Creating a news website and going online has become a must for newspapers and other publications taken into account a general decline of physical newspapers. At the same time, now we see numerous solutions on the market, which provide for an effective functioning of a news website. For non-tech-savvy specialists making the right choice can become a tricky issue.
Making a News Website: 3 Main Factors to Consider
Having an online platform long ago proved to be the most efficient way of a newspaper to reach out to its readers. Online media have become the main source of news for 64% of the 18-24 age group and for 58% of the 25-34 age group.[i] And though using social networks (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc.) and news aggregators (Flipboard, Reddit) is growing as well[ii], still online news websites are the principal means of getting actual information.
Driven by the necessity to make a news website, media companies are facing two major challenges:
- An extremely high level of competition among news websites, which pushes the future website owner to make a catchy, attractive and user-friendly news website which will stand out from the others;
- Lack of technical knowledge among those who will be editing and maintaining the website, which makes it essential to keep the website functioning clean and simple.
These factors predetermine the major characteristics of the news website functioning:
- User-friendliness, which makes the website easy both to use and operate;
- Availability of Extensions and Adds-On, which provide for the customization of the website and making it a unique one;
- Enhanced level of security, which will protect the data of the news portal owner and its registered users.
Choosing a CMS for a News Website
Content management systems (CMS) are simply created for managing content-heavy websites like news portals. They support the creation, management, distribution, and publishing of information on a website in a more simple and effective way than other platforms.
News websites are usually powered by one of these three CMS solutions: Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Let’s compare them taking into account the criteria we’ve mentioned above.
WordPress. This is the most used open source CMS platform in the world, leaving its competitors far behind with 60,10% share of the CMS market.[iii]
Its low effort basic installation makes it attractive for small and simply structured news websites. Its interface is user-friendly and intuitive, with multiple templates at hand, which makes it simple even for non-tech specialists to use it from the start.
Originally created as a blogging system, now it has a variety of plugins and adds-on which make its scope of application wider. At the time of writing, there are 54,784 plugins on WordPress.org and 2,864 themes available for download. Some of the plugins can seriously simplify the work of the news team, first of all:
- WordPress RSS aggregator plugin, which automatically imports RSS feeds into a WordPress site, thus automatically aggregating news;
- Disqus Conditional Load plugin, which provides an easier way of moderating comments compared to the native WordPress one;
- bbPress, BuddyPress or other social networking plugins, which are aimed at building a forum or a social platform on the website in order to encourage interaction between users beyond the comment section;
- Ad Inserter, WordPress Ad Widget, ADS PRO and other plugins of the type, whose aim is to help the website owner in monetizing the platform by placing ads from ad networks. Other models of earning revenue, for example, membership fees from paying subscribers, can be realized with plugins like Member Mouse or Paid Membership Pro.
When it comes to WP security, there are some serious issues to consider.
Helpful though WordPress plugins can be, they often have security gaps. Thus, in 2017 52% of WordPress vulnerabilities came from its plugins.[iv] No wonder: WP is a community-driven CMS, which permits any developer to create a plugin and submit it to the WP store. When abandoned by their vendors and patched no more, they become an easy target for hackers. As Joost de Valk, Yoast SEO plugin creator, says: “The biggest hacking threat is not WordPress itself, it’s all the plugins. Plugins run with administrator rights on your site.”[v]
On the whole, in the security matters WordPress has often been put lower in comparison with the other two platforms from the list. Of course, a lot depends on the website owner and the hired development team – hence the necessity to consider the site update both for the platform version and the installed plugins – still some specialists admit, that WordPress will not be the best solution for certain websites. As was put by Ars Technica Security Editor Dan Goodin, WordPress just ‘doesn’t provide the enterprise-grade security’.[vi]
Another serious disadvantage, inclined to a WordPress-empowered website, is its limited stability and performance capability with high traffic. However, such high-traffic websites like Chicago Sun Times, the Microsoft News Center, Recode, and The New Yorker have been using the WordPress CMS platform for years. In most cases the performance quality issue is associated with hosting and the platform itself. Low-end shared hosting servers, supporting thousands of WordPress websites, can’t guarantee a high speed and a high-quality performance. That’s why private hosting can be a solution for a company facing millions of visitors per month. However, in this case additional calculations should be done: maybe the price for WordPress private hosting will minimize its economic attractiveness of the financially most affordable CMS.
Joomla! Second most popular CMS, it boasts more than 2 million users worldwide. Nonetheless, certain specialists admit that it has been losing its popularity, which is caused, among other reasons, by its poor positioning. Joomla is often referred to as ‘a middle solution’: not as easy as WordPress but more powerful, and not as technical as Drupal but less secure.[vii] It doesn’t put the system in an attractive position on the market.
Joomla is often referred to as a CMS platform which is more complicated for setup and installation compared to WordPress, first of all for non-tech specialists, because it presents a collection of PHP scripts which need to be carefully run through a web server. The Joomla community provides explicit documentation on its usage in the form of community-supported online handbooks, but its complex structure and extensive customization capabilities, though praised by specialists, make non-specialists face a challenge.
But the most tricky issue about Joomla is connected with its extensions installation and functioning (in the case of Joomla, they are divided into components, modules, and plugins). Although the repository contains more than 7,700 extensions, many of them are restricted in functionality and available at a fee, unlike WordPress and Drupal repositories. Many of the extensions are outdated and abandoned. The fact that the market share of Joomla is shrinking (from 3.25% to 3% in one past year[viii]), new developers are getting less and less inclined to develop new extensions and keep them updated. Speaking about Joomla’s security, it is also in the middle position: less secure than Drupal and more trustworthy than WordPress as a general statement. However, its development team continues updating the platform and fixing the bugs. Thus, in 2017 Version 3.8 of the CMS fixed very important flaws in the system’s authentication plugins.
Drupal. The third CMS platform, mentioned most often when it comes to news websites, Drupal boasts a variety of top-level clients, which speaks for the platform performance quality. The Economist, Fox News Magazine, Al Jazeera, CNN Go, BBC Magazines are only some of the names. These news portals contain thousands of pages with a currently updating massive news feed and millions of monthly users By the way, its ability to handle thousands of simultaneous users visiting the website at a high-speed level of performance is a guarantee of high rates from Google. No wonder that Drupal has been called an optimal marketing choice due to its SEO-friendliness.
Other top reasons, why large-size portals tend to hire a web development team with expertise in Drupal in order to make a news website, lie in the way it complies with the three qualities listed above.
First of all, the Drupal security level is the highest among the three CMS, which has been a reason why government sites like WhiteHouse.org and others prefer it. If we check the main WordPress security vulnerability – modules – we will see that it works a different way with Drupal. Every module passes a thorough testing of the Drupal team, which provides for each module’s secure status by the moment it is made available. Plus, Drupal community is as active as the one of WordPress and quickly reacts to mitigated flaws.
Second, Drupal is probably the most scalable solution suitable for further customization thanks to its modular layout. A repository of Drupal modules is vast and includes, at the time of writing, 40,203 ones. This lets users choose modules, extend and enforce different features of the website in the necessary way.
At the same time, as it always happens, its main advantage has its negative side. True, Drupal is extremely scalable and customizable, letting Drupal web developers create a site of any type and form – but for a non-tech specialist, to customize a Drupal-running website by himself is not an easy task. It requires skills, because additional modules are to be installed via FTP – which can seem hard at the start – plus administration and updating of numerous extensions requires some level of expertise, as they can be sometimes incompatible with the backend.
With top 3 CMS platforms at hand, every news business owner can outweigh pros and cons of each system and choose the one which works best for him and his audience. However, when the choice is made, here starts another stage of work: the website development process. At R-StyleLab, we know how to create a news website and will guide you through the complex process. In the next part, we will show you the essential parts by taking a Drupal-running news website as an example.