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Choosing the right CMS for you

It is easy to see why businesses and organisations looking to develop or upgrade their websites are increasingly turning to Content Management Systems (CMS).

salsa 29 May 2012

It is easy to see why businesses and organisations looking to develop or upgrade their websites are increasingly turning to Content Management Systems (CMS). CMS websites are powerful, feature-rich tools that allow users to easily edit and update content without hacking HTML code.

In response to the growing demand, hundreds of different CMS options have been developed, which makes choosing the right CMS a daunting task. The good news is that you don’t need to know exactly which CMS is best for you. But you should have a good grasp of what you want from your website.

“Half of our customers have already chosen their platforms, and they come to us knowing they want to use,” says Salsa Digital’s Adam DeGiorgio. “The other half want a solution and have not thought about the technology.”

If you are in the ‘other half’, there is more good news: in most cases, your choices can be narrowed down to three: Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal. The three represent the most popular and successful platforms used today and any evaluation of CMS options should start with them.

History & Overview

Wordpress began in 2003 as a blogging platform and has now expanded to be a more complete CMS. However, it is the least powerful of the three CMS options and is better suited to smaller, less complex sites.

Joomla is the youngest of the three (2005) but had its origins as Mambo, which was a popular and successful CMS at the time. Since separating, Joomla has matured into a powerful CMS popular for small to medium sized websites.

Drupal was released in 2001 and is the most established of the three. It is a very powerful platform well suited to larger, more complex websites and has been used to build sites such as whitehouse.gov and The Economist.

Design & Configuration

Push come to shove, all three platforms provide enough flexibility for developers to make your website look and feel any way you want. But there are important differences that need to be considered.

Wordpress offers thousands of free and commercial templates, but it is best suited to simpler designs – smaller number of pages, limited interactivity, and simpler menu structure.

Joomla has a strong infrastructure for templates, but is more rigid than Drupal as a framework, which limits its ability to handle complex designs. Drupal is a very strong platform for interactive sites and can handle highly complex designs.

“Because Joomla is somewhat inflexible with its back-end capabilities and what it can do with the templates, it restricts the designs,” says Salsa Digital’s Creative Director Benson Tait. “But with Drupal, we can go all out on the designs, and it can handle it.”

Third-party extensions

All three platforms have large and active developer communities and are continually updated. The communities also provide thousands of extensions – usually free. At last count, Drupal had more than 10,000 module extensions, Joomla is nearing 9,500 and Wordpress has close to 20,000! So, the chances are that an existing plug-in would cover most generic functionality that you need.

However, it is important to note that each CMS may have particular functionalities that it implements better than others. For example, Wordpress is the king of blogs and Drupal has an excellent forum extension. So your website’s functionality requirements will obviously influence which CMS platform you use.

Customisations

Wordpress is the least flexible of the three CMS options and would not be the platform of choice for highly customised, specialist websites.

While Joomla can be used to develop powerful functionality, it is not as flexible as Drupal. With highly complex customisations the core Joomla code may require alteration, which will have implications for future upgrades.

Drupal comes stripped of features so that it can be built to very specific needs. Salsa’s senior developer Sonny Kiew says that Drupal’s “combination of flexibility and it’s ability to handle complexity, means that you can highly customise the website”. And the Drupal framework allows custom extensions to ‘hook’ into the core, without touching the core itself.

Development & Ongoing Maintenance

Wordpress sites tend to be quicker and cheaper to develop than Joomla or Drupal. But this is usually a reflection of the type of sites that are built on Wordpress, which tend to be less complex and smaller. The same approximations can be made for ongoing maintenance – Wordpress will cost less to maintain, made all the more easier by its excellent mechanism for updating extensions.

With Joomla and Drupal, the development effort (and costs) will be determined by the functionality and complexity of the site. But Drupal’s flexible framework allows for a more efficient development process.

“With Joomla, it is very rigid in its design,” says lead developer Chris Gunawardena. ”It is more difficult to achieve the same outcome as with Drupal.”

Drupal’s flexibility also allows updates to be applied with less hassle than Joomla, which does not have the same level of separation between components and the core.

Usability

Usability is where Wordpress shines – it is the easiest of the three to use and administer. Posting articles and blog entries are its bread-and-butter and its administrative backend is intuitive to use.

Joomla makes managing articles and media relatively simple, but some training will be needed for more complex functionality and third party plug-ins. Joomla is also somewhat cumbersome in its menu management and offers a rigid two-level category structure for its content.

Drupal was not known for its usability, but things have changed. “Drupal’s administrative interface has improved in the last couple of versions. It is very good now,” says DeGiorgio.

Drupal offers a user-friendly, drag-and-drop system for menu management and is also more flexible than Joomla in its ability to categorise content. Drupal also allows users to edit content without using a separate backend, which the team at Salsa Digital say makes it easy for users to manage the site.

SEO & Social Media Integration

Wordpress has especially powerful SEO tools built-in, but there are no deal breakers here. All three CMS platforms offer very good, powerful SEO functionality and easily support social media integration.

Conclusions

Wordpress is best suited for smaller, article and blog driven content websites. If you are after a blog-style website, you can’t really go past Wordpress. It is easier to use and maintain and thus will need less ongoing, external support.

Joomla is a good choice for small to medium sized sites needing a feature-rich CMS. It is capable of providing powerful functionality and is flexible enough to handle customisations, though Drupal offers a better framework for this.

Drupal is a scalable, flexible offering that is best suited to large or complex websites. It provides a powerful, robust platform that can grow with your business or organisation.

But remember that all three have proven track records and are supported by large, active open-source communities. Government departments, media outlets, universities, financial institutions, NGO’s, and thousands of businesses have all created their websites using Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal. And chances are that one of them will be the right CMS for you.

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