Joomla, Drupal, WordPress..? Selecting the Right Content Management Platform

If you intend to build a website with continually updated content, a must for today’s web, eventually you’re going to encounter the need for a content management system (CMS).  A CMS is essentially a database that stores your site content, along with an interface that allows site administrators to add, remove and modify content efficiently.

While custom content management systems can be designed and programmed specifically for your site, this is often costly, and many website owners and developers and turning to free CMS platforms such as Joomla, Drupal, and even WordPress.  These CMS platforms are known as ‘open source,’ which means there’s no cost to use any of these platforms to develop your website.

So what are the differences between Joomla, Drupal and WordPress, and which is right for you?

Joomla: ease of use, at a price

Joomla has gained popularity because of its reputation for being the easiest open source CMS for beginners. However, this much-hyped ease of use comes at a price: any sort of customization is very difficult to achieve.  Try to make the box where your logo is supposed to fit slightly bigger and you’ll quickly find yourself in a world of pain.

Joomla, Drupal and WordPress all operate using modules. That means your site is broken up into many compartments, and each compartment contains its own mini-application, or module.  So, you can have one module displaying the local time in Dubai while another is displaying famous quotes at random.  That all sounds great, but with Joomla in particular, it’s easy to let things get out of control, and next thing you know you’re on an ‘internet’s worst designs’ list.

You can build your own Joomla modules, which does free you to be much more creative and precise with your designs, but the learning curve is steep.  By the time you’re able to create modules, you’re already so far in the realm of professional programmers that you might as well be creating your own custom CMS anyway.

Unfortunately, most Joomla users are not professional programmers.  The vast majority of modules that are available were created by somebody who was at the shallow end of the learning curve.  This makes it difficult to identify modules that do what you want without crashing your site.

Fortunately, the community of Joomla users is quite large, and there’s a wealth of information available to help you learn the ropes.  More experienced users are generally helpful and only occasionally banish you for being a total noob.  Adhere to the norms of the community, and you’ll be fine.

Drupal: for professional use only

Choose Drupal as your web development platform and you might be able to call a truce with your site template.  Kind of.  Drupal is the most sophisticated open source CMS available, so you have greater freedom to design without constraint.  Because it’s so powerful, many large corporate websites run on Drupal, and this has helped cement Drupal’s reputation among new users as the ‘professional’ open source CMS.

The downside to having all this freedom is that Drupal is not nearly as beginner-friendly.  A web search will yield many blogs proclaiming Drupal the best CMS, while not really providing any help to get you on your way.  It doesn’t help that the Drupal community is more prone to elitism than other alternatives.  While Drupal is indeed free, you quickly find yourself having to shell out money to get any good help or decent templates.

It’s also worth mentioning that Drupal is more search-engine friendly than Joomla, due in large part to the way it constructs clean, readable URLs.

WordPress: the third alternative

Traditionally, WordPress is a blogging platform, not a CMS.  But as blogging has become more popular, it’s become less of a way to create supporting content and more of a business model all to itself.  In short, if your blog is the central element of your communication strategy, WordPress may be a good choice.

In addition to hosting and organizing your blog, WordPress allows you to create regular content pages (think “About Us” and “Clients”).  With this strategy, you can create a simple website that revolves around and informs your blog.  Like Joomla and Drupal, you can find and incorporate third party modules to help you include and format special content.

That said, WordPress is a product in transition right now.  Because they are trying to position the product as a CMS and not just a blogging platform, updates are fast and furious.  And updates lead to security vulnerabilities.  If you have critical data in a WordPress site, you should be paying particular attention to making sure your installation is up to date.  This takes time and, again, there’s a learning curve.

Open Source vs. Custom

Open source CMS is great for beginners who are happy to work within templates, or professionals who want to minimize their programming workload. They don’t yet compare, however, to a custom CMS.

Ultimately, your website should be unique, just like your business. Your needs are not the same as everybody else’s. While it’s true that more than one person may need to display the local time in Dubai, not all of them need to display it in a box of predetermined size with a predetermined color scheme. If you have the budget, it’s ideal to have your site programmed directly for your needs, which will allow your site to look and function exactly the way you want. It does cost more, but when literally all the headaches are removed for you, it hardly seems that bad an option.

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  • Laura

    Nice round up.

    Although there are tons out there, the one CMS that I've found really useful is Concrete5. Maybe not as sophisticated as the others, but it is but easy to design and develop on, and easy for the end user. Making Concrete5 my CMS of choice.

  • Tim

    A fresh and interesting look at three old friends. Thanks

  • Aisha

    Wow, so cute….This task is realy challenging because it needs to attract new customers, and express their skill while they’re at it, thanks! great one.

  • Karsten Frohwein

    “It doesn’t help that the Drupal community is more prone to elitism than other alternatives. While Drupal is indeed free, you quickly find yourself having to shell out money to get any good help or decent templates.”

    I fear you don’t get in touch with the drupal community a lot. We are really friendly, resourcefull and won’t bite! Its true that Drupal has an incredibly steep learning courve. But please go and take a look at drupal gardens by acquia. Its basically a free D7 template building engine and you can export them. has loads of templates for you. With templates like Zen you can do tons of stuff. The Fusion projekt and Skinr makes theming really easy. And there are around 5.000 for you to use.

    I hope you will never encounter any stupid 31337 idiots that won’t help ypu. Join IRC and talk to use. I bet people will help you!

  • Tom Gatenby

    It's one that a lot of people have never bothered with but I've had overwhelming success with silverstripe. From a designers point of view it's unbelievably quick to build and integrate a website in to and you're not limited in any way shape of form to how the site works or looks (it's even possible to add a full flash front end to it although I've never strayed in that direction myself ) , All the developers I've had working on it find it really easy to extend and work with and more importantly pretty much every client, bar one, once being handed a user name and password have managed to log in and start editing their own content with pretty much no need for instructions of explanations, that for me is invaluable

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  • trudesign

    Great post thanks Ann!

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  • Ann Bevans

    Interesting suggestion! Thanks!

  • Domenico

    drupal is very complataed, this is true but is more powerful. Community help any people but depends of where you search support.

    I think that Drupal is the best option if you would use CMS but you would like “think” as Framework, in this perspective you can use same concepts to othe Web Framework …

  • Ann Bevans

    I agree that Drupal is both more complicated and more powerful. There's no doubt it's the better choice for people who are really prepared to dig in, but not so much for non-techies who just want to get a site up and maintain it on the cheap! Thanks for your comment!

  • Ann Bevans

    No offense intended! Drupal was created by developers largely for developers, and I do think there's less patience among professionals for newbies who don't even know where to start. Asking a pro for free help is often an indication that the asker doesn't understand the value a pro can bring. And with Drupal, a pro brings a lot! Thanks for your comment!

  • Ann Bevans

    You're right. Being able to turn over the keys is priceless! Thanks for the suggestion!

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  • clippingimages

    Nice article about CMS.

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