When it comes to page speed, users don’t just enjoy fast websites — they expect them. In 2010 Google stated that a web page must load fully within two seconds to retain visitors, and that benchmark is still widely accepted today. Anything over, and you’ll begin to miss out on new visitors and conversions.
When fractions of a second matter, it makes sense to evaluate every aspect of your site for what’s affecting load times. There’s a lot that can be optimized — your hosting, your content, your caching — but what about your content management system?
In this post, I’ll unpack the role that your CMS plays in website performance. We’ll review four popular CMSs — CMS Hub, WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla — and how you can optimize each for performance.
But first, is one CMS necessarily faster than others?
Is there such a thing as a “fastest CMS”?
In short, no. There is no one content management system that can be proven as the “fastest.” This is because there are more significant influences at play.
Many things affect how your website performs for any given user. There are factors on the client end, such as the device, connection speed, and geographical location. There are also factors on your end, like the amount of content on your website, the number of scripts (both internal and external) your pages run, and, perhaps most importantly, your web hosting.
When considering everything that affects website speed, your content management system falls relatively low on the list. There are more important criteria to consider when looking for the right CMS, including cost, scalability, security, and overall fit for what you want to accomplish.
When it comes to speed, it’s more about what you do with the CMS you have, rather than which CMS you choose. A self-proclaimed “fast CMS” can lag behind in poor hands, while any popular CMS can perform well with the right steps.
Now, let’s discuss four content management systems — CMS Hub, WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla — in terms of how their pages perform and what you can do to ensure your CMS runs as fast as possible.
CMS Hub, HubSpot’s content management system, is among the most advanced on the market, offering speed, security, and integration with HubSpot’s marketing, sales, and service software.
CMS Hub is made for scaling businesses who don’t want to search for plugins and add-ons to increase performance. It comes with several built-in performance optimization measures, including:
- Browser and server caching: CMS hub automatically implements both server and browser caching to deliver pages, scripts, and style sheets more quickly, and updates expiration headers automatically.
- GZIP compression: HTML, CSS, and JS files are all compressed with GZIP, which reduces transferred file sizes by up to 70%.
- Image file compression: CMS Hub compresses images as you upload them, resulting in smaller image files without a visible drop in quality. The CMS also strips JPEGs and PNGs of metadata.
- HTTP/2: All websites powered by CMS Hub are served using HTTP/2, a revision of HTTP that reduces latency.
In addition to what’s already included in CMS Hub, there are extra steps you can take to squeeze out some extra performance.
First, CMS Hub lets you lazy load images. When this option is turned on for an image, the loading of the image is deferred until the user scrolls to it, which gives the impression of a faster initial page load. See HubSpot’s instructions on editing images in rich text modules for more information.
HubSpot also allows site owners to enable Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) on their blog posts. AMP is a page format created by Google designed for high performance on mobile devices. This is easy to accomplish in CMS Hub — see the knowledge base article on enabling AMP to learn how.
Finally, there are other tweaks that you can make if you’re comfortable editing code. These changes include deferring unnecessary JS and other image optimization techniques. See the developer tutorial for more info.
With a 64% share of the CMS market, WordPress is the go-to content management system for the majority of new website admins. And for good reason — the WordPress CMS is flexible, easy to learn, and, above all else, free and open-source. Anyone looking to launch their first organizational website or blog has likely considered it.
The lack of a price tag comes with a tradeoff, though. For one thing, running a WordPress website isn’t actually free — you still have to pay for hosting, a domain, and premium plugins.
Also relevant here is the fact that WordPress leaves much of the performance up to you. This isn’t to say that the WordPress CMS is a poor choice. However, having the fastest site possible requires a bit of extra effort on your end.
The first and most important factor to consider for performance is your web hosting. Since your hosting provider owns and maintains the actual hardware that your site lives on, you’ll want to pick a provider and a plan that can handle your expected amount of traffic, and one that allows you to switch plans when your website scales.
If it’s in your budget, choose a managed WordPress hosting provider — these providers specialize in hosting WordPress websites and have configured their servers to deliver WordPress sites as efficiently as possible. They also handle security, backups, and updates for you, and you’ll get WordPress-specific support.
Next, site owners can take advantage of the huge ecosystem of third-party WordPress plugins. There’s a plugin for virtually anything you want to achieve, including better performance. Consider high-quality plugins for image optimization and caching (but note that many managed hosts ban caching plugins, as they conflict with the server setup).
This isn't a license to download every plugin you can, though — too many plugins will hurt performance, especially low-quality plugins. Keep only the plugins you use, and consider cutting down if you notice a performance dip.
The same goes for WordPress themes, too. Those that are poorly coded or bloated with features will require more scripts and style sheets than necessary. Avoid these themes when possible, and opt for a lightweight, fast-loading WordPress theme instead.
Drupal is an open-source CMS oriented toward developers and experienced programmers. Known for its robust functionality, flexibility, security, and large community, the Drupal CMS is also acclaimed for its ability to handle large volumes of traffic on large websites. It’s another great choice for sites and web apps that intend to scale, as long as you have one or more developers available.
Given the complexity of Drupal, the team has written documentation on how to optimize scaling Drupal websites for performance, which links to pages that target different aspects of your Drupal website. Here, I’ll mention a few to take special note of.
Every Drupal website should make use of caching, which is when web pages are stored temporarily to be fetched more quickly in the future. Drupal includes several native caching methods that you can toggle — see Drupal’s caching documentation to learn how.
Next up, Drupal offers a way to lessen the burden of images on your pages. Under Drupal’s image settings, you can change the quality of images across your site. There are also image optimization modules to give you more control over image compression, rescaling, and lazy loading.
Drupal also recommends optimizing your MySQL database. Aside from regularly cleaning out your database to keep things light, Drupal suggests changes you can make to your core database files to improve better performance.
Finally, like WordPress, it’s wise to limit the number of extensions you implement on your site. Each Drupal module means more resources used up on your server, so consider disabling modules that you don’t absolutely need — you can always reactivate them later.
Joomla is another well-known free CMS and is seen as a compromise in the open-source marketplace between Drupal’s flexibility and WordPress’s ease of use. Website owners have the option to modify the underlying PHP themselves, or to go codeless with the CMS.
Joomla offers some performance features out-of-the-box, including caching which you can activate in your system settings — see Joomla’s cache documentation for instructions on how to turn on page caching, view caching, and module caching.
Next, you can apply GZIP compression to your files to get them to visitors in less time. Under System > Global Configuration > Server, toggle Gzip Page Compression to Yes.
Lastly, take advantage of Joomla performance extensions for the rest of your optimizations. There are plenty of third-party options to take care of tasks like image compression, image lazy loading, database optimization, code minification, and deferring unnecessary scripts.
Like other CMSs, Joomla works best when you use extensions in moderation. Delete unused extensions and audit each one you’re currently using to determine whether it’s worth the load on your server.
Get the Most Out of Your CMS
While there’s no objectively “fastest” content management system on the market, there are several steps you can take to make whatever CMS you choose into a well-oiled machine behind your fast website.
While built-in performance features are a plus, we recommend looking into how different CMSs fit with your needs. After all, you’ll be spending the most time with it, so it should work for you.