When you build a new website, there's a lot of stuff to think about: there's the logo and the content, and the information architecture and the buttons, the hosting and the domain name… But before all of this is conceived and put together into a gorgeous website for your business, you first need to decide what CMS you're going to use.

For those who are new to websites, a CMS is short for "content management system", a software-type application that lets you make changes to your website instead of using FTP files and changing the code itself. Basically, instead of accessing a document filled with code, you can simply write the content you want, add pictures and manage your website from an easy-to-use interface. 

Here at North Studio, most of the websites we develop for clients use one of two CMS: WordPress or Drupal. Although they are very similar in a number of ways, they're also very different: this post is going to give you a little more background information on each, and then we'll even have a short test to determine whether you should go with Drupal or WordPress.

WordPress: Blogging evolved

WordPress began as a humble blogging platform meant for people who liked to write. Over the years, though, its popularity has helped WordPress become a full-fledged content management system used by some of the biggest and most complex websites in the world. Here are a few basic facts about WordPress:

  • Founded in 2003
  • Installed on over 60 million websites, making it the most popular blogging interface on the web
  • Used by 19% of the top 10 million websites worldwide

WordPress is a free, open-source CMS with 10 years of development behind it. It has a strong community made of users and professional developers who work together to build themes and plugins. WordPress also offers iOS and Android apps for website management on the go. 

WordPress is known for its intuitive interface and its variety of plugins and themes, free or paid. Here's a screenshot of a WordPress dashboard taken from my personal website:

As you can see, all you need to manage your website is accessible through the side tabs on the left. From the dashboard, you can manage your comments, access all your posts, write a new draft and even see your current traffic statistics. You can easily customize the dashboard to your needs. 

When it comes to writing content, the "Post" function is as simple to use as any word processor. Click in the window and start writing, then hit "Publish"; it's as simple as that. Here's a screenshot of one of my draft posts:

History will show that WordPress was the great website equalizer. As it developed to outgrow blogging, it contributed to helping people with no knowledge of code build and manage their own websites. As long as you have basic knowledge of computers and word processors, WordPress is easy to learn and use.

One downside of WordPress is that managing more complex elements and making changes to the basic structure of your website can be difficult, if not impossible, unless you have a good knowledge of code. Given its popularity, there have also been some security issues over the years, but these risks can be managed with the proper plugins. 

Drupal: True website management

Drupal resembles WordPress in many ways: it's also free and open-source, and it also has a big community of developers building modules and themes. However, Drupal was originally conceived as a message board program; unlike WordPress, it didn't grow out of a blogging platform. From its very origins, Drupal is based in community.

Here are some facts about Drupal:

  • Founded in 2001
  • Installed on over 900,000 websites
  • Used by 2% of all websites worldwide

Drupal is less known than WordPress because of its developer focus, but don't let that discourage you. Drupal is in fact very user-friendly once you learn how to use it. Moreover, with a community of over 30,000 developers, someone somewhere has made the module or plugin that you need for your website.

The basic Drupal interface can differ from one website to the other, depending on how the program is installed and what theme you are running. Usually, instead of accessing website elements through the dashboard (like WordPress), you log in to your website and edit page elements directly from the page. Here's an example:

As you can see, I can change the right block by clicking the "Edit" tab at the top. If I want to edit content from the full list, I can access it through a simple menu bar at the top.

Writing new content is just as easy: here's a screenshot of the draft of this very post as I am writing it: 

In general, Drupal is considered a more robust and secure solution for entreprise-level websites. Organizations, governments and large companies around the world use Drupal as their CMS. The White House website, for example, is one of them. And of course, the North Studio, Stikky Media and Q College websites are also Drupal-based. 

Drupal is easy enough to be used as a simple blogging platform, but it's strong enough to manage some of the biggest websites in the world. The main disadvantage of Drupal is its learning curve: in contrast with user-friendly WordPress, it requires a bit more time and training to learn how to use.

WordPress or Drupal, which should you use? Take our test!

Not sure which CMS you want to use, even after reading our descriptions? Here's a short test to help you decide which one you should use.

How comfortable are you with computers?

a) I can browse the web, write emails and edit text in a word processor.
b) I can handle advanced options, install programs, configure printers and solve basic problems.
c) I'm an advanced user with programming and troubleshooting knowledge.

How much do you know about how the internet works?

a) I know that when I type an address at the top of my browser I can access websites.
b) I know the basics of web page construction and basic HTML. I understand the concepts of hosting and things like FTP.
c) I understand the backbone of the internet network and how to program a website from scratch in HTML, CSS, PHP and MySQL.

What kind of website do you need?

a) Just a simple online storefront for my business with my contact information and opening hours.
b) Something with a blog, a few pages, some social media integration and maybe a photo gallery or the ability to sell products online.
c) A full-fledged entreprise website with a complex architecture for multiple users. Most of my business is done online, or my website is the major source of information for my customers.

If you've answered with A for the majority of questions, then WordPress is definitely the right choice for you. With a little tutoring, you'll be able to use it as easily as a word processor. Just make sure you have an expert on hand to help you if you hit a bump in the road.

If you've answered with B, either WordPress or Drupal will work. WordPress will definitely be easier to learn and manage, and you'll be able to handle more advanced options in theming, widgets and plugins. But Drupal can also work for you with a little training. 

If you've answered C, then you probably don't need me to tell you that Drupal is the best option. You'll definitely be happy with how versatile and customizable it is. The extended permissions settings and strong security features will keep your website safe.

Although we admit this test is a little basic, thinking about how you will use the website and how much you know about computers can help you choose which CMS is the best for you. How did you do? Do you agree with your results? Share with us in the comments!