have something custom built, you will probably have to spend a bit more money, as skilled Drupal developers are fairly scarce.|
|A very secure if kept up-to-date, automated updates and back-ups available, responds quickly to security vulnerabilities. Lot of add-ons to make the back-end even more hard to penetrate.||Joomla is also very secure if kept up-to-date. They are actively patching any security vulnerability. However, installing updates is still up to the user. Lot of modules to make the back-end harder||A very secure platform. Vulnerabilities are published on their site as they are patched. Drupal could be the most secure of the three but also you do not often hear about Drupal sites being hacked as it is not as popular as Joomla or WordPress.|
|140M+ Downloads||63M+ Downloads||15M+ Downloads|
|Best Use Cases|
|Small businesses, simple ecommerce, blogs, news and magazines||Corporate websites, ecommerce, and community sites||Complex online services, marketplaces, social networking, intranet websites.|
|Notable Big Sites|
|TechCrunch, Forbes, CNN, Mashable, Time||Harvard University, Guggenheim, Linux, Ikea||The Economist,The White House, Warner Bros, Taboola|
Your choice depends on your goals, technical expertise, budget and what you want the site to do. For a simple informational brochure site, WordPress could be the best choice especially if you have limited knowledge of coding. This would cover most small businesses, start-ups, bloggers, and niche news sites. WordPress is easy to install and flexible enough to allow you to add lot of extra functionality such as booking forms, selling products online, integrate videos, and so on. If you have a some budget to spend or developer skills and your aim is to launch ecommerce or mid-sized networking site then Joomla might be your choice. If you are experienced in HTML and PHP coding and are planning to create a high volume complex site requiring scalability like for instance an online auction marketplace or a video community site with lots of individual contributors involved, Drupal might be your best bet. The great thing about open source platforms is that each CMS has large developer and user communities, making it easy to find free support via forums. In addition, paid support is readily available from consultants and freelance developers and designers.