Options. So. Many. Options.
You want to watch something? Should you use Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, or Amazon Prime?
Want to listen to music? Is it going to be Apple Music, Spotify, SoundCloud, or Google Play?
Need an email marketing tool? You’ve got ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit, MailChimp, and dozens of others.
Sometimes, we have too many options, particularly when it comes to website builders and content management systems (CMS).
So how can you know which one is best for you or your business?
Which should you choose?
We’ll get there. But first things first.
What Is A Content Management System (CMS)?
Every website has content. All the pictures, blog posts, pages, videos, and “Which Star Wars Character Are You?” quizzes are content, and that content has to be managed.
By managed, I mean that it needs to be created, loaded onto the website, organized, and then published so people can see it.
If you are an incredibly hard-core tech nerd who likes to make things as difficult as possible, you can hand code every piece of content and then manually upload it to a web server using FTP.
But doing that takes hours upon hours, and even the most hard-core nerds usually have other things they’d like to do, such as catch Pokemon monsters on their mobile phones.
A CMS allows you to easily create, upload, organize, edit, and publish to the web. Using a CMS makes it 100x easier and faster to manage a website, allowing you to focus on creating content.
The three Goliaths in this world of CMSs are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. All three are solid options, offering numerous customization options, strong security, and ease-of use.
We’re going to dive into the nitty gritty details of each, but here’s a quick overview of what each of them offers:
- WordPress is the big, bad, beast of the internet, currently powering a whopping 30% of all websites. When it comes to content management systems, they own a crushing 60% of the market. It’s no surprise why. WordPress is incredibly powerful and versatile, known for being super easy for beginner bloggers able to power some of the biggest sites in the world (TechCrunch, Bloomberg Professional, Vanity Fair, etc.).
- Joomla is the second most popular CMS, although it only powers about 3% of sites on the internet. It’s built for those who need eCommerce and social media features integrated with their website. It’s a bit more technical than WordPress but less technical than Drupal. It’s the Goldilocks of the three: just technical enough.
- Drupal is the most powerful but also the most complicated because it requires an understanding of HTML, CSS, and PHP. It’s mainly for the pros or people who want to really dive into the nitty gritty of building websites.
- WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all free and open source software. This means anyone can download them and develop themes and plugins for them.
- All of them are written primarily in PHP.
- All three support MySQL as their database management system. WordPress only supports MySQL, but Joomla and Drupal also offer support for other database management systems.
- They all rely upon themes and templates to control how sites look, and plugins, modules, or extensions for adding more functionality to sites.
Now let’s break down each platform to give you a better idea of which to choose.
As the world’s most well-known blog and website builder, there’s got to be something to it. And as a matter of fact, there are plenty of somethings to it.
Here are some of the best features of WordPress.
Easy To Get Started
WordPress.com is as simple as it gets when it comes to getting started. You can start a website or blog in about five minutes. Literally, all you need to do is sign up for an account, type in a few things, and you have a website. If you’re a beginning blogger, it’s a great place to get started. If you’re planning on building a brand or professional business, this might not be your best option as features can be limited.
WordPress.org, on the other hand, allows you to download the open-source WordPress software and then upload it to your own web host. This is a little more complicated, but still incredibly easy to do. In fact, many web hosts have 1-click WordPress installations where all you need to do is sign up and click a button.
Which version you pick depends on your needs, here’s a deeper look into whether WordPress.org or WordPress.com is better.
Easy To Custom-Build Your Site
WordPress has a thousands of themes and plugins that you can use to customize and personalize your site, making it look like you spent hundreds of dollars on the design when really you spent $0.
And because WordPress is open-source, thousands of third-party developers continue to create their own WordPress-friendly plugins and themes, so the options keep expanding.
If you’re willing to spend a little bit of money on premium themes and plugins, you can really extend the functionality of your site.
On the flipside, one key feature it lacks that other site builders may have is that there are limits to the customizations you can make without the help of a developer. Unlike website builders like Squarespace or Weebly, which feature highly customizable drag-and-drop builders, there are limits to how much you can customize without popping the hood and diving deep into the HTML and CSS.
Both WordPress.com and WordPress.org are completely free to use. Granted, with WordPress.com, you need to pay for an upgrade if you want to move beyond their most basic plans, and with WordPress.org you need to register a domain name and hosting. That being said, it’s pretty astounding that the most widely used CMS in the world is totally free.
A Huge Support System
If you happen to run into issues or can’t figure out how to do certain things with your WordPress site, no need to worry. They have fantastic community support of millions of WordPress bloggers who know their stuff. Additionally, if you are using a premium plugin or theme that you purchased, you can almost always get help from the developer.
If you want to create a multilingual site, there are numerous WordPress plugins that make it easy to do. WordPress is available in 53 different languages, all of which can be installed in the “Settings” area. Most WordPress themes and plugins also support multiple languages.
WordPress code is very secure and any time a vulnerability is identified, a patch is quickly released. Additionally, WordPress has auto-update options, which ensures that you’re always using the most recent and secure version of WordPress. Finally, if you really want to lock down your site, there are numerous plugins you can install to add additional layers of security.
Joomla is the second most famous popular content management system (CMS), and like WordPress, it has a numerous themes and plugins you can use to shape and enhance your website.
Like making a WordPress site, they also offer a downloadable software that can be hosted on servers, as well as quick-and-dirty Joomla.com free websites.
But there are some key differences as well.
eCommerce Made Easy
One thing Joomla does well is offering eCommerce options. They make it incredibly easy to set up your online store – significantly easier than other website builders. You can have an online shop up and running on your site in mere minutes.
Yes, WordPress does have eCommerce options, but they’re not as smoothly integrated. You need to install an eCommerce plugin, like WooCommerce in order to make your WordPress site eCommerce friendly. Here’s a more detailed guide for beginners on how to start your online store with WooCommerce.
Easy To Set Up and Customize
Not much a techy person? No problem. While Joomla is a tad more complex than WordPress, it’s still pretty easy to set up and use.
If you’re creating a Joomla.com site, you really shouldn’t have any trouble at all. Installing the Joomla CMS on a web host is a bit more complicated, but there are numerous web hosts who have 1-click Joomla installation options.
And like WordPress, Joomla has thousands of themes and plugins available (although not as many as WordPress), ensuring that you’ll be able to create exactly the kind of site you want.
One downside, however, is that Joomla doesn’t make it as easy to install themes and plugins. Unlike WordPress, which allows themes and plugins to be found directly from the administrator dashboard, Joomla requires you to manually search for them and then add them via URL.
If you do experience some sort of technical issue, you can visit Joomla’s help portal. The support forum over on WordPress may be faster and more detailed, but the Joomla support is definitely sufficient.
Joomla.com websites are free and the Joomla CMS is free to download. Like WordPress, you can upgrade a Joomla.com site to get more features or purchase web hosting and a domain to use the CMS.
Joomla supports multiple languages right out of the box, making it dead simple for you to create your site in whatever language you desire.
Like WordPress, Joomla is coded securely and they regularly release new updates to patch any security holes. However, unlike WordPress, you are the one responsible for updating your site.
As far as popularity, Drupal comes in third behind the other two, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook it. Many websites — small and large — rely on Drupal to build their websites. Its key feature is power.
Drupal is by far the most technologically advanced among these three CMS options. If you’re technically savvy or have a technical background, Drupal may be the best choice for you.
It’s important to note that if you’re going to use Drupal, you should have at least a working knowledge of PHP, HTML, and other web programming languages. If you don’t, you’re going to find yourself struggling to make the necessary customizations to your site.
Power And Speed
Websites built with Drupal typically load significantly faster and respond quicker. Drupal is much less resource-intensive than WordPress and Joomla, which means it can be hosted on less expensive servers.
Easy To Customize
While there are certainly fewer themes and plugins than WordPress, you still have plenty of options to choose from. You can even edit the root files, a handy option for developers looking to take the customizations to the max.
However, like Joomla, you have to find manually find themes and plugins and then install them via the URL.
Like the other two, Drupal is free to download and install on your host’s server.
Drupal also easily supports multiple languages. All that’s required is finding and installing the content translation modules.
Drupal has a reputation for security, and they regularly create updates to highlight any vulnerabilities. You are responsible for installing patches.
How To Choose Between WordPress, Joomla, And Drupal
So which one should you choose?
For 60% of sites using a CMS, the answer is WordPress. But really, it comes down to what you need.
Here’s a quick breakdown of when you may need each of these three options:
- If you’re looking to create a professional website or blog for your business and not spend a lot of time doing it, go with WordPress.
- If you want max speed, total control of customization, and you’re comfortable with all the technical aspects of running a website, try Drupal.
- If you want something in between WordPress and Drupal – something with plenty of features but that’s still easy to use and that has eCommerce options – give Joomla a shot.
Switching From One Platform To Another
I trust your judgement. You’re a savvy person (I mean, you’re reading this article, so that’s a sign of good things).
But let’s say you choose one of these platforms and then realize you don’t like it or it doesn’t offer everything you need. What then?
It’s simple: just switch.
This actually isn’t that difficult. But before you decide to switch, there are some questions you should ask:
- What content needs to be converted? Knowing this could help you save time.
- Is your site very large? If so, and if you’re transferring everything, you may need some extra tools.
- Will you be keeping the same URL and link structure? This will determine if you need to use redirects or customize permalinks.
- Are you using special features, like stat trackers or signup forms? If you want to keep them, you’ll want to see what the if the new site builder offers something similar.
- Does your blog have any comments? It probably does. Those will need to be transferred too.
- Were you offering members-only content? How is this implemented and can the new provider do this?
- Do you have an online store? You’ll want to make sure your site’s new home can too.
- Does your site or blog have more than one user? If so, you’ll need to get their info so you can set up their accounts on the new site.
Below you’ll find the step-by-step guide for switching to WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal from any platform.
Switching To WordPress
When switching to WordPress (from any platform), the first thing you’ll need to do is install WordPress on your webhost. Then figure out the basic settings you’ll want on your WordPress site by going to the “Settings” page.
Then create your permalinks, how you want the navigation structured, and set up the user accounts. (Note: If you have any content that’s ranking high in searches, you’ll want to be sure it has the exact same URL or you create a redirect. If you don’t, the search engine won’t be able to find it.)
Next, you’ll want to choose your theme, your plugins, and widgets. If your old plugins have an option to export to CSV, you can import these into your WordPress site.
Now you can import your content into your WordPress site. To do this, visit the “Tools” page to the left and click “Import” under that.
If none of the import options or plugins fit your needs, you may have to import everything manually. This would mean copying the content from your old site and pasting it on your new site, making sure you end up with the same URLs and page titles.
Switching To Joomla
When you want to convert your HTML-based website to a Joomla site, you’ll have to add each page by adding an article in Joomla’s Article Manager. You can just copy and paste the content from your old site to your Joomla site.
Keep in mind, if you have a heavy amount of custom HTML in your old site, you may have to copy your old page while in plain text mode to a text editor (like Notepad) and then paste that into Joomla.
Then you’ll want to follow Joomla’s instructions for attaching these pages to menus using the Menu Manager.
Switching To Drupal
If you want to switch to Drupal, it’s a similar process to the other two. You can import your old HTML site to Drupal while still maintaining the original URLs. You’ll be able to easily recreate the menus you had and even import metadata.
It will require XML/XSLT support on your current server. To see if it is, go to your php_info() and look for either XSL or XSLT. If either of those are there, then you’re good. You’ll also need HTML Tidy, an app that cleans up invalid HTML.
As you can tell, Drupal requires a bit of coding knowledge, so for the complete and detailed step-by-step process, it’s best to follow their own instructions.
Now that you know the ins and outs of WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, you should be able to make an educated decision about which one to choose for you website, whether you’re just starting a website or looking for a change.
Happy site building!