Choosing the Right Website Platform
Virtually any type of business needs a website. Whether you are a local restaurant, a one-person CPA, or a busy manufacturer, your website is the proof that your business has a pulse. Like it or not, this will be one of the main conduits your prospective customers and clients will use to find you.
Even if your website is an afterthought, you should consider auditing it and refreshing it at least every couple years. That might not mean a full redesign from the ground up, but it definitely needs to reflect your business and provide your visitors with enough information to take the next steps.
Whether this is your very first website for your business, or you are just planning on revamping your online presence, these days there are a lot of challenging decisions to make, and it’s usually pretty unclear what the best path forward is. We help local businesses with their websites every day, so we’re happy to set up a consultation, but in the meantime, let's take a look at one of the most challenging decisions you will need to make.
WordPress? Joomla? Drupal? Wix? What Platform Should I Build My Website On?
There are a lot of options out there for building a website, and each one is going to promise how simple and easy it is to build an amazing website. There are some caveats though, so let’s break down the most common options.
Wix Website Builder
You’ve probably heard of Wix, and if not, you’ve heard of one of the many alternatives out there that are like it; Squarespace, Weebly, WordPress.org (not to be confused with WordPress), and countless others. A lot of hosting providers, like GoDaddy, offer similar website builders.
The service tends to work like this: you pay a small subscription fee, and you are given web-based tools to easily build your new website. It sounds like a good deal, except for one major caveat: you are stuck with them, and their limitations.
Website builders like this make their money by keeping you on their platform, so they don’t make it easy for you to leave. You can’t just export your site from Wix and launch it somewhere else. You would need to manually build your website again. This means if you start to outgrow the limited platform, or want to do something that isn’t supported, you are stuck with the costs of building a whole new site. These platforms are designed to be simple, which definitely means most businesses will eventually bump into a wall when trying to expand or go outside of the box.
Drupal is a free website platform that is built for developers. While it can be used for simple websites, it shines when you are building out custom web-based applications. This means it takes a lot more knowledge of coding and other complex skill sets. Depending on what you are trying to do, it may take a novice web designer, or it may require an experienced web developer. That’s the overall downside of Drupal.
If you are working with a web design firm, and they suggest Drupal, then as long as you stick with them, you probably have nothing to worry about. However, not every web design agency works with Drupal every day, so it could make future changes more costly if you want to take your work to another company.
For most things, making quick changes to a Drupal site is easy, once it’s built out. It does allow users to log in and make content changes relatively easily, without any knowledge of HTML, CSS, or other coding languages.
Something to think about: If you are having someone build you a more complex, custom website application, no matter what platform it is on, you need to take into consideration that the software will need to be managed. Technology changes rapidly, and that means your custom code will need to be updated frequently. You’ll want to talk to your developers so you can expect and budget for this.
All in all, Drupal is a fine platform, and definitely has strengths when it comes to more complex websites, but it does pose a challenge for those without a lot of skill who just want to manage their own website.
Not to be confused with WordPress.org (which is made by the same organization, but it’s essentially their proprietary website/blog platform similar to Wix), Wordpress is a free, standalone website platform known as a Content Management System (CMS). Right now, WordPress is by far the most popular platform. Around 43% of all websites on the Internet use WordPress.
WordPress is fairly easy to use in most cases, and thanks to its popularity, it’s going to be easy to find a web designer who works with it. While WordPress is free, there will sometimes be costs associated with purchasing third-party plugins and themes in order to get the website to be and do everything you want, but that’s going to be the case for most other platforms too.
We build and manage WordPress websites every day, and it’s a fairly solid platform with a few quirks. First and foremost, since it is the world’s most popular website platform, it’s also the world’s most targeted platform. Statistically, WordPress sites are often targeted by hackers and if you aren’t carefully following best practices and keeping your website secure, you could find your site getting compromised.
The other caveat is the fact that WordPress is so plugin-centric, that you run the risk of trusting certain functionality of your site on third-party plugins and themes. If you don’t do your research, and even if you do, you might end up relying on a plugin that falls out of support, or the developer falls off the face of the Earth, leaving you stuck with something that doesn’t work, or doesn’t support a new version of WordPress or PHP. You can run the same risk with Drupal or Joomla too, but we tend to see this happen a little more frequently with WordPress. Plus, a poorly built plugin could lead to vulnerabilities or slow down your website—a risk that any platform will have. Depending on what you need your website to do, you often need to choose the platform around the plugins you need to get that functionality.
For example, if you want to have your website handle event registration, there are plugins for WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal that handle this. You’ll need to weigh those options, and try to determine which plugin developer will be the best fit, while you are also trying to decide what base platform to use. This is why this choice is so complicated, and why it helps to rely on Oneonta’s web design experts (that’s us!) when making decisions about your new website.
All in all, WordPress is great, and it will work extremely well for simple websites, and depending on what you are trying to do, it’s a pretty decent option for more mature, complex websites.
Joomla is our personal favorite platform, but we’ll try not to be too biased. Joomla is a free CMS, similar to WordPress. It has been around for a long time and is backed by a very passionate community of developers. While it isn’t as popular as WordPress, it is basically the middle ground between WordPress and Drupal. You get the ease-of-use of WordPress with the advanced flexibility of Drupal, so you basically get a website that can scale in virtually any direction you want it to, from a development standpoint.
Once your Joomla site is built, it’s pretty easy to manage. Users can create new pages, blog posts, and edit the site without having to know HTML or CSS. Joomla and WordPress (and to some extent, Drupal) share this. Once the site is built, it’s just a matter of knowing what steps you need to take to make new pages, and with all three of these platforms, that’s fairly straightforward. There’s going to be a similar learning curve to them.
Where Joomla truly shines is how mature the platform is. While WordPress evolved out of a blogging platform, Joomla started out as a true content management system. It has a lot of built-in features designed around this, including really granular user permissions, access control, and different ways to lay out content. On top of that, there are a lot of very mature plugins out there that expand Joomla’s functionality.
Joomla’s biggest caveat is that, every few years, a new version of Joomla comes out. Joomla 2.5 was popular for a few years, but reached end-of-life in 2014. Joomla 3 reaches end-of-life in August, 2023. The move from a major version of Joomla isn’t a simple upgrade—it’s often the same amount of effort as building a new website. If the plugins or template you are using isn’t compatible with the next version, you’ll need to look for new solutions and hope to find something that works for you. When we say “end-of-life” it doesn’t mean your website will necessarily stop working, but it does mean you will no longer get security updates, and eventually the third-party plugins you use will stop getting updates too. Your website will perpetually be out of date, which could mean security vulnerabilities or you’ll miss out on modern-day features. It’s even possible that older, out-of-date websites can fall out of compliance, as technology changes so fast.
This isn’t something unique to Joomla. WordPress will likely eventually have a big version shift at some point in the future—it’s just a matter of when. Drupal experiences the same thing. Joomla’s version shifts are just very clearly planned out.
Which Website Platform is Better For…
Depending on the goals for your website, you’ll probably have a lot of questions about which platform is better for things like SEO, mobile responsiveness, taking online payments, security, etc. Before we wrap up this blog, we wanted to lay out some frequently asked questions to demystify the differences between all of these website platforms.
Which Website Platform is Better for SEO?
This is the one we tend to hear the most. There are a lot of people who claim that WordPress is better for SEO, or that Wix is bad for SEO, or that using a CMS in general hurts SEO, etc. In other terms, there’s a lot of confusing information out there to digest. Here’s the simple answer:
It doesn’t matter.
There is some justification in saying Wix and other online subscription-based website builders tend to be bad for SEO. The biggest flaw these platforms have is performance and how your domain is handled, but the more popular solutions aren’t all that bad, and as long as you aren’t loading your website from a Wix subdomain (purchase your own domain name and point it to the website!), you can get indexed and rank with a Wix site. Wix websites tend to rank poorly because they aren’t built by people who know how SEO works. It is, after all, a Do-It-Yourself platform.
Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla are all fine solutions for SEO. You can add meta descriptions and control your title tags, set up SEF (Search Engine Friendly URLS), avoid duplicate content problems, and handle all of the backend technical SEO very easily with these platforms. There are also various plugins for all three platforms that help you manage your SEO, including Yoast for WordPress, JSitemap for Joomla, and Real-Time SEO for Drupal. Either way, the platform has absolutely zero sway on your SEO, SEO is about your site content, usability, accessibility, performance, and the rest of your online presence/marketing.
Which Website Platform is Better for Performance?
Again, we need to break Wix and other online website builders out of this, because they are going to be the outliers. With these platforms, you don’t have any control over performance. You are stuck on their hosting platform. That said, they should be fine, but if you run into a wall, there is no getting around it.
WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all on par with each other. Technically, a base vanilla installation of Joomla or Drupal is going to be a little faster than WordPress, simply because WordPress has a much larger codebase, and they likely will until they eventually decide to do the dreaded version shift I mentioned earlier. Either way, it doesn’t make that much of a difference in the long run.
It’s all a matter of how well the website is built, and how well it utilizes caching, image optimization, and other utilities, which is something that WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal all have access to.
Which Website Platform is Better for Mobile Devices?
It makes absolutely no difference here. Mobile responsiveness is something built into the design of the website, so as long as the custom design, template, or theme is built with mobile responsiveness in mind, it will work across all devices. It’s not really up to the platform to handle that for you.
Which Website Platform is More Secure?
This is a tough question, but an important one. Nothing you put on the Internet is guaranteed to be 100 percent secure. Simply installing WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal on a server and building your website on it may leave you open to risks. Each platform has best practices and configuration options for making it more secure, and there are server configurations as well as plugins that will help harden your website.
Of the three, right out of the box, WordPress is going to be the least secure, simply due to its popularity. More people are looking for exploits to take advantage of for WordPress, and it’s much easier to misconfigure a new WordPress site and fall victim to an attack. Joomla and Drupal win this round thanks to being slightly less common.
That being said, it’s still a matter of following best practices, keeping the platform and components updated, keeping a regular backup, using strong passwords, and making sure the host is secure. These measures will all play a huge role in keeping your site safe.
We handle website hosting the same way we handle any other business technology—we carefully ensure that things are configured correctly and we actively monitor and maintain the websites we host to keep risks at the lowest minimum possible. It’s a lot of effort (we host and manage hundreds and hundreds of websites) but it pays off in the long run.
I Still Need Help Deciding
We get it. There are a lot of options and it’s hard to tell which one is best for your website. We’re happy to discuss your website goals and come up with a long-term game plan that will give your business an incredible presence on the web. Give us a call at (888) 546-4384 to schedule a consultation, or simply ask us some questions!