Wordpress vs. Drupal

There are seemingly endless website technology options, but for many organizations, the choice comes down to "Wordpress or Drupal?" That's because:

  • If you decide to use an open source content management system (CMS), you quickly find that Wordpress and Drupal are leaders in the category.
  • Wordpress makes it easy to create and manage great-looking sites, so it's been used to create many of the ones we see every day — in fact, it's behind about a third of all websites and three out of five CMS sites.
  • But although Drupal can be harder to use and has a smaller share of the market, it's equal to nearly any web design challenge. So it's more often used for enterprise-grade sites. See the graph below, a simplified version of a frequently updated one at w3techs.com.
Simplified version of a live graph at w3techs.com

Each CMS has its rabid fans. But for normal people, there is no single right answer to the question "Wordpress or Drupal?" There is, though, an easy way to find the right answer for you.

At its most basic, the choice comes down to whether you need ease and lower cost under light to moderately demanding use cases, or greater power, performance, and security under more demanding conditions.

For many small- to medium-scope website projects, Wordpress is a great choice. Anyone with minimal web skills can create a starter Wordpress site, in minutes, for free. From there it's relatively easy to customize it with your choice among thousands of themes and plugins — themes to change the way it looks, and plugins to extend what it can do.

A Wordpress site is also easy to manage, whether you're adding or editing content, or keeping the site code up to date, a security must-do for any CMS-based site.

And if you need a site that goes beyond your design and development skills, there are lots of professional Wordpress firms for you to hire.

So why not use Wordpress for every website?

The answer to that comes down to power, speed, and security.

Power

Most people are used to thinking of websites as collections of pages. And much of the time, that's what they are. Wordpress makes it easy to get up and running creating good-looking web pages, or blog posts, which are basically pages with a few special features. But on bigger, enterprise-grade sites, pages are probably just one of any number of different kinds of content.

Here's a simple example. Let's say you have an organization of hundreds or thousands of employees, and you'd like to make them findable through a web-based directory. Imagine maintaining a simple web page that featured a staff list of that size. Now imagine doing that with normal levels of staff turnover and role-changing. While you're at it, imagine finding everywhere on the website that a recently-departed employee is mentioned and replacing that mention with the name of their replacement.

With Drupal, though, you can define content types. So why not define an "Employee" content type? This would not be a page, but a collection of fields. For example:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Job Title
  • Department
  • Photo
  • Link to contact form
  • Active/Inactive

When someone is hired, what Drupal calls a "node" of the content type Employee would be created by filling in the values of the fields listed above. If an employee got promoted, their Job Title would be changed. If they left, their Inactive option would get checked.

Using a custom content type like this means that the employee directory, and anything else that involves employee information, can be handled in a much more efficient and scalable way.

In building the directory, a Drupal developer would create what only looks like a page, or pages. In fact, it would be the instructions to create each page on the fly, using only the most recent employee data. If you looked at the directory now and then five minutes from now, and in the mean time an employee's information had changed, that change would be automatically included in your second viewing — and it would be updated everywhere else on the site where that person appeared.

The developer could also make it easy for a user to fetch only employees in a certain department, or who have a certain job title, or who have any characteristics, as in finding all staffers with the first name Alice.

This example is just a scratch on the surface of what can be done with Drupal. It's so powerful it can be used not only for building websites but for programming web applications.

As you might imagine, all this power means it's harder to build a Drupal site. Unless you stick to the basics, you'll need to hire experts. But those experts will be able to give you exactly what you want — which can include making a Drupal site as good-looking and easy to use as a Wordpress site.

So if your planned site will stay small to medium-sized, Wordpress could very well be a better choice. But for bigger, more complicated sites, Drupal is more likely the way to go.

Speed

This one is a shorter story. Drupal sites are inherently faster, although as in many such cases a lot depends on how an individual site is built and configured. In general, though, the software architecture of Drupal is more efficient, and so better able to deliver lots of content to lots of users, quickly, while the convenience of Wordpress comes with extra overhead.

Again, this may not matter much for small to medium sites with moderate traffic levels. But for bigger, busier sites, the penalty for slower speed gets more serious: frustrated users abandon the site and search engines give it lower SEO scores.

Again, the trade-off is a question of priorities.

Security

A Wordpress site's security can be all you need it to be — if, as with any CMS site, it's on a secure hosting platform and is kept updated. As I mentioned earlier, updating Wordpress can be a breeze: one click and it's done. Drupal, on the other hand, can require an experienced developer running a more complex update process.

But if there's a lot at stake if your site gets hacked, and/or you have reason to believe you're an especially attractive target, you might well want to go with Drupal. For one thing, the popularity of Wordpress means more hackers like to attack Wordpress sites — this is one of the reasons Windows gets attacked so much more often than Mac OS does.

Furthermore, because of Drupal's enterprise orientation, its developers take security very, very seriously. As a result, Drupal is built from the ground up to be as close to bullet-proof as possible, and even to protect itself from sloppy practices by any less-than-stellar Drupal site-builders.

To Sum Up

Boots Road Group builds both Drupal and Wordpress sites and we're more than happy use either one — if it's the right choice for the client.

PS: An Important Note on Hosting & Site Maintenance

For all but the biggest websites, hosting used to be a commodity — there were lots of good choices, they were cheap, and at least with a small site, you might be able to get away with a "set it and forget it approach:" launch your site and just let it sit there.

But a couple of factors have made hosting and site management far more important. One is the move towards CMS-based websites. That's because a CMS stores content in a database and runs a lot of complicated code, both of which make it more vulnerable to attack.

The second factor is the rise of a global, professionalized hacking industry, often backed by organized crime or governments — or both where those things are basically the same. These aren't just kids playing pranks. Bear in mind, too, that it doesn't matter if your site contains no valuable information; hackers may want to just take it over behind the scenes and use it to store illicit information or exploit your webserver to attack other sites.

So whether your site runs on Wordpress, Drupal, or something else, the hosting and the site itself need to be managed by someone who knows what they're doing. If you're at the low end of the budget range, it might be a smart choice to use a hosted CMS like Squarespace, Wix, or the hosted version of Wordpress at Wordpress.com. Their pros will take care of security and other issues for you. As you move higher up the range, you should budget for managed web hosting and site maintenance as part of the ongoing cost of having a website.