Which CMS? WordPress vs Joomla vs Drupal

It’s the big question. I’ve had the opportunity to work with all three of these Content Management Systems (CMS) in various guises, and in my view — from a online publishing perspective — there is a clear winner. Everyone has their favourite and there will no doubt people that vehemently disagree, but hear me out.

First on to Joomla and Drupal: Both Joomla and Drupal are complex CMSes, and I’ve felt that these are CMSes designed by techies for techies. When using these CMSes, you get the feeling that the publishing part of the CMS was priority 2 as opposed to its core function which is ultimately to get content onto the web. I’ve also found that the user interfaces and menu structures of these sites are clunky, busy and overly complex. (Admittedly I’ve only worked with earlier versions of Drupal.) Only use these CMSes if you have a good technical team and are happy to delve into the bowels of the thing every now and again.

Then there is WordPress. For a while, I’d never considered WordPress to be a CMS for a publishing site, as I’d always seen it as a blog-specialist platform primarily. But this doesn’t hold true anymore, and in fact WordPress can be a generalist CMS in itself, with the added blog functionality (such as trackbacks, pingbacks etc etc). In fact WordPress can be themed to work for a fairly complex magazine site or even a news site. It’s a new wave of using WordPress that has only really recently started to take off.

It’s WordPress’s simplicity and focus on the core functions of online publishing that makes it a winner as a CMS for me. It’s the zen, minimalist CMS geared towards the most important task at hand: publishing.

If you had to level some criticism: arguably you could say WordPress is too simple for big sites — and that is a fair criticism. For really big and complex sites, probably none of the three CMSes above are entirely suitable. In fact it’s prudent to build your own tailored CMS to fit the nuances and demands of your business, especially if it’s centred at the core of your business.

(Declaration: I published this post using WordPress. It has in no way influenced my decision!)

Comments (16)

  1. Dimitrio wrote::

    I <3 wordpress too!

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 10:38 am #
  2. Neil Garb wrote::

    Have you ever had a look at Expression Engine? I’ve never used it personally, but know people that swear by it and the EE2.0 preview screencast that was unleashed at SXSW earlier this year is very impressive.


    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 10:46 am #
  3. gmk wrote::

    Agreed, My experience with Drupal and Joomla was always shadowed by time wasted getting around the back-end, and to be honest with a little bit of thought you can make WP do anything you want.

    I am also fairly happy to let a non tech folk play in wordpress where i suspect a similar mission in the other two would result in
    several support phone calls

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 12:46 pm #
  4. Luke wrote::

    Hey Matt, don’t forget tomorrow’s outsider favourite

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 1:42 pm #
  5. esvl wrote::


    Drupal: Hard to upgrade if you have a lot of plugins and with so many new releases cant manage all my sites.

    Joomla: Two versions, how confusing is that?

    WordPress: Upgrades automatically, plugins work with most versions and so customizable without messing the site up if you are a non coder non techy person.

    My opinion.

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 5:41 pm #
  6. muzi wrote::

    am not an IT guru, have never used drupal before, have used joomla before (features are limited), currently on wordpress and am a big fan…just love its simplicity and the loads of plug-ins.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 11:19 pm #
  7. Luke wrote::

    hmm.. I’ve used WordPress before as a pure cms, and as great as it is, user-friendly etc, in my opinion its main issue is scalability and flexibility when you get to building a fairly large site.

    When I say scalability, I don’t mean in terms of traffic – we’ve seen huge sites successfully tweak their WP installs to handle this – WordPress.org and Techcrunch are examples.

    What I mean is non-blog format templates that require more than a few custom fields and a complex tree of navigation to support the variety of content they contain.

    When you need to build this kind of site, you need a highly flexible publishing system like Expression Engine that makes very few assumptions about your database structure going in and your content and xhtml coming out.

    I’ve considered using Drupal in the past, but I’ve been put off by the bloated default install and the issues I’ve seen people grapple with around hacking it to fit your project requirements.

    I think when Expression Engine 2 finally debut’s we are going to see a very serious (albeit non-free) contender for best web publishing system, certainly for those sites that WP is not (yet) able to cater for as a pure cms.

    Sunday, August 24, 2008 at 9:50 am #
  8. Gary James wrote::

    Hi Matt,

    I’m using WordPress as well as Drupal for a number of projects. Drupal’s built-in forum functionality used to be way better than what WordPress was offering with bbPress – I haven’t looked at bbPress in a couple of months so I can’t comment on whether or not it’s in the same ballpark as Drupal yet.

    Also, Drupal supports a number of plugins that make adding shopping carts really easy – it sets up the products, reports, interface to the payment gateway, everything! I’m not aware that WordPress has anything remotely as good, without having to code it myself.

    I agree that WordPress does feel a heck of a lot lighter, probably because it is. I’m sure we could get WordPress to do anything with enough tweaking, much as we could develop Win32 applications using NotePad if we really, really, really wanted to. But at this point in time I think Drupal is still offering many features that WordPress just doesn’t have available – yet.

    Best Regards,


    Monday, August 25, 2008 at 10:05 pm #
  9. matt wrote::

    @luke hear you on wordpress…it does struggle when the site is quite complex and varied… haven’t used expression engine….must check it out.

    @Gary… drupal probably does perform better for e-commerce plug ins…WP does seem to be more publishing/blog focused.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 7:09 am #
  10. Gary James wrote::

    Hi Matt,

    Agreed. It’s great to see projects with bbPress coming along nicely. I’m sure eventually WordPress plugins will exist for interfacing to ecommerce etc, but for now I think Drupal is still way ahead in that respect.


    Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 9:20 am #
  11. Jarrad wrote::

    I went through this process a couple of months ago. I just found WordPress to be clean and simple, with less of a hardcore tech understanding. So for people interested in publishing content, in an easy environment.

    I have found WordPress to be gold.

    See: http://www.futurespace.co.za

    Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 4:11 pm #
  12. tms Ruge wrote::

    I couldn’t have said it better. Even though I tried a couple of days ago…

    I fully agree!

    I also think that WordPress started heading in the right direction once 2.5 dropped! I think there are some big things heading in our direction by the time they drop v3.0. I think they are listening to all this CMS talk and slowly adding more and more features as standard.

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 5:36 am #
  13. tomy wrote::

    Open source content management systems can make the tasks of creating and managing your website a lot easier – and there’s no licensing fee involved

    The issues on comparisons between Joomla and Drupal are very common these days as they are currently considered the top two open source content management systems (CMS) out there. But, Which one is more usable, powerful and popular ?

    It’s a simple question with no simple answer

    Please go to this link and answer some questions (especially for those who have experienced in using Joomla and Drupal –> Online Survey )


    (Online Survey Menu)
    your participation will assist us in planning the future..thank you

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 11:00 am #
  14. Ryan Jin wrote::

    Sounds great looking forward to it ! this is really nice mate! good job! Thanx!

    Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 8:55 am #
  15. Ben Shelock wrote::

    WordPress always seems to be overlooked in terms of CSM. Its a shame because it is excellent. Definatly one of the best free scripts I have ever used.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 2:04 am #
  16. Gregg wrote::

    I spent a good two years being extremely amped on WordPress… it was a joy to work, was easy to skin and easy to understand… It was pretty easy to break apart and could be reconfigured into a variety of types of site that was to me the holy grail at the time. I built and skinned about 15 different wordpress sites before discovering Drupal and for me, the conversion was almost immediate.

    Drupal is complex at first…. depending on the site you are trying to build, its not always the best choice as it can be overwhelming for use on smaller sites… but for anything involving a commmunity it is an amazing tool backed up by a really organised and pro-active community.

    In general I have found the quality of the Drupal modules to be far superior to wordpress plugins which often seem a bit hacked together and buggy but both are complex and powerful systems and both can have you tearing your hair out.

    Drupal out the box is not super user friendly, it requires a few modules to be installed before it approaches the out the box ease of use that wordpress is famous for.

    Updating wordpress between major versions always gives me headaches whereas Drupal has been pretty painless in this regard.

    Drupal suffers in some areas with too many module options for handling audio and video and no defined “standard”. Then again these modules when used effectively can be used to re-create sites such as twitter, flickr or youtube , often with relative ease. Try building any of those with WordPress.

    Custom fields are clunky in wordpress and not very client friendly. I have found Drupals recipe of CCK, Views and Panels to be much more powerful combination for dealing with custom data.

    Drupal definitely gets my vote although it could definitely use a few more quality themes and Drupal 6 already seems to be addressing a lot of the “techie” user problems.

    I will still use WordPress for smaller sites although its sometimes easier to trim Drupals features down rather than to build WordPress’s feature set up as I found after doing it a fair amount of times.

    Monday, November 17, 2008 at 11:57 am #