This week I’ve decided to take a look at two popular publishing platforms: WordPress and Drupal. Both have been around for over ten years now, and have garnered extensive developer support as well as widespread adoption. I will discuss specific features of each platform, but my goal of this article is to help MSPs improve their own website using one or both of these tools.
Although I don’t plan to do a full, detailed feature comparison between WordPress and Drupal, it’s not a bad idea to understand a few similarities and differences between the two platforms.
WordPress has been around since 2003, and was developed by Matt Mullenweg as a free and open source blogging tool with light CMS duties. WordPress is the most popular blogging tool on the web, powering more than 60 million websites. Because it’s easy to use and manage, it often appeals to individuals and smaller websites where the administrator has little or no programming background.
One reason WordPress has become so popular is its extensive developer and designer support. Developers have created thousands of plugins that provide additional features. For example, base WordPress doesn’t come with an ecommerce engine, but one can be added through various plugins. Designers have also made WordPress easy to customize by creating numerous themes, many which are free to download or purchase for a nominal fee.
WordPress emphasizes the blogging features of the platform over the CMS features. In fact, many companies deploy Drupal as the CMS while utilizing WordPress as the blogging tool to their website. StorageCraft is one such company that takes this approach.
Drupal is a free and open source CMS platform originally written by Dries Buytaert, and was released to the public in 2001. Drupal can be used as a blogging framework, but that’s not its primary focus. Instead, Drupal tends to power larger, multi-author websites, such as Whitehouse.gov.
Similar to WordPress, Drupal also enjoys robust developer support through modules that add extend Drupal’s core feature set. Drupal is incredibly powerful and is often seen as more of a framework on which to build upon instead of a simple blogging tool.
Companies that have implemented a Drupal website often have in-house resources to manage and maintain the site, including developer and design support. Drupal excels in providing an extensible framework on which to build that can be intimidating to those who are accustomed to the simplicity of WordPress.
In summary, if your website needs are simple and your programming resources are limited, I recommend taking a look at WordPress. More complex websites with multiple authors and content types may be best served with Drupal.
Both WordPress and Drupal have conferences (WordCamp, DrupalCon) where developers from each platform speak about topics such as security, SEO, deployment for their respective platforms. I’ve attended a couple of WordCamps in Seattle and was impressed with how much community support is available for those running WordPress sites. I recommend to any MSP considering either platform to look into these low-cost events. You’ll learn more about the intricacies of each framework, but you’ll also make contacts who may become valuable resources down the road.
If you’ve ever sold a home, your realtor probably explained how important “curb appeal” is to buyers. You may have remodeled your kitchen and installed new carpet, but if your grass has turned brown and your Christmas lights are still hanging off your home in July, many buyers will look elsewhere.
The same can be said about your website because it’s often the first impression you leave with a potential customer. As an MSP, your website should reflect your professionalism and attention to detail. Xamin is an example of an MSP using WordPress to showcase their services with a clean and professional design. Notice that Xamin has used WordPress to create a traditional website rather than a blog.
I spent a couple of years working for a small website design firm in Seattle, and clients often asked us if WordPress, Drupal, or a fully customized website was right for them. That’s not a simple question to answer without diving into a lot more details, but I did learn a number of best practices to consider when making such a decision. I’ve also spoken to a number of friends who still build websites for a living, and asked them how MSPs could improve their websites. So here are a few tips they passed along:
- Keep it Simple – Figure out what you must present and go with that. You can always add more pages and content later. Both Drupal and WordPress make it also too easy to add content which is a double-edged sword. Sites that remain clean and simple often have a site manager who has learned to say “no” a lot.
- Make Navigation Intuitive – This should go without saying, but too many websites get overly fancy and their visitors get lost. And when visitors get lost, they leave. The most important pages should be accessible from the main navigation at the top of the page. Less important pages can be linked to in the footer. Don’t reinvent the wheel with navigation.
- Avoid Cheap Stock Photography – I understand there are reasons for using stock photos. But do you want the first thing your visitors see to be that smiling businessman wearing a Plantronics headset? Generic photos say “We offer generic services.” We’ve seen it a dozen times. Invest in a professional photographer, and make sure she understands the image you’re trying to project before getting started.
- Use Responsive Themes – WordPress and Drupal offer many themes from which to choose from, and the one you select for your site (or from which to start) should be responsive to the browser your visitors are using. A better browsing experience leads to visitors spending more time on your site and higher conversion rates. Given the popularity of tablets and smartphones, there’s no excuse to create an unresponsive site today. Don’t forget to test your new theme on multiple devices.
- Take Security Seriously – This isn’t sexy, but it’s critical. Drupal is known for having strong security features. WordPress is updated frequently to patch holes, but its plugin driven nature has resulted several security breaches, so it’s imperative that you regularly update your plugins. It’s a good idea to delete any plugins you’re not using as well.
Can you build a company website on WordPress or Drupal? Absolutely. But you need to understand the pros and cons of both platforms before you get started. Many website design firms work on both Drupal and WordPress, but I’ve also seen quite a few that focus on one or the other. That’s not a bad thing, but you should be aware that they may try to fit your needs into the platform they know best.
WordPress and Drupal have well-established and supportive communities, along with developers and designers willing to help create your website. Drupal maintains a list of developer and design resources at the Drupal Marketplace, while Code Poet provides similar resources from the WordPress community.