Forget the CMS Wars; There’s Something More Important to Consider

This article is for business owners thinking about their web sites and for aspiring web developers. As a web agency owner, I read tons of articles comparing and contrasting today’s leading content management systems (CMSs) — Wordpress, Joomla, and Drupal. Typically, these pieces pose questions like:

  • Which CMS is best?
  • Is Wordpress better than Drupal?
  • Is Joomla the best CMS for SEO?

I’ve seen at least two dozen blog posts, articles, and forums debating the above, and find that they’re all similar— laden with both good and bad points about all of the CMSs.

Usually the proponents of one CMS defend their preference while offering up somewhat outdated concerns about the others. Logically, that’s understandable because, as developers specialize in one platform, they naturally become out of touch with the others.

But, here’s the truth from a development agency owner perspective, and it has nothing to do with CMSs at all:

A master-level web developer will almost certainly produce an all-around better web site than a mediocre developer, regardless of any underlying platform used.

What Does This Mean?

It means the age-old “which is best” CMS argument doesn’t really matter anymore; it’s a distraction from what’s really important. After all, as of the past few years (this article being written in mid-2017), all of the aforementioned CMSs are mature, capable systems. Wordpress is now 14 years old, Joomla is 12, Drupal is 16.

This begs the question: If the CMS doesn’t matter, then what does?

What matters for business owners is:

  • Will your web developer execute?
  • Will he or she produce a stunningly gorgeous, well-coded, SEO-friendly, responsive, easily manageable, secure, functional web site?

Clearly, all of that is possible with any CMS, but not with any developer.

What matters for web developers is:

  • Which CMS resonates with you more, or makes more sense to you?
  • Which one(s) would you like to invest more time with?
  • Bonus question: Do you even *need* one of those three CMSs? (After all, with today’s various libraries and frameworks out there, there’s still the possibility of hand-coding web sites.)

The implication of that master vs. mediocre statement, above, reflects the truth that, for example, a master karate practitioner would certainly defeat an intermediate kung-fu fighter— and vice-versa.

In the modern CMS world, a master Wordpress developer will produce a better all-around product than a mediocre Drupal developer, just as a master Joomla developer will produce a higher quality product than a mediocre Wordpress developer.

Common Business Owner Perspectives

Aside from having received specific CMS recommendations from others, which I hope the above text shows may not always be the best basis for selecting a web designer / developer, executives may harbor other reasons for seeking out specific-CMS developers.

Sometimes business owners think, “Well, one of our people here knows [insert CMS name], so we want to keep the site built on that.”

Sure, that’s a reasonable thought. But again, these days, the CMSs are all largely the same from both UX and functionality perspectives. Users login, add or edit something, press save. There’s just not a ton of difference anymore, although the online comparisons continue.

Other business owners might fear up-front costs, stating, “Our site already uses [insert CMS name], and we don’t want to migrate.”

Another ostensibly reasonable objection. However, the premise holds true here as well. If you find an agency or developer that understands your vision and can truly execute on it far better than others, then the long-term implications would far outweigh such an investment.

The Takeaway

In short, it’s time to revive that old term “web masterand hold it to its literal meaning. These are the ones business owners want on their side when it comes to a company web site. As such, CEOs desiring optimal ROI should seek out designers / developers:

  • with whom they click, first and foremost;
  • with a solid history of execution, and a nice portfolio;
  • with references confirming the professional qualities considered most important;
  • who will be around long-term to serve as a design / development / marketing / SEO partner;
  • who’ll listen to, and fully grasp, business needs and processes and who can translate that, as appropriate, into the optimal user experience.

It’s not the CMS; it’s the developer. As the master might conclude, “Such is the path to success, Grasshopper.”


Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. Photo atop piece is adapted from “Karate kick at sunrise” by Vee (Flickr, Creative Commons). Please click the💛 icon below if you liked this article!