Both WordPress and Joomla can be used to create amazing websites. Both are content management systems. Both can be expanded using plugins, which can easily be found on the Internet reaching to the far corners of the universe (maybe a slight exaggeration). Both can use themes or templates to change the look of the site. Both can be installed on your own server, so there are no specific hosts and subscriptions to deal with. Even the cost of ownership is similar. Both are free – WordPress under GPLv2 license and Joomla under the GNU Public License. Both have an active community that helps design, build, and support their favorite systems.
WordPress and Joomla probably have as many similarities as differences. So what makes them different? What are those differences that help you choose between them? I’m so glad you asked.
What is WordPress and Who is it For?
WordPress is the most popular CMS. At its core, WordPress is a blogging system. However, you’re not limited to a blog as you can also create websites with static pages. It’s a great platform for beginners and can grow with you.
What is Joomla and Who is it For?
Joomla is a powerful CMS that is great for building all kinds of websites including business, corporate, government, non-profit, schools, and blogs. Beginners might have difficulty with it due to the complexity of its structure.
Themes and Templates
Both systems can change their looks and layouts easily by using themes and templates.
There are 3023 themes in the WordPress themes directory, a Google search returns 31.5 million results. Of course not all of those results are themes, but with that many results you can probably find something you like. There are many free and premium themes for WordPress. Themes are also easy to find within WordPress by searching in the themes tab. You can install them easily by clicking a button or uploading from your computer or a URL.
You can edit the themes in the themes editor. Plus, you can edit each element of the theme. Add child themes, add templates, and modify the CSS, if you wish.
There are two types of templates in Joomla: frontend and backend. Joomla doesn’t have a template directory. Googling “Joomla templates” gives over 16 million results. Of course not all of that is templates, so it’s difficult to know how many there are. These templates are from third party developers. Many of them are free. Once you get the theme you want you have to upload it to your template directory. You can then choose it as your default.
You can edit the templates in the template manager.
The template manager also includes styles.
And you can edit the styles and the menus in the style editor.
Both systems have lots of free and premium themes and templates. It’s difficult to know how many either one has, but you can make pretty much any kind of site you want from either system.
Plugins and Extensions
Both platforms can be expanded through the use of plugins and extensions.
Plugins and extensions are supplied by Automattic and the WordPress community. There are over 36,000 plugins in the plugin directory. There are also many premium plugins available from all over the web that you can either buy or subscribe to and upload to your WordPress site. You can do many things with the plugins, like turn your site into a membership portal, an online store, a school, a portfolio, a forum, and much more.
To install a plugin just click Add New in the plugins tab on the WordPress dashboard, search for the plugin or upload it from your computer, select install, and activate. It’s straightforward and intuitive.
You can also edit the actual code of the plugins in the plugin editor. Go to the editor and select the plugin from a dropdown box. You can even use the code to make your own plugin or add it to your theme.
There are 8634 extensions in the Joomla extensions directory. They are divided into 33 different categories. You can browse the categories or you can search with filters. Categories include editing, s, communication, eCommerce, living, languages, marketing, mobile, social, site management, and lots more. You can add feature to your site such as sliders. You can run anything from a blog to a store to a membership site. There are 4353 free extensions and 4530 paid extensions. Prices have a wide range. Many are subscription based and have several subscription options.
The extensions are labeled so you can easily know if they’re compatible with your version of Joomla, and as to what is included (component, module, plugin). They are given a score and a review rating based on several categories: overall, functionality, ease of use, documentation, support, and value for the money. When you click on an extension you see detailed information and a list of similar extensions as alternatives.
To install an extension you have to either download it and then upload using the extension manager, or you have to insert the URL for the extension’s location and install from there.
Plugins and modules can be edited if editing has been allowed. Edits include CSS and features. I didn’t see a way to edit on the code level from within Joomla. You are limited in the adjustments you can make, so they’re not very flexible.
I downloaded and then uploaded an extension. It told me it had uploaded, but I could not find it as easily as with WordPress. I had to search for it in the extension manager. From there I could turn it on or off easily enough. There are so many plugins and modules in the extension manager that it’s easier to search by title.
Both systems have a lot of free and paid plugins and extensions available. WordPress has more, but some of them don’t do very much and some haven’t been updated in, well, ever.
Finding and installing extensions in Joomla is more time-consuming than WordPress. You can find and install within WordPress where Joomla makes you find them outside of your Joomla installation, download, and then upload.
The plugins in WordPress can be edited to your heart’s content. Many of them have an overabundance of settings, where the extensions in Joomla mostly do what they do.
Widgets and Modules
The sidebars on your website can be modified by adding either widgets or modules.
You can add a lot of functionality with widgets including banner ads, calendars, latest comments, latest posts, search, tags, categories, and much more. You can drag and drop the widgets in the sidebars where you want them to appear. You can also set up when the widget will display and when it will not. Different themes have different widget areas. Some widgets add features, so not all widgets will display in the sidebar.
Modules can add a lot of features to your site including archived articles, who’s online, news, search, statistics, and lots more. They also add features such as bread crumbs, so not all will appear in your sidebar. You can turn them off or on from the list and you can set the order in which they will appear.
WordPress’s drag and drop system is intuitive and I like being able to set rules as to when the widget will display and when it will not. Joomla’s listing system, with its easy to use on/off status and boxes for ordering works great. The list is not a WYSIWYG and in order to turn them on and set their order you have to select the module and go to the edit screen. Doing this for every module can take a substantial amount of time.
The UI and Creating Content
I created a post in both CMS’s to determine how easy each one was. Keep in mind I am familiar with WordPress, so this will show the issues that I had by going from one to the other. I installed Joomla 2.5 on my server and also accessed 3.3 on the Joomla demo site.
All of the navigation is on the left side of the screen.
Creating a Post
WordPress uses TinyMCE as its visual editor. It includes all of the rich text features that you expect from a modern editor. You can also work in HTML if you prefer. You can add categories, tags, images, SEO, a featured image, and formats (standard, video, audio, quote, gallery, and link). You can control the publishing options, such as publish immediately or schedule for later. You can also preview the post before publishing so you can make any changes you want. There is also a distraction-free writing mode. Squirrel!
Adding and modifying images is done in the media library. I can select any photo I want and place it in the post.
At any time during my writing process I can preview my post to see what it would like on the site. I can make all of my adjustments for categories, tags, SEO, and posting schedule from here.
This is how the post will look.
Editing a Post or Page
You can create both blog posts and pages. Each one has its own tab on the dashboard, so they’re kept separate. I like this as it’s easier to find posts and pages if you want to make updates. Just go to the posts tab, select to view all, and you’re there.
Since I’m not a Joomla expert I thought it would be best if I had it installed and got some experience with it. I tested the UI and checked to see how easy or difficult it is to navigate my way through it and create and publish content. After all, publishing content–in one form or another–is the purpose of building a website.
Joomla’s 2.5 control panel looks neat and clean. Everything seems to be laid out in an organized manner that’s intuitive to use. From the control panel, I can add a new article, manage my previous articles, categories, media, menus, users, modules, extensions, languages, global configuration, templates, my profile, and updates of both Joomla itself and extensions. And those are just the icons.
Across the top are detailed menus for the site (control panel, maintenance, etc.), users (user manager, groups, user categories, user notes, etc.), menus (menu manager, samples, etc.), content (article manager, category manager, media manager, etc.), components (banners, s, messaging, news feeds, etc.), extensions (module manager, plugin manager, template manager, etc.), and help (forum, wiki, etc.). Each of these menus have management tools where I can make all of my site modifications and adjustments.
Creating an Article
The editor looks how I expected with the basic text tools, but it also adds alias, the category, status, access, permissions, whether or not it’s featured, language, and ID directly under the title information. The text editor itself includes all of the rich text editing options. I could also edit the HTML source in the editor using one of two HTML editing options.
It looks familiar. And it should. It’s TinyMCE, the same editor that WordPress uses. It just has some different features turned on by default. It doesn’t seem to have a distraction-free writing mode.
Adding images is easy. Navigation is exactly what I expected, so everything here is familiar. I uploaded an image and placed it in the article.
On the right of the screen are all of the options for publishing, configuration, metadata, etc. I could publish immediately or schedule it for later. I could also choose the author’s name and alias from here. The article options are extensive. Options included show intro text, link to author, show create date, show print button, show email buttons, show hits, show voting, and much more.
Under the editor all of the settings for article permissions. This is the permissions for the user groups as related to this article.
I selected to save the article without making any publishing changes. This published the article. If I created a copy without changing the publishing information, the copy was also published immediately. One thing that wasn’t obvious was how to preview the article before publishing. Other than that everything seemed straightforward and simple enough to use without extensive experimenting.
I went to the article manager, expecting to see only the article that I just created, but instead I saw so many entries that I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I searched for my article and it didn’t show up in the search.
WordPress has a great system for publishing content. It’s easy to go back into a post and make edits. It’s also easy to preview the post before publishing. Of course that’s no surprise since I’m more used to using WordPress and I know my way around the editor.
It’s easy to create content in Joomla. The experience was so similar to using WordPress that it was intuitive. Finding that content to go back in and make edits is a different story, however. Also I didn’t see an easy way to preview the content before publishing. For the complete publishing experience I felt that WordPress was easier to use. I could create blog posts and pages, but I had to use categories to do it. I did go back in later to create a new post and wasn’t able to get it to show up on the home page. I created post after post, thinking I was doing the same process as before, but it never posted. I like the article-writing process, but it still isn’t as intuitive as WordPress.
Security and Maintenance
You own your site, so you are responsible for your own security and maintenance. This can be done through plugins or through hiring a service. There are plenty of plugins that do the work for you in the background. You just have to make a decision on which to use, install it, set up any options you want, and then forget about it.
To maintain it you will have to keep on top of updates. WordPress will alert you when an update is available. You will have to make any backups you need, perform the updates, and then test your site to insure everything is in working order.
Like WordPress, you are responsible for your own security, updates, and site maintenance.
Security is provided by one of many free or paid extensions. There are extensions for CAPTCHA, firewalls, two-factor authentication, and much more. It’s easy to keep your Joomla site secure using the extensions.
When an update is available in Joomla it gives you an alert on your dashboard. Simply click on the icon and you’ll be taken to the updates screen where you can choose the updates to install. After clicking to perform this update I was given an error message and a message that the update was successful. Even though there was an error, my Joomla had updated to the latest edition of Joomla 2.5.x.
Both systems have plenty of plugins and extensions for security, and both will have to be maintained manually.
WordPress is easy to use, has a large development and support community, has thousands of plugins, has thousands of themes, is secure, easy to update and maintain, has menu management, is multiuser, has a built-in commenting system, has widgets, and is completely editable.
Editing requires PHP, CSS, and HTML knowledge, plugins can slow down the system, and it must be kept updated in order to remain secure. Not all plugins are updated by developers, so you might have to change to a new plugin after WordPress updates.
WordPress is a great platform for blogging. To me, WordPress seems easier to modify and publish. It’s easier to create pages and posts separately and modify them. It’s easier to run as a blog. If you want a blog, go with WordPress. Of course WordPress can be turned into just about anything from an online store to a portfolio. Pretty much anything you need, you can do with WordPress. It’s easy to use, easy to modify, and easy to maintain.
WordPress’s strength is its flexibility and ease of use.
Joomla has a clean control panel, has thousands of extensions (like plugins), has modules (like widgets), thousands of templates (like themes), a large development and support community, a structured menu system with built-in bread crumbs, is easy to update and maintain, and has advanced administration features.
Editing options are limited, most quality extensions are paid, extensions might have compatibility issues from one version to another, some functions are not intuitive enough, and it’s difficult for beginners.
Joomla is a great platform for multimedia sites and sites with lots of content. It’s not as good for blogging. Joomla can make a great website, membership site, forum, etc. If you want a business site with a complex content hierarchy, tagging and authoring, go with Joomla. It has lots of extensions, both free and paid. Joomla is not as easy to get the hang of when it comes to posting articles though.
My edition of Joomla did not have comments as an option out of the box. This had to be added as an extension. The advantage of this is that you have your choice of commenting systems. The disadvantage of this is many of the commenting systems are paid and there is no standard system. If you have contributors that are used to one commenting system they will have to learn another for your site. There are different commenting systems available for WordPress, but there is a standard system built in and the chances of contributors being familiar with it is very high.
Joomla’s strength is its complexity.
Which Do You Choose?
Of course it depends on what you want. Both systems are great platforms for e-commerce, complex blogging, and portfolios. On paper they seem very similar but in actual use they feel different from each other. Do you want ease of use and more choices? Go with WordPress. Do you want more complexity? Go with Joomla.
How about you? Have you tried both WordPress and Joomla? Was your experience anything like mine? Do you have something to add? I’d like to hear about it in the comments below!
Article thumbnail image by Bennyartist / shutterstock.com