WordPress vs Joomla: a Comparison and Key Differences

WordPress vs Joomla: a Comparison and Key Differences

WordPress isn’t the only modular content management system (CMS) that has an established base and active community. Joomla is also a free-to-install, open-source platform that thrives on its third-party support. Many developers work to extend its capabilities beyond what comes built into the base software. When taking a look at WordPress vs Joomla, however, you will see a number of functionality differences, as well as user-experience and technical requirement differences.

WordPress vs Joomla: Who Are They For?

WordPress does its very best to be the jack-of-all-trades CMS. What we mean is that anyone who needs a website can build it with WordPress. And generally, with minimal experience. It might not be the most advanced website out there, but the tools are easily accessible and understandable by anyone through various third-party plugins and themes.

Users will find a mild learning curve with WordPress, but it doesn’t take long to get beyond that. You will quickly find yourself using posts, pages, themes, plugins, and widgets like a pro. Users who have never had a website before can feel relatively confident in having a nice-enough WordPress site built without too much trouble.

Joomla, too, is a be-everything-to-everyone CMS. Its development history is much different than that of WordPress, especially in that it was created to be a full-site CMS from the beginning. WordPress began as blogging software so features and updates are still built on that foundation. Both are built on PHP, but Joomla users (especially developers) have a much more traditional foundation in that Joomla can be used out of the box with straight HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP without having to learn the “WordPress way” of doing things.

That said, Joomla does feel like a CMS that beginners would have a good time using. The backend interface is clunky, the terminology and messaging for new users (inside Joomla itself) is barebones. Installing modules and getting things in working order is far more technical than WordPress. For those with tech and website experience, though, there’s a lot of freedom to be had in Joomla.

WordPress vs Joomla: Ease-of-Use

While WordPress has a moderate learning curve for new users, the core of the experience is based on blogging. Which means that nearly every feature can be boiled down to creating a post or page in some manner. Themes and plugins simply expand on that functionality. Joomla has always been a CMS meant for site developers, meaning that new (non-technical) users would have a greater learning curve. For those with a background in traditional computer science and web development, Joomla may even have a smoother learning curve than WordPress.

WordPress

Really, WordPress is easy to use. The admin dashboard is straightforward in most ways, highlighting the main areas of focus (Pages, Posts, Media, and so on) in the left-hand sidebar.

wordpress dashboard

You do have to learn where certain elements are, such as various settings, tools, and menu editing. But in general, once you learn where those are and how to access them, the interface is relatively intuitive.

One of the more difficult aspects of using WordPress is making sure that you have the right suite of plugins to complement your theme. There are thousands of free themes and plugins in the WordPress.org repositories, and even more premium options available from third-party developers.

Making the right choices—and even knowing which choices are necessary—can take a little figuring out. If you’re just getting a feel for WordPress, you might not know what features your site needs and which plugins and themes can provide those. All of that becomes much clearer and simpler once you’ve spent just a little time using the platform and doing a bit of outside research.

For typical users, most WordPress features can be carried out with just a few clicks. Since the base of the platform is based around posts and pages, the basic workflow becomes familiar very quickly with only a few variations depending on the task.

Joomla

We’d like to say that Joomla has the kind of quick-t0-learn workflow that WordPress offers. But that’s just not the case. At least for many users. If you’re an average web user who is looking to set up a new website, Joomla might not make a whole lot of sense at first. (And for a good while after that.) If you’ve built and/or coded websites before, Joomla shouldn’t be that hard to pick up.

The backend, though, is not intuitively put together. Joomla’s admin panel does have a quick-menu sidebar to the left, like WordPress. But most of the features and utilities live in the top menu, and you access those via dropdown.

joomla admin

Additionally, on installation, you will be asked if you would like to import blog sample data. We recommend that you do. That’s where you will find most of the new-user orientation material, set up as content on your new site.

joomla content

Having any new-user content being an optional import as sample data is just weird. It is not an intuitive way to introduce someone to the Joomla platform. At all. However, the Joomla community has some fantastic training content with which you can learn Joomla.

With the time we’ve spent learning and exploring Joomla, it never really became smooth and second-nature to perform any tasks. The menus in Joomla do make sense (unlike vs WordPress), but navigating through them is frustrating. You can’t click a new menu item until you’ve closed the current one.

All-in-all, Joomla’s not terribly easy to use. It is developer-friendly, for sure, but not end-user friendly at all.

WordPress vs Joomla: Customization

WordPress thrives on customization. Extensibility via plugins and themes allows for unlimited choices in terms of design and feature sets. Even a user with no technical experience can start a WordPress website and have it look more-or-less professional without a lot of hassle. Joomla, too, is built around customization. But not for the end-user. If you’re a content creator or site owner without a great deal of technical expertise or design experience, Joomla’s customization options may be both confusing and near-impossible to decode.

WordPress

Through plugins and themes, WordPress can be whatever you need it to be. You can add ecommerce features with a few clicks. You can install a new page-builder tool for more advanced options over the Gutenberg editor. And each theme you install comes with its own unique set of customization options. Most of the time, these are consolidated into the built-in Theme Customizer.

wordpress customize

Users with more advanced skills can add CSS through this page, or they can delve into the core WordPress files and edit the PHP directly. The file structure is designed so that any customizations are held separately in a child theme so that the base you’re customizing is always there to go back to.

In that way (and many others), WordPress encourages poking and prodding and seeing what is the best fit for your site. Try on different themes, widgets, and plugins to add features and design to see what works and what doesn’t. Resetting things back to as they were only takes a few clicks, regardless.

Joomla

Joomla is also an incredibly customizable platform. It, too, has hundreds of templates and themes and extensions to install to customize your site. You can download them from the official Joomla repo that is directly accessible from the dashboard. Both design and functionality add-ons can be found in the same place, separated by category.

joomla customization

Installing them doesn’t take more than a few clicks. You can then navigate back to the admin dashboard to enable and adjust their settings.

And while you do have every bit as much freedom as you do in WordPress, the Joomla options and customizations are generally less user-friendly and more complicated to get right. Placing them on the site often has you choosing a “position” number that has no human-readable name. With that and because of how the content on the site is displayed, it takes some real time to get things displaying where you want. Not to mention actually testing and implementing features and utilities.

Joomla has a ton of power under the hood, and you can customize it however you want or need. But you will definitely work for it using Joomla vs WordPress.

WordPress vs Joomla: Publishing

The internet is about content. And your website is about displaying your content. So we have to touch on what your experience will be in terms of content creation and publishing using WordPress vs Joomla. WordPress is a blogging platform at heart. It’s built to win this head-to-head from the beginning. It’s simple and intuitive. Anyone can publish to their site’s feed without hassle or add a static page just as easily. Joomla, on the other hand, isn’t made solely for publishing regular content. And it shows. Every page, post, and note on  your Joomla site is contained under the header of Articles. This kind of obfuscates the publishing process enough that it’s just not a pleasant experience.

WordPress

WordPress 5.0 introduced the block editor. Replacing the classic, WYSIWYG editor, content creators can now control options and settings for every paragraph (even sentence if they so choose), image, gallery, or embed on the site. While the block editor is not everyone in the WordPress community’s favorite new feature, the interface is slick, simple, and new and old users tend to like using it to create content. Both in terms of blog posts and static pages.

wordpress editor

With various post types delineated in function and separated within the interface, it’s easy to understand what you’re creating and how to use it. Posts are for regular content. Pages are for static content that won’t enter the feed. You can use Custom Post Types to add features like Products to plugins like WooCommerce.

The entire process is simple and understandable within WordPress itself. The Add New button under Posts brings you to the editor, in which the placeholder text explains what to do, and a big, blue Publish button sits up top. In that same window, you have the option to adjust that content’s permalink and meta information.

Joomla

In Joomla, creating content is technically as easy as it is in WordPress. The publishing editor Joomla uses is the TinyMCE, which is the same editor that WordPress used until version 5.0. So anyone with familiarity there (or with other WYSIWYG editors) will feel right at home.

joomla article

Like WordPress, you can edit your permalink here (called an Alias in Joomla), tags for your article, whether the article shows up as featured on your site, and various other permissions and options such as access levels and meta-data display.

One of the more confusing and confounding parts of the Joomla publishing process is that you press the same button (Add New Article) in the header menu to be taken to this same editor to create both regularly updated blog content (such as Posts in WordPress) and static pages (Pages in WP). The Category feature in Joomla is what keeps these separate.

Depending on the modules and extensions your site has installed (which we mentioned in the Customization section above), the category you choose dictates where this content appears. You can have content in your blog by choosing Blog Posts for instance, if you have a module ready to display those. You may have a sidebar box with a simple message by creating and customizing a Sidebar Message category. Or you might have a simple Main Content category that houses your landing page, about page, contact form, and others.

And they’re all created and managed from this single tool. This is incredibly powerful. And it’s actually pretty simple. But it’s a headache to use in practice, as setting up a site with the right categories to match all the content to match all the modules is not as simple as, for instance, WordPress taxonomies.

For sites that aren’t publishing regular content (or using a different platform for that), Joomla’s publishing tools may be just what you need to keep things organized.

Conclusion

In the end, we feel that WordPress vs Joomla comes down to the tech experience of the end user and what kind of site they need. For new site owners with no website experience, WordPress is by far the winner of this head-to-head. It does everything and the learning curve is much lower. Plus the ecosystem and third-party support is phenomenal. Everyone from new users to veteran developers can dig into WordPress and find their niche.

Joomla, on the other hand, caters very heavily to the experienced developer. Nowhere near as user-friendly as WordPress, Joomla gives you complete control over the entirety of your site. And it does so in the standard way, not the “WordPress Way.” For someone coming out of a bootcamp or computer science program, Joomla may be where you feel more comfortable because it is definitely a more utilitarian platform. For content creators who will be using it daily to push out news or blogs, Joomla isn’t the best. But for sites not using it to create new content and run by developers, Joomla has a lot to offer. If you can find out how to do it.

What have been your experiences with WordPress vs Joomla?

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