A Content Management System (CMS) is, fundamentally, a framework for creating and maintaining websites, and choosing the right one will allow you to produce and maintain a site of any size and scope. Some CMS’s are simple to install and configure while others have complex setups that demand professional-level attention. Some are easy to maintain and update, while others require more diligence, time and knowledge to keep current. It is not always straightforward to pick one, but if you have a clear vision of your organization’s goals, you will be able to select the best one for you.
There are many CMS choices, including Magento, Joomla and MODX, but we will focus on two of the frontrunners, Drupal and WordPress, both of which are well established and between them command the lion’s share of the market.
WordPress recently realized a landmark achievement when it was revealed that it now powers a full 25% of all websites worldwide, making it the planet’s most popular CMS. No longer just viewed as a blogging platform, WordPress has become much more than that. It can be accurately described as a full-featured CMS with tons of options to add plugins that only increase its features and functionality. It increasingly powers larger corporate sites and medium-sized businesses, as well as personal blogs. With its relatively easy set-up and vast array of support and training materials available (much of it free) it is a solid choice.
Drupal, too, is a recognized heavyweight, and is becoming the clear choice for certain industry verticals, including government, business, education and nonprofits. It now drives an impressive 12%+ of the top 100K websites. Sometimes described as a developer’s platform, Drupal offers features and functionality for even the most complex of sites. Perhaps its greatest asset is its ability to be extremely customizable, built as a true framework wherein even the administrative experience is something that must be customized. WordPress earns points for site admin user experience, but Drupal can do just as well if it is customized or is built from one of many starting points or "distributions" such as Acquia Lightning.
A major asset of both systems is that they have vibrant and enthusiastic open source communities, although Drupal’s is arguably more organized worldwide, and, some say, more passionate. One thing that is certain though is that both of these CMS platforms have had dramatic growth, and they each improve with every new version.
So, how should your organization choose between them? There are a lot of similarities between the two systems, and you can unquestionably create amazing sites on both platforms, so your choice is more likely to be based on specific needs. Here are some highlights for each CMS:
- Highly evolved database that can be endlessly configured to accommodate companies with lots of product or service data that needs to be tracked, sorted, displayed and analyzed. If you value a high level of customization, complex integrations, and the like, Drupal is your best choice.
- Can support very high volumes of traffic, and run websites with vast amounts of content. Drupal sites are very scalable, and faster and less resource-intensive than the competition. Drupal gives better performance out of the box with default caching features.
- Very SEO (Search Engine Optimization) friendly from its core installation. With the right modules and configuration it can dramatically simplify SEO tasks for an organization.
- With its enterprise level security, Drupal is favored by many top companies and government agencies. The Drupal security team is very active, and has a more stringent review process for new plugins.
- Faster sites. If speed is a key requirement then Drupal’s caching system, Big Pipe (now in Drupal 8 core), and multiple performance add-on modules add extra zip to your site.
- A multitude of out-of-the-box plugins (modules) to add instant features and functionality. This is reassuring and may speed up future development of your site as your needs evolve.
- Fine-grained control options at all levels of the set-up process.
- A diverse and invested community that is global with a growing number of conferences, camps and local user groups—all known for their emphasis on welcoming and supporting new members. An oft-quoted refrain is “I came for the Drupal, but stayed for the community.”
- WordPress has a more user-friendly dashboard, with an intuitive, polished UI, and easy out-of-the-box functionality for content creators and editors. This makes the learning curve for staff easier and can reduce the reliance on an outside agency to complete simpler and often time-sensitive editing and upload tasks. Adoption of WordPress has, to a large extent, been fueled by this accessibility.
- Lots of free and premium (paid) themes that are responsive for mobile, and that can provide easily customizable websites that look great with minimum modification.
- Seamless upgrades. WordPress upgrades are automatic, so the user does not have to manually deploy code. However, with the most recent version of Drupal auto-updates are built in, too.
- Mobile app for making edits, updates and changes on the go. Nice UI, and works really well.
- Still an easier publishing platform with multi-authoring built-in and many user profiles already created.
Both CMS's are highly evolved and are good bets if you want to future-proof your decision from a technology standpoint. Both CMS platforms now offer relatively smooth upgrade paths between major versions, with Drupal announcing that an upgrade to Drupal 9 will be quite similar and seamless as a minor version upgrade in Drupal 8. Ultimately, the one you pick comes down to choosing the right tool for the job at hand. To make an informed choice you have to do a lot of work in the planning and discovery stages where you lay out what your website needs to do, who will be running it, how complex it will be, who your best vendor is and what platform they are most skilled at, and anticipate what your future needs will be.
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