Before deciding on a CMS, we should first establish what a CMS even is. A content management system, or CMS, is an application commonly used for creating websites with a focus on content delivery and publishing workflow. These systems will typically have user management, scheduled publishing, search engine optimization, and other useful features. This makes them useful for everything from news sites to e-commerce and more. The most popular CMS tools are also known for how customizable they are. With various plugin and module suites available, these systems can have whatever desired functionality with the right amount of effort.
Ease-of-use and an increased interest in DIY website creation for small to medium-sized businesses has caused the popularity of these applications to grow tremendously over the last decade. It has gotten to a point now where experts suspect that more than a quarter of the internet is made with a CMS of some sort. Since many hosting providers give access to instantly spin up any one of the many CMS tools out there, it seems to check out. In the age of modern search engines, content is more vital than ever and having a CMS makes it a bit easier to handle.
Do you need a CMS for your project? Well, that question has several follow-up questions, but in general websites with multiple editors, user interaction, and/or dynamic content would definitely be a good fit for one. The different varieties of CMS out there seem to cover most of the common website needs these days and that is only made more true when experienced developers are involved.
When people think of a CMS, chances are very high that the example will be WordPress, and for good reason. It is far and away the most popular CMS on the internet right now. WordPress has found a way to serve a variety of needs while still being fairly easy to use. It has thousands of plugins, so making a website with a specific look or feature is simple to accomplish. Despite being born into the internet as primarily a blogging tool, WordPress has managed to expand its usefulness beyond that and can be used to make a pretty impressive website in the right hands.
Here at Ashday we specialize in another popular CMS, Drupal. Drupal has gained popularity more slowly than WordPress, but that has been primarily because for a while the target audience was not the casual user and instead was aimed at the developer. It is a CMS made by developers for developers, and it has the architecture to prove it. It has a reputation of being highly customizable, stable, and secure over its lifetime. With the latest version, Drupal is beginning to move into a more end-user targeted approach that should see it gain popularity with the casual web designer and DIY web builder.
The top content management systems at a glance
Everyone from hosting company staff to your in-house web guy presumably has an opinion as to which CMS you should choose. Experience plays a large factor in this and that is where this debate stems from. We see Drupal pitted against WordPress often because of the similar marketing strategies they each use to promote their platforms. They both are open-source and are used to build impressive websites in their own right. In reality, though, these two CMS are very distinct in the types of websites they are suited for and their intended end user.
If you check out our infographic, featured above, you'll notice that there are more options than just Drupal and WordPress for managing content and creating a website. There are countless applications on the internet that are able to perform the task, but only a few stand out in the category. Website builders like, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Shopify, and others, can be a great way to make a website. This is especially true for those that want to get a website without a long process involved. Joomla! is a bit closer to Drupal than WordPress and is known for making stable websites. Joomla! is also a framework, in addition to being a CMS, and in the right hands that could mean building an entire infrastructure with the software.
After deciding a CMS will be the right direction for your upcoming web project, you still have to choose which one you are looking to use. Perhaps the decision will be left up to your vendor or your internal team, but a choice will still happen. We’ve mentioned before that we strongly prefer Drupal for a variety of reasons, but we would be remiss to tell you that it is always the correct answer for every project. Talking with Ashday or another experienced resource would be a great way to get insight on your particular project.
Aside from talking with an expert, educating yourself on the capabilities of the options available to you is a great way to come to a decision. There are more CMS options out there than have been discussed on this page, although the top three we have listed are going to be the strongest competitors and are likely to have the most support available. Support is going to be a big factor and will be a huge benefit that comes from these being open-source projects. The communities for WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla! are large, active, and willing to provide a bit of advice when new users get stuck.
If your project is a bit smaller in scale, you might also look into a site building tool rather than a full on CMS. These are the drag-and-drop and what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors of the internet and, despite their appearance, they can be used to create respectable websites. They are a bit more limited when it comes to dynamic pieces and most of them have no user management to speak of, but for the DIY website creator they do the job. These tools cover an area of the internet where using something like Drupal would be too much overhead for the job.
Let’s break down the top CMS options into something digestible.
Drupal can be seen as the do anything platform and it comes with the overhead you would expect with that. It isn’t meant for small scale, but performs exceptionally when it comes to sites with complex needs and very specific requirements. It comes with a lot of features out of the box and has thousands of modules ready to add functionality. Venturing into Drupal without a developer in tow can be treacherous and can make adding those modules a lot harder.
Joomla! is also suited for larger projects, but with a much smaller number of plugins available it can be restrictive. The administrative parts of Joomla! are much less intimidating than with Drupal and it offers a greater amount of configuration. Joomla! is also less developer dependent than Drupal, but a developer is still required to stretch the system to accommodate more complexity.
WordPress has the highest number of available plugins to extend it, but there is a lot of overlap with plugins doing similar things. This makes it difficult to judge which will be the most useful or will even do what you are looking for. It is the most limited for user management and while that can make it easier to manage for beginners, it can be a major bump for sites with multiple roles working together. All of that being said, WordPress is by far the most user-friendly for day-to-day operations and creating content.
Drag-and-drop builders and website builders are the go-to for first timers and shouldn't be ignored for simple projects. When all that is needed is a few pages and there isn't any need for custom solutions, it would be hard to pass up one of these builders. They offer a low-cost solution to the problem, "I just need a website". With the simplicity of these tools, it can become difficult to get more out of them then what is seen on the surface and that can lead to dead-ends for a new site.
Still not sure?
This isn't the most important decision about your website that will come up, but it is one that is hard to change after you get going. We are here to help! We have crunched the numbers and dug in deep to provide you with advice for where to go next. Use our CMS decision tool, get your in-depth analysis, and breathe a sigh of relief.