Clutch spoke with Garrett Goldman, the managing partner at State Creative, about the comparison between WordPress and Drupal – 2 popular content management systems. Learn more about State Creative on their Clutch profile or at statecreative.com.
Introduce your business and what you do there.
State Creative is a web design and development company located in Oakland, California. We’ve been around since just after the turn of the century, so almost 17 years. We focus primarily on content management system-based websites. We do everything in-house, both designers and developers. We work on a lot of different platforms, like WordPress, Drupal, Laravel, Magento, Shopify, and so on. We work with B2B, B2C, and nonprofit industries.
When a client is first looking to build a website and choosing from the platform options out there, what should the factors be that they should consider?
We’re a very process-driven firm, and generally, unless the client comes with very well-put-together specs, we’re often required to do a pretty thorough discovery. In that discovery is when we would determine what type of things we should be thinking about to recommend a particular platform. In general, I’d say there are several important determining factors to decide which content management system to use.
How complicated is the architecture and taxonomy? How many contributors are there? Are there workflow and publishing flow requirements? What is the skill level of contributors and administrators? How far do you have to push the design in terms of custom design? What is it specifically that you’re doing on the website? Is this a place to sell products? Is this a brochure-level site? Are we creating really complex architecture structure? I think those are some of the most important things to determine. Of course, price might have an impact, and maintenance. Those all have a really big impact on determining which CMS would be a good fit.
What are the biggest differences between WordPress and Drupal?
Drupal is a little bit more robust in terms of customization on the backend. WordPress might give us a little bit more flexibility with design. Drupal is a little harder to use for non-CMS experts. Meaning, we have found that non-experts have an easier time picking up WordPress, and how to manage their WordPress site, than Drupal sites. Drupal has a much better core when it comes to roles and permissions. It’s a lot easier to customize very specific roles and permissions, and that goes back to what I said in the last questions, with who is inside the CMS and what they’re doing, whether there are particular work or publishing flows that are required. Drupal is usually a little more expensive to develop and maintain.
When you build a website for a client, what’s the level of tech knowledge and CMS expertise that they need in order to maintain the website themselves?
When it comes to maintenance, updates, security patches, modules, plugins, and updating all of those, I’d say you have to be very well-versed in both of them, but primarily in Drupal, before applying any sort of updates and security patches. I’d say expert level on Drupal, and almost-expert level on WordPress. When it comes to maintaining the content, publishing posts, managing media, and such, it’s a lot easier to do for non-technical experts, in my opinion, on WordPress than it is on Drupal.
I’m a little biased in this whole outlook, however, because we build every site so it’s custom to the client, even though we’re using an open-source system. The client is going to have a relatively easy time managing their site. If they want to add to their site alone, that’s when things require expertise. If they want to add plugins, widgets, or modules, or they want to update security, that’s going to require technical expertise. To manage content and media, or users, I’d say neither is very difficult, but WordPress is a little friendlier for non-technical folks.
Is there an ideal client for WordPress or for Drupal, or somebody who should avoid them completely?
We recommend Drupal when Drupal is the right fit. If there’s a requirement based on the organization for security issues, as some might argue that Drupal is a little more secure, or if they have a really complex architecture or taxonomy, then I’d say Drupal is probably a better fit. Other than that, I’d say to avoid it.
Whereas, I’d recommend that clients search high and low to find out whether WordPress might be a good fit. It’s easier to manage, it’s easier to design on, but it’s not a good fit for sites that require really complex architectures or taxonomies. It may not be the best option for sites that require a certain level of security. WordPress, in general, is just friendlier for non-technical experts, both in terms of management and design. If it’s possible, I would avoid Drupal at all costs.
Since Drupal is more secure, how would you advise that clients ensure that it’s as secure as possible?
Both are open-source systems, so both require ongoing updates and maintenance. It’s vital for both of them. I would suggest setting up, either internally or by hiring a firm, to do regularly scheduled maintenance. Depending on how many custom plugins, modules, and widgets you have on your website, we would suggest anywhere from weekly to monthly administration of maintenance. That includes core updates, security patches, contributed module updates, plugins and widgets. My suggestion is to create a checklist of items that need to be updated, including the core and contributed modules, and you do it every single month at a minimum.
Can you talk more about SEO on Drupal and WordPress?
Both cores are relatively similar in terms of the bare-bones basics for SEO, and both have a lot of different plugin and widget options to optimize SEO. WordPress has some really great plugins like Yost, that is really easy for non-technical users to optimize pages and a website for search engines. Drupal also has a lot of different options, but often they might offer more customization, more precise targeting. Ultimately, they are not as friendly to use, especially for non-technical folks and folks without an SEO background.
We’ve found that Drupal puts a lot of the onus on the person using the system to understand what they should be doing. In WordPress, there seems to be a lot of hints and nudges that help a non-technical user fulfill requirements. So, comparing the two systems, I don’t know if one is inherently better than the other for search engine optimization. What I do know is that our clients have succeeded more often in SEO, in terms of dollars and time spent, with WordPress versus Drupal. I think it’s a similar theme; it comes down again to usability versus expertise.
What makes WordPress and Drupal stand out?
With Drupal, it’s a phenomenal system for users that need total and complete flexibility with the administration of the CMS. It is a phenomenal system for websites that require complex taxonomy and architecture. Drupal is a very strong, secure system that is fantastic for folks who understand how to manage, understand Drupal, and who are looking for total and complete flexibility with management customizations.
WordPress is a fantastic system for site managers who don’t have perhaps the same skillset as a Drupal site manager or developer might have. It’s a little bit easier to use, it’s really SEO-friendly, and it’s a great system if we need to push custom design a little further than Drupal.
Is there anything on either of these platforms that could be improved or added to make it a better CMS?
I’m sure the answer is yes. I’m a big believer in constant improvement, and I think they both can be improved upon. To use them properly, you have to make sure that you’re using the right system based on a checklist of requirements. I could improve both of them by taking a lot of the features from one and dropping them into the opposite. So, I don’t really have a succinct answer for that one. They can both be improved. The nice thing is that they’re open-source, so they’re always being improved. For example, Drupal 8 is a huge jump from Drupal 7, in terms of what’s available in the core. I think the open-source community at large is always working to improve both of these systems. I don’t have a 1, 2, and 3 list of what you can do to either platform to make them better.
Is there another aspect of building a website that you’d like to add?
I looked at some of the other interviews you published, and there’s a lot of great content. I’d say the most important thing to consider, before determining which content management system to use, is to make sure you fully understand what you’re trying to do. If there are no organizational requirements that say you must use Drupal, WordPress, or any framework, then don’t start with, “I want to use this CMS.” Start with the reason for building the site, who will be using the site from an admin and visitor perspective, what the site will be doing, such as selling products, providing information, or publishing something. Really ask the core questions about the who, the what, and the how. Where is this going to be hosted? Who’s going to maintain it? How is going to be maintained? Get the answers to these questions before determining which CMS to use. Id’ say, if you have a very succinct project brief, that would be the best and smartest way to move forward before deciding on a content management system.
We ask that you rate WordPress and Drupal on a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the best score.
How would you rate them for the functional of the features available?
WordPress – 4.5
Drupal – 4
How would you rate them for ease of use?
WordPress – 5
Drupal – 3.5
How would you rate them for support, as in helpfulness of the online resources and online communities?
WordPress – 4
Drupal – 4
How likely are you to recommend each of them?
WordPress – 5
Drupal – 5
How would you rate your overall satisfaction with each of them?
WordPress – 5
Drupal – 5