man standing in front of two paths diverging in the woods
PHOTO: Vladislav Babienko

While most people are happily browsing their favorite websites and content across the web, a relatively unknown yet important competition is happening between the major web CMSs. If you are a web developer, you have a stake in this competition, because it has a significant impact on how your website is perceived by the world.

Two of the biggest players on the field right now are WordPress and Drupal, and both are vying to be the most accessible for web developers. Both have gone to significant lengths to provide the power of an open-source platform, with varying specialties and focuses. Additionally, both share many strengths. At the end of the day, the most important question to ask is not which is better, but which is right for you?

Before Choosing Drupal or WordPress, Know Thyself

Here are six questions to help get you thinking about your team’s strengths, weaknesses and work style and how to use that as a basis for choosing which of these two CMSs will best benefit your needs.

1. Is Your Content Highly Structured and Interrelated? 

Is your content more like articles or albums? Articles tend to have information used in a single place — that specific article. Albums have many different pieces of information (artist, genre, songs, release date, cover art, etc.) that you may wish to sort by (e.g. most recent albums), dig deeper into (e.g. artist’s biography), cross-link (e.g. all albums by this artist), and so on.

Drupal and WordPress both allow you to create content in either way. However, WordPress’s focus on content publishing has led to better developed tools for people writing articles. Drupal, on the other hand, pushes you to think about content as being made of lots of pieces (“fields”) that can be displayed and connected in many ways. The more "article-like" your info is, the more likely WordPress will work best. On the other hand, the more "album-like" your information is, the more likely it’s a good fit for Drupal.

2. Will You Use Your Content on a Website or in Many Different Places? 

Both WordPress and Drupal can make great websites AND push content to other tools and systems. WordPress has a strong website-first approach, whereas Drupal has an advantage if what you want is a content hub that pushes information out to the web along with many other platforms (like mobile apps, kiosks and more). Another element that is often overlooked but quickly rears its head is multilingual content. Drupal has strong core support for multilingual content, while this represents a bit of a challenge for WordPress (though not impossible).

3. Do You Want to Control Costs or Details?

It is easy enough to build a cheap Drupal site or an expensive WordPress site, but in general Drupal projects tend to be more expensive and more customized than WordPress projects. Ideally, we are able to control costs with a “one size fits most” platform, but many developers often realize that they also want things to work in a very specific way. 

It’s smart to think about how much you like to customize, because if there is even a chance that you are going to want to get deeper into the nitty gritty of how the website functions, “one size fits most” may not be for you.

4. Are You More About Publishing Quickly, or Content Governance?

Speed is always an important factor to consider, and everyone’s pace will be different. Both Drupal and WordPress can get you creating content pretty quickly as soon as you’ve got either up and running. They also both have ways to assign roles and implement multistep editorial workflows. All of that said, WordPress’ mission statement to democratize publishing has led to an extremely focused approach to making publishing content easy and immediate. Drupal pushes for “Ambitious Digital Experiences,” and follows through by allowing for larger projects that can be accessed by teams with various roles and permissions. 

On the one hand you have immediacy and speed, and on the other you have a slower yet more widespread team approach.

5. Do You Want Out-of-the-Box Solutions or Customizable Start States?

This is similar to the question of “one size fits most,” but relates to how you hit the ground running versus long-term. While Drupal may seemingly have similar modules to WordPress plugins (contributed extensions that can be added to a site for new features), they tend to function a little more like ingredients that stack up to a customized solution (like a cake with custom ingredients). WordPress plugins, on the other hand, tend to be complete solutions that work on their own. Extending the cake metaphor, you are purchasing a finished, iced and decorated (and perfectly well-functioning) cake, as opposed to choosing the icing, filling and decorations yourself.

The advantage of the WordPress way is that things just work right out of the box, aligning with a philosophy of “decisions, not options.” The advantage of the Drupal way is that a site admin can configure functionality in any way desired, now or in the future. Do you want to be the chef, or do you want well-prepared meals? Neither is necessarily invalid — it all comes down to the need for customization.

6. Does Your Team’s Background Lend Itself to One CMS or the Other? 

An external factor to consider: how does your team function? Clearly, if you have existing expertise in one CMS or the other, that should be a factor. More generally, WordPress’s focus on democratizing publishing has made a corollary value of being able to run in many environments, including those that use older versions of PHP. As such, WordPress’s code doesn’t use as many modern PHP conventions, although there are some projects that aim to bridge that gap. Drupal, on the other hand, has embraced a more modern PHP approach and rewritten itself to use Composer, Symfony, PSR standards and more.

Who Wins the CMS Battle?

At the end of the day, you do. And, in theory, so do the people who are interacting with your website. When your team is working with a CMS that plays to their style and needs, the positive results will ultimately be reflected in the front-end user experience. Whether you like to approach things from a highly scientific perspective, or if you are more interested in creative flourish, the choice is ultimately up to you. Taking serious consideration of what you need is how you’ll make the right choice.