Despite Drupal’s foothold as a top CMS, an enduring rumor remains: “Drupal is overly complex and not user-friendly.”
We’ve found that when people say Drupal is hard to use, they are usually comparing Drupal to another popular CMS: WordPress.
Drupal and WordPress are often lumped together because they have many things in common. Both are open source and freely available, have a wide library of plugins and modules to add additional functionality, and have a loyal following of users and developers.
WordPress and Drupal are both great tools and ideal for different types of websites, but Drupal and WordPress also differ in many major ways. Your individual website needs will play a role in which CMS makes the most sense for you. In this blog, we will cover five main differences between Drupal and WordPress, but first let’s make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.
Leveling the Playing Field
Some site builders or content managers prefer WordPress over Drupal and consider WordPress the more user friendly of the two. Before one can accurately make such an assessment of them, though, the comparison must be apples to apples between comparably sized sites with similar functionality or complexity.
If one compares how user friendly WordPress is for creating and managing small websites with no customizations and static content versus the complexities of using Drupal for building enterprise-level sites with dynamic relationships between various data points, that is not a reasonable comparison.
Drupal has a higher learning curve than WordPress, largely due to the amount of available customization that is built into its core. WordPress is simple to use, especially for blogs or small sites, but not as easy when it comes to customizing a third party theme or scalability for larger, more complex sites.
If your goal is to create a seamless experience at the enterprise level, Drupal may be a better choice than WordPress.
5 Differences Between Drupal and WordPress
Both Drupal and WordPress are excellent CMSs but out of the box, the experience is much different.
On install, WordPress is already configured so site owners can jump right in and start creating content. So out of the box, WordPress is ready to go rather quickly. It's also easy to try out additional themes.
While Drupal is excellent for blogging, it has always been a bit more utilitarian, making less assumptions for site owners out of the box, so it requires time to configure some of the core functionality. That said, customizing content types and fields is built into the Drupal core, whereas WordPress requires extra plugins to customize.
Drupal is more flexible with features like taxonomies, content types, blocks, and views built into core, but it can take some work to understand how to use them. This creates a learning curve when it comes to using Drupal but ultimately provides more power to the platform and its users.
Out of the Box
Drupal allows you to create more complex and custom data relationships across various types of content. While out of the box WordPress comes with two content types (posts and pages), out of the box Drupal also comes with two content types (article and basic page). Additionally, If you need multiple page templates or content types, Drupal is better equipped to handle your needs.
Out of the box, Drupal’s user permissions are also more advanced than WordPress. With Drupal, you can have site admins, content editors, individualized access to private content, and more. Drupal core also allows you to create and define your own user roles and associated permissions for each role. Unlike WordPress, Drupal allows granting more than one role to your users. This gives you fine-grained control over what they are allowed to do. This way, Drupal is able to support multiple site stakeholders.
All that said, Drupal was designed by developers for developers, which makes its functionality both a strength and a weakness. For one thing, content editing in Drupal is not as intuitive as it is in WordPress, and the Drupal community has had to make the content management experience a priority in recent years, and if you are not comfortable developing in Drupal, you’ll end up ignoring the features of Drupal that make it so powerful.
Many people choose to work with WordPress because it's easy to find and install plugins for everything from SEO to social media and more. Drupal’s version of plugins is called modules, which are free and contain many of the same pieces of functionality that are available using WordPress plugins, especially in the latest Drupal versions. In Drupal, though, you’ll need a developer to install or update any modules.
In WordPress, plugins are generally easier to manage without needing a developer. The WordPress Plugin Directory boasts 56,996 available plugins to add functionality that is not included or as customizable within WordPress core. While WordPress boasts a large number of plugins, almost twice as many plugins as there are modules for Drupal 8, the WordPress community does not rally around singular plugins.
The Drupal community tends to work with a single module for any given purpose, and it often either makes it into Drupal Core or becomes "canonized" so that it's almost ubiquitous for its use case. WordPress, on the other hand, encourages commercial competition between various plugins that do the same thing. The monetary incentive can sometimes make them more user-friendly than the Drupal equivalents but prevents the WordPress community from settling on a single best, free solution that's built-in or de facto official.
Ease of Use
Drupal isn’t hard to use, but it can be hard to learn how to use it. It requires more technical experience than WordPress but is capable of producing more advanced sites. If you have limited knowledge of website development, WordPress is easier to understand. Both Drupal and WordPress have active user communities that are available to provide documentation and answer questions.
Many times, a developer will build and customize a WordPress site and then hand it over to the client for site management. It is user friendly and has an intuitive admin interface from which managing a website is almost instinctive. Adding images, audio or video files, and documents and PDFs to content is simple. Images are automatically given responsive image styles so that they adapt appropriately to the width of one’s browser window or mobile device. WordPress will even render video URLs as embedded on the page. While it didn’t always have these types of user-friendly features, content on sites developed on the latest versions of Drupal can also be managed by a client.
With content editing being an important initiative in the Drupal community in the last few years, major changes made in Drupal have made the platform easier to use for non-developers. The "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) editor has been around in Drupal for a while, but it is being replaced with the CKEditor, which includes a drag-and-drop interface along with a module for the editor that allows users to embed external resources such as videos, images, tweets and more via the editor. Another feature is the in-line editing, or Quick Edit, which allows editing on the front end of the site.
The big highlight of Drupal, customization, can also be applied for content editors and site admins. Some themes, like the Material Admin theme, creates a more pleasant visual experience when editing and is based on the Google Material Design Language. Other customizations can be made to enhance the admin experience using plugins. Finally, Drupal has a responsive interface for both front end and back end. The mobile optimization means that editors and admins can easily access and modify their site even when they are away from their computer.
Security is one of the biggest differentiators between Drupal and WordPress. While Drupal, and the entire open source community, has seen its share of security fears, the platform has enterprise-level security and provides in-depth security reports. It’s due to that level of security that you’ll find governments, including mass.gov, using Drupal.
Drupal is known for having a volunteer security team and a standardized set of policies and procedures for dealing with security issues. As an example, security advisories are routinely posted on Drupal's security page for Drupal core as well as contributed projects. For enterprise clients with specific security needs, the Drupal distribution Guardr is available with a combination of modules and settings to enhance the Drupal application’s security.
With an active team member on the Drupal Security Team and an Open Source Security Lead acting as the maintainer of Guardr, Drupal uses a combination of modules and settings to enhance availability and meet enterprise security requirements.
As a company with many enterprise-level and high-security customers, Mediacurrent understands the need for quality security features and is a supporting organization of Guardr.
Read more about Mediacurrent’s security approach.
WordPress has traditionally been more vulnerable to hackers and other attacks because many of the plugins that make WordPress so powerful can also open up the system to potential problems. Security issues with WordPress are introduced most often through vulnerabilities exploited in plugins.
On WordPress core, installed plugins and themes can be updated with the click of a button through the Dashboard, but while they add flexibility from a non-developer standpoint, they simultaneously introduce more risk from a security standpoint. The more third party plugins you use, the more dependencies you will have on those third parties keeping their code secure by providing timely updates. There are hosting platforms that can make WordPress less vulnerable even with the use of plugins, such as one of the most popular ones, WP Engine.
Whether you choose Drupal or WordPress, hosting with a partner such as Acquia (Drupal hosting only) or Pantheon will also help mitigate your risk of server vulnerabilities.
Read Mediacurrent’s guide for CMOs on security in open source.
While both Drupal and WordPress are free to download and install, there are costs associated with building a website on both platforms.
If you are a smaller organization, have a lower development budget, and are not picky about the details of the design or functionality, WordPress is likely a great option for you.
If you’re interested in a more custom website for your business, Drupal is the way to go. Hiring qualified Drupal developers has been challenging for enterprises in years past due to Drupal developers being less common and charging more. Now that Drupal leverages common PHP libraries and frameworks, like Symfony, more developers with experience using those dependencies of Drupal can more quickly pick up Drupal. This has made it easier and less costly to hire Drupal developers or PHP developers who are willing to learn Drupal. Currently, there are over 119,000 users actively contributing to Drupal.
Choosing what CMS you need comes down to the level of complexity for which you need to plan. Overall, Drupal is powerful and flexible. In the right hands, you can create unique and effective solutions to meet your needs.
If you’re looking for a website to support a blog or a small business, WordPress’s simple and easy-to-use interface will serve you better. While WordPress does boast such enterprise-level sites such as Techcrunch, Sony Music, and Vogue, larger organizations tend to need a level of customization that makes the template designs and out-of-the-box functionality offered by WordPress null. (Here’s a deep dive into the market share of WordPress as well as usage statistics.)
Drupal is ideal for complex, highly customized sites that require scalability and large amounts of content to be organized. If you fall on the enterprise end of the spectrum and have deeply refined technical requirements, Drupal is likely a great option for you.
The CMS that you choose for your website can be a difficult choice to make, even when you have a lot of information. As The Open Source Expansion Partner, we understand that every organization has different needs, and we want to help you. Whether you need assistance with choosing a CMS or have already decided and want to grow your digital ROI, contact us today.
Author’s note: This post contains information from two previously published posts. One was originally published on January 4, 2017 by Duo Consulting, now part of Mediacurrent. The other was a Mediacurrent post originally published on September 13, 2018. They have been updated here with new information.