WordPress Alternatives: How to Choose a CMS

Understanding how to Compare WordPress Alternatives

The web is full of content comparing WordPress alternatives. We regularly talk with clients who have made their mind up as to which CMS they want to use well in advance of their talking to us. However, we believe that it is incredibly important not to pick on the basis of which is ‘best’, but which is right.

No two CMSes are built the same, because no two are built for the same purposes. In a sense, WordPress alternatives aren’t really alternatives at all: they’re different platforms. Everyone has different requirements, and the right CMS for a university might be wrong for a small business. Choosing the right CMS is hugely important for things like user management, security, and costs. It’s imperative to understand the limitations and potentials of each platform before committing to a build.

That’s why we’ve put together a guide to start thinking about WordPress and WordPress alternatives. Here, we’re comparing the platform to Joomla and Drupal. We’ve broken our comparison down into three main criteria: cost, flexibility, and security.

 

Contents

  1. Cost
  2. Flexibility
  3. Security

Costs of Different CMSes

One of the primary considerations when looking at WordPress and its alternatives is, of course, cost. Each of the platforms being considered is free and open-source, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t costs involved.

WordPress

WordPress has the most active developer community of the three we are discussing: that means that it also has the biggest library of plugins available. Sometimes, these plugins have additional costs for premium features or support, but many don’t. That, paired with the fact that WordPress talent is more readily available than especially Drupal developers, means it is a cost effective solution. And with the right team, it can be a powerful, enterprise-level foundation.

WordPress Alternatives

Joomla

Joomla has a similarly active community, and the costs for developers tend to be similar to WordPress. However, there are two things which need to be balanced when accounting for cost. Firstly, the development of bespoke features tends to take developers longer to achieve on Joomla, because of how the system admin works. So, it tends to be more expensive than WordPress  to build on. However, there are a lot of functionalities built into the Joomla core, which aren’t in WordPress, such as complex user admin roles. Therefore, whether Joomla is a cost effective WordPress alternative really comes down to what you need to achieve.

Drupal

Drupal is open-source, but a Drupal website is far from free. Because it has a smaller network of developers, many of which are managing legacy projects, experts can charge more for their work. The basic costs of Drupal, before considering ongoing maintenance, are already higher. Not only that, but Drupal tends to need more in the way of “active” maintenance than WordPress or Joomla. This maintenance often comes as response to security threats or version updates, which are notoriously painful. In fact, the retirement of Drupal 7 was part of the reason that NASA decided to migrate to WordPress.

 

Costs aren’t immediately obvious when choosing a CMS. Which CMS is most cost-effective will likely change based on the specifics of your project. If you want to talk through your project, and understand how to analyse the costs of your choice of CMS, get in touch.

Flexibility of Different CMSes

Each of these platforms works slightly differently when it comes to the flexibility. Whether it is achieved through plugins, bespoke code, or core functionality, the likelihood is that the each CMS will achieve what you need it to. What is important to understand is how the flexibility is achieved, how robust the solution will be, and what the impact on costs and timelines will be.

WordPress

As mentioned, WordPress has the largest community of developers. This, in part, is why there are so many plugins. The number is ever-growing, but a recent study found over 70,000 of them. The likelihood is that a plugin will exist for the needs you have, but it won’t always be the right approach. Some plugins are better maintained than others, and support may be necessary depending on the type of functionality. However, the WordPress community being as it is, many developers (including our own) are able to build their own plugins in order to build upon the platform. For example, we have built plugins which integrate WordPress with Cambridge University’s user authentication system. With WordPress, the flexibility available is huge, but it is worth bearing in mind that complex bespoke systems can be costly.

WordPress Alternatives

Joomla

In terms of flexibility, Joomla is a powerful WordPress alternative. There are templates which will allow you to create a full intranet or extranet, for example. Also, its core flexibilities for user management are far more comprehensive than those of WordPress. However, this comes with a downside. Each of these complex systems needs to be configured. Also, there are far fewer plugins available, and therefore it’s more likely that you won’t find what you need. The costs associated with bespoke functionalities is much higher than WordPress, due to the nature of the native system configuration. For smaller businesses or organisations, the cost for creating bespoke functionalities is prohibitive. In a sense, therefore, Joomla’s capability for enterprise solutions in fact is an inflexibility.

Drupal

Similarly to Joomla, the sky is the limit when it comes to Drupal’s flexibility. It is adaptable to virtually any use case, but this comes with a cost. It has a robust system of categorisation and workflow tools, but its extremely steep learning curve means that many developers are likely to avoid using it if they can. Furthermore, the main reason that organisations using Drupal stick with it is actually the opposite of flexibility. Quite often, it is because of legacy integrations with a suite of systems that Drupal becomes a requirement. That means that Drupal developers can charge far more than other developers, because they have a captive market.

 

The flexibility of the platform really shouldn’t be the first consideration; each is nearly infinitely customisable. When considering WordPress alternatives, you should be thinking about which specific functionalities you are likely to require. What is native to one platform may be costly on another; or it may be achieved through plugins and systems. If you want to chat through your requirements, get in touch.

red padlock on black computer keyboard

Security of Different CMSes

Security is paramount when thinking about which CMS to choose. The reality is that no CMS is 100% secure, because the majority of vulnerabilities come from human error. Whenever there is a system to which many people have access, there is a vulnerability. However, each platform handles security in different ways, requires different actions from its developers to maintain security.

WordPress

WordPress’s core system is secure, with fewer than 5% of all reported security issues stemming from it. Security issues, when they are reported, tend to arise due to plugins being out-of-date. Fortunately, WordPress makes staying on top of these updates very easy. With fairly light-touch support, a team can make sure that everything stays up-to-date, and updated plugins/versions tends to have little impact on the site’s integrity. User security, such as multi-factor authentication, can be strengthened with relatively little costs, and there are dedicated suppliers of WordPress security to bolster this for a cost. Furthermore, dedicated WordPress hosting providers can add layers of security managed by experts. Realistically, a combination of these right for your specific vulnerabilities will keep the website secure.

For more information on WordPress security, check out our post on the issue.

WordPress Alternatives

Joomla

Though it has a strong reputation for being a secure WordPress alternative, Joomla’s security credentials are similar. A Sucuri report suggested that, related to the number of market share, sites using Joomla actually experienced more hacks than WordPress sites. However, the overwhelming majority of these were as a result of outdated plugins, rather than any vulnerability in the core. Effectively, a Joomla website well-maintained is just as secure as a WordPress site. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the types of systems, often incorporating intranets and other complex user-based databases, are more likely by their very nature to be targeted by hackers, and therefore have more minor vulnerabilities exploited.

Drupal

The same goes for Drupal, but with one key difference. Compared to WordPress and Joomla, Drupal requires far more in the way of active monitoring by developers to expose and fix vulnerabilities. A case in point is the Drupalgeddon2 hack in 2018, in which hackers found a way to access user dashboards. The quickly-responsive, active developers were able to find this, but the wider community and its organisational users weren’t alerted to the issue. While Drupal did roll out a patch, many simply didn’t know about it: this article on Drupalgeddon2 found users still vulnerable a year later. Given the developer costs, the active maintenance costs associated with security can mean that sites are left more vulnerable. However, for those enterprises with large development budgets, the spend on security can be comparably low, especially compared to the costs associated with migration.

Website Design Agency

In this article, we’ve demonstrated that “which CMS is best?” is the wrong question to ask. Rather, you should be asking: “which CMS is right for my project?” Each platform has strengths and weaknesses, and is built for slightly different purposes.

The right way to go about selecting a CMS is instead to think about specifically what you need it to do. What functionalities are required? What kind of user management is needed? How much budget do you have for build and subsequent maintenance? Only with answers to these questions and more can you begin to select the right CMS for the job.

If you want to talk about any of these questions, or hear more of our thoughts on the world of WordPress alternatives, get in touch!

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