Choosing a content management system (CMS) is an integral part of planning a web site for business or personal need. Regardless of the project being a completely new site or a relaunch, you need to decide how you will update content throughout the site and which platform has the tools that are a fit for you and your growing web presence. Before this decision it is important to step back and look at the big picture of the site to determine your needs and how they should be met. By asking some key questions you can start to get a feel for the features and functionality that the site (and its CMS) should contain.
1 What kind of content will be on the site?
2 How often will content be updated and added?
3 Will you be using E-Commerce?
4 Will there be user accounts attributed to the site? If so, what do you envision users being able to do within the site and will they have different roles?
5 Are you and/or your employees prepared to learn a complicated piece of software?
After arming yourself with these answers the next step is to look at the different CMS’s offered and see which can best meet these needs. For this article I am going to talk about the major platforms that are in use today (WordPress, Drupal and Joomla). I will also be discussing ease of use of the different platforms from the aspect of the person managing website content through the CMS editor, not developing it. In regards to development and coding, the difficulty of each platform will vary on a case by case basis depending on site functionality. If you need an E-Commerce solution I recommend reading the follow up article as well where I will be discussing E-Commerce platforms and solutions and how they can work with a CMS.
1. WordPress (http://wordpress.org/)
Overview: WordPress was initially released in 2003 as a blogging platform and has evolved into a full fledged open source CMS with endless functionality through thousands of plugins and custom development. It is used in over 60 million websites and by roughly 19% of the top 10 million websites throughout the web. Sites such as rollingstones.com, izod.com, boingboing.net show just how far WordPress has come.
When to use: As of a few years ago WordPress was seen primarily as a blogging tool with other functionality being roughly added on by individual developers. Since then it has made massive strides in becoming a full-fledged CMS and has out of the box functionality that can compare with its competitors. From its inception WordPress has had a focus on usability, because of this it is by far the easiest to learn CMS. If you answered question number 5 from above with anything else besides “Yes” then WordPress is what you will be looking for. Once you get a feeling for how it works (which won’t take long), you will be able to easily manage your content. I will discuss the usability of both Drupal and Joomla below, but spoiler alert, WordPress is the easiest to use. There is a reason that WordPress is the most popular CMS and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon.
When not to use: This is turning into a bigger grey area almost monthly, as new plugins and updates are added that expand the functionality of WordPress. Many heavily visited websites are blurring the lines as to what WordPress can do but without a dedicated team of developers it is unlikely you will be able to achieve the same results. Looking back at your questions, if you see yourself with a lot of content types and lots of users with a variety of roles it might be best to look elsewhere such as Drupal. While WordPress is capable of handling content variety, custom functionality and user roles Drupal is better at both of these out of the box. In regards to E-Commerce WordPress is not known as being an E-Commerce platform but since its release has seen a variety of plugins that make it a competitive E-Commerce solution. That being said, if you are going to have a lot of products and see your site being primarily E-Commerce you might want to look at an E-Commerce platform such as Magento.
2. Drupal (https://drupal.org/)
Overview: Originally written as a message board, Drupal became an open source project in 2001. It is used in 2.1% of websites globally such as whitehouse.gov, nbcsports.com and harvard.edu. It is actively maintained and extended through its community through Drupal modules and core updates.
When to use: Drupal and WordPress have been doing a balancing act for about 10 years now. Drupal started with lots of powerful features but with low usability, WordPress was introduced with great usability but a lack of features outside of blogging. Both have made significant progress in improving what they lack in but at the same time neither has taken an advantage. WordPress is still easier to use for content editors while Drupal has more flexible functionality and is favored by developers. Drupal can be frequently seen used with large corporations and government entities as it is great at having a variety of user accounts and content variety. If you have answered the above questions and have realized that you are looking at a fairly complicated site, it is likely that Drupal is the CMS for you. Drupal is also highly customizable thanks to the modules that are created by thousands of developers. These are similar to WordPress plugins but are a bit more flexible.
When not to use: With the additional features and overall hardiness of Drupal comes added complexity to editing content and pages. Drupal has made large improvements in usability but WordPress still reigns supreme in ease of use. In the same sense, if your needs are relatively simple you will not need the added complexity of Drupal. If E-Commerce is your primary need I would once again recommend looking elsewhere as there are better platforms that specialize in E-Commerce.
3. Joomla (http://www.joomla.org/)
When to use: Joomla is a tough call because its right in the middle of WordPress and Drupal. While it is great and publishing different kinds of content and features easy editing, WordPress is likely a better choice for editing content as it is easier to use. If you are looking for powerful functionality and developer-friendly flexibility, Drupal is the better choice. Joomla does present a happy medium though between functionality and ease of use. It can handle large amounts of articles and posts and has extensions that can extend functionality.
When not to use: If you know you are going to have a lot of additional functionality outside of publishing articles/posts then I would recommend looking at WordPress or Drupal. E-Commerce is possible with a Joomla extension, but it won’t have the same functionality of other E-Commerce solutions.
Hopefully this article has helped you narrow down your choice as to which CMS is right for your website. Each case is different and custom functionality will often determine which CMS is best to develop the site for. If you are looking to get started with a CMS powered site and aren’t sure where to start, don’t hesitate to give us a shout and see what we can do for you. If you are still wondering what you should do about E-Commerce, check back next week for a follow up article that will discuss the various E-Commerce solutions on the market today.