WordPress, Joomla or Drupal: Does Freelancer Success Determine Which Platform Is The Best?

I wanted to offer an assessment of a report I recently read which analyzes freelance opportunities for the design and development of Content Management Systems (CMS). The report examines freelance work performed in Q3 2010 using WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

The report was written by DoNanza, a search engine focused on work-from-home and freelance jobs. In its Work-From-Home Market Trends Report for the third quarter, DoNanza proclaims that "most CMS sites use WordPress while the largest budgets go to Drupal developers". According to its Q3 data, the number of WordPress projects has grown 61% quarter-over-quarter, in comparison to 38% for Joomla and 26% for Drupal (see DoNanza's chart below).  Also the total number of projects using WordPress is far greater than its competitors.  The number of WordPress engagements is six times greater than Drupal efforts, and two times larger than Joomla.

Q3 2010 CMS Growth - WordPrss, Drupal, Joomla

What do these figures tell us? Is WordPress four, five, or six times better than Drupal, and at least two times better than Joomla? Should we be surprised at the numbers provided by the report? The reality is the data points are not surprising at all, and in fact those with historical context would fully expect WordPress to be at the top of the list for number of implementations among these three software packages.

DoNanza's report also highlights Drupal as a "clear winner" in terms of revenue opportunity per project, since Drupal projects typically cost twice as much as WordPress and Joomla projects. Drupal also requires the most site development work as a percentage of total projects, which means most often people are seeking help to implement Drupal systems from the start, whereas WordPress sites have a much higher likelihood of people attempting to build the website themselves.

Without any further information, the reader of DoNanza's report might infer that WordPress is the best choice for implementing a Content Management System because it is the most widely used, the cheapest to hire professionals, and in many cases a computing novice may be able to build the site with little to no development help. On the flip side, Drupal seems to be the worst choice. It has the slowest quarterly growth of all three packages, the least number of implementations, requires more expensive professionals to implement it, and there's a much higher likelihood that a site developer will need to be hired from the beginning of the project.

DoNanza summarizes their report by stating, "Different CMS Platforms Call for Different Skills; Some Platforms are Easy to Use, Some, Like Drupal, Require Site Building Freelance Work, and Others, Like Joomla, Are into 3rd Party Development".  This summary feels like nothing more than a digestable sound bite, pulling out obvious trends shown in the presented data. DoNanza's summary lacks depth and misses one of the major factors which should be included when reviewing software packages: the key functional and technical differences between WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

I would agree each platform requires different skills, however DoNanza has over-simplified the situation by stating that "some platforms are easy to use" and some require "freelance work". These types of broad sweeping statements can cause those attempting to pick a CMS platform to make a product decision with misleading and incomplete data.

While the WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal platforms "manage content", provide a toolset for implementing a website, and can be classified as Content Management Systems, I would be very careful in grouping these three products as though they are mirror images of each other. Each platform meets the needs of a different audience, and has different functional and technical capabilities. Each package also has positive and negative stereotypes associated with it, whether it is warranted or not.

WordPress has been branded as the best blogging software, easy for a novice to use, and a package with the most creative, well-designed site themes. Joomla has been branded as the software which allows the owner of a small blog or website to upgrade into community, e-commerce, and social media capabilities, while retaining site theme creativity found in WordPress. Drupal has been branded as the package with the most robust technical infrastructure and an open-ended toolkit, allowing any business process or functionality that a site owner can dream to be built.

Right or wrong, this branding has also created negative perceptions about CMS platforms. Here are some of the common statements heard about each:

  • WordPress is only good as a blog and doesn't scale well;
  • Joomla 's platform provides limited options to integrate business processes, and site owners must pay to gain access to the best developer modules;
  • Drupal has a steep learning curve, poor design themes, and the community is unwilling to help those who are new to the software.

The three CMS platforms continue to release new versions of their product, build new capabilities, and focus attention on eliminating the negative perceptions while highlighting the positive ones.

The best advice I would give to someone looking to commit to a CMS platform is "one size does not fit all". Allow yourself time to investigate and analyze, and determine which package will best suit your needs. Document your expectations of what the website should do.  Read functional and technical reviews of each product, and focus on feedback from the most recent software versions. Identify what you envision for your site in several years. Will the website offerings stay the same, or will new features and functionality be introduced? Will future plans cause your business to grow out of the initial CMS platform and require the implementation of a new one?

If the plan is to start a site with a small scope and limited funds, using a product like WordPress can be a fantastic choice. If robustness of technical architecture and security are important, Drupal may be a better CMS selection.

Statistical figures such as "number of projects" and "budget per project" must be carefully examined when attempting to compare information between software platforms with different technical infrastructure and functional capabilities. The one key takeaway from the DoNanza report is this: long-held CMS platform stereotypes continue to influence decision making of site owners.

Rather than following the herd, do your own due diligence to determine which product is the right fit for you and your business.

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