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Interview with Unleashed Technologies on Drupal and WordPress

Clutch spoke with Scott Greenwell, the COO of Unleashed Technologies, about the comparison between WordPress and Drupal – an important consideration for anyone looking to use a website builder.

Learn more about Unleashed Technologies on their Clutch profile or at www.unleashed-technologies.com.

Background

Introduce your business and what you do there. 

I am the COO of Unleashed Technologies, a digital experience agency. We focus primarily on websites, web applications, and web-based technologies, and we do so using open-source, primarily PHP-based technologies—WordPress, Magento, Drupal, and Symfony are our primary platforms.

We’ve been in business for a little over 11 years, and we’ve been working with Drupal since Drupal 5. We’re currently ranked on Clutch as one of the top 5 providers internationally, and in the top position for Washington and Baltimore.

Challenge

What is the typical challenge a client might come to you with when looking to build a website?

We specialize quite a bit in associations, nonprofits, and member-based companies. Many times, they’re coming to us when they’re past the point of the Wix mom-and-pop site, where they would simply need to display some blog content or post a couple of recipes.

At this point, we’re talking about member logins, integrations with systems such as member management or contact resource management systems; those aren’t necessarily native to CMS’s like WordPress and Drupal, so the clients often want us to make sure that data is being synced from their web presence across any of their internal systems. This seems to be one of the larger complexities that we get matched with quite a bit.

Solution

Please provide an introduction to WordPress and Drupal. Are there any factors that people should be keeping in mind when choosing a platform?

In relation to WordPress and Drupal, longevity and number of systems the client is tying into tend to be the main factors. They are similar CMS’s at their core— both are meant to allow the user to login, update textual content or specific post or content types. They are built to allow the user to create or modify content that is only relevant to the type of content they’re entering in a text based format, without the need of any coding knowledge.

When it comes to selecting one or the other, it really depends on what the data integration goals are. Some of the bigger differences between WordPress and Drupal are pliability and the number of community modules.

I would make the analogy with building a house. Imagine that we have a brand-new product planned, and we’re about ready to “build a house”; with Drupal, I would be getting a large number of separate pieces: one for the foundation, one for the plumbing, one for the kitchen, and so on. All of which are base, foundational levels of what they represent—timber and two-by-fours. I am able to build the site in a manner that is particular to my needs, and in a way that I want to have displayed out. Drupal is a large toolkit of pieces that we’re allowed to use in a more particular manner.

On the other hand, I would imagine WordPress as more of a prefab house. I can go to a real estate broker that’s putting up houses in the real estate community, who will have five different house models for me to choose from. From there, I can absolutely customize that house, but it’s going to take a bit more reworking, and I might have to tear down some things that are already built, and make it more particular to my use case.

Relating back to a web model, if we have a lot of complex, specific workflows or agendas to get out using a software product or a website platform, we’re probably better off utilizing Drupal, which can be setup in way specific to our particular needs. Whereas, if we have a lot of common structures and things that aren’t necessarily particular to our business, then we’re more likely to lean towards WordPress, since we can leverage the more plug-and-play community-based modules.

If I just need a kitchen where I can cook and store food in, this will translate more into a WordPress module, whereas, if I need an industrial kitchen with gas-lit stoves, four main countertop areas, and a large, open-view bar, this will lean more towards the Drupal side of things.

If the size of the client base comes into play, would you lean towards one of the two solutions, for a business without any in-house developers?

It really depends on the agency building the site for them. Both platforms can be administrated by an end-user without any coding knowledge, which is the beauty of them. For an organization without a large budget, that is looking to be more flexible with its development, I would probably recommend WordPress, mainly because the community modules and other plug-and-play elements are easier to work with in that system, and they’re easier to integrate by individuals. On the other side, the user is generally locked into what’s already built for the community and the greater use case.

If the client has a larger budget or if they’re looking for something more specific, Drupal is probably going to be the better option. We can technically do anything on it that we can do in WordPress, and vice versa, it’s just a matter of how much tearing down and rebuilding or building from scratch is done in one platform versus another.

Project-wise, we find WordPress easier to work with than Drupal, and we generally recommend it for more simplistic projects in terms of functionality.

Features

Are there any features on Drupal or WordPress that you’re particularly impressed with?

For Drupal itself, it’s the ability to create common relations. One of the really powerful things within the platform is the ability to relay information via something called a “taxonomy” or “category”.

As an example, if I have a blog post, a video, and a case study, and I have a category called “Line of business”. If I write a blog post on a government contract, and I have a case study from a government contract from six months ago, along with a video of something we’ve just launched, I can use the same keyword on all three pieces of content, and I know that they will automatically relate themselves to each other on those pages, so that, when I land on the blog post, I may see a sidebar with the video and the related case study. Vice versa, when I’m on the case study, I may see an attached related video on the bottom showing up. Those are automatically being done by the backend.

Drupal has the ability to relay and organize things in a more organic manner, and this is why I really enjoy it.

Conversely, with WordPress, I appreciate its administration view and the ease of setting up the ability for and end-user to administrate, even with custom functions. They’ve done a very good job of building out a user-friendly experience on the backend, which makes it simple to use. This is not only in terms of layout, but also the language being use.

Drupal’s administration generally uses a lot of technical language, such as “structure”, “taxonomy”, or “nodes” for content, whereas, with WordPress, it’s “pages”, something familiar and easy to understand.

Are there any limitations or drawbacks you’ve found on either platform?

The limitations go back to the earlier example. Drupal is extremely powerful and pliable, but, when we require more control and decisions, it will take more time to narrow down on the specificity we want. WordPress makes it easy to plug-and-play items, but, if we want to modify that plug-and-play to our particular needs, we have to break down the walls and rebuild it in our particular structure.

These are my two big go-tos for both platforms. The same kind of structure and functionality can be achieved in both, and this is one of the biggest misnomers of Drupal versus WordPress: can one do something the other can’t? The answer really is “No.”. They can both be made to do exactly the same things; it’s a matter of how much work is required, and how much is pre-created in the system of choice.

Is there anything that a client or company can do to make sure their website is as secure as possible?

 
The most important thing with maintaining security on a site is patching—continually patching the core of the website and any of the additional modules that’ve been created by the community. For both WordPress and Drupal, there are RSS feeds and notices that users can sign up for in order to receive updates every Tuesday on the latest security patches and their level of importance. Critical patches include major security loopholes such as injection dependencies and backdoors for logins or passwords.
 
Outside of that, it’s a matter of proper password management. Most of the time, when people get hacked despite having an up-to-date site, it’s because they’ve reused passwords, they’ve have sent a password to someone and it was rejected, or had “1234” as their password, and it was guessed or hacked on the backend.

These are the primary points of entry that we’re generally going to see. In terms of server security, most users are on larger platforms, which handle server-level updates.

Have you had interactions with any of their support team or support resources?

Both platforms are extremely well-supported. They have large communities, with modules constantly being added to the ecosystem. Both communities are involved in the core development of those platforms. This is a bit different from Adobe Experience Manager, where the primary owner is Adobe. While we still have parent organizations for WordPress and Drupal—Acquia, in the latter case—the communities are really the ones driving forward feature changes and the actual module updates within the ecosystem.

In terms of finding developers, PHP is a common language. There are different online resources, and there’s no licensing involved in downloading and utilizing the software. As such, there’s a lot more talent available in the open market.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s important to have an open conversation with your developer or development team, making sure that they’re not only thinking about the immediate goals for the project launch, but also where the site will be in three or even five years—what are the long-term plans? Those types of critical information pieces will allow the development team to make more proactive decisions around how they architect certain structures, making them a bit more future-proof. While this may add a bit more time in the initial build, it will save hundreds of hours in the long term.
 
As far as making sure that things are staying up-to-date and secure, a site is never a hundred-percent done, even at its launch. It may look good, it may be absolutely ready to launch and bug-free, but patches will continue to come out even a month later, and security flaws will continue to be found. This is the inevitable nature of software code, so we want to make sure that we have some form of maintenance plan in place, even if it’s just for patching and security updates. This will go a long way in preventing issues.

There’re also a number of monitoring tools and services available online, such as Sucuri and New Relic, which will proactively monitor for viruses, issues, and injections. While they require a small amount of money and time to setup initially, they can save hundreds of hours in the backend. It only takes one hack to make that time well-spent.

Overview

We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate WordPress and Drupal on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score.

How would you rate each platform for its functionality and available features [out of the box]?

WordPress – 5

Drupal – 4

As far as out-of-the-box features go. WordPress has more ready-available functionality, whereas Drupal will require some setup and configuration. They’re both strong in terms of what comes with the package.

How would you rate them for ease of use and ease of implementation?

WordPress – 4

Drupal – 3

For smaller, barebones projects.

WordPress – 3

Drupal – 4

For more ambitious projects that require numbers and permission roles. I have to break down more with WordPress to actually implement the features I’m trying to do, whereas, with Drupal, I can build them straight away, using the pieces I have available to me.

How would you rate them for support, as in the response of their team, and the helpfulness of available resources online?

WordPress – 5

Drupal – 5

Both the WordPress and Drupal communities are very responsive when it comes to core and module updates.

How likely are you to recommend WordPress or Drupal to a friend or colleague?

WordPress – 5

Drupal – 5

I would recommend both equally, but I would recommend WordPress for clients looking just for a poster-card site, and Drupal for ones with more complex needs. The platforms are constantly being updated and maintained, and there is a large community for each.

How would you rate them for overall satisfaction with the platform?

WordPress – 4

Drupal – 4.5

Based on Unleashed Technologies‘ current usage of the platforms. There can always be improvements and that is what the community is actively involved in solving.