Wordpress vs. Drupal: The Prize Fight!

April 20, 2012
Wordpress vs. Drupal: The Prize Fight!

I have developed very large, very small and every size website between. I have rolled my own CMS, used (and even developed extensions for) Typo3, Wordpress, Expression Engine, Mambo & Joomla, WebGUI, SharePoint, MonkCMS/Ekklesia360, DotNetNuke and Drupal. By far, I have been most loyal to Wordpress and Drupal.

At this point, however, I find myself wanting to focus 100% of my attention on Drupal. For the smallest, for the largest and for all the sites between, I prefer Drupal.

Often I feel there is a fight between Wordpress and Drupal in my head. Recently, though, Drupal knocked out Wordpress and now I consider myself to be Drupal at my core. Here's the play-by-play of the fight. (Note: I'm not going to go deep into each point.)

Round 1: Suitability to task

Drupal is heavier, but can respond to more unique scenarios. Drupal comes in with a flurry of punches!

While I can build any site using either platform, that doesn't mean I'd want to. In a complex website, you have many different types of content — home page rotator, articles, blog posts, general pages, calls to action, testimonials … the list goes on and on.

  • Drupal wins on custom content types. It is possible with both platforms, but it is simpler to set up in Drupal.
  • Even the simplest brochure or blog site will need some extra piece of information. Drupal blocks are more robust than Wordpress widgets.
  • We often need to display data in a unique way. Drupal views is the most powerful way to make the web page do whatever I need. In Wordpress, I can do similar things in the PHP of the theme, but it just doesn't compare.

Round 2: Ease of development

Wordpress sucker punches Drupal on theme simplicity. Seriously! 

When I develop a site in Wordpress, I have never started from a pre-built theme. I start with beautiful, clean HTML/CSS markup and then add in Wordpress theme API calls. 

Drupal needs this simplicity in theming. With Drupal, I start from a base theme like Zen and bend the base theme to my design. This is fine, but on more than one occasion I have found myself spending too much time looking for a style class in the theme — if the code had all been mine to begin with, I would have been faster.

The learning curve for Drupal is steeper — I hear this a lot. I disagree! Every platform requires a developer to check the API documentation. I have used Wordpress navigation countless times, but I still have to check the syntax of the specific api call from time to time. In Drupal, I do the same thing. The documentation for both platforms is rubust. If you know PHP I think they are the same.

Round 3: Robust platform

Knockout! Drupal wins!

Drupal has modules, Wordpress has themes. I can do amazing things with each.

Drupal knocks out Wordpress with Views, Blocks, and Content Types! Enough said.

Wrap up

Today, I can still deploy a small Wordpress site faster than a small Drupal site. That does get Wordpress a number of points for small web shops working to stay profitable. But, by working hard to define consistent processes and keeping our base installation of Drupal up-to-date, we can now set up a Drupal site in about the same time as a Wordpress site. Then, when the client asks for X new function, we smile because we used Drupal and the unique thing they asked to do is possible because it is Drupal.

This is an opinion piece, and as such, I would very much enjoy hearing how you agree or disagree. I'm all ears.

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Comments

I have come to the same

I have come to the same conclusion through my experience and agree on all the points from my perspective.

But when you bring in someone who has no PHP nor web development experience and get them to set up a site, Wordpress is the winner.

If you set up a basic install of Drupal and a basic install of Wordpress people are much more comfortable with Wordpress even though it isn't doing everything. They seem to find it much easier than using Drupal which may offer them more.

But when presented with a pre-configured Drupal (i.e. with a WYSIWYG editor and some basic views and content types) I have found that people find Drupal a lot easier to use over Wordpress and Joomla.

I know there are reasons for not including a WYSIWYG editor and various other features in the core of Drupal and I understand and agree on a lot of the points raised when this is brought up. The answer is distributions. More needs to be done on this front to help make Drupal seem more finished and easy to use for new comers who don't want to delve in and just want to add their content.

Not sure I agree for small

Not sure I agree for small sites. I like Drupal better, and I can do things fast in Drupal, I can simplify Drupal for the client, and I want to believe you. But I still recommend WP for small clients because, 1. Many clients are cannot do their own Drupal core updates; 2. With WP I feel safer letting clients run updates on a live site: running a test site does involve a little extra time and cost. 3. Major version upgrades are beyond most clients in Drupal. 4. Once people start with Drupal they want lots of extras, there is something about Drupal which does that to people, and they start asking for features outside their budget. 5. Drupal has far more problems than WP on shared hosting; I run fast Drupal hosting for a few clients but cannot do it at anything like the price of small shared hosting packages. 6. On WP I have been using a framework where you can do everything imaginable via GUI (really!), and the markup is pretty clean, so once there is a design in hand, any design you like without regard to WP limitations, I can theme it surprisingly fast.

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@James , For someone who has

@James ,

For someone who has no PHP nor web development experience and required in depth customization, most of Drupal modules provided necessary GUI tools for customization without dig into any code writing while Wordpress does.

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What framework are you using

What framework are you using John??

Good points. Running updates

Good points. Running updates for Drupal is somewhat difficult even with the improved update manager UI. And Drupal module updates don't always upgrade smoothly. Sometimes you have bugs or conflicts that can be difficult for a small client to deal with for sure.

@Adrian Unfortunately some

@Adrian

Unfortunately some people are unable to install third party modules or if they do, they tend to put them in /modules rather than /sites/all/modules, then they later upgrade core bringing their site down.

Wordpress out the box is more refined but any techy person should be able to get Drupal to a more than usable state for 90% of people and far superseed a basic Wordpress install.

@Calum: Weaver II Pro. There

@Calum: Weaver II Pro. There is a free version, but the developer licence for the pro version is so cheap, and basically completes the control you have over theme via GUI, which is intended to (and IMO does) make coding totally unnecessary for theming. Pro also allows multiple backup of theme settings to code (free version has backup to database).Takes a bit of learning but not much.

I agree, frankly I never

I agree, frankly I never thought Wordpress was that great, always felt clunky. While Drupal has it's has it's own hang ups, the power is undeniable. Once I focused on nothing but Drupal, building small sites became pretty efficient. I host everything thing I build, so using a clients junk hosting isn't an issue. You can load quite a few small sites on something like Linode and have some extra income to boot.

I am not wild about encouraging people to upgrade a live site on the fly, Drupal or Wordpress.

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must agree, I have been

must agree, I have been fighting giving up Wordpress too but have recently conceded my time is best spent using Drupal.

if you have a base install you always use as a starter, with WYSIWYG, image browsers, captions etc and some base CCK types, Drupal allows you to develop sites on a progressive enhancement sort of way, no hacking just adding on.

it takes a while to get this base install together but once done you pretty much know Drupal in and out. A little bit of programming knowledge and I think the world is the limit as its node data structure & modular design allows this.

Wordpress on the other hand is not a development platform, it is a blog software at its heart and for more complex sites it is harder to progressively enhance like Drupal, making new features harder to implement, usually it will mean disabling plugins to enable new ones.

great blog

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In my experience, if you need

In my experience, if you need to implement a site based on a psd from a designer, go drupal, if you suspect the site you're building will end up having lots of extra stuff bolted on in the future, go drupal (this almost always happens).

The only case I would go with wordpress is when someone wants a blog with a few extra pages and likes an existing wordpress theme, that's it.

Because the moment you have to make something pixel perfect, or you have to turn a site which started off as a blog into something more complicated wordpress will make your life miserable compared to drupal.

Basically, just go drupal.

Totally agreed, Rob.

Totally agreed, Rob. WordPress is perfect for smaller builds, plus it's SO stable and easy to support. It's also great if the client is going to be taking over total control of the site post-build.

But nothing matches Drupal for its flexibility and customization options. Just one more reason to love it. :)

Only problem with drupal is

Only problem with drupal is core update and sometimes need for FTP access. I have to set up whole site for clients, but thats it! Drupal seems to me more intuitive. I just started learnig wordpress and it is very painful, not because complexity, but because I can't find this WOW factor about wordpress. IMO there is nothing what can't be achieved by Joomla, or Drupal. I will keep learning wordpress to find out why some people claim this is the best CMS on the Planet.

WordPress has core updates as

WordPress has core updates as well; they're just generally less complicated. And with that lack of complexity, as you note, there's a corresponding lack of "WOW factor."

It all really comes down to what is best for the client. Sometimes WP is perfect, sometimes Drupal is better.

Bravo on not being daunted. Keep learning! :)

I love drupal, because it has

I love drupal, because it has no limitation... ^_^

That's true. You're much more

That's true. You're much more likely to run into budget or scope limitations before you find something Drupal can't do.

Well i read your article and

Well i read your article and all the comments, i been using WordPress for 3-4 years now, i experimented with drupal 6 in its days when responsive themes came out early this year. I find Drupal to work much faster then WordPress. As of now with drupal 7 and even Zen standard theme being HTML5 full responsive frame it is amazing! WordPress is so sluggish after a couple of widgets and plugins, hands down now that i try drupal 7 as well the new Open Enterprise from drupal Distributions its amazing for new comers it is like installing apps on your smart phone, so im saying bey bey to WP not saying wont use it for small friendly little sites but drupal just owns right now!

Agreed, Laszlo. WordPress

Agreed, Laszlo. WordPress seems to be great for smaller sites, and Drupal for larger, more complex ones.

There's at least one responsive theme available for WordPress, but I can't vouch for its ease and effectiveness.

Drupal's also got a much bigger learning curve, although version 7 went a long way to simplify things. Interested to see how Drupal 8 turns out.

Yes iam almost sure Drupal 8

Yes iam almost sure Drupal 8 will be great, ever try using it with Microsft Matrix? its super fast with sqlite setup then ssh or ftp the site right up to hosting server, wordpress always was problematic offline and working online takes sooooo long lol.

Never used Matrix, but it

Never used Matrix, but it certainly sounds streamlined. WordPress can be kind of clunky sometimes. :)

Do not forget security. We

Do not forget security. We are developing for wordpress and drupal. Also we host these CMS systems. A wordpress is hacked once a month, if a customer do not care about updates for core and plugins. Our drupal systems are very secure. We had 3 full security tests from different independent companies and all tests were without a security hole.

I don't know the statistics

I don't know the statistics for rates of hacking, Drupal vs. WordPress, but it's true of ANY system that not keeping it updated is a recipe for security vulnerabilities.

The only difference is that keeping Drupal up to date is more difficult than keeping WordPress up to date; the former requires more specific knowledge.

It's impossible to run Drupal

It's impossible to run Drupal site on my shared hosting. It's too slow. The database is over 110 tables it makes too many requests to manage. It's mandatory to activate page caching but I loosethe dynamic site capability. Wordpress has less than 10 tables and it runs well.

Excellent point, Maxime!

Excellent point, Maxime!

Drupal sites can be big bandwidth hogs, and running them on shared hosting can definitely cause problems. That's why it's important scope out needs prior to building a site, so that you know in advance whether or not a site will run efficiently on shared hosting.

Yes. Unfortunately I didn't

Yes. Unfortunately I didn't estimate this before. I've just rebuilt an old static site using drupal on my local test machine. Then I've uploaded it to my remote shared hosting and suddenly it started to run very slow. With cache it's ok, but now I'm rebuilding it using Wordpress. Despite this fact Drupal has a lot of potential on some dedicated hosting!

Don't you just love two times

Don't you just love two times the work? Bet after this round you'd be able to build the site in your sleep. :)

Yes i switched to drupal from

Yes i switched to drupal from wordpress, still use both im on shared hosting on both, what i seen is if you configure your htaccess and place nginx front of php instead of apache drupal flys even on shared with low ques on database, and iam on godaddy hosting which isnt really the best lol love drupal and wordpress, joomla is kinda ehh my new favorite is Yii Framework its amazingly fast and easy as a person that dosnt like to code toomuch :)

I hear you about not liking

I hear you about not liking to code too much. That's where platforms like WordPress and the Yii Framework you mention can come in handy; they're much more ready "out of the box" than Drupal.

yes yii is still a lot of

yes yii is still a lot of coding tough at least, but defently better then zend

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I use Drupal, Joomla and a

I use Drupal, Joomla and a bit of Wordpress. What Wordpress has got out of the box, what Drupal is lacking ? When I started Wordpress for the first time, basicall nothing was there compare to Joomla and Drupal... In Drupal you can build even complex websites by just installing modules and clicking not codding. If you want achieve more, well you must write some code...but it applies to Wordpress and Joomla ( nightmare to codding ).

The modules are nice,

The modules are nice, especially in Drupal 7. They're so easy to install and activate, and tend to cooperate without having to hand-code much.

I've personally never had much of a problem with WordPress plug-ins, but my own site is pretty simple, so I've never tested that aspect. But I've heard similar thoughts from others.

Thanks for the comment, Tom!

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"keeping Drupal up to date is

"keeping Drupal up to date is more difficult than keeping WordPress up to date"

that is just not true. it takes no more specific knowledge to update drupal. it's actually incredibly easy.

scary, sort of... but easy. :)

@muskratboy Keeping Drupal up

@muskratboy

Keeping Drupal up to date is more difficult than keeping Wordpress up to date because Wordpress is more software and Drupal is more framework. Additionally, the Wordpress GUI updates both core and plugins which tends to remove the need for a dedicated technical asset to manage those updates.

When it comes to Drupal, it is almost always the case that a dedicated technical asset is required to deal with the possibility of failure as Drupal allows you to do almost anything, good or bad. This is one of the weaknesses of Drupal that the community is constantly working to resolve and improve upon.

I liked your perspective on

I liked your perspective on the first 2 points but the 3rd one made no sense especially as a "knock out blow". Drupal has MODULES and WordPress has PLUGINS. And the knock out blow from my perspective is most Drupal Modules are built as code-only monsters useful only to ubergeeks, while WP Plugins are often actually useful and usable right out of the box. I wish this was not the case, but as you mentioned before Drupal theming is so complex that most module developers just don't address theming at all and the result is you ad a Drupal module and it looks like puke on a page. WP in contrast you have a good balance of functionality, theming and usability in a lot of the plugins available. Drupal still has its place though, but its theming system is so bad it is actually shooting itself in the foot and it affects not just theming layer but even the module development.

And a damned good thing too

And a damned good thing too Joe Milne, modules should not make design choices for you because they will almost certainly need changing to meet client specifications. I can't tell you how many times I've been given a design to implement only to find that the wordpress plugin that implements part of the site just doesn't provide the necessary css selectors in order to implement it. At that point you have a choice between hacking the plugin or writing some jquery in order to insert the right css selectors in the right places when the page loads.

@Joel Milne Can you give some

@Joel Milne

Can you give some specific examples of modules which look like "puke on a page?"

Drupal has made huge progress with regards to UX and design enhancements which most modules attempt to take advantage of so I would be interested in learning which modules you have found that have usability issues.

Sure, I'll forward Views,

Sure, I'll forward Views, Webform, Ubercart, and SimpleNews as examples. But you could add any module that does not have default styles, which is almost all of them.

The idea of separation is one that I think is often misunderstood or applied in an impractical way in most CMS systems including Drupal. Certainly Drupal themes can theme any output from Drupal modules. However, existing themes usually cannot predict all the output from all the modules, so there is naturally gaps. Those gaps result in all sorts of layout problems from content bumping into other content and lists falling apart or divs floating over other divs and all kinds of things that you get from what is basically "raw HTML". And that is what I would say Drupal modules are generally is "raw HTML output". Whereas in WP, most plugins are "HTML output with default theming applied". In either system you can customize the output with theming, but I think the time and cost difference is substantial because my concern in Drupal is that when 1,000 developers use a certain module, they are all writing CSS from scratch and burning time and money when the original developer could have saved at least a portion of that time.

@Joel Milne While I can

@Joel Milne

While I can understand your frustrations with the need to apply css to the output of a module, this is largely why Drupal works as well as it does. With the exception of SimpleNews, I have used each of the modules you mention and their output is exactly what one would expect when using Drupal. It tends to be clean and ready to theme. And while it is true that some themes fail to take into account the output of some modules, this is more of an issue with those themes as opposed to the modules.

In speaking with one of my colleagues who is more familiar with Wordpress than I, he has confirmed that Wordpress does tend to go further with the application of default styles. He was also quick to point out how this tends to actually make working with Wordpress more difficult as it is then necessary to either hack the plugin or build some other workaround to fix the display.