WordPress vs Drupal: Which one is better in 2021?
- Product Development /
While there are many content management systems to choose from, both WordPress and Drupal have become the defacto choices for many projects. Both popular open source content management systems are designed to solve the fundamental objective of publishing content on the internet in open standards, with an admin interface that non-developers can use. As an agency specializing in digital product strategy, user experience, and product development, we have worked extensively with both content management systems at Emerge. Many CMS solutions have come and gone, but both WordPress and Drupal still stand tall after nearly two decades, faring better than proprietary technologies.
As open-source projects, both have demonstrated remarkable resilience and ability to adapt to the evolving web. Web-based customer experiences have become more vibrant, more varied, and require more flexibility to include more accessibility such as mobile, metadata for search engines, social media, and considerations for alternately-abled users. More often than not, either CMS solution may successfully fulfill the objectives for the same project, but usually, one will prove to be a more adept option to address the objectives. This article compares the two popular, open-source, free-for-everyone content management systems WordPress and Drupal.
How Drupal and WordPress Differ
The primary concerns for each CMS differ in scope. WordPress focuses on ease-of-use, quick turnarounds, and a focus on presenting data as pages. It has evolved towards less-templatized and more free-form content entry by creating the Gutenberg system, which has now been ported to Drupal. The popularity of WordPress is in no small part due to its ease-of-use for content creators and novice developers. This has spawned an extensive ecosystem that has few analogs in web development. Solutions exist for everything from SEO and CRM integration to full-blown e-commerce and web application functionality.
Drupal allows for more data-specific integrations useful to advanced applications, particularly if the site offers user logins, as content can be easily gated and managed. Drupal’s core obsession with taxonomy enables more complex development and management. As a sophisticated CMS, Drupal is able to query data in a plethora of ways. Drupal’s evolution seems more focused on an agnostic approach that can drive a range of experiences from a simple website to creating the backbone of a more complex web application’s content management.
At their cores, Drupal and WordPress look at websites very differently. In Drupal’s world, a website consists of units of data. This means data is broken up into relevant chunks and is entered in multiple fields, and thus data can be redisplayed in multiple ways. WordPress on the other hand looks at a website as consisting of pages. Data is usually entered in a large article field and is typically displayed in one experience. This difference is reflected in many different facets of the websites these systems power, from how content is added and edited, to how data can be manipulated and displayed.
WordPress and Drupal by the numbers
|Large scale websites (Government, education, corporate websites)
|Blog, Business, Personal websites, eCommerce (via plugins)
|High Profile Examples:
|nasa.gov, Entertainment Weekly, Tesla, Australian Government, mint.com
|New York Times, TechCrunch, The New Yorker, Rolling Stones, Vogue
|530,000 Active Sites
|27,000,000 Active Sites
455,000,000 (est total)
|Market Share (of CMS):
|1.5% – 2%
|50% – 60%
|MySQL/MariaDB, PostgreSQL and SQLite
|44,000 Modules (free)
5,000+ Drupal 8 compatible
|50,000 Plugins (Free)
40,000 WordPress 5+ compatible
|2,800+ Themes (free)
|5,700+ Themes (free)
1,000+ on other services
|Large/complex websites often with user accounts, multiple sites with one interface
|News/Blogs, Brochureware/Portfolio, and ecommerce
|Gutenberg (content as block assembly) Support
|Available as Module
Drupal Pros and Cons
- Multilingual Core Support
- Custom Content Types
- Definable Users Roles
- Taxonomies for different data types
- Security, Drupal is less targeted and proportionally less successfully attacked
- Less intuitive interface
- Longer development times due to overhead
- Less community support and community solutions
WordPress Pros and Cons
- Ease of use (Development and Management)
- Massive development community
- Much more backward compatibility
- Less flexible for avant-garde applications
- Over-reliance on Plugins can cause issues
- Native Multilingual support still not available
Drupal benefits both from less targeted attacks, and less successful attacks. Fortunately, two-factor authentication is available as part of the Drupal 8 core. It can also integrate with other sign-on systems, like LDAP, Shibboleth, OpenID, and SAML. The core system also detects common vectors like brute force attacks. Drupal is Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) compliant out of the box.
On the other hand, WordPress, as the most popular CMS, is by far the most targeted. This has caused WordPress to increase security update frequency and testing, drastically improving security. There are many highly trusted 3rd party plugins to assist with advanced security features.
Drupal can manage multiple Drupal sites, and includes its own CLI utility to help assist. It includes the ability to easily create custom account classes with unique access profiles. Drupal’s scalability is ideal for complex organizations. Drupal uses aggressive caching techniques due to the amount of data transactions Drupal performs.
WordPress’s scalability is primarily high-traffic concerned (as opposed to structurally) for e-commerce and news/blog sites that handle millions of visitors. Custom caching plugins come with most major hosting platforms, including Pantheon, making WordPress extremely performant.
Drupal allows developers to access its API via modules. Popular modules allow for integration to many tangentially related platforms. It can function as a true headless CMS for web applications via both JSON or GraphQL, becoming a popular backend for decoupled React applications.
WordPress’ plugins are as far-ranging and diverse as any web platform automating common functions of websites like content mapping for related recommendations, WYSIWYG template designing like Divvi, to hardening security to advanced easy-to-use SEO. WordPress’s REST API also allows for easy 3rd party integrations.
Due to the ability to store many types of data, Drupal requires thoughtful implementation and development of search. On the other hand, WordPress’s architecture makes searching out-of-the-box easier, and many advanced search features exist as plugins.
How Emerge uses Drupal and WordPress
At Emerge, we’ve developed highly customized implementations of both CMSes. When it came to creating a custom LMS (Learning Management System), we selected Drupal 8 for its superior ability to handle user accounts out-of-the-box. This allowed us to attach sets of data to individual accounts via the admin interface, and collect data from the users in quizzes, completed lessons, and human graded content with feedback from the instructors. Creating the same web application on WordPress would have been a more precarious and fragile endeavor. Significantly more overhead, and most likely a reliance on 3rd party solutions would have been required. After over two years of continuous Drupal 8 upgrades and minor adjustments, the LMS is still functioning with no features breaking thanks to an almost entirely native solution.
When Icon Aircraft decided to migrate their website off an aging CMS, we helped them select WordPress 5. It allowed us to quickly assemble blog posts, landing pages, and product pages. We created a custom theme and custom Gutenberg blocks, as well as specialized plugins to swiftly construct new content layouts using their branding language. We implemented popular plugins to assist with page properties like custom fields, search engine optimization (SEO), and customer relations management integration (CRM). This accelerated our development time and provided robust tools that would have otherwise taken many resource hours to create workable solutions.
Which CMS is right for you?
Due to the similarity of their ambitions as content management systems, and based on the PHP programming language and the MySQL/MariaDB database, both have a lot of shared strengths and overlap in features. For example, a Drupal site can manage a blog, and a WordPress site can manage multiple sets of data.
They do, however, diverge when it comes to the application and feature sets. There isn’t a hard-fast rule to which CMS is correct. When selecting a CMS, you are essentially looking to minimize the amount of friction during development and that may be created for the website users/administrators.
If you are planning to include an eCommerce component on your website, also check out our guide to the best CMS + eCommerce platform combinations.