We all know there’s no such thing as a perfect content management system. Every platform will have unique advantages and specific drawbacks, affected by everything from the language it was coded in to how it evolves over time. This natural evolution is often driven by user demand, with each CMS attracting a loyal army of adherents who instinctively dismiss rival platforms in favor of their chosen system.
If WordPress loyalists and Drupal advocates are still reading by this point, they might well argue their platforms are among the best available. And while that’s undoubtedly true, they’re not the only systems worthy of consideration. In this article we look at five leading CMS platforms. We examine their main benefits and challenges, and list existing websites that showcase what can be achieved with these site builders and management tools.
5 Leading Content Management Systems Under the Microscope
Pros: Great for SEO, 52,000 plugins available, ideal for beginners
Cons: Prone to cyber-attacks, generic code slows loading times, updates can be troublesome
Sample websites: CNN, Spotify, Mashable
As the undisputed market leader in content management systems, WordPress is an obvious place to start any market analysis. It’s outgrown its blog-based origins to power over a quarter of the world’s websites, achieving market dominance with a combination of simplicity and versatility.
With major updates rolled out a couple of times a year, WordPress currently offers over five thousand themes. Each one can be customized into a dynamic website even by a total IT rookie, with drag-and-drop image placeholders complementing the ability to paste text directly from a Microsoft Word document. The one-click installation option is pleasingly straightforward, and WordPress’s user interface is easy to master.
However, WordPress’s real USP is its plugin directory. There are currently over 52,000 individual pieces of code on offer, covering everything from ecommerce and social media integration to security and gaming tools. Although each plugin increases page loading times (with potentially negative consequences for SEO performance), the ability to pick and choose the exact functionalities you need ensures the main platform isn’t overly bloated. And ironically, some of WP’s most popular plugins are third-party SEO tools that optimize performance in ranking results. It’s worth noting that most WordPress themes responsively adapt to suit mobile devices – another factor taken into consideration by Google and Bing when collating page rankings.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, WordPress has attracted hundreds of millions of users. Many of these advocates contribute to thriving online communities, meaning answers to even obscure questions are rarely more than a blog enquiry away. Sadly, its popularity has also attracted the attentions of hackers. This necessitates regular and time-consuming security updates, occasionally clashing with older plugins that haven’t been updated – themselves potentially posing security risks.
Pros: Extremely versatile, supports multiple sites, makes good use of caching
Cons: Dauntingly complex, fewer knowledgeable developers, large sites generate big server loads
Sample websites: NBC, Patch, Taboola
While WordPress aims to be all things to all people, Drupal takes a different approach. The darling of companies requiring highly technical solutions, this former student community tool offers a streamlined installation with WordPress-style modules to augment core functionalities.
With almost 39,000 modules available, Drupal is clearly more of a self-assembly CMS than its larger rival. Indeed, for many users that’s part of its appeal. Drupal can be used to do almost anything, from multi-site platforms through to scalable solutions capable of growing as a business becomes an enterprise-level client. Its innate scalability has seen it adopted by some of the world’s busiest websites, while companies requiring complex data management often turn to Drupal.
Another constituent beloved by Drupal enthusiasts is the speed at which content displays, with caching deployed to impressive effect. It’s a complex beast, and learning how to build sites requires patience compared to more intuitive alternatives like Joomla. That said, its developers have recognized this, and more recent releases have been easier to use.
Drupal’s suitability for bulletin boards and forums has seen it become a market leader in social publishing or community-oriented platforms. Being able to support multiple domains offers potential for organic platform growth, without compromising the security of user information.
Pros: Easy to manage sprawling sites, thriving online community, different extension types
Cons: Limited add-on functionality, plugins might cause conflicts and often cost money
Sample websites: McDonalds, Linux, IKEA
Whether or not you choose to suffix its name with an exclamation mark, Joomla has become the principal challenger to WordPress’s dominance of the content management system marketplace. It represents something of a halfway house between its bigger rival’s all-things-to-all-people approach, and the more focused, technical nature of Drupal. Joomla’s interface and installation process are relatively intuitive compared to some CMS platforms, but there is greater structural flexibility than WordPress is capable of providing.
Although it possesses a library of eight thousand extensions covering everything from weather apps to World of Warcraft games, Joomla’s core installation is sufficient for many businesses. Sites load quickly, while the presence of online handbooks and thriving user forums ensure help is readily available. Another notable feature is the fact users can create open source extensions, sharing them with the Joomla community through a dedicated extensions directory.
Confusingly, extensions are categorized in three different ways – components, modules and plugins. Many of these require manual implementation, while some of the more advanced extensions are expensive. However, being able to build your own solution to a particular issue is hugely appealing. Another compelling advantage of Joomla involves its admin interface, which excels at managing large amounts of content.
Pros: Extremely flexible, ingenious rollback facility, endlessly scalable
Cons: Difficult to learn, unsuitable for simple sites, unintuitive interface
Sample websites: Lufthansa Systems, sonyentertainmentnetwork.com, Stanford University
Despite its unfortunate name, TYPO3 represents a left-field alternative to the platforms listed above. Established in Denmark almost twenty years ago and predating most of its rivals, this PHP-based platform is especially popular across Continental Europe.
TYPO3’s detailed interface can be unintuitive to navigate, and it uses its own scripting language called Typoscript. However, this approach offers extensive control over complicated site structures, including interfaces for applications like CRM. It’s suitable for pretty much any online presence, including those not catered for by generic WordPress or Joomla templates. Existing extensions can themselves be extended, creating a truly bespoke experience.
The biggest drawback of TYPO3 is the learning curve involved in configuring and managing websites. It’s not really designed for small businesses looking for a single ecommerce portal, but its popularity among IT experts reflects its enterprise-level rights management and all-encompassing range of functions. There is also a highly knowledgeable online community ready to offer assistance, while the sample Introduction Package website enables beginners to play around with many standard features. Word pasting is supported, alongside drag-and-drop graphical functionality.
However, TYPO3’s greatest attraction is its ability to undo any previously made change, at any point. It also has a welcome feature whereby links automatically redirect to new addresses, and updating one link changes matching URLs throughout the site. Even its search function goes above and beyond, scanning documents in addition to page content.
Pros: Custom field functionality, strong security, powerful categories
Cons: Modules can lack documentation, can’t auto-publish, no standard maintenance mode
Sample websites: Canongate Books, BMW Dealersites, Ohm Speakers
ProcessWire’s developers are almost positioning themselves as the antithesis of TYPO3, with official documentation discussing “approachable simplicity” and declaring the application “requires no training”. And while that may not apply to everyone, ProcessWire is certainly easy to adopt. You don’t need to know PHP or SQL to use it, but your website won’t be a cookie-cutter design, either. In fact, ProcessWire makes no pre-determined assumptions about the type of website you’re planning to build.
Freed from the blog-based structure that has influenced WordPress so heavily, ProcessWire is focused on custom fields that can be sorted and searched in various ways. It’s ideal for directory content like travel or real estate listings, company directories or any business where databases need to be interrogated by end users. Review sites are also well-suited to this CMS, since affiliate links are supported.
Because templates aren’t pre-designed, they can be adapted as a site evolves. Those customizable fields also offer impressive security, with configurable brute force protection given to administrators. Yet there’s no automatic publication date field, and no way of preloading content to publish at a future date. Some users also complain about module usability, since learning how to deploy them in real-world scenarios may be difficult.
The Decision Is Yours!
At WestHost, we’re firm fans of WordPress. We have dedicated wizards to simplify the process of hosting a WordPress website, with packages starting at just $9.99 a month including a domain name and 10GB of SSD storage space. However, we recognize other content management systems deserve consideration as well, and we’re happy to discuss hosting sites created with whichever platforms suit your business’s needs the best…