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How to choose the right CMS: should you use WordPress, Drupal or Laravel?

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Written by: Richard Darbey, web developer and graphic designer, Van Dalen on April 17, 2020

WordPress, Drupal and Laravel

Understanding the lay of the land when it comes to choosing the right CMS

Before we get into the specifics of choosing the right CMS for your website, let’s talk about what a CMS actually is:

“A CMS is made up of two core parts: a content management application (CMA) and content delivery application (CDA). Combined, these applications essentially handle all the code, database queries, and infrastructure in the back end so you can focus on the front end of your site.”

Hubspot

There’s a reason over 50% of all websites are built with a CMS. Using a CMS provides a user-friendly interface for generating, publishing and managing content. A CMS enables customizable functionality and design through templates and extensions – no coding necessary. Further, multiple creators can work within the tool.

Prefer to let the experts choose the right CMS for you? Learn more about Van Dalen web & app development services.

There are many CMS tools available on the market and it’s important to choose the right CMS. For instance, should you use WordPress, Drupal or Laravel? In this blog, these are the top three CMSs we like to use with our clients here at Van Dalen:

  1. WordPress
  2. Drupal
  3. Laravel

Why is selecting the right CMS important?

It’s really important to be intentional about selecting the right tool for your website. Selecting a CMS haphazardly can bring about all sorts of headaches for your web development and marketing teams. Let’s walk through the primary unforeseen obstacles we’ve seen arise with our own clients who didn’t choose the right CMS for their website.

  • First off, choosing the right CMS tool is key because you have to consider growth and where your company might go in the future. You’re probably no stranger to change as a technology marketer – the information technology and security industries change more rapidly than any other industry. When your business changes, your marketing changes. When your marketing changes, your website changes. For example: it might be easy to deploy a prebuilt WordPress template with no back end, but what happens later on when you want to add more features and you’re locked into what you started with?

“You have to consider where your business is headed ultimately with the website you’re building. Don’t choose something that’s only going to work for your business environment this year.”

-Colleen Van Dalen, CEO, Van Dalen

  • On the other hand, when you’re making a highly customized website, configuration issues can arise when you choose a CMS so distinctive you can’t configure it properly. Tech websites often offer complex features and functionality to users. For example, a TCO cloud calculator can be found on many cloud provider’s websites. Building useful custom features will make your website a better resource for prospects and customers – just don’t use a tool that’s so unique you can’t fit it into an update or apply changes without a large amount of effort. If you excessively customize the back end of your website and the developer who wrote the source code leaves, for example, you’re stuck with what they built. The point is this: keep it configured, not overly customized. A repeatable approach will work across the board if you lose a web developer. We’re not suggesting you should never build a custom site. Rather, the core build, or CMS, should stay as untouched as possible.
  • Finally, problems also crop up when you continue to operate an out-of-date web framework. We already pointed out that going overboard with customization can result in issues. At the same time, failing to modernize creates problems, too. Consider a computer hardware ecommerce site built 10 years ago. The framework the original web developers used is now expired. It’s time to update because the system is insecure, but it’s been so long since it’s been updated that instead of transitioning to the latest and greatest build, web developers are forced to apply numerous “band-aids” to make the new site work with the framework it was built. In this case, the web development team, marketing team and business overall will be better off choosing a modern build. It’ll be more work, but it will pay off in the long run.

What are the benefits of using a CMS?

Web content should be dynamic and relevant, especially when it comes to B2B IT and security. Technology changes every day, and it’s incumbent upon technologists to keep the community informed. CMS platforms come with a myriad of notable benefits that support this objective, whether you’re a seasoned web developer or a blogger on the marketing team.

  • You don’t need coding experience.
  • It’s easy to collaborate with other team members, regardless of technical knowledge.
  • CMS platforms include built-in features and extensions for third-party tools that will help you optimize your site and improve search engine rankings.
  • Predesigned templates allow you to customize the aesthetics of your site quickly.
  • Making updates to your site is simple. There’s no need to involve the web development team to post a new blog, for instance.

WordPress, Drupal and Laravel: Use cases and benefits

There are HUNDREDS of CMS options out there, spanning a wide range of price points and specialized purposes. Remember no matter what you choose, your web development efforts should lead to a superior digital experience for your prospects and customers. Here are the three primary CMS tools for web and application we use daily:

1. WordPress
Generally speaking, WordPress is easiest to deploy and probably involves the shortest learning curve. It’s extremely useful when you need something that’s easy to use and capable of creating an aesthetically pleasing website, plus it’s very much content based. On the other hand, it’s not specialized for a highly specific purpose. In other words, it’s more of a showcase tool.

WordPress templates are visually appealing, easy to install and include well-written code. Consequently, updating the back end is as easy as clicking “update,” so long as you’re backed up. It’s best for smaller sites, especially if you have a limited number of users. It’s not hard to understand and you don’t need a lot of website-related roles to keep everything in house with WordPress

It’s also worth noting that WordPress is great for multi-site options; it’s as easy as adding a few lines to your WordPress configuration file and your subdomain. You can easily reference multiple sites running only on one core. Drupal offers this functionality too, but the process isn’t as easy.

WordPress offers a headless CMS option, disabling your typical What You See Is What You Get editor and allowing you to manage key functions through a rest API.

We recommend WordPress if you:

  • Need something quick without a great deal of built-in functionality
  • Have a bit of capital to buy a premium responsive theme (you don’t need a lot of money)
  • Want to hit the ground running with posts and pages

Drupal 8 Logo

2. Drupal

Drupal offers more opportunity for growth on the user level because it allows you a much larger, manageable group of users. This is not to say the same isn’t possible with WordPress. Rather, it’s easier with Drupal because the tools are mostly free; you’re generally not going to find yourself paying for code. WordPress does typically require fees for high-end code.

When it comes to an application within your website which allows users to engage in a particular activity, such as the cloud TCO calculator we mentioned earlier, Drupal offers an excellent API setup for Laravel (an open-source PHP web framework which we’ll review next). Drupal adheres to customary PHP conventions for object-oriented code. This API allows for efficient code structure and a framework for easily deploying a user app on your website quickly.

Drupal also boasts fantastic user management in terms of roles and permissions. It’s important to note their community is a bit more catered to tech-savvy users, but documentation and support is exhaustive.

You’ll also have more creative reign with features and functionality than with WordPress. You can think of it as a more direct relationship with how you imagine your code to be working. It’s also easier to access database information in Drupal, whereas with WordPress this requires adding more [ ].

Recently, there’s been a huge wave of drag and drop WYSIWYG builders available for WordPress, which are great because you can essentially click, drag and drop – super convenient and powerful for page layout. On the other hand, they aren’t much help when it comes to data creation or organization. WordPress requires you to create the parts of the database you want to access. Contrarily and beneficially, using Drupal virtually everything is content-related, in a database and accessible via Drupal’s structure right away.

Drupal also offers a couple of different flavors of headless CMS, including classic headless architecture and static architecture.

We recommend Drupal if you:

  • Work for an enterprise and want to create a custom CMS
  • Are more focused on creating tools the user will use to create content. If you need to build a website that will allow the marketing team to create blogs, for example, you can use Drupal to control different needs. Plus, the GUI for the end user is simple.

3. Laravel

Use Laravel for web application creation, or any scenario where a developer is using a framework. The community is huge and continually growing. In theory, you can use it to build a simple website, but Laravel is overqualified for those types of projects. If you’re going to use Laravel, you’ll want to leverage its power.

Laravel is especially great for quickly developing and deploying an app. It’s also great for leveraging PHP composers (a command line level control of packages for websites) and all the power behind them. Using PHP composers can significantly speed up app development.

Possibly the most important consideration for Laravel is this: it’s a developer’s tool, and though it can be compared to other CMS options, we’re really not talking in terms of WordPress, Drupal or Wix. Laravel is a completely different beast and it’s definitely not something the average user can work with – you have to know what you’re doing. Basically, you can use Laravel to build what WordPress does, but you can’t use WordPress to build what Laravel does.

There are a number of different options for using a headless CMS in conjunction with Laravel. If this is your goal, we advise researching the available solutions before making a decision.

We recommend Laravel if you:

  • Want to build your own CMS
  • Want to build your own app
  • Are more focused on creating tools the user will use to create content. If you need to build a website that will allow the marketing team to create blogs, for example, you can use Drupal to control different needs. Plus, the GUI for the end user is simple.

4. Bonus option: CakePHP 3

CakePHP is your pure code option. We’re listing it as a bonus here because it requires a serious amount of development know-how and if you’re trying to choose a proper CMS, pure code doesn’t qualify as an option. CakePHP is the framework you would use to actually build a CMS.

If you only have one developer, it’s fine to build a code-based website, but don’t forget that a non-developer user is going to need a GUI.

So that’s that! Like we said, there are countless CMS options out there, so it’s important to understand the process for choosing a content management system. Knowing the difference between CMSs and selecting the right option for your needs is your first step to building a website that will delight your prospects and customers – the foundation to any marketing strategy

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