There are many routes to take when you’re building a website, but one of the first decisions you need to make is what you’re going to use to create it. A popular method is to use a content management system (CMS), which are platforms that are used to upload and manage website content.

If you choose to use a CMS, another decision arises – which is the best CMS for you? The software used to create, manage and maintain website content is a critical element of any online presence, so choosing a suitable CMS platform is essential.

WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are three of the most popular CMS. All three have their own pros and cons, making your choice of CMS highly dependent on your circumstances and the requirements of your project.

What do WordPress, Joomla and Drupal have in common?

All three of these content management systems are open-source platforms. This means they all give developers free rein to access and modify the source code, encouraging a vibrant community and allowing far greater customisation than more closed systems. It also means they’re all available for free, at least in principle – in reality there are almost always costs associated with building and maintaining a professional website with any CMS.

But the similarities don’t end there. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all written in the PHP programming language that enables dynamic features and advanced functionality. All three also support the popular MySQL database management system.

Importantly, these CMS platforms all share the ability to customise content with a wide range of themes and templates, and expand features and functionality with external plugins, extensions and modules. However, the degree to which this is possible, and how simple it is to achieve, varies significantly. Because of this, it’s worth taking a more detailed look at each content management system in turn.

WordPress: easy to use with a huge choice of add-ons

Since its launch in 2003, the popularity of WordPress has skyrocketed, with it now powering over 33% of the top 10 million websites and more than 60 million sites overall.

So why is WordPress so adored? A big factor is ease of use. WordPress is the perfect choice for CMS beginners, with minimal technical knowledge required to create a professional website or blog and over 2,500 themes available for free. After a simple installation, users can quickly and easily create blog posts and webpages, and even advanced maintenance is fairly straightforward.

But even with this focus on usability, WordPress still offers advanced options for experienced developers. In addition to free themes available in the WordPress Theme Directory, paid premium themes enable more customised design and layout options. WordPress functionality can also be expanded with a massive variety of plugins covering everything from ecommerce to SEO.

Joomla: easily create more advanced sites

Released in 2005, Joomla is a powerful and flexible CMS that’s ideal for everything from simple websites up to large corporate sites and online shops.

While Joomla isn’t too difficult to pick up, it might not be the best choice for a CMS novice. You don’t need programming knowledge to start using Joomla, but it does require a decent amount of time, effort and expertise to get the best results.

Installation is fairly simple, but the control panel has more features to play with than the WordPress dashboard. So if you’re not already up to speed, you’ll need to take longer to familiarise yourself with Joomla’s ins and outs. Once you do get to grips with Joomla, it’s capable of more advanced features, with very strong ecommerce and social media integration options, and over 8,000 different extensions currently available.

Drupal: a steep learning curve that pays off

The first version of Drupal debuted back in 2000, and since then this CMS has built up a reputation for high performance and scalability. Drupal is a powerful solution that provides developers with an immense range of tools for creating virtually any type of website.

Once installed, Drupal is something of a blank slate. Compared to WordPress or Joomla, it’s less straightforward to get the CMS up and running with default settings, since it assumes you’ll want a customised project from the start. To use Drupal to its full potential, you really need a detailed understanding of its extensive functionality, as well as knowledge of HTML and PHP.

Drupal is highly customisable with an active community contributing to over 30,000 modules. The powerful views module, flexible taxonomy and options to tag and categorise large volumes of content enable projects to be efficiently scaled on an ongoing basis.

No such thing as ‘the best CMS’?

In a comparison of CMS software, the right solution will always vary by the needs of the project and the ability of the user. Depending on the context, WordPress, Joomla and Drupal can each be the perfect choice.

If you have no programming knowledge and need a quick way to build a simple blog, WordPress is the obvious choice – and extensive options still make it viable for more advanced projects. Whereas to build a highly customised web presence that needs to evolve over time, Drupal may be the way to go – assuming you have the expertise. For something in between, you might consider Joomla, with its relatively low technical demands and more complex features.

Whichever content management system you decide on, you’ll find the ideal development environment at Fasthosts. Get WordPress up and running instantly with our WordPress Hosting, or preload a Web Hosting package with Joomla or Drupal to get started straight away.