piles of apples and orangesAs someone who has been dedicated to implementing Joomla web sites for many years, I was very reluctant to add WordPress to my client offerings. The two products ostensibly have a similar purpose, but ask afficionados of either one which is better, and you’ll get strong opinions.

However, clients have started to come to me and ask for WordPress by name. They heard good things from other small businesses who were using it or had some experience with the free WordPress-hosted blog software, and it was important to them to try it. In the end, the market demanded that I at least investigate this software. After several projects where I became the consultant in charge of managing a WordPress site, I finally agreed to implement one from scratch. Now that I’ve done that from soup to nuts the way I’d do a Joomla site, I have some observations on the practical differences — not for me as the geek behind the scenes, but for my clients, who do all the work of keeping the sites updated over time.

 1. People really like the WordPress interface better than the Joomla interface.

In my heart, I believe that I can teach anyone to manage their site in either product, but at first glance, people really do feel more comfortable with WordPress. The font is larger, there are fewer options right out of the gate, and something about the options being on the side instead of on top make it feel like there are fewer things to learn. Here’s the first thing you see after logging into WordPress:

wordpress main administrator screen

And this is the first thing you see when you log into Joomla:

While I know that Joomla is easier than it looks (especially if, as I do, you provide your clients with good training materials), web site owners need to go into the project feeling confident that they can learn. In the “judging a book by its cover” contest, WordPress does win this round.

2. Joomla is way more flexible about some important things.

In my first full site build in WordPress, I found myself telling my client “That’s not really doable in WordPress right out of the box” many, many more times than I do with a Joomla site build. From how WordPress handles page titles to creating pages outside the menus to managing who could see what content, there was just a lot less granularity in WordPress. The themes themselves seemed a little more “locked-down,” with some features so deeply embedded into the theme as to make customizing those features impossible — even if, as I am, you are very comfortable mucking around in PHP and complex CSS.

A very simple example I found was in the differentiating between the title of your page as it appears in the top of the browser bar versus the title that appears in your menu versus the title that appears at the top of the content. In the core install of WordPress, these are all controlled by the same thing, as far as I could tell. This meant that if you wanted the title that appears at the top of the content to be “About Jebraweb: Our Past, Present, and Future,” but you wanted the menu item for that page to be “About Jebraweb” and you wanted the browser title to say “Jebraweb.com: About Jebraweb,” that wasn’t an out-of-the-box option. I’m sure there’s a plugin somewhere for that — but Joomla does this seamlessly right out of the box.

3. WordPress and Joomla should combine their media file strategies.

hands holding digital cameras

This was where I thought both systems had their advantages and disadvantages.

WordPress advantages:

  • Saved “alt” and title tags: This is fantastic — text title tags, captions, and “alt” tags for images are saved in the WordPress database, so when you create a page that contains an image of a laptop sitting at the base of a tree, and you tell WordPress that the title of this image is “Laptop at base of tree,” when you go re-use that image elsewhere, you don’t have to re-type that title. Joomla does a terrible job at this — so much re-typing, all the time.
  • The icon for adding media files is big and separate from the WYSIWYG editor: For my clients who don’t want to have to memorize what all those tiny buttons in the WYSIWYG editor do, this is really nice. The “Add Media” button is above the editor, and since it’s probably going to get used often, it makes a big difference in usability and a huge advantage over the tiny image in the WYSIWYG editor in Joomla or the functionally-hidden [IMAGE] button beneath it.

Joomla advantages:

  • Adding space/padding around the image is done in the same window in which you add the image: I can’t figure out why on earth WordPress hides this option. It’s there, but it takes several clicks to find it. In Joomla, it’s part of the process of adding an image — you set the alignment and the spacing all in one window.
  • It’s simpler to make folders in your media library: It’s a small feature but useful once you have a bazillion files in your library.

4. WordPress does blogs like a boss.

Do we even need to discuss this? WordPress is a million times better at blogs than Joomla. That’s because it started as blog software — that’s its core, and that is what is designed to do. All of the things that it does outside of building a fantastic blog were added later. Building all of the functionality we have come to expect from a blog — post archives, tag clouds, simple “about” sidebars, commenting, etc. — can be done in WordPress in five minutes.

This is the biggest weakness of Joomla. You can build a blog in Joomla, but it requires a lot of third-party extensions and canoodling. It just cannot hold a candle to WordPress’ blog skills, which are mad fierce, yo.

5. Joomla can do a lot more tricks.jugglers

I am sure this is where I’ll get the most argumentative comments from WordPress experts about how WordPress can do everything I’m saying Joomla can do, but my experience so far is that Joomla can grow into a more complicated site than WordPress. The variety of extensions being built for Joomla, and the granularity that is built into Joomla for adjusting every tiny detail — these are what make me feel instinctively that Joomla is just more scalable. I’ve installed very complex calendar systems, tightly controlled and specific user permissions, community software, and other “big” components into Joomla sites that, frankly, I cannot imagine installing into WordPress.

In the end, these seem to me to be products designed for very different clients. For my clients who need sites that just deliver text and images and have basic interactivity like social media sharing and a contact form, and who will likely never need more than that, I would recommend WordPress. For clients that will need more than that either now or later, I would recommend Joomla. As time goes on, I’ll be keeping an eye on how each of these products grow and change.

Now you can hit me with it — tell me what I got wrong.