If you’ve hung around web strategy corners of the internet for any length of time, you’ll be familiar with the “the sky is falling” attitude that accompanies many significant changes to the status quo. We see it with just about every major Google Analytics update, we saw it when WordPress transitioned to Gutenberg, and we’re seeing it now as Drupal moves from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9. It can be hard to cut through the noise and figure out how (or if) a change will impact your organization’s web presence.
The Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 update decision is easy, in this respect. If your organization currently has a Drupal site that is built in any version prior to 9, then you will be impacted. But, since nothing is ever this simple, deciding how your organization should best respond to the Drupal changes is less cut and dry. In general, major transitions are an ideal time to evaluate how well your current website is working for you – and the Drupal update is no exception to this rule. If you’re using Drupal, this is the time to examine how well Drupal is working for you, how much effort it will take to move your site from Drupal 8 (or 7…or 6) to Drupal 9, and if that effort would be better spent to move your site from Drupal to WordPress.
WordPress vs. Drupal
I’m not going to dedicate a significant amount of space to discussing the differences between WordPress and Drupal. There are a lot of resources that explain the variances between the two platforms, and I don’t think it’s hugely important to get bogged down in trying to understand every tiny way WordPress and Drupal differ from one another. It is helpful to understand the major differences, however, because that understanding will help you decide if staying with Drupal is the right call for your website.
Here are the primary differences:
1. WordPress is best suited for static content
Wordpress started as a blogging platform and still is best suited for static content types. Don’t misunderstand “static” to mean “boring” or “simple.” WordPress sites are visually interesting and capable of including the vast majority of a small business owner’s content needs: from text content, to videos, to forms, and beyond. Drupal, on the other hand, is first and foremost a content depository. It can handle just about any content needs – no matter how complicated. If you need to save and manage complex lists of user-profiles, especially ones that include sensitive information, Drupal might be the right choice for you.
2. WordPress is more user-friendly than Drupal.
Wordpress is pretty intuitive. If you have an average understanding of how websites work, you can probably handle routine updates on your own. You may occasionally run into some hiccups, but you should be able to tweak content or pictures without too much effort – even on a professionally-designed site. That’s a lot trickier in Drupal, at least not without a healthy grasp of how code works. Drupal changes require Drupal experts.
3. WordPress has a bigger community of users
As of early 2019, WordPress sites made up just over a third of the top ten million sites on the web. In all likelihood, you won’t need to have anything custom coded for your needs. Another one of those ten million sites probably has the same needs you do – and already created a solution to meet your needs. These community-created plugins are one of the biggest reasons to embrace WordPress. You can draw on a vast online community’s worth of (frequently free) plugins to make your site function exactly how you imagined it would.
4. WordPress has more frequent, smaller updates.
Wordpress updates come fairly frequently. Most of them are so minor that you don’t really notice. Occasionally (ahem Gutenberg), there are larger ones, but even those don’t demand you create an entirely new site. Drupal works differently. The updates are less frequent, but the major ones will require you to move your site from the old platform to the new one. To be fair, you should have plenty of time (think multiple years) to prepare, and you shouldn’t end up in a situation where you’re sprinting to make sure your site gets updated before a deadline.
5. As a platform, Drupal has stronger security than WordPress.
Drupal is very, very difficult to hack. WordPress, while secure, is an easier target for security breaches and thus requires a more proactive approach to website safety. As a result, Drupal tends to be popular with organizations that ask site users to trust them enough to create accounts containing personal information.
Keeping these major differences in mind, here are some questions to ask yourself before you decide how to handle your Drupal site.
1. Does my site have a wide variety of content types (user profiles, saved financial information, event registration forms, etc.), or is it primarily made up of static pages?
2. Do I ask site users to create accounts and complete transactions on my site?
3. Is having the ability to make DIY changes to my site important to me?
If your site is primarily static content, you don’t have any out-of-the-ordinary security needs, and you’d like to have the ability to tweak your site (think change content, add pictures, etc.) on your own, then this might be a really good time to think about transitioning to WordPress. In fact, you probably would have benefitted from being on WordPress all along. The thing is, developers love Drupal. It’s fun to use, infinitely customizable, and experts can use it to easily create a site that is exactly what their clients want. But, WordPress may very well be a better option for your organization.
How to approach the Drupal to WordPress Transition
1. Find an expert
I know, I know. I just said that DIY updating is one of the benefits of a WordPress website. And it will be…after the transition. Moving your site from Drupal to WordPress is an extremely complicated process, and is best left in the capable hands of an expert developer.
2. Categorize the content types on your current site
As a more robust content management system, Drupal sites tend to have a wide variety of content types. In order to understand how the transition will work, you will need to understand exactly what types of content you’re using on your existing site. There might be more than you think, and skipping this step could lead to some unpleasant surprises after starting the move to WordPress. In this situation, “unpleasant” is synonymous with “time-consuming and expensive.”
3. Identify how those content types will work on a WordPress site
You’ve identified the content types your site uses, and now you need to plan how those content types will work after moving to WordPress. It’s unlikely that the process will be a simple one-to-one transition. You will probably find that some of the content types don’t work exactly the same way on WordPress, so you (or more likely, your developer) will need to plan how to convert the Drupal content types into a more WordPress-friendly format. We didn’t take our own advice recently when moving a client’s site from Drupal to WordPress, and it was not fun. Learn from our mistakes, and don’t do the same.
As an aside, now is also a great time to evaluate your site’s existing content. Need to make some changes? Great. Everything is changing anyway, so why not add some new and updated content to the mix?
4. Plan the transition in advance
If you only remember one piece of advice from this post, please make this one. Plan out the transition in advance. Don’t handwave any potential issues away with a “this will get figured out later.” In this instance, “figuring it out later” really means “throwing time and money into fixing a glaringly terrible issue that is preventing my website from going live.” You might be impatient, but planning the transition to the tiniest detail will highlight potential problems. It’s always easier to solve problems before a site goes live than after, and you’ll be relieved that you took the time to plan well.