April 23rd, 2014

Joomla vs. WordPress - where do I start?

WordPress and Joomla are two very popular content management systems. How do you select the right one for your website?

Joomla or WordPress
Joomla or WordPress

Is bigger better?

First, let’s look at the usage numbers. WordPress and Joomla are the number one and number two content management systems (CMS) in the world. However, WordPress is number one by a huge margin. There are roughly 77 million sites supported by WordPress and about 2 million that use Joomla. The glaring disparity can be explained in one four-letter word: BLOG!

Frankly, WordPress provides the simplest interface and feature set for millions of personal bloggers. After capturing this audience of bloggers — and watching it grow into a legit form of business enterprises — WordPress started adapting features for more complex use.

And while most CMSs offer a ‘nontechnical’ / MS Word style interface, none have been able to deliver one as clean as WordPress and capture the massive ‘from the living room’ website / blog market (and therefore the numbers) of WordPress.

For large enterprises with more complex needs though, WordPress tends to fall short. We’ll address how Joomla supports these complex needs in the next sections.

Which CMS is easier to use?

WordPress doesn’t appeal only to small-time bloggers — it provides a very user friendly CMS interface that also happens to have some very rich features for seasoned developers. Your thriving neighborhood restaurant or doctor’s office could be well supported by a WordPress website.

Typically, we recommend WordPress to clients that have, or are looking to develop, “brochure” style websites. Working within a simple framework, we typically develop a custom design and page structure, using WordPress, to create a look that’s cohesive with a client’s overall brand and message.

Joomla also provides a simple back-end interface for clients to manage their sites. But with enhanced system capabilities, Joomla does require slightly more user training before clients are fully confident managing sites on their own.

User control features

Joomla contains some enhanced user administration controls that are not present with WordPress out of the box, which are helpful for enterprise clients that plan to authorize multiple administrators. This allows certain users to apply changes and updates to only specific sections of a site and even controls visibility of back-end elements to specific users.

This functionality is useful for organizations with different departments that need to control or manage their own specialized content or that have offices that need to control content specific to their location.

Advanced development functionality

Both systems allow a user to extend the out-of-the-box functionality by installing “add-ons”. In the case of WordPress they are known as Plugins, and for Joomla they are called Extensions. You can install add-ons developed by others, or develop your own.

The difference between both systems is that Joomla was built from the ground up to be a collection of Extensions. Even the core functionality is made up of pre-installed Extensions. In the case of WordPress, Plugins were added on top of the core blogging functionality.

Although the term “advanced functionality” doesn’t have a clear-cut definition, here is one use case example: Multiple add-ons that need to integrate with each other – it is normal to install several add-ons in WordPress and Joomla sites. They enrich the site capabilities and many are free. The difficulty comes when your site needs those components to interact with each other. For instance: let’s say you have an event registration add-on and a membership add-on. They work perfectly separately, but if you want them to talk to each other that can get more complex – to provide one click event registration via the event module to registered members of the membership module for instance.

Sometimes those integrations are already programmed, but if they aren’t, you could potentially require some in-depth custom development. Typically there is a much better chance that the Joomla add-ons will already be integrated and can more easily talk to each other because they are built on the same framework. WordPress Plugins on the other hand do not tend to be built with integration in mind and are often very cumbersome to re-engineer in order to work effectively together.

What this means for you is, in general, the more complex the functionality of the site, the more likely Joomla will be your best option as a CMS. You will be able to take advantage of a formal software development framework that provides cost efficiency, easier upgrades and more seamless integration when leveraging 3rd-party functionality.

Planning for the long term

When designing and building a website, the project should be forward thinking and focused not only the current needs for an organization but also the needs for growth over time. For example:

  • Does your business have expansion plans down the road?
  • Do you anticipate adding ecommerce?
  • Who will be developing content on an ongoing basis for the site and what is that content?

For organizations that are looking to keep it simple and envision ongoing content to fit within the structure of the site as it exists at launch, WordPress may be the best solution. When content may significantly expand over time as a business grows or operations expand, Joomla may be a better solution for scalability and flexibility to allow your site to evolve with your organization.

Let’s talk $$$

There’s more to consider when budgeting for a website than just the initial development cost. It’s important to consider and anticipate your costs for ongoing content development and day-to-day site management and maintenance.

Both Joomla and WordPress are open-source systems. There are no licensing fees for either system. For each, your primary costs will be in the architecture, design and development of your site which will be driven by the unique needs of your site. It’s very similar to building a house. The cost all depends on what you want to include and the price varies in the same way.

You can get some ‘pre-fab’ sites on either system but most people want to go the extra mile and put in the custom finishes.

Typically, you will pay slightly more for a custom built Joomla site because of the enhanced functionality and complexity of the system.

So, which CMS should you choose?

The answer to that question is specific to your project.

WordPress tends to be a better CMS in these organizations or instances:

  • Organizations that need a small/simple site that may not change drastically over time.
  • Small businesses – restaurants, mom & pop stores, individual health care practitioners or practices, small non-profit organizations, etc.
  • Organizations with a tight budget that need a site they can easily launch and manage.
  • Anyone looking to quickly launch a site that they can easily manage without much technical knowledge

Joomla tends to be a better CMS for clients that:

  • Require a variety of content types.
  • Create connections between content elements (for example: connecting services to a portfolio of projects).
  • Require advanced functionality and custom databases.
  • Integrate their website with external or business systems or other web systems.

While we can’t predict what the CMS landscape will look like in ten or even five years from now, historically, features that prove to be popular with one CMS are frequently adopted by the others. We can expect WordPress to keep adding more features for developers, and simplify those features for users who want a simple “out-of-the-box” product. And, we can expect Joomla to keep adding more of the WordPress style ease-of-use interface while maintaining its core competency for supporting complex site architectures.

I hope this article provided you with the right questions to ask when trying to determine whether WordPress or Joomla is the best CMS for your next web project!

Ruben Reyes - Lyquix Principal

Ruben Reyes

-Technology, Usability & Analytics

Ruben is the lead technologist at Lyquix. He consults directly with clients and manages Lyquix's development team.

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