I don’t know about y’all, but I’m a research-before-I-buy kind of girl. Even if the product I’m “purchasing” is free — you can bet there are going to be a handful of Google searches in my browser history before I click the button for that $0-download.
Whether you’re a first-time potential site owner or a collector of domains and projects on the web, Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress are no doubt the first names on your list to research before starting a new website.
Here, we cut through the marketing mumbo jumbo and hone in on the real differentiators between the web’s top three most widely used platforms for getting content online.
Overall Winner: WordPress
To get started, I’d like to introduce each of these three content platforms. I choose my words here carefully because, technically, WordPress is a blog, Joomla is a content management system (CMS), and Drupal is a content management framework (CMF).
The three often get lumped into the CMS group for simplicity’s sake, but just an FYI. Hands down, our favorite pick for getting a new site up and running is WordPress — for beginners and beyond.
This free software is actively maintained by a community of all-star developers, and all of the top-rated hosts make it incredibly easy to get a WordPress site up and running. It’s also by far the most popular of all three platforms — powering 26.6% of websites in existence as of April 2016. Why has WordPress captured the content-managing hearts of so many site owners, you ask?
What Is WordPress?
To quote a friend of mine, “WordPress is a blog that has been bastardized into a CMS.” At its heart, the WP platform is made for blogging, but all sorts of extensions and plugins allow you to turn it into whatever you need (an online store, a portfolio, a gallery, etc.).
NOTE: There’s common confusion between WordPress.org and WordPress.com:
- WordPress.com is a fully hosted online site builder in which you log into your editing dashboard and point and click to drop your site’s content into place before hitting “PUBLISH.”
- WordPress.org refers to the free site management software available for download, which, when paired with a great web host, offers much more flexibility and customization options for more advanced sites.
For the sake of this article, we are talking about self-hosted WordPress.
What’s It Best For?
You can do anything with WordPress. Stay-at-home moms start side businesses via WordPress. Big-name brands — like Best Buy, The New Yorker, the site for all Star Wars news — are hosted online with WordPress. Heck, even Beyoncé is running the world while running WordPress.
However, the platform is ideal for blogs, personal sites, and SMBs. That’s not to say that extremely popular sites can’t be WP-supported.
How to Get Started
Say no more, we had you at Star Wars? Alright, well, even Beyoncé needs a web host. To get started with any content management system or website builder, you need web hosting. Here is the top host we recommend for starting up your WordPress site:
- WordPress pre-installed
- Unlimited disk space and bandwidth
- FREE domain, site transfers, and data backups
- Host unlimited WordPress sites on one account
- Choice of datacenter locations
- Get started on InMotion now.
Fortunately, the best hosts make getting started with WordPress as simple as clicking the INSTALL button. Even better, you’ll see some of the year’s top hosting providers actually offer hosting plans with WordPress pre-installed.
Not nearly as popular but arguably just as powerful as WordPress, Joomla comes with its own strengths and advantages.
What Is Joomla?
Joomla is the only of these three “content management systems” that is actually a CMS. To be clear, a CMS is a software application that is used for creating and managing all digital content — photos, videos, text, galleries, widgets, social apps — you name it. The platform’s beauty is in its complexity, making it frustrating for beginners and friendly to the dev community.
What’s It Best For?
Unlike WordPress, Joomla is neither for beginners nor bloggers. If you just want to throw a few pages up on the web, Joomla is not for you.
Joomla is ideal for corporate sites, non-profits, and member-based organizations, as well as larger educational institutions or churches. As stated above, developers often work with Joomla for building dynamic web projects.
How to Get Started
Joomla is no different than WordPress in that you need a host to get started with it. The best hosts help you out by making 1-click installs of the Joomla software available right from your control panel. Here is our team’s top pick for Joomla hosting, offering quick setup and a low monthly cost:
- Official hosting partner of the Joomla project
- FREE Joomla site transfer or setup with 1-click install
- Amazing speed and security features
- Complimentary staging area for your Joomla site
- Auto-updates to the Joomla Core and plugins
- Get started on SiteGround now.
Once you’re up and running with your new Joomla site, you’ll see that many of our favorite hosts offer you free marketing credits and SEO tools to help you boost your brand’s visibility on the web.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s Drupal. A hair behind Joomla in the popularity contest (backing 2.2% of sites compared to Joomla’s 2.8%), Drupal is extremely powerful and chock-full of security right out of the box.
What Is Drupal?
In a class all its own, Drupal is a content management framework, meaning you can use it to build a CMS that meets your specific needs. The trick here is that it can be very difficult to manipulate if you don’t know what you’re doing.
What’s It Best For?
Drupal is arguably the most complex of the three platforms, to the point of being frustrating for even some of the more experienced developer folks out there. However, the robust security it offers makes it ideal for enterprise-level sites and governmental agencies. Actually, rumor has it the White House website runs on Drupal.
How to Get Started
You know the drill: The first step to getting started with Drupal is signing up for hosting. The top Drupal hosts offer… You guessed it! It doesn’t get much simpler than 1-click installs at checkout:
- Premium Drupal hosting with simple setup
- FREE site transfer and 1-click Drupal installs
- Drupal-specific tools for working with code and themes
- 24/7 uptime monitoring and daily backups
- Drupal SuperCacher available for added speed
- Get started on SiteGround now.
If Drupal seems a tad intimidating but you want to go for it, fret not. All of the hosts listed on the page beyond the big orange button offer round-the-clock support. Hosts like InMotion even offer no-downtime migration assistance if you’re moving your site from another host.
Best for Security: 3-Way Tie!
Alright, let the head-to-head-to-head competition begin! Round 1: Security ends in a draw. To understand how to secure a CMS, you have to realize that it boils down to three components: the core code, third-party software, such as plugins, extensions, or modules, and the humans responsible for updating and maintaining the former two. It can easily be argued that the biggest threat to your site’s security is that last contributing factor. Man your plugins, peeps!
1a. WordPress Security
The WordPress Core code is actively maintained, and the contributing developers are very hip to the latest security threats. However, the biggest threat to your WordPress security is user error — namely, mishandling of plugins and software updates.
Keep up with the latest version of WordPress, don’t download plugins or themes you haven’t thoroughly researched and deemed trustworthy, and make sure to update said plugins with caution as well. Expired plugins leave your system vulnerable, and new WordPress updates may not jibe well with existing software if it’s no longer up to standards.
1b. Drupal Security
Of the three, Drupal no doubt has the most robust security out of the box. Original Drupal Developer Dries Buytaert and his security team are very meticulous about the core code and modules. Their attention to evolving security needs has meant that they take swift action when presented with a new issue that threatens the Drupal Core. The core code is updated regularly, and not just anyone can contribute to modules. The team also takes the time to offer tutorials for developers to help them mitigate the potential for self-inflicted dangers in their own code.
1c. Joomla Security
As is the case with each of these three incredibly powerful platforms, Joomla has a rockstar team contributing to its core code. This includes vigilant monitoring of security issues and quick responses to bugs and gaps in protection. Joomla actually has an entire team dedicated strictly to running commit reviews on the core, and they’re hyper aware of what’s at stake for Joomla users’ sites. The kicker here is that anyone has the power to contribute Joomla extensions, so it’s third-party software add-ons that you might mix with Joomla code that you need to be cautious around.
Best for SEO: WordPress
It’s safe to say the vast majority of websites — at least the ones whose owners only benefit if people actually visit them — are pretty pointless without web traffic.
If no one is finding your site in search results, chances are no one is going to visit your site, which means no signups, no forum activity, no product sales, or no new customers picking up the phone. This is why SEM (search engine marketing) matters, and WordPress works with some of our favorite tools for getting your site noticed by search engines.
1. WordPress SEO
There are lots of tricks of the trade to implementing solid SEO practices — from structuring your site’s code well to ensuring your content is grammatically and semantically correct and keyword-friendly. People make careers out of perfecting the nuances of search engine preferences, but you really don’t have to be an SEO expert to have a search-optimized site. There are plugins for that!
Our favorite WordPress SEO plugin, Yoast SEO will act as your internal expert, analyzing your web pages for SEO faux pas, assisting with sitemaps, and even helping you write better content.
2a. Drupal SEO
When it comes to Joomla versus Drupal for SEO, it’s a draw. Like WordPress, the two each have complimentary software, whether it be plugins or extensions or modules, that can help you enforce best SEO practices on your site. For the Yoast fans in the crowd who are thinking there’s no way you could do anything but WP: Yoast has actually made a Yoast for Drupal SEO plugin.
2b. Joomla SEO
Joomla also has its own platform-compatible SEO plugins available for download. Sure, there are plenty of folks out there selling “premium plugins” for upwards of $50 to $100, but there are plenty of helpful and trustworthy SEO plugins that are free for anyone to download and utilize. SEOSimple is worth trying if you’re in the market for some SEO assistance with your Joomla site.
Best for eCommerce: WordPress
Whether you’re looking to sell your custom-printed mugs on the side or you’re a fast-growing retail startup that just took on funding, eCommerce is a major motivator behind people getting online.
The top eCommerce web hosts make it easy to download and install all manner of software for successful online commerce. What’s more, each of these platforms we’re reviewing will work with apps like PayPal, Stripe, or various shopping carts to make launching an online store a breeze, but WordPress takes the lead for SMB retailers.
1. WordPress eCommerce
Building an online store with WordPress is as simple as selecting an eCommerce theme — and many of them are designed to be industry-specific — integrating your choice of payment processing system, and taking advantage of the eCommerce tools offered by your host. Our favorite hosts for this market tend to offer 1-click WordPress installations, a free domain name, and up to $200 in free advertising credits to help get your new store noticed.
2. Joomla eCommerce
The less-intuitive backend interface puts Joomla at a disadvantage in our eCommerce reviews. While Joomla is great for massive, dynamic websites with lots of content, it’s no simple task managing lots of individual products and products pages, especially if they need to be updated frequently. If you have a solid understanding of development and/or are willing to hire someone with some tech savviness, you can build an awesome eCommerce platform via Joomla. The thing is: Most eCommerce folks just want to focus on their trade. Joomla is not for SMB beginners.
3. Drupal eCommerce
While Joomla would be daunting but doable for the determined beginner, Drupal is a no-go for inexperienced site owners. So, if you’re new to the art of eCommerce site building, Drupal is not your best business investment (even though it’s free). You’ll be pouring hours and hours into learning how to manipulate modules, and, let’s face it, you’d rather be talking to customers or developing your craft.
Best for Business Sites: Joomla
Online business goes beyond buying and selling. You don’t have to be a brick-and-mortar to need or want a website. Some brands do business in trading information, rather than dollar-for-item consumerism. Think of NGOs and advocacy organizations, or major educational institutions like Harvard. Many big-name brands trust Joomla to manage their businesses online, and it’s got our vote for this niche as well.
1. Joomla for Business
The Joomla team has heavily invested in helping businesses build an online brand identity. Joomlart.com touts tons of business themes and graphics — a free headstart on design for new site owners to capitalize on.
Given the content management strengths of the platform, Joomla is ideal for maintaining corporate press releases, competitive analysis reports, product data, and other digital data belonging to a serious business.
The robust performance and security of this avidly maintained software coupled with high availability of a trusted host like InMotion, for example, gives site owners confidence that their mission-critical business operations will stay online and operate at optimum speeds.
2. WordPress for Business
Running a business via WordPress is as easy as learning a new web builder technology gets (Note: All site builders require a learning curve to some degree). WordPress offers the most intuitive interface of the three, which is particularly helpful for building out and regularly updating content as you establish and grow your brand.
What’s more is that WordPress has over 46,000 plugins (a rapidly growing number) that are built and maintained by WP experts to help you customize the functionality of your business site. From SEO to security to eCommerce, our WordPress plugin reviews cover it all, in case you’d like to further investigate this subject.
3. Drupal for Business
The biggest dig against using Drupal for online business is the fact that the platform is primarily a framework, so it’s not naturally conducive to, say, online store building.
Nevertheless, the agility it offers tech-savvier folks who are willing to make friends with its complexity, plus the advanced security you can get right from the get-go, make it a worthy candidate for constructing your business site.
Best in Performance: Drupal
It was hard to choose a “top performer” of these three, especially when performance can boil down to your choice of web host and use of various caching tools. However, our overall winner here is — drum roll, please — Drupal!
1. Drupal Performance
Though lacking in popularity due to its technical knowledge requirements, the Drupal platform comes packed with the most performance potential right out of the box. Plus, the fact that the White House entrusted their site to the platform has got to tell you something
Drupal is known for delivering highly performant web applications. The agility this content management framework offers developers is excellent.
2. WordPress Performance
One of the beauties of WordPress is the community behind it. At any given moment, there is an army of WP developers firing away code to reinforce security and boost performance. Plus, if you have popular caching plugins, such as W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, and Varnish, in place, you can expect super short load times for your site’s web pages.
For added WordPress performance, you’ll want to partner with a host that emphasizes speed and security. Bluehost is endorsed by the WordPress team for optimizing their services for WP customers. SiteGround touts a myriad of performance-boosting features: pre-installed Git, three layers of caching, and a free content delivery network (CDN).
3. Joomla Performance
Like WordPress, there is plenty you can do to enhance performance with Joomla. Once you get your beautiful site designed, you’ve written some awesome content, and you’ve published for the world to consume, you should check out Joomla’s extensions.
The site boasts a bevy of tools to extend your site’s functionality, including guides and tutorials for keeping the Joomla Core and plugins up to date. As is the case with WordPress or Drupal, an important key to keeping a Joomla site running at peak performance is ensuring your software is actively well maintained.
Lowest Hosting Costs
Finally, the million-dollar question you’ve been waiting to ask: How much does hosting a WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal site cost? The answer can be as little as $3 a month for shared hosting, with VPS and dedicated server options dancing around the $15- to $50-arena. Below we feature the best value hosts for WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, respectively.
1. WordPress Hosting
One of our favorite hosts for WordPress, Bluehost offers 1-click WordPress installs, and they’ll even pre-install the WP software for managed hosting customers. With a free domain, integrated caching, and SiteLock security, Bluehost is an absolute steal for less than $3 a month.
2. Joomla Hosting
A web leader in affordable hosting — period — eHost gives you all the essential hosting features for getting started with Joomla: 1-click CMS installation, a free domain name registration, and 24/7 support. Plus, shared hosting customers get unlimited storage, bandwidth, and emails — and $100 in free paid advertising credits to help launch your business.
3. Drupal Hosting
InMotion Hosting is near and dear to our dev-savvy hearts. Drupal’s secure framework and InMotion’s SSD speed are a match made in performance hosting heaven.
You’d have to pay top-dollar for such a premiere hardware/software combination, no? Wrong — InMotion Hosting plans tout free SSDs, cPanel, data backups, and multi-language support for as little as $6 a month.
Get Started with WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal in 1 Click
Depending on the topic, pre-purchase research can be a blast or a buzzkill. I’m sure we can all agree that our favorite part of the shopping experience is pulling the trigger on the BUY NOW button, knowing that your new toy is on its way to your doorstep. Even better than door-step delivery — WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal can all be downloaded and installed in a single click with the top web hosting providers.