Why Drupal Websites Cost More than Joomla! Websites

By Justin Kerr
April 26, 2013

Table of Contents

joomla-or-drupal-thumbnailDrupal and Joomla! content management systems are similar in many ways, including their PHP/mySQL underpinnings, their open source nature and their success in the market. But in practice they differ fundamentally, including project approach, suitability for specific project requirements and their development and software maintenance arcs. Another area of contrast lies in their service economies, each supporting different types of service providers with fundamental differences in site and project costs.

When outsourced to a vendor, Drupal and Joomla websites tend to differ tremendously in cost and what gets quoted on the open market. "So how much will I pay for this website?" will provide different sets of typical answers for Joomla and Drupal: The former's market of service providers will generate answers from several hundred U.S. dollars to several thousand dollars, whereas the latter will typically start in the lower five figures and go up from there.

What's the cause of this difference? They're both open-source CMSs, right? Obviously, the devil's in the project details, and the scope of a project's content volume, interactive functionality and integration requirements will affect costing, no matter the platform. Because of their extensible nature and many third-party software enhancements, both Drupal and Joomla can do just about anything ... in the right sets of hands. So why the variance in cost?

Product Approach

One primary reason lies with product differences and how implementers use these CMS tools to build websites: Joomla provides a lot of out-of-the-box functionality, but you're principally working within predetermined options for site structural approach, features, user workflows, layout and content types. Even though Joomla's controls provide a tremendous number of choices for site setup, configuration and management, they may become limiting in certain project scenarios.

In contrast, an out-of-the-box Drupal installation is more akin to a structural lattice upon which a Drupal site implementer can (and must) build content types and structures before any "content management" can begin. Implementing most features for a Drupal site requires this custom construction, and if the project is based on well-thought-out requirements and site planning, the result can precisely match the needs of site users, maintainers and stakeholders. So, Drupal will necessarily take a lot more up-front work, but you have the option to construct something that exactly matches your needs.

Implementer Qualification

This same key difference in product approach also affects the requirements for a site implementer's expertise and experience. Effective, high-quality build-outs of Drupal sites require expert knowledge in both how Drupal works and the best methods — among nigh-innumerable options — for accommodating specific site features. This knowledge typically comes at a cost of years of experience working with Drupal; ideally the implementer also has an understanding of coding and development, especially in PHP, in addition to de rigueur knowledge about web hosting and site development. So, essentially, Drupal requires a "developer" level of expertise and years of experience with the platform.

In contrast, Joomla is accessible to site implementers who come from the content, design or management end of things: Experience with some HTML/CSS and similar types of web application interfaces and platforms, and the basics of how websites work is enough for a Joomla site implementer to get started. Getting intimate with Joomla and its best practices can take weeks or months, and once you've built one Joomla website, you have a basis of knowledge applicable to every succeeding Joomla site you encounter.

Looking at this contrast, it's easy to see why Drupal is more expensive: It requires more specialized knowledge and experience that takes much longer to acquire than Joomla. This makes truly qualified Drupal implementers scarcer and in higher demand, especially given Drupal's growing market position.