How to Choose an Open Source Content Management System

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Have you decided to launch a new website? The first step is figuring out which content management system (CMS) is best to use. For any writer, editor, manager, or non-IT person, this can be completely uncharted territory. We’ll walk you through some easy steps to help you get started with some of the most popular platforms in use today.

What is the primary function of your website?

Before you start thinking about development and design, you should step back and clearly define what the primary focus of your website is. Are you selling something or sharing information? Starting a blog? Creating a resource library or building a database? Differentiating specific purposes for your site allows you to choose the CMS that best leverages capabilities unique to your business needs.

For example, an association might need faceted search tools for their resource center, while a publication site might need a plugin to catalogue white papers and articles. Whether your purposes are internal or to recruit clients, talent, or serve public interest, the primary goals of your site build should be clearly established and agreed upon by your team.

What does your management and marketing team want to accomplish?

You should next determine what specific goals your leadership and/or marketing team want to accomplish with the new site. By identifying a high level overview of company expectations, you can mitigate differentiations in stakeholder goals before committing significant time and energy to the redesign. It is vital that the initial ideation sessions identify content and design goals as well. Is rebranding a primary design concern? Perhaps SEO is a key factor in content creation and implementation. Multimedia integration or custom features such as an interactive map could be required.

It’s important to engage stakeholder buy-in from the start of the project for maximum efficiency and clarity in establishing corporate goals. Be sure to explore the overall aim of the site as well as specific features that will elevate the user experience for target audiences as a key part of initial strategy sessions.

What Do Your Users Need from The Site?

Imagine you have determined that your goal is to build a site that serves primarily as a resource library for the public. Your CEO requires an interactive map showing your nationwide offices, and the marketing team wants vibrant red accents with clean grids and custom iconography. It’s a tall order, but the agency can deliver on all of these request. There’s one voice missing from the conversation, however: what about the users?

You should leverage user research and testing to help determine which CMS best implements the needed information architecture for your new site. User engagement can help reveal the most popular pages, navigation concerns, usability of particular features, responsive concerns, and much more. Ask for examples of similar sites that target audiences find engaging, attractive, or user-friendly as well.

Do Your Research

It’s worth the investment in time to appropriately research viable CMS platforms with the wealth of information available online. In addition to using information from industry expert sites like this one, you can examine user communities and online forums. There are more than 1,500 groups dedicated to WordPress and Drupal on LinkedIn alone.

Other resources designed to aid in your decision are online publications dedicated to talking about and reviewing each CMS. These include,, and many more. Another logical choice would be to go straight to the source and visit the corporate websites of the CMSs you’re investigating, like and

Consider The Cost

Beyond price, consider the overall time, opportunity cost, and staff resources required to and learn and implement the chosen CMS. An expert web design agency can help you configure the cost–both in terms of price and estimated time involved– once you know what your needs are.  A typical web redesign can range from $20,000 to millions, depending on requirements and complexities (for example, cost $500 million). If you first determine your available resources, an agency can tailor a custom solution to match your budget requirements.

Some of Today’s Top Open Source CMS Platforms


WordPress is the most popular CMS out there, currently hosting 28% of all websites. Originally released in 2003, WordPress was started as an open source blog publishing tool, but has since grown in scope immensely. It’s easy-to-use interfaces on both the front and backend make it a top choice for content managers and designers alike. It also has low start up costs, which make it a popular choice for organizations of all sizes. Well-known sites using WordPress include TechCrunch, Vogue Magazine, The New Yorker, BBC America, Bloomberg Professional, and many more.

Why is WordPress a preferred CMS?

  • Easy for marketing or digital team to use
  • Easy to maintain post-launch
  • Easy core and plug-in updates
  • The WordPress community is extremely active with committed security patches
  • Premium WordPress plugins are available, including Gravity Forms, Yoast SEO, WPJarvis, Advanced Custom fields, and more
  • Thousands of Digital Marketing Agencies support WordPress
  • Under the open-source GNL license, which is available and free for developers and companies to use
  • Secure, scalable, and flexible
  • Fast platform for development
  • Easy to integrate with third-party systems via APIs
  • Some web hosting companies are built around supporting WordPress, including WordPress VIP, WPengine, Flywheel, and many more.

Weaknesses of WordPress:

  • It is truly a content management system (CMS), versus being a framework
  • The wealth of plugins work easily, but can conflict with other plugins or your theme, causing more work in the end
  • There’s no standard approach to modeling complex data sets


Drupal is a widely used CMS that is popular with some of the most high profile sites on the internet, including and many Fortune 500 companies. Drupal is ideal for content heavy sites and has immense functionality for organizing big sites with thousands of pages and resources, as well as multiple users and editors. Also an open source platform, Drupal has thousands of plugins (modules) for a vast array of functions that can be used to create a powerful and highly customized website. This is why it’s the chosen CMS for top sites like eBay, The Economist, General Electric, and many of the U.S. Federal Government websites, including,, and

Why Drupal is a preferred CMS?

  • It’s a framework that allows developers to custom build any applications a client may need
  • Has a powerful content authorship workflow
  • Extremely scalable and secure
  • Has easy integration points with Apache Solr and Salesforce
  • Has a flexible content structure that can support the most complex taxonomies
  • Multisite distribution
  • Personalization and localization capabilities
  • Strong community
  • Is well integrated with eCommerce platforms such as Magento or its own Drupal commerce distribution
  • There are scalable web hosting companies that support Drupal alone, such as Acquia,, and

Weaknesses of Drupal:

  • Expensive to maintain
  • Complex upgrade paths from Drupal 6 to 7, and from 7 to 8
  • Requires experienced Drupal developers


Craft is a CMS for developers and designers who want to build a site by hand. As the name implies, Craft offers the chance to custom design a site by hand coding each part. It does not have templates.

Why Craft is a preferred CMS?

  • Extremely scalable and secure
  • Highly customizable
  • Excellent content flexibility
  • Allows for custom features and add-ons
  • User friendly front end and control panel
  • Web hosting companies that support Craft include DigitalOcean, ServerPilot, and ArcusTech.

Weaknesses of Craft:

  • Requires experienced developers with hand coding skills
  • Because of the complexity, it can be expensive and time consuming to launch


Joomla is another popular open source CMS that is frequently used overseas because it allows for integration of multiple languages. This CMS was built with medium to large sites in mind for scalability, but lacks the extensive collection of modules available on the Drupal platform.

Why Joomla is a preferred CMS?

  • Content and structure flexibility
  • Not too complicated for developers
  • User friendly front end interface
  • E-commerce extensions available
  • Large user community
  • Web hosting companies that support Joomla include HostGator, ipage, and Bluehost.

Weaknesses of Joomla:

  • More complex than WordPress
  • Small module library
  • Not as customizable as Drupal


Magento was designed specifically as an e-commerce platform for selling goods online. Another open source option, Magento is geared for retailers and online sellers and has been around since 2008.

Why Magento is a preferred CMS?

  • Content flexibility
  • Has e-commerce features not available on other CMS’
  • Large community of users
  • Mobile friendly
  • Highly scalable
  • Web hosting companies that support Magento include SiteGround, ipage, and Bluehost.

Weaknesses of Magento:

  • Expensive
  • Time-consuming
  • Not very many developers available

Ultimately, your website design agency will be well-positioned to give you customized advice about what sites will best fit your organization’s business and growth needs. With key insights into user and stakeholder demands, your agency will be able to provide you with the best options for building a powerful new site. When it comes to technical decisions, it’s always wise to weigh the opinions and advice of the technical experts.

Want to work with WordPress and Drupal experts on your next web design project? Contact our highly experienced development team, or email us at [email protected] to discuss how we can help you choose and customize the perfect CMS for your organization!



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