Building a website, blog, or web application with a content management system (CMS) can have big advantages: you have visibility into your site’s content, can control how often it’s updated, and basic administrative tasks typically require little to no programming experience. However, when it comes to customizing and extending a CMS-powered site, a developer’s expertise can turn a basic, out-of-the-box site into a totally unique, powerful solution.
There are lots of CMS platforms out there to choose from, all with a common theme: They’re designed to be pretty DIY once they’re up and running. There are CMS options ranging from drag-and-drop solutions like Wix or Squarespace to customizable options with more power under the hood like WordPress or Drupal—so which option is best for your project goals?
In this article, we’ll compare two top CMS platforms, WordPress and Drupal, to help you decide which one is best
An intro to Drupal
Drupal is a majorly powerful CMS, referring to itself as a “content management framework” that lets users launch, manage and scale more “ambitious” sites and applications. Think larger, enterprise-level projects. It’s powered by PHP (and the Symfony PHP framework) and also requires little to no programming experience to set up low-level functionality. Drupal’s extended functionality comes from modules that build off of its Core package (which includes basic things like blogging, forums, contact forms, and other community-style functionality). To take advantage of all those high-powered extras, however, you’ll need help from a skilled Drupal developer—it gets pretty complicated customizing the back-end of a Drupal-powered site.
Sites that are powered by Drupal include The Economist, Weather.com, NFL teams like the Cowboys and the Patriots’ sites, and some US government sites like Whitehouse.gov.
An intro to WordPress
With WordPress, you get what you put in—and the possibilities can be endless. Learn more about how to customize a WordPress site, the Genesis framework, and WordPress plugins. The Advanced Custom Fields plugin gives admins even more control over how content and data is displayed, adding complexity where you need it to WordPress’s famously user-friendly admin panel.
Sites that are powered by WordPress include TechCrunch, Walt Disney Co., the LinkedIn blog, and BBC America’s impressive multisite WordPress install.
Similarities between Drupal and WordPress
- Both have powerful developer APIs. Drupal’s API offers access to numerous UI components, data functions, and more. The WordPress APIs also cover everything from metadata and HTTP to databases, theme customization and plugins.
- Both extend core functionality with add-ons. For Drupal, that’s modules—36,000+ libraries of code, APIs, and tokens that add functionality in categories like ecommerce, SEO, mobile, spam prevention, and third-party integrations. In WordPress, 37,000+ plugins and themes are how developers can customize and add functionality.
- Both are free and open-source. With WordPress.org, you will need to arrange your own hosting and domain, but the software is free. Premium themes and plugins can cost more, too. Drupal is free, too, with similar back-end requirements.
- Both require installation, setup, and hosting. Unlike a cloud-based site builders like Wix and Squarespace, both these require you to download the CMS, install it, and set up hosting and purchase a domain.
- Both offer mobile responsive themes. Drupal mobile sites can perform better when run on a subdomain (which may affect your SEO) while a mobile WordPress site can be easily run on the same domain. Just an extra step to take into account.
- Both have excellent SEO. This isn’t platform-specific; it’s more developer specific. Since we’ve mentioned Drupal can be more complex, it’s going to be easier to to miss out on SEO if it’s not handled properly, which WordPress makes a bit easier to do. Overall, WordPress’ technical SEO aspects are hard to beat. A top-rated plugin/module like Yoast SEO is available for both platforms.
Differences between Drupal and WordPress
- Drupal has a more complex build under the hood. It can take longer to get used to and has a steeper learning curve, but it’s definitely a good option for larger projects and enterprise-grade sites. WordPress is easier to learn and use—and it doesn’t lack in options to ramp up admin capabilities if you need them.
- Version updates are handled differently. WordPress code is upgradable, and this happens in tandem with database updates pretty seamlessly in the background. Because WordPress updates are released every few months, this is a great feature for non-developers. Plugins do need to be regularly updated, though. Drupal updates are more comprehensive overhauls and because they don’t include a code update, the process is more labor intensive. In some cases, you may have to redesign the whole site for an update.
- Plugins present security vulnerabilities. Drupal is known for its tight security and security reporting, which are valuable for larger enterprise sites (and government sites) that have more moving parts. Certain third-party services offer WordPress security measures, but note that you’ll be more open to hacks if you’re not updating plugins regularly.
- Mobile apps for admins. WordPress has a native app for updating your site on mobile; Drupal does not, but it has a responsive mobile admin dashboard.
- Drupal has testing and reporting built in. This helps you see what is working on your site and where there’s room to improve. You can get similar services for WordPress through a plugin like Optimizely that allows you to run split, multivariate, and A/B testing on your site.
- WordPress theme building is easier for DIYers. Both platforms have great starter themes you can purchase, but Drupal themes tend to require more work to get customization. There are also fewer options for free Drupal starter themes, so customization by a developer is almost a given. WordPress has tons of options.
So which platform is right for your project?
In summary, the comparison between these platforms really comes down to two things: your skill level, and the complexity of your project. WordPress has a pretty massive following, and it’s easy to see why: it’s easy to learn and not hard to find your way around. For anything from simple marketing sites to bigger multisite installs, WordPress is technically easier to use and also very well engineered. Drupal is going to ask a bit more from you to make the most of its amazing features. It can rise to the occasion of the most complex of sites, and keeps security locked down.
There are a few questions that can help guide you to which platform is best for you, including:
- What are you building? Consider the performance of your site if you’re planning on having thousands of pages and a high volume of traffic. Drupal can support super complex sites; WordPress can too, but watch for overhead on the server.
- What’s your budget? Depending on your site, development with Drupal can take longer than WordPress, which can get more expensive.
- How many users, contributors, or admins are you going to have? How many different users (and user permissions) will you need to have set up? WordPress makes it very easy to add a number of users with its standard roles and permissions.
- What are your template needs? How many types of content are you going to have, and how many require different templates? The more complex your site, the more you might want robust features that are available from Drupal.
- What are your security requirements? Are you enterprise level, needing comprehensive security measures?