While WordPress’ ecosystem of resources enables users at any skill level to build all types of sites — from ecommerce stores to online magazines — the CMS lacks the built-in flexibility required to create more complex sites. That’s why site owners with basic knowledge of coding languages or the time to learn them favor Drupal and its virtually limitless customization options. While the set-up process is lengthier and more complicated, Drupal users can create highly customized sites.

WordPress’s dashboard, plugin directory, and theme repository are designed to be intuitive for users at all skill levels. In exchange for this simplicity, you’ll forgo some of the flexibility that Joomla offers for creating custom content types.

Before we take a look closer at the differences among these platforms, let’s discuss the benefits of building a site with a CMS.

Building a Website with a CMS

If you’re building a website for your business, then you may be considering using a content management system (CMS). A CMS platform will allow you to create, manage, and modify a website without coding it from scratch. That’s great news for those of us who aren’t web developers, designers, or all that tech-savvy.

With approximately 300 platforms on the market today, selecting the right CMS for your business can seem overwhelming. When evaluating different platforms, you’ll want to consider their user-friendliness, security, community, documentation and support, customization options, and performance, among other factors.

To help you narrow down your search and decide which CMS best meets your needs, we’ll compare the three most popular open-source platforms: WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

Because all three platforms use open-source software, they are free to download, use, and modify as you like. They’ve also developed huge communities of developers, designers, and users who share knowledge, organize events, and troubleshoot common issues in order to make the platforms better.

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While they share these and many more similarities, they take unique approaches to building and maintaining websites and, therefore, attract different kinds of users.

Let’s begin exploring those differences by comparing the market share of each platform below.

WordPress vs. Joomla vs. Drupal

WordPress is the most popular content management system in the world. According to a study by W3Techs, it powers 62% of websites with a known CMS and 35% of all websites on the internet, including those without a CMS or with a custom-coded CMS.

While Joomla and Drupal have just a fraction of the market share that WordPress has, they are the second and third most popular open-source CMS platforms. There are approximately 27 million live websites using WordPress, 1.4 million using Joomla, and 500K using Drupal. You can see a side-by-side comparison of the market shares of each CMS below.

Table comparing market shares of WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal

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Although WordPress dominates the CMS market, it may not be the best option for your website goals. If you’d like to build an online community, for example, you may prefer Joomla for its ease in managing hundreds of users. If you’re looking to build a site that requires complex data organization, on the other hand, Drupal may be your best option.

Below we’ll take a closer look at the features of WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal so you can decide which CMS is right for your site.

Ease of Use

For those of us who aren’t web developers or designers , ease of use is among the most important factors to consider when selecting a CMS.

Below we’ll compare the ease of use of WordPress, Joomla and Drupal so you can pick the one that best suits your technical experience.

WordPress Ease of Use

WordPress has a reputation for being beginner-friendly. While Joomla and Drupal are targeted at users with some web development experience, WordPress is designed to be easy enough for beginners without coding knowledge. Its dashboard is intuitive so that users at any skill level can tweak the appearance of their site, install a plugin, change its permalink settings, add blog posts, and more.

In your dashboard, you’ll find Gutenberg, the new editing interface designed to simplify the process of building pages and posts. With this drag-and-drop content editor, you can use blocks to develop media-rich pages rather than relying on custom code and plugins. Choosing among text, media, layout, and code blocks, you can insert, rearrange, and style multimedia content without touching a single line of code. Below you can see how easy this interface is to use.

Demo of WordPress beginner building a page with the Gutenberg editor

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While Gutenberg makes it easy for any user to create content in WordPress, its lack of flexibility will frustrate some users and limit their ability to create complex pages.

For those seeking free-form drag-and-drop editing, multi-column support, and advanced styling options, Joomla and Drupal may be more appealing alternatives — despite the steeper learning curve.

Joomla Ease of Use

Looking at the screenshot below, you’ll notice Joomla’s dashboard is more crowded than that of WordPress.

Joomla's control panel with crowded menu bar highlighted

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That’s because Joomla has more built-in flexibility than WordPress, which allows you to configure many of your site’s settings on the backend. You can modify articles, banners, menus, media, redirects, SEO settings, and more — all without having to install additional plugins.

Just take a look at the dozens of options available in Joomla’s content editor below.

Joomla's content editor is more crowded with built-in features than WordPress's

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While all these extra options will require more time and effort to understand and set up, it will allow you to create a more complex site right out of the box.

Users looking for even more customization options can find them on Drupal.

Drupal Ease of Use

Drupal’s dashboard clearly lays out the options that site administrators have for adding content, enabling modules, managing users, and more. As admin users click through each menu tab, however, they may quickly become overwhelmed by the number of options available. You can see how complicated the interface becomes if you click on Configuration, for example.

A drupal interface opened to the Configuration tab shows how overwhelming the platform can be for beginners

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Many users complain that Drupal’s interface is not only overly complex but outdated. To judge for yourself, take a look at Drupal’s content editor below.

Drupal's content editor looks outdated and unintuitive when compared to WordPress's and Joomla's

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It’s easy to understand why some members of the Drupal community are spearheading an initiative to create a new interface, especially in comparison to WordPress’s and Joomla’s content editors.

Community Support

Since each of these CMS platforms is open-source, you’ll have a community of developers, designers, and users to ask for help and advice. You’ll also be able to look through each platform’s documentation and find tutorials written by others in the community.

Below we’ll look at the communities dedicated to WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

WordPress Community

As the most popular CMS in the world, WordPress has the largest global community with millions of members dedicated to improving the platform. You can reach out to these members through support forums or Slack channels and even meet them in person at WordCamp conferences all over the world.

You may prefer to find your own answers when learning how to use WordPress. In that case, feel free to browse the over two million topics discussed in the official WordPress support forum. Or check out the WordPress Codex, an official online manual from the developers of WordPress that covers everything from installing the WordPress software to creating a custom plugin.

Homepage of WordPress Codex includes a section of resources labelled

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You can also find hundreds of online resources for beginners, including video tutorials, online courses, and ebooks written by other users, developers, and designers in the WordPress community.

Joomla Community

Joomla also has a powerful global community dedicated to supporting the platform, though it’s smaller than the WordPress community. According to official Joomla statistics shared at the 2017 Joomla World Conference, 780 core developers have contributed over 370,000 lines of code to improve it since its launch and almost 700,000 members regularly engage with each other in the Joomla support forum to discuss the software. To meet up with fellow users, you can attend the conference or other events like JoomlaDays and JoomlaCamps held all over the world.

To learn more about Joomla, you can check out its online collaborative community manual. This documentation is made up of over 8,000 articles written, maintained, and translated by Joomla community members. If you still haven’t found an answer, you can read through more than 300,000 posts in the Joomla support forum.

The top threads on Joomla's support forum cover thousands of topics

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Drupal Community

Even as the third most popular CMS, Drupal has one of the largest open source communities in the world. With more than one million members working together to build the platform, provide support, create documentation, and more, Drupal has a larger community than Joomla, despite having a smaller market share. You can meet some of these members at DrupalCon or at other events across 200 countries.

Some of these community members are responsible for writing, updating, and translating official user guides. Each of these guides is available on Drupal’s site and provide a tutorial-style overview of building and maintaining sites on Drupal. While these guides are subject to a formal editorial process, community documentation is not. These articles can be written and freely edited by any member of the Drupal community. As a result, there’s more availble but they vary in quality.

If you’re still looking for an answer, you can try searching among the support forum threads.

Drupal's support form allows community members to engage with and support each other

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Security

Security is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a CMS for your site. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal have been developed over time to be secure, using extensions and add-ons to supplement core code to allow for additional security features.

Below are their individual approaches to security.

WordPress Security

Powered by the most popular CMS in the world, WordPress sites are a prime target for hackers. In fact, there are approximately 90,000 attacks on WordPress sites every minute.

To ensure that sites hosted on its platform are secure, WordPress is built on a secure code that is constantly being updated and improved by a dedicated security team of 25 experts. To ensure that site owners are regularly updating their software, WordPress has an auto-update mechanism that allows them to schedule automatic updates when there is a new security patch. This is a critical functionality considering that 36.7% of infected WordPress sites in 2018 were running an outdated version of WordPress.

Joomla Security

Joomla offers extensive documentation about securing Joomla sites, in part, because it places much of the responsibility on individual site owners. This makes sense considering Joomla has the smallest security team with just 13 people.

A major disadvantage of the platform is that it lacks the functionality to allow users to schedule automatic updates, which gives attackers more opportunities to target known vulnerabilities. According to a report by Sucuri, the number of infected sites running an outdated version of the Joomla software rose sharply from 69.8% in 2017 to 87.50% in 2018.

According to data from the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures system comparing WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, Joomla has had the largest amount of found vulnerabilities since its launch in 2005.

The majority of these vulnerabilities are flaws in its code, which allow attackers to inject shellcode that manipulates the system into granting them administrator privileges. Both WordPress and Drupal are better able to defend themselves against this type of attack, according to the CVE data.

Drupal Security

Of the CMS platforms in this post, Drupal has the highest reputation for security. It has a group of 40 community members dedicated to improving and maintaining the security of the platform. This team follows a set release schedule, generally delivering one bug fix update and one security update a month. Bigger updates generally occur two times a year.

Research shows that these efforts are paying off. According to the CVE data mentioned above, Drupal has the least number of incidents to market-share ratio when compared to WordPress and Joomla.

Customization

Ideally, a CMS will allow you to set up any type of website you want. In reality, this comes down to the level of customizability that your CMS offers. Let’s compare the customization options of the three platforms below, paying particular attention to the number of add-ons and themes they offer.

Please note that WordPress refers to add-ons as “plugins,” Joomla as “extensions,” and Drupal as “modules.”

WordPress Customization

With the largest collection of plugins and themes available for download, WordPress offers hundreds of possibilities for customizing the design and functionality of a site.

To extend the core functionality of your site, you can install WordPress plugins. There are over 50,000 plugins in the official directory, with new ones being added daily.

To customize the appearance of your site, you can choose from over 5,000 free themes available in the official WordPress directory. Uniquely, WordPress offers direct access to these themes from its dashboard.

With WordPress, you can browse thousands of free themes directly in your dashboard

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If you can’t find a free theme that matches your unique needs, then you can check out third-party marketplaces like ThemeForest. There are nearly 10,000 premium themes available in this one marketplace, which far outpaces the number available for Joomla and Drupal. In total, there are approximately 31,000 WordPress themes available for download or purchase.

While WordPress offers the widest selection of plugins and themes, it is not as customizable as Drupal. Think of WordPress like Lego Duplo, developer Rob McBryde says in a Mediacurrent blog post. Lego Duplo provides kids ages 2-5 with preformed shapes that they can use to build playhouses, bakeries, and larger structures. That makes the building process much easier, but limits their ability to, say, build a playhouse with a spiral staircase.

Like Lego Duplo, WordPress offers plugins and pre-designed theme templates that allow beginners to easily create websites — but they may not meet all of these site owners’ specific needs.

Joomla Customization

Joomla has a smaller selection of extensions and themes available for users to download and install on their site. However, the platform’s customization options still range in the thousands, with over 7,800 extensions available for download in the official directory.

As with WordPress, users can directly access these extensions right from their Joomla dashboard.

Joomla users have direct access to over 8,000 extensions in their dashboard

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You can also customize the appearance of your Joomla site by installing templates, or themes. Unlike the other platforms discussed in this post, however, Joomla does not have an official theme directory. There are hundreds of free and premium themes available for download — you just have to find them for yourself. While you can find over 1,000 premium templates at ThemeForest, a quick search in Google will uncover hundreds of free themes for site owners on a budget.

Google SERP for longtail keyword "free themes joomla"

Drupal Customization

Drupal is a highly flexible platform with virtually infinite customization options. While this gives you complete control over your site, it’s also the main reason why the learning curve is so steep for beginners.

You can extend and customize the core functionality of your Drupal site by installing any of the 44,000 modules available in Drupal’s directory. Most of these modules are targeted at developers, offering solutions to extend Drupal’s core APIs, set up additional tokens, do more advanced user management, and so on. You can take a look at the description of one of the most installed modules in Drupal’s directory below.

Description of Drupal module called "Chaos Tool Suite"

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To change the look and feel of your site, you can choose from close to 3,000 free themes in Drupal’s official theme repository. If you don’t find one you like, then you can choose from approximately 500 premium themes at ThemeForest.

While you may have noticed this selection of modules and themes is smaller than that of WordPress, each module and theme is highly configurable so you maintain granular control over the functionality and appearance of your site. That’s why Drupal actually affords you more customization options than WordPress.

A final note about the process for importing modules and themes on Drupal. It’s slightly more complex than on the other two platforms because users cannot access modules from their dashboard. Instead, they have to leave their site, head over to Drupal.org to find the module or theme they want, and return to their site to install it.

Picking the Right CMS Platform for Your Site

Rather than trying to figure out whether WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal is the “best” CMS, you want to carefully consider which platform best meets your specific needs. Depending on your technical expertise, the customizability you need, and the security you expect, each of the platforms above can be used to build a successful website for your business.

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Originally published Jan 10, 2020 2:41:16 PM, updated January 10 2020