Last month, most of our Duo team traveled to Nashville for DrupalCon 2018. The annual event brought more than 3,000 Drupal developers and advocates together to discuss the latest changes and trends with the platform. Every time I’ve attended DrupalCon, I’ve left energized about the platform’s future and inspired to bring that excitement to our clients. This year was no different.
One of the most frequent questions I hear whenever talking with a potential client is whether they should have their website built with WordPress or Drupal. It’s a question that’s been asked for years, and frankly will probably continue to be asked for years to come. With that in mind, I made sure to attend the DrupalCon session titled “WordPress vs. Drupal: How the website industry is evolving.”
Photo by Helloquence
The session was led by Zack Rosen, CEO and co-founder of Pantheon, which hosts more than 200,000 sites built with WordPress and Drupal. Based on Pantheon’s experience working with both platforms, Rosen said he feels there are many similarities between the two — he used the term parallel universes as a way to describe the two ecosystems, and I really like that choice of words. The goals of the platforms are similar, and what the platforms do is similar, but they go about doing those things and achieving those goals in different ways.
That is certainly the experience we’ve seen here at Duo, where we focus primarily on Drupal-based digital platforms, but we do have experience building with WordPress. For straightforward projects, WordPress can be a great option. We see Drupal as being the preferred platform when it comes to integrating systems and building complex relationships with different programs.
I like to think of WordPress as a square hole. If the requirements for a project fit within that square hole, then WordPress can be a great option. However, if the requirements are a round peg, or frankly extend anywhere outside of that square shape, then WordPress is probably not the best choice. That is the type of project where Drupal shines.
Rosen presented an interesting slide that examined approximately 1,200 companies, the CMS platforms they and their annual revenue. Not surprisingly, WordPress dominated in the lower revenue categories ($1-5 million, $5-10 million and $10-$50 million). That is always where WordPress has shined, in part because, as Rosen explained, the platform has always been an “end-user product.” WordPress is easy to use and manage, and it’s that idea that has helped its ecosystem evolve.
The concerning part for Drupal is that WordPress has begun to expand into the higher revenue categories and compete with Drupal. Drupal 8 brought a number of back-end improvements to help make the user experience easier, and while still not equal to the WordPress experience, the gap has certainly closed. So, the question is, beyond the back-end experience, what is it about WordPress that is helping it expand to higher-value, greater-need clients? This is how Rosen answered that question: We (meaning website companies) all work for marketers.
According to Rosen, marketers are the people in any business who best understand the value of a company’s website, and so it is their needs that steer the direction of a site. Now, I can already hear you asking, what does that have to do with why WordPress is becoming more popular with higher-revenue clients? Think about what has happened to the marketing industry — and specifically marketers — in recent years. The rise of social media and digital marketing has brought on countless new tasks and deliverables for marketers to the point that, as Rosen said, most marketing teams struggle to keep up with incoming demands.
The marketing teams that succeed in meeting the constant slew of demands are often the ones that operate with an agile approach, meaning they iterate on a frequent basis. They don’t just publish content on their website and move on to something else. They publish the content, then they analyze the content’s performance, and then they let their analysis dictate how to change the content for improved performance.
WordPress makes this iteration easy. This agile approach has always existed in the WordPress ecosystem in part because the platform has always been focused on the end user. That will be further demonstrated later this month when WordPress releases its new Gutenberg editor, which will make for an even easier user interface.
Drupal, meanwhile, got its start because of its focus on developers. That’s a very different audience, and while it’s been incredibly valuable in making the platform what it is today, it does not naturally reflect this idea of easy iteration. To continue its presence as a key player in the CMS landscape, Drupal has to catch up. We have been able to do that with innovations like Flex Pages for truly granular design and Material Admin for a more up-to-date admin interface.
Now, that may sound like doom and gloom for Drupal, but Rosen began his talk with a key point. While Drupal faces perhaps its biggest set of challenges to date, it also can capitalize on its biggest set of opportunities. If agencies like Duo that support Drupal-based sites can gravitate toward this notion of building digital platforms for marketers, then they can highlight not only the differentiators of Drupal, but the ways in which it can make marketer’s jobs easier. From integrating with CRMs to easily presenting content in multiple languages, there are things Drupal can do with ease that WordPress simply can’t do as well.
So, when a potential client asks about WordPress vs. Drupal, the answer really isn’t about what platform is better. The answer truly comes down to what platform is best for that specific client.