Deciding between Drupal and WordPress

Congratulations! Your business wants a new website, and you’ve been put in charge with determining what content management system (CMS) you should go with: WordPress or Drupal. 

Let the fun begin.

Over the course of my career, I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked me which platform is better between Drupal and WordPress. My answer to the question is that it depends on what you’re looking for.

drupal vs wordpress
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge

First off, let’s go over some background information and get on the same page. At their most basic level, it may seem like Drupal and WordPress are similar, and, at their core, they are. Both are systems used to manage digital content. But Drupal and WordPress should not be compared like apples to apples, because they’re not the same.

Like comparing cars to spaceships

One of the best analogies I’ve heard on the topic is that comparing the capabilities of WordPress to those of Drupal is like comparing cars (WordPress) to spaceships (Drupal). That may not sound fair to WordPress but think about it for a minute; cars can navigate roads far better than spaceships can. In other words, in certain situations, WordPress is a superior option to Drupal.

WordPress is hands down the best option for quickly setting up a personal or professional blog, or if you need a marketing site with up to about 20 pages. If you use WordPress, you can choose from thousands of pre-built, inexpensive themes and take advantage of just about as many plugins. If your business needs a larger site but still wants it to be managed on WordPress, you can work with an agency and end up with a great looking site for $25,000 or less.

Where Drupal shines is when a website’s technical requirements are more complex or when integrations with third-party systems are required. It’s possible to have relationships and dependencies within your content structure in Drupal, and you can also add content in one area and have it appear in other areas.

What’s striking is that two businesses can look remarkably similar and have virtually the same needs for a CMS, yet the right solution for each can be noticeably different.

Let’s take a look at two fictional law firms

Law Firm A is a Chicago-based firm that has 30 attorneys who specialize in personal injury law. Law Firm B is located in Highland Park (one of Chicago’s northern suburbs) and also has 30 attorneys, although these lawyers have a more wide-ranging expertise, from business and finance to real estate and technology. Otherwise, just about everything between the two firms is the same. Each firm wants a clean, modern-looking site that showcases their expertise. Each firm has roughly the same budget. The two firms’ brand colors are even the same.

If these two firms came to us at Duo and asked us whether WordPress or Drupal is the best option for them, the first thing we would do is an initial discovery conversation. We’d want to talk with each firm and find out what they’re looking for in a website, how their organization works and what their overall goals are. It would be in that discovery phase that we would determine which firm would be better off with Drupal.

During our talks with both firms, we’d discover that Law Firm B uses an HR system that tracks all employees and their vital information, such as credentials, awards, experience and specialties. We’d also find out that the attorneys at Law Firm B actually do a lot of writing for the firm’s blog.

Drupal is the best option for Law Firm B. Here’s why.

With Drupal’s ability to integrate with third-party applications, we could connect Law Firm B’s website with its HR site. What that would mean is that when the firm’s HR staff makes an update to someone’s file, the information would automatically be pulled to the website. As employees gain experience, or are promoted, or win an award, their personal record will be updated — and thanks to Drupal, so too will their online biography. No longer will the marketing department be responsible for maintaining the employee section of the website, which is good for multiple reasons:

  • It reduces the chances of inaccurate or outdated information being displayed
  • It frees up the marketing team to use their time for other aspects of their job

As for the blog posts, we could work with Law Firm B to have that content automatically display in multiple places on the site — even though it would only be saved in one place within the CMS. For example, we could have a blog post written by one attorney display on the blog landing page, the attorney’s bio page and the specialization it focuses on. This gives website users multiple places to find this content, and it makes the site feel much more robust and topical.

In general, when you’re looking to add content once and share it across multiple sections of your website, Drupal is the best option for you, simply because it has so much flexibility.

Law Firm A could also use Drupal if it wanted, but there’s not the same return on investment. If Law Firm A doesn’t plan on adding new content very often, WordPress may be the better option. That being said, if Law Firm A wants to give itself more room to grow, it could also opt for Drupal.

 Using Drupal’s ability to connect deeply with third-party systems not only provides an opportunity to save time in a content maintenance perspective, but it also reduces the possibility of inaccurate or outdated information.  When looking at the return on investment from a new content management system, you need to look far beyond the initial implementation budget. How much time does it take to maintain in the future? What price to you put on accurate information?

Those are questions you need to ask yourself before deciding whether Drupal or WordPress is the best option for you.

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