Have some data you need to manage on a website builder?
Wondering what's the perfect CMS platform out of the many CMS platforms on the market?
Let's look at the various content management systems on the market to find the best CMS platform for you!
There are soooo many different CMS platforms.
Each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
I love jumping into the different CMS platforms and finding where they excel and where they fall short.
And because I have done the grunt work, you don't have to!
So I'll pass on my findings and experience with the various CMS platforms in this CMS comparison.
What really is a CMS?
I really want to jump into talking about the different CMS platforms... BUT, I want to clarify what we are covering.
A CMS is a type of functionality that has two distinct parts:
- Somewhere to manage data
- Somewhere to layout the data
The need of a CMS platform arises from the need to manage similar types of information.
The most common type of content management system is a blog!
You see with a blog, you have one place where you edit your blog and another where you create the blog template. The key here is that only blog template exists meaning you don't have to spend time redesigning the blog every time you write a blog.
But there are many different needs for a CMS platform.
Here are some common ones:
- Team pages
- Case studies
- Inventory items
Basically anything that has the same layout, but different data. And you can probably tell that the huge benefit is that you only have to change a layout once for it to impact all pages.
Plus you can filter and sort your data.
So a CMS is not the same as a website builder. Not all CMS platforms have website builders and not all website builders have content management systems.
In this CMS comparison, I will primarily focus on the content management system abilities, but also discuss the website builder abilities as they can compliment one another.
Let's dive in!
Drupal is the most capable CMS platform and the one that will give you the most headaches. Let's refer to this accurate picture of the Drupal learning curve:
But there's a catch. Once you understand the platform, you can do almost anything. Drupal is the most powerful, flexible, and extendable CMS on the market. This makes it one of the best CMS platforms, however, it can be overkill for many instances.
Here is Drupal's CMS field editor:
Here is Drupal's Views (the UI to extract CMS data).
Using the best Drupal theme will make your life a lot easier too.
It's similar to WordPress, but because of the learning curve, it has much less adoption. Out of all websites built using a CMS, Drupal has a 1.5-2% total market share while WordPress has around 50%, according to WebsiteSetup.org.
Both Drupal and WordPress are open source CMS platforms meaning the source code is free to look at an manipulate to your liking (obviously this requires technical knowledge to do yourself, or you can just use the many plugins and modules available on the market).
A 2% adoption rate still makes it one of the most popular CMS platforms.
My career in web development started with Drupal, where I got some serious exposure to a wide array of projects and was surrounded by excellent mentors.
Mentors and community are a big part of Drupal as they help facilitate best practices and transfer of knowledge.
Let's look at the pros and cons of Drupal.
- Incredibly flexible content management system
- Highly relational CMS
- Scalable to all heights
- It comes with "Views", which let you put together in-depth queries to get exactly the data you need (via a user interface)
- Very granular permissions layer
- Secure as long as you keep it up to date (Drupal has a dedicated security team)
- Extensive library of modules for extending the platform
- Open source (all the features you could want)
- Helpful and engaged community - one of the largest, if not the largest, open source communities
- Very efficient caching system to enable speedy performance
- Excellent for search engine optimization
- Can be considered an enterprise CMS
- 3rd party modules are held to high standards, almost always using best practices
- Requires a Drupal builder/developer to make use of the platform
- Requires technical knowledge and advanced users to excel
- Requires web hosting provider
- Must keep modules and core up to date for security reasons
- The frontend tools are minimal, typically requiring custom HTML and CSS
- One-off web pages take a while to build
- Hard to find someone that actually knows what they are doing
Comparison: See how WordPress and Drupal stack up against each other.
When to use Drupal?
I typically go to Drupal when I need a very flexible CMS platform.
The flexibility is both in how the data is stored as well as retrieved and displayed.
It's highly customizable in creating custom content types, retrieving the data, and displaying it in templates.
I also like knowing that with a bit of programming knowledge, it can be extended to meet any you have.
Many universities and governments rely on Drupal (good enterprise CMS)
It's by far the most flexible and difficult of the CMS platforms.
Webflow is absolutely incredible. In summary, this platform is the most capable frontend builder on the market combined with a very capable backend/content management system.
Here is Webflow's CMS field editor:
Here is Webflow's CMS template editor:
Let's look at the pros and cons of Webflow.
- Can accomplish all things done in code; without it
- Fully capable and easy to use animation creator
- Leverage the "architecture" portion of web development with the use of classes
- Fully managed (SSL, hosting, updates, etc.)
- Flexible content management system
- Flexible layout and templating for CMS data
- Has a tool to clean up unused classes and animations
- Lots of keyboard shortcuts
- Built in Google Analytics integration
- Requires knowledge of the building blocks of websites (divs, classes, etc.)
- Requires a bit of frontend technical knowledge
When to use Webflow?
When you want the combination of the top design user interface and a powerful CMS. Webflow is one of the best CMS platforms and often the right CMS platform if you understand the frontend design and don't very complex projects involving functionality.
As a developer, I have a strong appreciation for the capabilities Webflow has.
Duda takes a slightly different approach that I also have a strong appreciation for as a digital marketing agency owner.
I build and manage a suite of clients' websites and need the tools to do this most efficiently and effectively.
While Webflow gives you the barebones to build a website and makes no assumptions on its display, like not including a menu by default, Duda does.
Duda makes a decent amount of assumptions and gives its consumers easy-to-use tools to build a website.
For example, let's look at how to add a color overlay to a background image. This needs often come up when you want to add text above the background but need an overlay to create a better contrast ratio between the background and text. Webflow, giving us the bare bones of web development, requires us to add a div within the parent section, position it "absolute", set a 100% width and height, and then add a background to this div. It's not very complicated, but if you don't know how to use HTML and CSS, this might seem like a lot. On Duda, however, when you add a background, there is a switch below it asking if you want to enable a background overlay. Turn it on, change the colors, and you're good to go! They handle all the HTML and CSS structures for you.
Duda makes many assumptions and gives you many prebuilt templates and sections, significantly saving time while still offering a good amount of flexibility.
Duda's content management system can fulfill basic content needs.
Let's look at the pros and cons of Duda.
- Built in content management system
- Managed platform (SSL, updates, best practices, etc.)
- Built-in tools for collaboration (e.g., comment tool)
- Easy to use and flexible editor
- Prebuilt sections and templates (aka "free themes")
- Superb support
- Outputs a different website for mobile and desktop (performance advantages)
- The platform is constantly improving
- Built in search engine optimization features
- CSS and HTML is editable if you need more customized designs
- Integrates with Zapier
- Easy to manage many websites with agency, team, and client functionality
- Built in Google Analytics integration
- Classes are all managed in code, making them not easy to use
- CMS functionality is limited (learn about their "collection" limitations)
- Displaying CMS fields is limited unless you custom code your own widget (requires programming knowledge)
- Filtering and sorting CMS data is very limited
- No access to backend
- Not many apps in the app store
- Editor a slightly buggy and slow
- Linking to CMS data requires the full link (absolute URL)
- Very few keyboard shortcuts
- Limited grid system and layout control
Note: If you're looking to learn Duda, check out my Duda Website Builder tutorial.
Comparison: See how Duda and WordPress stack up against each other.
When to use Duda?
When you need to build a brochure website with simple content management needs (such as team pages). Duda can do more than brochure websites, but in one sentence I think that's a good way to put it.
WordPress is the most popular CMS platform on the market.
There are actually very poor content management tools that come with the platform, come to think of it.
Here is ACF in WordPress:
Out of the box, WP gives you Posts and Pages.
WordPress is much simpler than Drupal, much less engineered, and therefore has a much larger adoption. It's the most popular CMS platform (not for good reasons).
WordPress is a generalists platforms meaning it's not great at any one thing.
Let's look at the pros and cons of WordPress.
- Easy to use
- Massive library of plugins
- Many free themes
- Open source CMS
- Good frontend builders (3rd party WordPress plugins)
- If you have a question, there's probably an answer online
- No out of the box extendable content management system
- You have to manage it, which included updates
- Requires web hosting provider
- Plugin updates are bound to break something
- The way content is stored in the database isn't scalable
- 3rd party plugins don't always use best practices
- WordPress itself doens't use best practices
- WordPress used very outdated programming designs
- Requires a bit of technical expertise to use the extended CMS
When to use WordPress?
You should try staying away from creating a WordPress site. If you need CMS functionality and a specific plugin for your WordPress site and the ability to use a graphical user interface to design webpages then this is a candidate.
WordPress is also pretty good at blogging so you if you want to publish web content then it can be a candidate too.
If you're considering WordPress, check out Duda and Webflow as alternatives.
Ghost is another open source CMS platform strictly meant for blogging and building an audience.
There are built-in tools to enable excellent blogs, paid sections to monetize the blog, and pretty great speed that your visitors and search engines will love.
I initially built this site on Ghost but quickly moved it off due to all of the limitations.
Let's have a look at the pros and cons of Ghost.
- Managed (SSL, updates, etc.)
- Option to self host it, in which case you manage it, but save some money on hosting
- Offers a managed web hosting solution
- Excellent blogging features ready to use
- Free and purchased themes available
- Can have paid sections of your content
- Ready to use mail system to gain subscribers and email them your content
- Integrates with many other tools across the internet
- Tagging system to create organized collections of your content
- No page builder
- Spellcheck isn't reliable. Something about the WYSIWYG editor makes your browser not pick up spelling issues
- No analytics built-in (except for membership statistics)
- No bulk operations on content like publishing or unpublishing
- Blogging software is the only type of CMS functionality built in
When to use Ghost?
When you only want to blog and not do anything else.
Shopify is probably the most popular ecommerce platform. Why? Nobody knows...
Maybe it's because very small businesses can start an online store without hiring someone.
From my in-depth experience with it, I can firmly say I hate it.
Here is Shopify's "page builder":
Let's look at why by going over the pros and cons of Shopify for your online store.
- Fully managed system (SSL, ecommerce, checkout, etc.)
- It always works - you don't have to worry about breaking things and interrupting the checkout experience
- Easy to use product management (a type of CMS)
- Easy to use inventory management
- Has blogs built in (a type of CMS)
- No page builder! Your pages have a title and description field (with a WYSIWYG editor)... that's it. If you want anything more, you can use a 3rd party app like Shogun, which I don't recommend. You can also create custom page templates that are time-consuming and require knowledge of CSS, HTML, and a templating language (Shopify uses Liquid as its template language).
- No way to pull in products on non-collections. Want to form a press release of a new product and bring in a grid of those products? Can't do it.
- No search field for files within the editor. Once you run your store for a year or more, files get buried, and you have to click load more every 20 or so images which makes you have to re-upload your logo every time you want to use it.
- Very little flexibility. I've run into dozens of things I wanted to do and can't because of how rigid the system is.
- Shopify charges you for each sale if you don't use their payment gateway. "Additional fees using all payment providers other than Shopify Payments - 2.0%". Good luck, small businesses. You can kiss goodbye 2.7% to your payment processor and 2% to Shopify.
When to use Shopify?
If you're a small business and want a DIY online store.
Other CMS Platforms/Builders
I have deep experience with all the platforms I've mentioned so far. The following ones I do not, but I still wanted to include them so you can research them and see if they fit your needs.
Out of all of these, I was close to using Craft CMS for a project and think it can be an excellent platform.
Squarespace - Best for a do-it-yourself website or something simple. I'm not impressed with it and there are no CMS abilities besides basic blogs.
Big Commerce - a very established ecommerce platform
Wix - probably best for a do-it-yourself website
Weebly - probably best for a do-it-yourself website
Craft CMS - flexible CMS with custom templating solutions
Joomla - alternative to Drupal and WordPress
Magento - a very established ecommerce platform
CMS Tools Comparison Summary
Webflow and Duda are my two favorite tools. For frontend and backend flexibility, Webflow is amazing but requires more knowledge of HTML and CSS, even though you don't actually write any. Duda is a little less flexible but faster to build on, and outputs amazing websites with best practices and quick performance.
Need help deciding which is the best CMS platform for you? Reach out with your project details.