When you’re in the early stages of creating a new website, you face an important choice: should you use a web content management system (CMS)? And if you do, which one?
If you’re not familiar with what a content management system is, it’s a software tool that makes managing your web content much easier. It provides an intuitive and user-friendly interface you can use to create, edit, organize, and publish your content online, without having to work directly with a page’s code. And it helps you control the level of access different people have to your website, so you can bring in professionals to help with your site, without increasing the risk of someone changing the wrong thing.
For most individuals making a website for their own purposes, or SMBs creating a fairly simple website to represent their businesses, a web content management system is a useful way to put easy website updates within reach for everyone that needs to make them.
The three most popular web content management systems dominate the CMS market: WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. While these aren’t the only content management systems available, they’re as popular as they are for a reason, and most people on the lookout for a CMS for their new website won’t need to look any further than these three.
What You Should Know About the Most Popular Content Management Systems
While the three most popular CMSs have a lot in common, each offers distinct benefits. If you’re wondering how to best choose between them, here’s a rundown of the main information you need to know.
CMS #1: WordPress
WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world, currently powering over a quarter of the entire internet and claiming over half of the market share for content management systems. Because there are so many benefits of WordPress as a content management system, it is by far the most popular CMS today. WordPress is widely considered one of the easiest options for managing a website. And because of its vast popularity, the resources available for WordPress users are extensive.
To help avoid potential confusion, there are two versions of WordPress to be aware of: the WordPress hosting service (WordPress.com), and the content management system (WordPress.org). The former is a free and easy option for anyone starting a simple blog, but isn’t relevant for someone looking for a true CMS.
This CMS is the better option for anyone serious about starting a WordPress business website, an ecommerce store, or any website you hope to potentially monetize or build a personal brand on.
The Benefits of Choosing WordPress
WordPress’s huge popularity has a lot to do with the main benefits it offers.
The WordPress CMS is open source, which means it’s free for users and you have a lot of freedom in how you use it. While the CMS itself is free, it doesn’t come with free web hosting or domain registration (one of the ways it differs from the WordPress.com blogging platform), so you will still need to invest in those to get your website running.
And a lot of website owners will want more functionality that the most basic version of the CMS offers, which often requires an investment in plug-ins that have a cost. But even if you end up spending money on related expenses, the amount of functionality you get for free from WordPress is still impressive.
It’s easy for beginners.
The biggest differentiating factor between WordPress and the other two most popular content management systems is how easy it is for even the newest website creators to figure out. The interface is intuitive. You never have to mess directly with a page’s code to make updates (although the option to do so is there, and easy for coders to take advantage of when they want to).
When you want to add new features and functionality to your website, WordPress plugins are easy to find and add, and most are designed to be similarly easy for beginners to use. And unlike the other two popular CMSs, with WordPress you can copy and paste content from Word while keeping it intact, which adds to day-to-day ease of use.
You can find lots of resources and support.
This is probably the biggest benefit of going with the CMS that has the most users. That huge community of users comes with a massive trove of resources to help you learn how to get the most out of WordPress. WordPress provides a library of educational materials to help you learn the basics, but the WordPress community goes much further than that in supplying supplementary resources.
That includes a massive support forum where you can search all the past questions people have had about using WordPress. If the answer to a question you have isn’t there already, you can share it and get answers from one (or more) of the hundreds of experts in the community. In addition, there are many WordPress blogs thatare focused specifically on this specific CMS when it comes to publishing tips, recommended themes and plugins, and suggested resources daily.
You can choose from thousands of themes.
When you’re building a website, the process is much easier if you can start from a design that gets the basic look and structure of your website into place. Anyone using WordPress can take advantage of that kind of design shortcut by using one of the thousands of available themes when getting starting.
There are nearly 4,000 free WordPress themes, and that’s just the beginning. Third-party designers have created tens of thousands of additional themes you can buy, many of them for affordable prices. And many of the available themes are responsive, so you can easily build a website that works well on mobile devices, a necessity in 2019.
Find a huge number of plugins and add-ons.
Because of how popular the WordPress blogging platform is, a number of companies put resources toward developing plugins and other add-ons you can use to extend the functionality of the CMS and get your website working just how you want it to.
The WordPress plugin library includes over 45,000 plugins that offer features such as enhanced security, spam blocking, SEO (search engine optimization) functionality, and much more. Many popular WordPress plugins are free, and many of those that charge are low cost.
Most website software and services are compatible with WordPress.
When choosing your CMS, you want to make sure it will work seamlessly with any other tools you’ll be using for your website, such as your analytics, sales, or customer service software products. WordPress’s popularity ensures that every website service you can think of has good reason to make sure they’ll work well with the CMS giant, so the vast majority of products and services are compatible with WordPress. You can even find web hosting plans that are specifically optimized for WordPress websites, to make integration of your hosting and CMS easier.
You can optimize for SEO.
SEO is one of the most important components in making sure people can find your website. WordPress makes some basic aspects of optimizing your site for SEO easy, such as customizing your URLs. But you can also easily tap into more comprehensive SEO features with free SEO plugins such as Yoast and the All in One SEO Pack.
Create an online store with WordPress and WooCommerce.
On its own, WordPress doesn’t provide the main features you need to run an ecommerce store, but this is another need that’s easy to satisfy with plugins. In particular, WooCommerce for an online store provides all the basic functionality you need in its free version, and offers advanced features like memberships and recurring subscriptions as paid add ons.
Ready to get started with the WordPress CMS? Discover HostGator’s WordPress hosting options.
Potential Downsides of Choosing WordPress
No good service is entirely perfect, so WordPress does have some weaknesses to consider.
It makes updates easy, but not initial design.
With WordPress, adding new content and making updates to the pages you already have are easy for even the newest of beginners. But the initial design of a WordPress site still takes work. Finding the right template can help, but there’s still a good chance that you’ll need to hire a professional designer or invest in a website builder if you want to get your website looking just right without learning to code.
WordPress has some limits on flexibility in comparison to other solutions.
The tradeoff for ease of use is that WordPress isn’t quite as flexible or customizable as Joomla or Drupal. While the extensive selection of plugins gives you a lot of control over how your website looks and functions, you still don’t have quite as much freedom to do everything you want as you would with one of the other platforms.
For the most part, individuals and SMBs aren’t likely to have any needs that hit up against these limitations. But big businesses and media companies that need more complex websites might.
Some features require time to learn.
As much as we emphasized ease of use, it’s worth noting that the more you want your website to do, the more complicated using WordPress can become. Doing all the basic tasks it’s designed for—creating, editing, scheduling, and publishing content—is pretty easy. But as you add more plugins and features to the website, you’ll face a larger learning curve in getting it all working and keeping it maintained.
It’s vulnerable to hackers.
While WordPress works hard to keep the CMS secure, its popularity makes it a target for hackers. WordPress itself, and many of the plug-ins designed to work with WordPress, often have vulnerabilities hackers can use to access users’ websites. That puts you at risk of someone taking over your website, or slipping malicious code into it that affects your visitors.
You can reduce that risk by taking basic precautions, like keeping your plugins and WordPress version up to date, and investing in some additional security software, like our SiteLock website security scan.
Frequent updates cause compatibility issues.
WordPress releases frequent updates, which is mostly a good thing. New versions come with new features and patches to security vulnerabilities. But those updates sometimes cause compatibility issues with various plugins. That means your website could temporarily lose important functionality, or worse, it could bring your website down until you get it fixed.
It’s often slower.
WordPress websites tend to have some extraneous code that slows the site down in comparison to other CMSs. This is an issue with some themes more than others. And you can take a number of steps to improve your site’s speed and performance if it’s affected.
CMS #2: Joomla
Joomla is the second most popular content management system. It falls in the middle between WordPress and Drupal in terms of ease of use and how flexible and customizable it is. Like WordPress, it’s open source, so it’s free to use and allows you a lot of freedom in how you use the CMS to build your website.
While its market share is smaller than WordPress’s, it still boasts over 2 million websites and has a sizeable community of volunteers who help keep the CMS working and improving.
The Benefits of Choosing Joomla
Joomla shares some of the benefits it offers with WordPress, but has a few unique ones as well.
Being open source, Joomla is completely free for anyone to download and set up. But also like WordPress, some of the templates and extensions you can choose to add new features to your website do come at a fee. And you will still need to invest in web hosting and a domain.
It’s relatively easy to use.
While Joomla is not as intuitive as WordPress is, it’s still easy enough for most beginners to figure out. But it requires more of a learning curve and you can expect to spend more time working on your website to get it where you want. That may be worth it, especially if you want more control over your website and consider that a higher priority than having a CMS that makes updates fast and easy.
It provides a lot of flexibility.
Joomla has a large library of extensions you can use to add functionality to your website. While the plugins you can use for WordPress similarly extend its functionality, Joomla is largely regarded as providing more flexibility and control to users that are willing to do a little more work to achieve what they want.
It offers a lot of educational resources.
While you may have to work harder to learn how to use Joomla, the CMS makes it easy with a large library of useful resources on getting started. They have a community blog, free video training classes, a community support forum, and even user groups that meet up in person in communities around the world.
You have lots of Joomla templates to choose from.
You won’t have as many options as with WordPress but even so, you can find thousands of themes for Joomla designed by professionals. Some are free, and many others are affordable.
One big selling point for websites with an international audience is that Joomla makes it easy to build out multilingual websites. They offer over 75 translation packs for languages from all over the world. If English isn’t your first language, or if part of your audience speaks a different language than you do, this is a valuable feature.
It’s good for SEO.
Like WordPress, Joomla offers a number of extensions that help users optimize websites for SEO. Different extensions can help you update all the relevant meta tags, clean up your canonical links, and generate meta descriptions for your pages.
It’s good for eCommerce.
Joomla is targeted by hackers less frequently than WordPress, but also has a smaller security team. On the whole, they’re probably a more secure option. And you can bolster your Joomla security with additional security extensions and by taking basic steps to protect yourself.
Ready to get started with the Joomla CMS? Discover HostGator’s Joomla hosting options.
Potential Downsides of Choosing Joomla
If you’re considering Joomla, you should be aware of some of the drawbacks.
It’s harder to learn than WordPress.
As already discussed, Joomla isn’t as intuitive for beginners as WordPress. Expect to spend more time learning the basics when getting started, as well as learning how to implement the different extensions and features you want to use. It’s still within reach for amateurs—you won’t have to hire or become a professional developer to figure it out. But it will take more time.
It has fewer available add ons.
While Joomla does have a large library of extensions, on the whole it has fewer modules and add ons than WordPress and Drupal. If you have specific features you want to implement that aren’t covered in their library and you don’t know how to build them out yourselves, you’ll end up with fewer options for extending the functionality of your website.
They have a smaller community than WordPress, so fewer resources.
The resources they have are definitely useful, but there’s less to work with than with WordPress because there are fewer people using Joomla and providing information on how to do so. As your needs get more specific, you may have more trouble finding the answers you seek.
You may face compatibility issues.
Just like WordPress, Joomla releases new versions periodically to add features and improve security vulnerabilities, and those updates can bring compatibility issues with the templates or extensions you use. In addition, sometimes different Joomla plugins will have compatibility issues with each other, so adding something new to your website can affect how another feature works.
CMS #3: Drupal
The third most popular content management system, Drupal, is distinct from the others in being more for professional developers than it is for beginners. And even for developers, learning how to use Drupal specifically can take time. But the extra work that goes into learning Drupal can pay off in the ability to make more complex websites that are better for enterprise businesses or companies wanting to include advanced features on their websites.
That barrier to wide accessibility likely explains why it has a smaller share of the market, with a little less than 5% market share. But it’s still popular enough to make this list because it brings more power and flexibility to the table, making it a strong choice for certain types of websites.
The Benefits of Choosing Drupal
Drupal has a few distinct benefits that cause it to edge out the other options for some website owners.
It offers more flexibility and customization options.
Drupal’s broad API and extensive library of modules makes it more versatile than the other two CMSs. If you know what you’re doing, or hire someone that does, you can do just about anything you could want to with Drupal. While both WordPress and Joomla allow a lot of options for customizing your website, they still present some limitations that aren’t a problem with Drupal.
It’s the most secure of the three.
Drupal is the top choice for enterprise businesses and government entities in part because it has the best security record of the three. The content management system’s security team keeps a close watch on the CMS and provides frequent security updates to patch up any vulnerabilities found. While you have ways to make the other two platforms more secure, if security is a top priority for your website, Drupal delivers the best.
It has a good community.
While the Drupal community isn’t as large as that of the other two CMSs, it’s full of skilled developers committed to the platform. And that community includes large companies that are willing to spend money improving the platform their websites depend on. The Drupal community is therefore skilled, devoted, and supportive.
It’s good for SEO.
Like the other CMSs, Drupal has modules you can add that provide all the most important features you need to optimize your pages for the search engines. Add ons like SEO Checklist and Pathauto help users customize pages in all the right places for on-site optimization.
It makes mobile-friendly websites easy.
Drupal’s well designed for enabling mobile-friendly websites. All Drupal themes in the current version are responsive. And Drupal automatically resizes images according to the device visitors view them on.
It’s more scalable.
Drupal makes it easier to build out your website over time with more functionality, and has the power to handle more pages and a higher number of visitors. For companies that expect large growth in the coming years, it’s a smart CMS to start with so your website can grow with you.
It’s a good platform for advanced features.
Websites that will have advanced features like community platforms or forums can benefit from Drupal, which is well suited for more complex websites. For simple sites, it may be overkill. But for larger and more complicated website plans, the CMS delivers what’s needed.
Ready to get started with the Drupal CMS? Discover HostGator’s Drupal hosting options.
Potential Downsides of Choosing Drupal
For certain websites, Drupal is a smart choice. But it’s not for everyone due to some significant drawbacks.
It’s harder to use than WordPress and Joomla.
This is the biggest reason not to use Drupal. If ease of use is more important than flexibility, as it is for thousands of website owners, then Drupal won’t be a good fit for you. Using Drupal often requires hiring professional help, which means that even though the CMS itself is free, using it can have a potentially high price tag. And developers skilled with Drupal aren’t as common as those that know WordPress or Joomla, so you could face a more difficult search when you need one.
Updates cause compatibility issues.
By now, this is a familiar problem. As with the other CMSs, a Drupal update can mean your website’s modules stop working correctly. You may be stuck waiting a while for the developers to update modules you depend on to get your website working right again.
Using lots of modules can lead to compatibility issues.
Modules are how you get the most out of Drupal, but the more you use, the more you risk them having issues with each other. Implementing the flexibility you desire can be harder if you have to figure out how to bring all your different modules in line with each other.
Choosing a CMS for Your Website
Each of the most popular content management systems have something to offer. Figuring out which one is the right choice for your website will depend on what you need, but you’re lucky to have a number of strong options that are free to use and come with a wealth of helpful resources to get started.Whichever CMS you choose, HostGator can support them all. Learn more about your web hosting options and get started building your site.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.