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Nick Schäferhoff
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CMS ComparisonIf you’re thinking about building a website or blog, you should consider using one of the best CMS available in the market.

A CMS (content management system) helps you create, manage, and modify the contents of your website without the need for any HTML or CSS coding skills.

The easy-to-use nature of the modern CMS platforms means that anyone can build themselves a great-looking website all on their own. You don’t need to be a web developer, a designer, or have any previous experience with website building either.

In this post, we look through three of the most popular and best CMS platforms coming into 2020, compare their pros and cons, and help you pick one.

The three best CMS that we’re looking into are:

  • WordPress
  • Joomla
  • Drupal

Here’s everything you need to know about them:

1. Costs and expense comparison for the best CMS

Talking about the costs involved in using any of these CMS gets real tricky real fast. Here’s the deal:

  • each of these three best CMS is 100% free in itself – you can download either one directly from the official websites in just a couple of clicks, but:
  • there are other side costs that you have to take onto yourself

These side costs involve chiefly two things: domain name and web hosting.

  • A domain name is your website’s address on the web. This website’s domain name is websitesetup.org. Buying and keeping a domain online costs around $15 annually.
  • A web hosting setup is where your website sits and from where your visitors can access it. Good hosting starts at ~$3 a month. Here are our hosting recommendations.

Building your website on either of our three best CMS will cost the same in terms of domain name and hosting.

One more thing…

While the CMS platforms are free to download, in some cases, users will want to extend the native feature sets of their CMS with extra modules and/or designs.

You’ll find:

  • WordPress plugins available for $0-$200
  • Joomla plugins: $0-$70
  • Drupal plugins: $0-$100

The same thing goes for themes – installable design packages. You’ll find:

  • WordPress themes available for $0-$250
  • Joomla themes: $0-$200
  • Drupal themes: $0-$80

All three of the best CMS have add-ons in roughly the same price range. Ultimately, you don’t have to buy any add-ons if you don’t have the budget.

In the end, if you intend to get only the bare minimum, your bill is going to be:

  • $15 (domain name) + $3*12 (hosting) = ~$51 a year

2. Level of expertise needed

At the end of the day, you will be able to use either of our best CMS from this lineup without any previous experience.

That being said, your results may vary depending on what your expectations are and how advanced of a site you want to build.

WordPress is arguably the easiest one to use. Expanding the functionality of your site and finding and customizing the designs is much more approachable.

Additionally, many hosting companies now offer what’s called “managed WordPress hosting,” meaning that you don’t have to worry about the technical setup of the server or even worry about installing WordPress on your own. The hosting company will handle all of that.

Regarding customization, WordPress comes with a friendly interface for tweaking the looks of your site, changing the colors, backgrounds, and other visual elements.

Best CMS demo: WordPress customizer

Joomla and Drupal are more developer-centered and do expect you to be reasonably comfortable working with HTML and PHP – that is, if you want to build a more custom-looking and custom-operating website.

There are not as many versatile add-ons available for either CMS, and the ones that are there are not as refined as their counterparts for WordPress.

In most cases, you can expect to either have to hire someone or learn the inner workings of either Joomla or Drupal if you want to end up with a custom-looking website.

Best CMS demo: joomla creating a new post

This all comes down to the size of the community – there are many more people working on WordPress-related products and add-ons than they are working on Joomla or Drupal. This means that if you want to get a feature for your website that’s not available via a plugin, you’ll have to create that feature yourself.

3. Popularity of the best CMS

The popularity contest is actually a no-contest. WordPress takes this round hands down. Take a look at this chart – it presents the usage of content management systems on the web:

Best CMS: WordPress popularity

See these two small specs in the corner? That’s how popular Joomla and Drupal are.

Here are the numbers in raw:

  • WordPress is used on 35% of the entire web. Read: more than one in every three websites run on WordPress
  • Joomla 2.7%
  • Drupal 1.7%

Example websites running on WordPress:

The White House

whitehouse

University of Washington

washington

PlayStation Blog

ps4

Example websites running on Joomla:

RogerFederer.com

rogerfederer

United Nations Regional Information Centre

unric

itwire

itwire

Example websites running on Drupal:

NASA

nasa

Harvard University

harvard

Tesla

tesla

4. Choice of designs

Design quality is a huge factor in choosing your CMS. We all want our websites to look nice and not be an eyesore.

First, let’s talk out-the-box design – meaning, how good the CMS looks on its default setup right after the installation.

Here’s WordPress:

Best CMS: WordPress design

Joomla:

Best CMS: joomla design

Drupal:

Best CMS: drupal design

Both Joomla and Drupal look a bit archaic if you ask me. WordPress sports a modern and optimized design.

Setting the default design aside, most users will want to change to a unique one. This is where themes/templates come into play.

There are thousands of themes available for WordPress. Both free and paid ones. To start with, you can go to the official directory of themes at WordPress.org. There are around 10,000 free themes available there. Then, you’ll also find thousands of other free themes throughout the web.

Then come in paid themes. There are multiple quality theme houses that will sell you optimized and beautiful themes for $10-$250.

Overall, you’ll certainly have no shortage of design choices with WordPress.

themeforest

The choice for both Drupal and Joomla is much smaller. Most importantly, there are hardly any free themes that look good. We’re talking in the range of hundreds compared to thousands for WordPress.

That said, the paid themes do look good and offer good variety of design and functionality. There’s just way fewer of them vs WordPress.

5. Customization options

Each of the best CMS here offers its own spin on installing new features on your site:

  • WordPress calls all new add-ons plugins
  • Joomla calls them extensions
  • Drupal calls them modules

The idea behind them is basically the same – to let you extend the default range of features that come with your CMS.

Let’s talk numbers first:

  • You’ll find more than 50,000 plugins for WordPress available in the official directory alone. There are thousands more available from third-party developers.
  • There are around 8,000 extensions available for Joomla in the official directory, and a couple hundred more throughout the web.
  • There are around 44,000 modules available for Drupal in the official directory, but only a handful elsewhere on the web.

WordPress offers the biggest number of plugins, and those plugins are the most user-facing. Meaning, they’re meant to be used by the final user of the site, they provide a refined UI and easy-to-comprehend control panels. You can also safely expect that if you need a new feature for your WordPress site, there’s probably a plugin for that already.

Joomla offers a good catalog of extensions as well, albeit much smaller than that of WordPress’. You’ll still find extensions to handle all of the most crucial aspects of your site, such as galleries, SEO, analytics, contact forms, and more.

Drupal modules are much more developer-focused. You’ll find various solutions to expand the APIs, set up additional tokens for devs, do more advanced user management, and so on.

Overall, they will help you further customize the inner mechanisms of Drupal if you’re working on a more serious project. There are not as many user-facing modules, though. Even doing a search in the module directory for something as simple as “contact form” doesn’t produce optimistic results.

6. Security and updates

You can expect a new WordPress version update roughly every 50-60 days. Many of those updates are minor and just fix small bugs and issues here and there. Bigger WordPress releases come out a couple of times a year.

Small Joomla updates come out a bit more frequently, roughly every 10-40 days, but the bigger ones come only about once a year or even less frequently. Joomla version 3 has been with us for seven years now, for instance.

Drupal works on a set release schedule, delivering one bugfix update and one security update a month. Bigger updates – major versions – come around two times a year. What adds to the confusion with Drupal is that there are currently two versions that seem to be run concurrently – Drupal 7 and 8.

Now let’s talk security. First, the numbers. Here’s the annual website hack trend report by Sucuri – a web security company:

website hacks

As you can see, this doesn’t look good for WordPress. Around 90% of all infected CMS websites run on WordPress.

This low score of WordPress’ is due to a couple of factors. First, it’s simply the most popular CMS on the web. It will naturally receive a much bigger piece of the hacking pie.

Also, since this many sites run on WordPress, hacking into WordPress yields a higher ROI for attackers – investing in building an exploit for WordPress can result in breaking into thousands of sites vs a much smaller number for Joomla or Drupal.

On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out that both Drupal and Joomla are hacked into proportionally less than WordPress – even once we factor in the popularity levels of all three CMSs. This is no coincidence. Actually, security is one of the main selling points of Drupal’s. Many government agencies and other institutions have trusted Drupal chiefly due to its strong focus on website security.

7. Support and community

All three of our best CMS offer ways for you to get help if you’re struggling with a task:

When it comes to the quality of all those docs, Joomla’s and Drupal’s offerings seem to come on top. While WordPress has a decent documentation section and user guides, you’ll probably find more in-depth tutorials and information elsewhere on the web (like on our site, for example).

The official support forums are all quite similar with either CMS.

Lastly, if you need to hire a professional to help you figure out some more complex stuff, or even work on your entire website, then it’s going to be much easier to find WordPress developers than Joomla or Drupal developers.

For instance, if you go to Freelancer.com (one of the most popular sites to hire freelancers) and look up each CMS, you’ll get these results:

  • “WordPress” – over 68,000 freelancers offering WordPress-related work
  • “Joomla” – around 10,000
  • “Drupal” – around 5,200

freelancer.com

To Wrap Up:

When to use WordPress?

WordPress is a great all-around CMS if you want to DIY a website and also make sure that it will look properly and have all the features you need.

It’s the easiest platform to use if you’re a beginner and also one that offers the best designs and the biggest choice of them.

Plus, if you ever want to expand your site, you can choose from thousands of plugins that can handle pretty much any new feature you can think of.

When to use Drupal?

Drupal can be your solution if the website you want to build will have a lot of custom functionality and will require first-class security at the same time.

Drupal is more geared toward developers rather than DIY users who are working on their sites in the afternoons.

You will also likely require a lot of custom work and coding done to achieve your final desired effect with Drupal.

When to use Joomla?

Joomla kind of meets you in the middle between WordPress and Drupal. On the one hand, it does deliver a lot of user-facing features but also expects you to custom-code the non-standard elements.

Joomla has a more advanced user management scheme, which can be handy if your website is meant to be managed by multiple people. The same goes for multilingual support. With Joomla, you can set up multilingual sites right out the box, while doing so with WordPress requires a separate plugin.

That being said, you will still find Joomla’s learning curve to be quite steep. This can be troublesome if the only thing you want for now is simply a “working website.”


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223 comments

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  1. Avatar

    This is a very good comparison. Would have loved to have seen some performance information and how difficult it is to scale the CMSs for large #s of pages and high volume sites.

  2. Avatar

    I expected a fair assessment of the three content management systems. It’s quite obvious that the author has little or no experience with Joomla. As for the comment that a Joomla developer needs to be skilled in PHP, nothing could be farther from the truth. Joomla is extremely flexible without resorting to the management of code.

    The last time I started to develop a WordPress site, I quit when I realized that I was going to have to edit the code to insert a simple logo in the header. (Yeah, I know that some templates already have that built-in.) I know developers that make a lot of money writing PHP and Javascript to make WordPress do what it wasn’t designed to do. Pretty much all the things those developers want to do can be done in Joomla with much difficulty.

    As for the appearance of the site, the example shown is of a starter template that almost nobody would use. Many of the best WordPress templates have a Joomla version that is just as good or better.

    1. Avatar

      Hey Paul, thanks for your input. Since Joomla is built on PHP, if you want to be a developer, it’s probably a good idea to be skilled in that language. The same is true if you want to develop for WordPress, though here, JavaScript is becoming more and more important.

      Whether you are working with Joomla or WordPress, knowing the right tools to get the job done will always make your life easier. Most modern WordPress themes will allow you to change the site logo from the back end without editing code.

      As for the starter template, WordPress comes with a new default theme every year that is built on the latest technology and design trends. Since the same doesn’t happen for Joomla or Drupal, WordPress tends to look a little better right out of the box. Of course, nobody is saying that you can not change Joomla’s look with another template. We just compared what a site built with the different CMS looks like right after installation.

      In the end, which is the right solution for you depends on your needs and skill level. We just think that WordPress is the easiest solution to get into as a beginner (which is our main audience) but we are also aware that the other two CMS’s can be used to build awesome websites.

      I hope this clarified some of the points in the post.

  3. Avatar

    I will compliment you with an expertly written article. WordPress is my CMS choice since 2004. I choose it because of the aesthetics and extensive library of add ons but I have also had no real issues with security. Most developers will tell you that 90% of security issues are user-related. They don’t use recently updated themes and plugins and don’t stay up to date on their core install which gets security tweaks a couple of times a month because WordPress is such a big target. There are also exceptional security suites like WordFense and server-side security systems as well that keep sites safe.

    In the 15 years of using WP, I have only had 2 of over 2 dozen sites hacked and bother were only cosmetic breaches and they were weak password situations. Joomla and Drupal are clunky and not visually on par with WordPress. Most clients are not tech-savvy and WP has a lesser learning curve as you mention.

  4. Avatar

    Thank you for your interesting article. Since 2016, as a church in the Netherlands, we have to meet the new EU ‘privacy law’. For one thing, you are not allowed to gather personal data of your members without their explicit permission. A big step to realize this on the church website would be the possibility for church members to select themselves which items they would register/ disclose in the membership database. To make this possible the website needs a password protected area and functionality which enables members to fill in their own data. Which CMS facilitates this functionality the best?

    1. Avatar

      Hey Jack, unfortunately, I don’t know any solution for your request from the top of my head. I know that there are a lot of GDPR-ready plugins for WordPress. You can find many of them here but you would have to make your own research as to what fits your needs.
      Overall, I would recommend you to go with WordPress or Joomla as those two solutions are much easier to implement than Drupal. Especially, if you want a relatively simple site.

  5. Avatar
    Szymon Chmielowiec

    Yes, I must also thank you for the work you have done! You compare the most popular CMS on the main areas that are important for website owners before making a decision.

    Looking from the perspective of a person who creates dedicated solutions every day, I think that Drupal 8 is by far the best CMS for larger organizations that need extensive functionality – non-stop updated while maintaining the security of the site. There is a reason why so many websites of government organizations and universities use Drupal 🙂

  6. Avatar

    The big argument in favor of Drupal, for me, is the degree to which a Drupal site can be customized to fit the client’s needs. The back end may be more complex, but it’s relatively easy to provide a simplified interface for those who are to have editorial responsibilities on the site. The content managers can deal exclusively with information blocks that make sense in their world.

    There is a new option in the Drupal world. There was a fork from Drupal 7 that provides some of the Drupal 8 benefits, but with a commitment to simplicity (albeit relative simplicity). The Backdrop CMS is an attractive alternative to Drupal 7/8, at least for smaller sites. It still allows the back end designer to present editors with information blocks that make sense in their world, but with a strong back end commitment to simplicity and (relatively) easy upgrades. For me, it’s the most promising of the serious CMSs.

  7. Avatar

    Great article. You outlined some costs in another article which was also helpful. But I’m still not clear on the big picture cost differential. I understand it’s tied to feature, function and individual developer costs, but generally is Drupal xx% more than WordPress but x% less than Joomla for development (or whatever the math is)?

    Thanks!

    1. Avatar

      There was a real test comparison between Drupal, Joomla and WordPress a couple of years ago to see which system was built fastest easiest from ground up from a specification from 3 developer teams from each of these CMS.

      Unfortunately the commercial interests from competitors took that comparison away when it was not favourable for them. That was the best non personal biased comparison that has been made.

      And Joomla won that competition for being fastest to set up and with best looking result. And Joomla have also winning Best Free CMS – Joomla! many years ie 2018 and before. https://www.cmscritic.com/awards/

    2. WebsiteSetup Editorial
      WebsiteSetup Editorial

      Hi Jennifer,

      It’s hard to make a general estimate like that, but WordPress has the most free stuff out of the 3 so it will likely be the cheapest with Joomla in the middle and Drupal having the most costs, assuming you’ll hire someone to develop on it as it’s a difficult platform to work with.

      1. Avatar

        That is not true that the most of the WP stuff is free.
        The most of the WP plugins are not totally free, those plugins which are free, actually have just basic features, to be able to use all the features you have to pay.
        Joomla have many extensions which are totally free or partially free similar such as WP plugins.

        1. Avatar

          Hey Nikola, it’s true that there are a lot of freemium WordPress plugins. However, in my experience, for most functionality you are able to find a free solution in WordPress. This is especially true because the WordPress sphere is a lot bigger than Joomla’s. Depending on the scope, you might also have to purchase premium solutions, however, these are usually quite affordable. Overall, both CMS are quite similar in this regard.

  8. Avatar

    Great article. If I need an easy to build website with a secured section for members – as in login required, should I go for Joomla? Thank you.

  9. Avatar

    I’m using Joomla for more than 10 years (i’ve built more than 100 websites with Joomla) and I find it very difficult to accept the fact that Joomla is dying.
    Very little new templates, lack of updates on the extensions and fewer new extensions available.
    Meanwhile WordPress is flourishing holding more than 60% of the market share.
    Although Joomla can do the trick for most of my needs I must stop delaying and start using WordPress immediately.