Advocating for the Right CMS, not the Best CMS

Since I started writing the MODx Beginner series I’ve received a lot of emails from people asking me what my favorite CMS is.  Because I blog extensively about both Drupal and MODx and have my blog running on WordPress, there is an assumption out there that surely I must prefer one to the other.  Is this a reasonable expectation or the by-product of a brand-loyalty mentality that assumes that there is “a” best product/CMS/platform, etc?

If you’re a frequent visitor on web development forums and such I’m sure you’ve countered numerous posts about this very same question. “Which is the best CMS?”  People are constantly asking “what CMS should I use?” as if there was one CMS for every job.  There are even contests and awards given for the best this and that CMS.  I am always hard pressed when asked this question and the simple reason is this, I don’t believe there is such a thing as “the” best CMS. My answer to the question “which CMS do you prefer” is always the same: “IT DEPENDS”.

I agree that not all CMSs are created equal, the fact of the matter is some are more mature, sophisticated, flexible, etc.  But these terms are all pretty subjective, and each CMS has a community of fiercely loyal members who will stand by their conviction that their platform of choice rules the world (for lack of a better phrase).  And many times, if you’re familiar with more than one CMS, it may come down to a matter of personal preference, or which community you feel is more helpful, again, all very subjective things.

In my opinion, the better question to ask is “What is the right CMS for the project I am about to undertake?”

This question makes a lot more sense and will garner us better responses because it is very specific and necessitates identifying our particular requirements and choosing a CMS based on those needs rather than on an overall rating of “Awesome”.

Taking this approach to classifying CMSs (or frameworks or anything else) means several things:

  • We have to learn to overcome our natural inclination to look for simple “Use XYZ for all your needs” answers and focus on what it is exactly that we need to do and the best way to do it.
  • We have to be willing to overcome our aversion to leaving our comfort zone and be willing to explore other systems that we consider “inferior” or “not as adequate” as our favorite solution
  • We have to overcome our brand loyalty mentality

I’m not advising that you spread yourself so thin trying to learn every CMS out there that you never master any of them, all I want to advocate for is that you learn at least two or three of them, and master them.  Your clients will thank you, your business will thank you, your wallet will thank you.

There is something to be said for having more than one tool in your toolbox.

So what do you think, is it better to master one CMS and stick with it, or to learn and use more than one?

13 thoughts on “Advocating for the Right CMS, not the Best CMS”

  1. (Let me apologize for initially being off topic)

    First and foremost, thank you! Thank you for the great tutorials, specifically, “Building a Website With MODx for Newbies.” Speaking of, are you going to continue past part 11? I am yet to subscribe but most definitely will. Again, thank you. I find your tutorials easy to follow and very informative.

    I consider myself an absolute rookie in the web design and development world. 4 months ago I new nothing. Since then, I have been pursuing web design as a career, in my free time.
    Some day I hope to be a full timer.

    The two content management systems I have been bouncing back and forth between are WordPress and MODx.

    Here is my two cents:
    I agree that classifying a “best” CMS is indeed a grey area. Very grey. Like you said, it is of course dependent on what the job entails. From the bit of surface that I’ve scratched, I would use MODx if the client doesn’t want a blog. This is because the ability to customize, exactly how you want, makes life easy.

    On the other hand, if the client wants a blog, go with WordPress. It is much easier out of the box (for blogging) and comes with great plugins that make life easy. WordPress, however, makes life hard when you want to customize.

    I also agree that you must well equip yourself by diversifying. Saying this, I have chosen to go after, and conquer, both WordPress and MODx. These two both seem to have a great community.

    One last thing, I noticed (from MODx for newbies) that your lightbox is lightning quick. Is that from a WordPress plugin? If you can at your convenience, please let me know.

    Thanks again.

    1. Derek
      Thanks for your comments, I appreciate you taking the time to give me feedback 🙂

      I’m glad you’re finding the tutorials helpful, and that you agree with my assessment of the concept of the best CMS. Regarding the MODx tuts, I do plan to go past Part 11 and then delve into some more intermediate stuff and eventually into advanced stuff too.

      Good for you on making your pick of systems to learn and master. WordPress makes a great blogging engine, and I even use it as a CMS for simple sites. Outside of straight-up PHP, my favorite three CMSs that I use most often are Drupal, MODx, and WordPress.

      As for the lighbox on this blog, I use the Slimbox plugin ( Works great for me so far.

      thanks again for your feedback and I hope you keep visiting 🙂


  2. wow finally a blog with meaningful posts that are actually made to inform and help out the web development community rather than draw attention to yourself.

    Great work Mary, keep it up!

  3. Thanks for the great post. I’d agree wholeheartedly that you can’t talk about the ‘best’ CMS out of context. There’s an awful lot of posts that seem to ignore that and arrive at some sort of ‘leader’ or ‘winner’ without specifying precisely what sort of task they were trying to achieve or what other criteria they were looking at.

    Since you asked… personally I’d also agree that your clients will thank you if you take the time to learn more than one tool. However, I’d say there’s a fair time commitment to properly learn even a few systems (or perhaps I’m just a slow learner) – not to mention keeping up-to-date in what is a rapidly evolving area. I’ve been working pretty extensively with ExpressionEngine for the last 10 months. I’d say it’s taken most of that time to really get to know it as a tool; I’m still not sure I’d say I had ‘mastered’ it. Likewise I spent months with MODx before that (and now coming back for a refresher since a lot’s changed since I used it last on a live project).

    Nonetheless, I’d still opt for learning more than one tool so you have a whole tool-kit at your disposal rather than a single (albeit flexible) one.

    All the best…

    1. Martin
      Thanks for your feedback. Yes yes and yes to what you said about the ‘leader’ and ‘winner’ posts. I have been guilty of the same before, but time and experience have taught me better 🙂

      I completely agree with you about the time investment involved in “mastering” any tool, and I should probably have mentioned that in the post, but I think if you pick a few tools to learn, each time you use each tool to accomplish a task you learn something new or advance and refine your current knowledge. And yes, it’s hard to keep up with all the advancements, but it’s worth a try for the tools you do pick. There is danger of spreading yourself too thin, so it’s definitely important to strike a balance. Because I’m an infinitely curious person, I try pretty much any tool that’s out there and pick up the basics on each, but I consistently direct my efforts at digging deeper into my chosen few.

      Thanks again for the excellent feedback.


  4. Hi Mary,
    I followed your modx tutorials a while back and found them great, so thank you. I wish I had more free time to work though them

    I recently changed jobs and may need to dev a CMS for them at some point. My coding background is I did Computer Science at UNI but have done more tech support until recently.

    Currently my company I am working for has a custom built CMS, It does the job quite well but has been worked on by many people over the years and is no comments in code! Changing anything is horrible thus why I want to look at a rewrite in Drupal or Modx.

    The main thing the site is used for is document management. We need to allow clients to search for documents based on the document category and keywords. Documents need to have summaries associated with them. Permissions need to be quite complex allowing for example one user in a group of users access to everything and another only access to documents published from a given date.
    Any help you can give me on what CMS would be best to approach this in would be very appreciated.



    1. James
      You could do this with either MODx Revolution or Drupal, but you may need to do some custom coding at some point. How are your PHP skills?


  5. Dear Mary, May I pick your brains on this issue of MODx versus Drupal? I agree completely that it’s silly to say one is superior for all purposes. So my problem is, which is better for *my* purpose?

    If you don’t have time to answer this sort of question, I shall fully understand. If you do have time, I shall be grateful indeed.

    I am working on creating a simple website for a small publisher. I have looked at Drupal and have also been following your Newbies tutorials for MODx Evo. (Many thanks for those – very clear. Must have been a lot of work. LOTS of thanks!) So far I prefer MODx for various reasons, but the big question is whether I can arrange for the website owner (the publisher) to be able to add new book titles from a really simple online form.

    The sort of thing I have in mind for him is like this: The guy isn’t websavvy and doesn’t want to be.

    I’m pretty sure I can do that in Drupal using Taxonomy and the Content Creation Kit. I’m not so sure about MODx. The nearest equivalent I’ve found is PubKit, which has very poor documentation.

    What would you suggest? (A note about my skills – OK on html and css, a little php but not deep.)

    I hope that’s clear. Any suggestions will be welcomed.

    1. Got10thumbs,
      I like your user name :). Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you’ve found the tutorials here useful.

      The kind of functionality you’re after is possible in both MODx and Drupal, so it all comes down to what else you need your site to do and how much content you’re handling. For something like this with a user who isn’t too web savvy, I would honestly use Drupal because it wouldn’t take too much extra work. You would simply need to use CCK, Taxonomy and views, set his permissions so that things in the admin end aren’t too confusing for him, and the rest is gravy.

      I can also say I would consider MODx as I don’t think it would take too much extra effort to do this in MODx Evolution either, but seeing as I’ve never done something similar, I really can’t speak directly to it. I imagine that with QuickManager for front end adding/editing you could get rolling pretty fast. All your books would be grouped in a folder or folders and you would then use Ditto to display them as you wish.

      Not sure if I’ve really helped you much here, it really will depend more on what other functionality you want your site to have and your comfort level with each CMS, but honestly for this particular functionality you could use either


      1. Hi Mary, you’re such a helpful person, many thanks. When I’ve got a bit more comfortable with MODx I shall start again — by following through your Drupal tutorials. More power to your elbow!

        Best wishes


  6. I came to your site via your interview on ichosemodx.

    I’ve been creating sites for a number of years. I’m mainly a HTML/CSS guy who tries not to reinvent the wheel.

    We are now some years one from when this was originally posted. Do you think that the tools have changed? There are now and increasing amount of WordPress frameworks available (Thesis, genesis) do these encroach on drupal and MODx territory? I’m being increasingly asked to create more sites, but my time does not allow me to spend much time testing new CMS’s and frameworks. I’m still concerned in investing time on something that might prove not to be the right tool.

    Commercial CMS’s with their drag and drop modules look very enticing, but the price tag has kept me at bay. Do you use them? Is the price worth it?

    I’m now at a cross-roads. WordPress doesn’t allow user login areas (well not easily) and most of the open source CMS’s appear to require PHP knowledge. Commercial CMS’s are too pricey. Am I better off learning PHP? Am I right in assuming that with PHP most open source PHP CMS’s become accessible?

    Since you have now been setting up CMS sites for some time, have you found that your are starting to use one CMS more than the others? Is there one that you think would do a good job in most instances? Would I be right in assuming that once you create modules to do the tasks you want them to on one site you can resuse them in others and over the years you can develop sites faster. If this is the case would learning one CMS well not be better?

    sorry to ask soooo many questions!

    thanks for taking the time to read this.


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