Choosing the right CMS for your website

Drupal, Wordpress, Joomla logos intertwined
Art Williams
Art Williams
Vice President of Technology

As a client of a communication firm or marketing agency, why does it matter what content management system (CMS) is used to build your site? More importantly, should you even care? These are difficult questions, but that’s why we’re here to help you answer them.

The Right Partner

If you don't read any further, pay attention to this … the right development partner that understands your objectives and has the expertise and desire to help you attain them is worth more than any CMS. No matter the framework or system, there are plenty of companies that want your business, but will miss key elements of the equation. The discussion about a CMS is wasted if your partner isn’t up to the task, so always keep these questions in mind:

  1. What does their previous work look like?
  2. Do they have full-time developers on staff?
  3. Are the example sites they provide easy to use and do they work well on all modern browsers, including mobile phones and tablets?
  4. Are their sites visually unique, or do they look the same? (similar designs may mean they’re using pre-built templates and could be an indication of the level of expertise)

Even without an abundance of technical knowledge, you should be able to see the evidence of exceptional talent and the mistakes of laziness or inexperience.

The Right CMS Choice

Of the three main open-source content management systems (Drupal, WordPress and Joomla), each has a devoted following who argue the finer points among them. There are clear strengths and weaknesses of each, but as an agency client, you don’t need to know those differences as much as you need to have confidence that your partner is proficient in their CMS of choice. As Drupal developers, we know we can overcome any weakness of the CMS due to a decade of combined Drupal experience on our team. And I’m sure experienced WordPress and Joomla developers would say the same.

What should make you most concerned is if a small to medium-sized agency or web shop claims to have expertise in more than one or two CMSs. It’s unlikely and could be a huge hint that they’re outsourcing their development or have a lack of focus. Individuals and teams typically specialize, so generalization is a red flag for inexperience. At Texas Creative, we specialize in Drupal, but have secondary expertise in WordPress. To break it down, we build new sites in Drupal, but occasionally take over management of already built WordPress sites from clients who come on board with existing web properties.

Drupal's Strengths and Weaknesses

Drupal's primary strength is in its interconnected content model. For example, a project that has multiple types of content that need to reference each other throughout the site would be perfectly suited for Drupal's architecture over WordPress or Joomla. Which means that, an engineering firm looking to display projects, based on markets and product lines, that dynamically reference information from the profiles of firm partners who worked on the specific project would be able to accomplish and maintain that system easily in Drupal.

The biggest weakness we find with Drupal is that it takes a minimum level of experience to execute the most basic site. This means Drupal isn’t economical for building the smallest of sites unless you’re going to do it yourself. But the reality is that a small four-page, brochure-style site rarely changes content enough to need the features of a full CMS.

Other CMS Choices

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the "other" CMSs. Outside of the "big three" open-source content management systems (Drupal, Wordpress and Joomla), there are three other categories:

  • Proprietary Commercial CMS — The opposite of open source, proprietary software is usually produced by one company and requires the support of that company. It’s usually accompanied by ongoing licensing fees. The obvious downside here is the cost of licensing even before one minute of development is performed. In addition, the closed-source methodology has historically been slower to respond to or even acknowledge security vulnerabilities; however, more recently, competition from open-source CMSs began to change this failure.
  • Smaller Open-source CMS — There are dozens of well-built content management systems available. The main reason to steer clear of many of these smaller players is simply the ease of changing your development partner. A complex site needs another experienced (name your CMS) developer which may be hard to find. Alternatively, the site can be re-built on your new partner's preferred CMS, but obviously at an extra cost.
  • "We built our own" CMS — This approach has the same pitfall of a small open-source CMS, but at least with the small open-source CMS there will be some community checks, balances and support. If the agency you’re considering built its own CMS, odds are that only a handful of developers have seen the code. It may be riddled with security holes and poor programming practices and no one would know until it blows up. Security through obscurity is like a middle schooler trying to not to be exceptional so the class bully won’t notice him.

Business Decisions

In the end, the choice between web development partners and content management systems is a business decision. So when you begin interviewing development partners and they start the conversation by outlining the benefits of the CMS, think twice. The business goals of your website are more important than the technical specifications of the software, which should be reflected in your initial conversation. When the conversation does inevitably turn to the CMS, remember that the abilities of your development partner in their preferred CMS are critical to the success or failure of your project.

If you’re considering hiring Texas Creative to build your next website, look at our portfolio of work, read about our Drupal expertise and then let's talk about how we can help you accomplish your goals.

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