Drupal vs WordPress: What's The Best CMS in 2021?

The Wordpress vs Drupal question is not always an easier one to answer. Visual Metrics works with both platforms to meet the different needs of our clients across many industries, which gives us great insights into the strengths and weaknesses of each tool. Drupal and Wordpress are both great CMSs, but not without their shortcomings, and this is why it all comes down to choosing the right platform for the one website that you are building. 

1. WordPress in 2021

In 2021, Wordpress is the world’s most popular content management system, now powering 42.2% of all websites and holding 64% of the known content management market. 

Wordpress is designed to be simple in every aspect and remains be the leader in admin user experience, although Drupal is making headway. With ready-made themes already available from sites like Themify, Wordpress removes cost and timeline barriers to launching a new website to the world. However, if you need to customise the layout or functionality, it can prove to be challenging and cost more in the long run. Therefore, Wordpress is ideal for small and medium businesses and organisations who are looking to build websites with lesser complexity. 

Some notable websites running on Wordpress include:

2. Drupal in 2021

Drupal is now used by 2.3% of all websites and controls a 4.6% share of the content management system market, which is a significant difference in popularity compared to Wordpress. Despite the small market share, Drupal powers some of the largest websites in the world, and is the clear leader as an enterprise-level CMS platform for more complex projects. Drupal’s ability to handle multiple roles, content, integration and complex configuration requirements provides you with more flexibility and opportunity to build a website that truly reflects your business model and use cases. 

Drupal is making great progress in improving the experience for beginners. According to the statistics provided by Acquia's CTO at the 2019 DrupalCon Europe conference, a user's opinion of Drupal improves with experience.

Some notable websites running on Drupal are:

3. When Drupal Is The Ideal Option

Complex project needs and work environments for government, education and enterprise 

Drupal is currently the CMS of choice for almost two million websites across the world. Many large enterprises, government agencies, non-profit organisations, top-tier universities and Fortune 500 companies prefer to use Drupal. Drupal tends to outperform WordPress when it comes to complex projects, and here are the reasons why:

  • Advanced user permissions: While Wordpress only has single-site ships with six pre-defined basic user roles, Drupal offers a more advanced built-in access control system that allows you to create new roles with individual permissions. You can have site admins, content editors, individualised access to private content, and more. In addition, Drupal also allows you to set permissions on who can edit, create or delete various content types.
  • Complex content needs: Wordpress was originally designed as a blogging platform and can handle a variety of content types such as blog posts, news articles and staff directories. However, when it comes to dealing with more complex ones, such as course catalogues, content coming from microservices or REST, different levels of user permissions and user roles, and complex search experiences, Drupal is the better option. Drupal can handle really large volumes of content and can support thousands of pages and thousands of users. In addition, in terms of multilingual content, while Wordpress sites need to turn to third-party plugins, Drupal’s multilingual function is baked into the core and can handle much more complex scenarios.
  • Large User Base Management: Drupal allows your large authenticated user base to log into the site and perform complex tasks, such as creating user-generated content in forums or user communities.
  • Complex Customisation Requirements:  If you need to deeply customise the layout, presentation, and content based on a complex set of business cases or user personas, then Drupal can be your ideal candidate. While Wordpress does offer customer post types, the Drupal framework is considered to be much more flexible. It enables to you to achieve the desired functionality and customisation without having to overly rely on third-party plugins. This is why websites made on Drupal appear unique and highly tailored to the business and organisation needs.
  • Complex Integrations: Drupal is a better-suited and easier option that allows your website to be integrated seamlessly with other web services, microservices, an iPhone app, CRM and inbound marketing platforms, or other complexities.
  • Configuration Management: With Drupal 8’s configuration management system, you can reliably make changes to your live website using version control, saving time and avoiding errors. Drupal offers a much more efficient, professional and enterprise-ready way to push new features and fix bugs, which prevents your website from having errors or downtime. This is extremely important especially when your website will continue to grow more and more complex in the long run.
  • Security: One of Drupal’s selling points is its lockdown security, which is why it is a preferred option for many large enterprises and government institutions. While Wordpress core itself is secure, WordPress relies so heavily on third-party extensions that it becomes much more vulnerable than Drupal. Each time a plugin is uploaded to WordPress, the site becomes exposed to potentially malicious code from non-verified third parties. Meanwhile, Drupal has earned a reputation as being one of the most secure CMSs because its themes and modules are covered by an internal security program, making it difficult to smuggle malicious code. In fact, in 2019, Wordpress accounted for 94% of hacked websites, whereas Drupal only accounted for 1.28%. 

Drupal can also handle PCI compliance requirements such as database encryption or other complex security situations a bit better. Beyond its enterprise-level security, Drupal also publishes detailed security reports and is generally more transparent about its security than WordPress.

WordPress is now the most popular CMS, especially in the personal and small business arena, that the "Apple vs Microsoft" security phenomenon has emerged. Since there are more WordPress sites on the internet,  hacking into WordPress yields a higher ROI for attackers – investing in building an exploit for WordPress can result in breaking into thousands of sites vs a much smaller number for Drupal. In addition, there are more plugins for the WordPress security team to keep up with, making it more challenging to identify vulnerabilities.

However, WordPress can be just as secure as Drupal if you take appropriate measures, such as implementing security practices for prevention, detection and code auditing, and selecting well-maintained plugins. If you are looking to build a website application, instead of websites, Drupal is a better option to handle complex logic and integrations.

  • Personalisation: Acquia, founded by the inventor of Drupal, has developed a suite of services and architectural improvements that enabled Drupal to be a true Digital Experience Platform (DXP). A DXP is ‘an integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform, that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints. An outstanding example is Acquia Lift, a personalisation platform that tightly integrates with Drupal. Meanwhile, WordPress is still making profess in this area, as some companies have been striving to develop their own DXPs for this CMS. However, Wordpress still does not have the enterprise-level backing to offer a DXP, at least not out of the box.
  • Loading Speed: Drupal beats Wordpress hands down when it comes to loading speeds. Speed is one area where Wordpress fails to impress, mainly due to using poorly coded themes and too many plugins. However, with proper performance best practices, Wordpress can do better and provide you with a fast website. Meanwhile, Drupal CMS is less resource-intensive, more lightweight and better fitted to handle sites with hundreds of pages. It is highly capable of scaling to high-volume workloads for content-rich sites and for high traffic handling via strong support for cloud configurations and caching. Drupal caching optimisation modules allow faster page loading, optimised bandwidth and a better overall web performance even in high-pressure situations. 

How Easy is Drupal to Maintain? 

Drupal is overall more complex than Wordpress and requires your programmer or agency to really know what they are doing in order to not screw up. However, after the initial learning curve is passed, Drupal becomes harder to screw up once it is part of a professional DevOps workflow managed by a knowledgeable team with version control, configuration management, and continuous integration and automated testing. 

How Easy is Drupal to use?

One major concern for users is Drupal’s usability. Drupal is often seen as less user-friendly than Wordpress, but this can be easily solved by implementing the admin experience in a way that is more user-friendly. In 2021, the Admin UI & JavaScript Modernisation initiative is tackling this issue by creating a new, accessible and powerful ‘design system for Drupal’s editing and administrative interface. In addition, a more modern admin theme like Gin, which is a radically new UI layout paired with goodies like a Darkmode, can give your Drupal's Admin interface a facelift. 

Drupal is more of a blank framework that makes it easier for a knowledgeable team to build a beautiful, usable architecture on top. Drupal has also been continuously upgrading its user-friendliness for content editors and admins, as well as making major admin UX improvements over the years. 

Additionally, there is always a trade-off between usability and complexity. It is simply not realistic to expect a website with complex content structures and business logic to have the same ease of use as a simple, straightforward news site. A complex website, just like anything complex in the world, will inevitably require a longer learning curve.

However, Drupal can still meet you in the middle if you only want to create simple landing pages. Drupal Gutenberg can offer you an effortless experience similar to Squarespace, with easy landing page building, drag-and-drop page content, layout editors, access to Gutenberg Cloud library of control blocks, and reusable blocks created, saved and reused within the editor (no code needed). At the same time, you can also have more complex pages using Layout Builder which can enforce a certain site-wide structure, or have a low-code enterprise-level user experience using Acquia's Cohesion platform.

Want to know more about our Drupal CMS services?


4.
When Wordpress Is The Ideal Option

Websites with lesser complexity are often for small-to-medium businesses, startups, eCommerce stores, publications, and nonprofit organisations.

Wordpress tends to be a more popular choice for these categories. Wordpress is ideal for beginners, time-starved users, marketers and less-technical developers who are looking to build straightforward websites. The platform makes it easy for users to use and to customise the basics, offering simple-to-understand instructions and an intuitive user interface. Wordpress also provides so many plugins, themes and options for integrations, which can be easily used as intended out of the box. Here are some examples of situations where WordPress excels:

Ecommerce

WooCommerce is an open-source, beautiful, simple yet powerful eCommerce solution built on Wordpress. It offers a full range of eCommerce options, from one-click payments and paid subscriptions to a full customisation online store. Drupal can integrate well with Shopify, which is also a great platform. However, WooCommerce might be the go-to platform if you are a small to medium business or organisation looking to build a website that does not require complex requirements as explained above.

Lower cost due to starter themes

Wordpress offers more ‘out of the box’ solutions with a much wider variety of free and paid starter themes and plugins, which can help you form a visual and functional outline of your website without having to hire a team to design and build your website from scratch. Drupal starter themes are also available online, but the majority of them are designed for custom development.

However, when using Wordpress starter themes, there might be some caveats and frequent issues with starting from something that was not built originally for you. For example, during the project, you might be unsatisfied with the limits of a Wordpress theme and want to push it beyond its intended use for more specific needs. In addition, some Wordpress themes use plugins that can cause serious security vulnerabilities, making the entire site unlaunchable. For these reasons, you and your agency might end up tweaking and tweaking a Wordpress theme endlessly in a very ineffective and repetitive way in order to make the website fit your vision.  This can be acceptable if your budget is low, yet sometimes using a lower-cost starter theme instead of custom website design and build can actually be more expensive and do more harm for your website in the long run. 

Plugins Variety

Many people choose to work with Wordpress due to the availability and variety of Wordpress community-supported plugins (the equivalent of what Drupal calls ‘modules’). Wordpress offers  5,000+ themes and 53,000+ plugins, compared with Drupal’s 2,500+ themes, and 46,000+ modules. In Wordpress, plugins are generally easier to manage without the need for customer development, whereas in Drupal, you will need a developer to handle installing and updating the modules. 

Can Large Sites run on Wordpress?

Wordpress can actually work quite well for larger sites with less complex requirements. Some government websites, such as Sweden’s Official Site and Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, use Wordpress for more information-based and news-based rather than complex content types. Other publications and news sites, such as Microsoft News Center and Tech Crunch, also run on Wordpress for simple event-based and media-related content. 

Can I use both Drupal and WordPress?

The answer is yes. Wordpress can actually be a nice complement to the more complex Drupal sites. Many universities and colleges have their main websites run on Drupal and use Wordpress for student organisations and smaller initiatives due to its simplicity and usability. 

These two CMSs can lend themselves to mutual management efficiencies since they are both written in the PHP language, making it easy for developers to switch platforms and to host both on the same hosting platform such as Pantheon. In addition, since they both have excellent support for templates, front-end developers can code in the same templating language with Twig in Wordpress through plugins, and in Drupal at its core. Furthermore, the two CMSs can share a design pattern library to some extent, such as Pattern Lab, a front-end framework with an atomic design architecture. 

5. Why Do Drupal Websites Sometimes Cost More Than WordPress Websites?

Both Wordpress and Drupal are free, open-source platforms that anyone can download and install, which makes the initial investment for the two CMSs totally free. However, you will then incur some basic costs such as domain registration, hosting and security. For Wordpress, you might also want to purchase some premium plugins and themes. Meanwhile, Drupal enables you to create more complex content and extensive experiences, which at the same time, will likely hike your initial investment cost, making Drupal a more expensive choice. 

If your needs are not so complex, then you can spend money more wisely by choosing Wordpress. If your needs are complex, then Drupal is the right tool to achieve your long-term results. If you oversimplify your solution and try to shoehorn things into Wordpress when in fact your website would be better off with Drupal, you will likely fail to achieve your goals and hit your marketing KPIs. Meanwhile, once your site is up and running on Drupal, it will not require much investment later on as long as you have scaled it, customised it and added the necessary functionality. In fact, if you suspect that your need will change in the near future, you may save a lot, in the long run, using Drupal. 

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6. What Do Research Firms Have to Say?

As of 2020, the research and advisory firm Gartner had announced to retire its ‘Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management' and accompanying ‘Critical Capabilities’ report, since the market “has reached its maturity with products becoming more homogenised.” Gartner researchers claimed that client demand has been shifting from WCM to the broader scope of Digital Experience Platforms (DXP).

“It’s the birth of WCM to a new definition of a content management system. Because now it's not only the web, obviously, that we need to tackle when you have Alexa, chatbots and different devices, modalities and channels.”

Drupal is a more suitable candidate to keep up with this trend since Acquia has developed a suite of services and architectural improvements that allows Drupal to be a true DXP. Although the magic quadrant has been continued, it is an indicator of industry leaders. According to the quadrant from 2019, Acquia, the largest supporter of Drupal, is one of the clear leaders of the pack. Meanwhile, WP Engine, a hosting company that strongly supports Wordpress, is listed as a ‘niche player’. Indeed, Wordpress is certainly an appropriate choice for a niche, a very large but specific niche. 

 7. Decoupled and Headless CMS

This tends to be more applicable for larger organisations and enterprises, and for more complex types of projects where your content needs to appear on multiple front-ends or places. Both WordPress and Drupal do variations on headless and decoupled architectures quite well. However, you need to carefully consider the pros and cons of going for decoupled and headless CMS in your specific situation, as it is not always suitable for every business and organisation in terms of the cost/benefit ratio and the added complication. 

Things to take into consideration include:

  • The amount of content you have and the number of places (front-ends) it needs to be distributed to
  • The complexity of the user experience and the front-end
  • Risk tolerance for impact to SEO and conversions when rebuilding an existing website
  • The technical skill level of your maintenance team
  • Budget and time limitation

8. Open Source Is Now The Cost of Entry

CMS Wire states that the ‘classic era’ of delivering digital experiences in a single channel is closing, and now is the new era of WCM technologies and strategies built on agile, open foundations that support digital experiences beyond the website. 

“In this crazy, fragmented, mixed-up world of content management and the extended marketing automation and customer experience ecosystem, openness, APIs and flexibility is not a game-changing indicator of a market shift, but table stakes to play.” --CMSWire

Both WordPress and Drupal are leading CMSs in terms of openness (open source), APIs and flexibility, with Drupal outperforming Wordpress on flexibility for more complex projects.

9. Personalisation

Gartner predicts that 80% of marketers will abandon personalisation efforts by 2025.

‘A lot of folks think tools are magic. It's common for amateurs and executives removed from execution to think that the new shiny toy will deliver results. Pros know the tool is only there to support you. Personalisation tools allow for targeting, but they don't replace understanding the people you're trying to sell to.’

-- Peep Laja, CEO, CXL Institute

Drupal is undoubtedly the most suitable platform for personalisation, but this should not be the deciding element in choosing the CMS for your website unless you are truly investing your time and resources with realistic expectations for a successful personalisation effort.

10. Similarities Where Both Platforms Excel

Both Wordpress and Drupal have dedicated and vibrant open source communities, although Drupal’s is stronger and more organised with over 1.4 million developers and users in 230 countries. In addition, both platforms have made dramatic improvements with every new version, specifically in areas that they are lacking. WordPress is substantially upgrading its "block" layout configuration abilities with Gutenberg, while Drupal has made great progress in improving its usability for content editors.

There are a number of areas that both platforms excel in:

  • No vendor lock-in. Both Drupal and Wordpress are popular and have large communities of web developers and companies around the world who can help your find the best solution if your current vendor is not meeting your expectations.
  • Open-source. Both platforms are open source solutions, which means they are both affordable and customisable to meet your specific needs. This is in contrast with propriety CMSs that restrict the use, access, and modification of their source code. In addition, proprietary CMS licensing and update fees can be extremely high in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
  • Security. Both CMSs can be as secure or more so than other proprietary platforms
  • SEO-friendliness.  Drupal’s auto-tagging tools and built-in taxonomy system allow you to add meta tags to your website automatically and easily classify and organise your content – an asset for search engine optimization (SEO). Meanwhile, Wordpress is also an SEO powerhouse given its inherent usability and the availability of diverse and high-quality SEO-focused plugins and themes.

11. Future-proofing your investment

Both platforms provide fairly smooth upgrade paths between major versions. 

The Drupal Roadmap

Drupal 9, released in June 2020, has placed a strong focus on improving its upgrade experience, making upgrading to a major version as easy and seamless as upgrading to a minor version. This has been clearly seen on the Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 upgrade. If you are on Drupal 8, there is no need to worry about any costs or investments to get on the next version. 

Drupal 7 will only be officially supported until November 2022. If you are on this version,  you can choose to stay with it since there will be a group of approved and vetted vendors who will continue to provide security updates for Drupal 7 core and certain control modules under the Drupal 7 Vendor Extended Support program.

According to the latest updates in 2021, Drupal's roadmap includes:

The WordPress Roadmap

Wordpress is continually under development and is currently working on the Gutenberg project, which is focused on reimagining the way content is managed on the web.

According to the latest updates in 2021, WordPress' roadmap includes:

  • Full Site Editing: Bringing into the Gutenberg plugin, and subsequently WordPress Core, the capacity to edit all elements of a site using Gutenberg blocks.
  • LearnWP: Leveraging WordPress skills-levelling by offering pre-recorded training, workshops, and self-serve learning opportunities on learn.wordpress.org.
  • Contributor Tools: Reducing the manual overhead of maintenance work for teams through improved tooling.

12. Making The Right Choice

What it comes down to is this:

  • Drupal is a powerful and flexible framework that is ideal for complex, highly customised sites with a strong focus on extensibility and scalability. Drupal offers top-notch security, built-in multi-lingual support, and can handle loads of data and content. In the right hands, you can use Drupal to create unique and efficient solutions to meet your needs.
  • Wordpress is easy to use, has a large base of starter Wordpress themes, and can give you out-of-the-box plugins to add instant features and functionality. However, this cancan come at a cost of flexibility, extensibility, and the capacity to handle more complex requirements.

Overall, both Drupal and Wordpress are great content management systems, but the best CMS choice comes down to choosing the right tool for the website that you are building, based on the complexity of your needs and your own unique circumstance. To make an informed choice, you need to go through the discovery and planning phases, where you map out specifically what your website needs to do, who will be running it, how complex the requirements will be, how technically skilled your team is, who your best vendor will be, as well as anticipating what future needs and changes might take place.  If budget allows, you can work with an experienced technical partner to help you make this decision from an unbiased viewpoint, and help ensure the website and the chosen platform serve your business and organisation objectives. 

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