WordPress v Joomla: Templates and Themes

By Mark Atkinson
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WordPress v Joomla

Welcome to Part 2 of our series covering all major aspects of the WordPress vs Joomla debate. Today we’ll be covering templates, frameworks and themes for Joomla and WordPress.

Joomla Templates and WordPress Themes

At face value, Joomla templates and WordPress themes seem similar. There are a few minor details to take note of, however, that may affect your decision when choosing between the two content management systems.

Template/Theme Purpose

A trend I’ve noticed with themes and templates is that Joomla templates seem to be designed and developed with versatility in mind, whereas WordPress themes are designed with a specific purpose in mind — usually content-oriented.

Premium templates for Joomla will contain all the bells and whistles which will help you tailor your site to a specific purpose. WordPress themes, on the other hand, mostly seem to be limited to a single purpose. If you aren’t a web designer, this makes it a little difficult to customize the theme to suit something that isn’t quite what you are aiming for.

Either way has its pitfalls, but I have to say I prefer Joomla in this department. I’d rather have too much choice than be limited by design.

Multiple Templates

Something I consider important is native support for multiple templates within one website — in other words, the ability to select a specific template/theme for different pages on your website. Joomla offers this functionality and WordPress doesn’t. I believe it can be done in WordPress through the use of plugins and customization — but I honestly couldn’t be bothered when Joomla is able to do this natively.

This is worth taking into account when planning your website. If you need to make a certain page look different to the rest — and a different template is your best option — you may wish to consider using Joomla for that website.

Edit: When writing this post, even after having done a bit of research, I thought WordPress didn’t offer multiple theme functionality. It turns out that it does, using something called Page Templates. This allows you to select different templates for different pages. I will say, however, that I still feel Joomla’s multiple template functionality is more user friendly to end-users.  For developers, this may not be the case.

Developing Custom Templates

For those of you looking at building custom templates and themes, I cannot report a major difference between Joomla and WordPress. If you spend some time with the documentation of either and have some working knowledge of HTML, PHP and CSS, you shouldn’t experience any major difficulties.

Again, though, I feel like WordPress is limited when it comes to developing custom templates. This could just be because I started out with Joomla and have learned that I have practically no limitations when creating templates.

If you’re a seasoned web designer, you should have no issue creating great looking templates/themes for either CMS. If you’re just starting out with content management systems, I would advise purchasing a great premium template/theme and adjusting it to suit your needs. This will give you a great starting point to learn about templating for Joomla and/or WordPress.

Template Frameworks

When designing a WordPress site, I like to base it off one of the many great frameworks available for the CMS. Occasionally I do this for a Joomla website too, but I tend to find that the frameworks available for WordPress tend to be better than those available for Joomla, as well as the fact that I’m more comfortable with coding custom templates for Joomla than I am with WordPress themes.

What is a Framework?

A framework helps you to put together a great template/theme with half the effort because it provides the non-visual elements and tweaks that should be in a template and would otherwise need to be added by yourself.

Things such as module positions, IE6 warning messages (which should hopefully never be seen anymore), a back-end control panel and easy typography control are some of the things that are usually provided by a framework.

A good framework will implement generally accepted design and development practices. For example, many frameworks are based off the 960 grid system which is still preferred by many web designers. They will also make sure your template/theme is optimized for good page load times by compressing CSS and JavaScript. Lately I’ve noticed some frameworks include Ajax support and provide the interface for other plugins to use Ajax as well.

Some of the more popular frameworks have been converted into full HTML5 and CSS3 frameworks, which is great for building a website that is compliant with modern technology. Another feature that is key in 2012 is optimization for mobile devices. A good framework will often provide options to display a mobile-friendly version of your website.

What Frameworks Should I Use?

There are three frameworks I would recommend at the moment. Two of them have versions for both Joomla and WordPress and the other is only a WordPress framework.

WARP Framework by YooTheme

The WARP framework is probably my favorite at the moment and the one I use on my own website. WARP has versions for Joomla and WordPress. It is fully HTML5 and CSS3 compliant and contains pretty much all the functionality you would expect from a good framework.

The thing I like most is how lightweight it is. It helps you take care of your load times by implementing common page speed optimizations such as Javascript, CSS and HTML compression.

WARP is definitely a good one to check out regardless of which CMS you choose.

Gantry Framework by RocketTheme

The Gantry framework is also available for both Joomla and WordPress. It is similar to the WARP framework but contains more options for customization. This makes it a bit bulkier than YooTheme’s option, but it is still a fantastic framework to use.

It utilizes the 960 grid system and offers seemingly endless options for the customization and streamlining of your website.

Gantry is worth investigation if you’re looking for something more than WARP can offer you.

Genesis by StudioPress

Genesis is a framework created in partnership with some of the guys at Copyblogger, which means it’s automatically awesome.

It is built only for WordPress and is used and recommended by some of the internet’s biggest celebs, including Matt Mullenweg (Founder of WordPress), Darren Rowse from Problogger and Chris Brogan. Genesis’ main selling point is that it provides a search-optimized framework for your WordPress site.

This framework is ideal for blogs and content-driven websites and, although it’s not free, is definitely worth looking at if you settle on WordPress as your CMS.


When it comes to templating for WordPress and Joomla, it’s really up to your personal preference.  If you’re not an experienced web designer and aren’t familiar with HTML, CSS and PHP, you may simply find a great premium theme that fits your needs. If you are a developer, you probably won’t have a problem with either system. Pick the one you’re most familiar with or the one that fits your purpose the best.

I feel that Joomla is considerably more versatile and, for someone who is familiar with the Joomla CMS, there really are no limitations with design. If you’re not looking to do anything too fancy, however, WordPress themes may be perfect for you — they tend to be good for minimalistic design.

Tell us about your experience with Joomla templates, WordPress themes and frameworks in the comments below.

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  • Anonymous

    Templates are horrible – maybe use a CMS that doesn’t force you to use templates then you can do what you want.

  • Nick

    You must not have heard of wordpress page templates? You can easily make it so you have a page different from the rest of the design.

  • Imtiaz

    Nice info Thanks

  • Kathy

    Love this series! Looking forward to the rest.

    Could you fix the link to 960 grid system? It goes to file:///….


    • Thanks Kathy. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

      Thanks for pointing that out, I’ll get it fixed ASAP. It’s meat to go to http://960.gs :)

      – Mark

  • Neeko

    The multiple templates feature is great, I use Artisteer for building Templates for Joomla, and usually have one colour scheme for guests/unregistered visitors, and a slightly different colour, same look and feel, for logged-in users (2 separate menu’s as well)

    • Eek! I would never use Artisteer for my templates, but if you find it works for your purpose, that’s great.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Neeko.

      – Mark

      • Neeko

        Ok, I’m not at all Arty/artistic, for me it’s great, way better presentation quality than I could acheive otherwise and in seconds

      • Ian

        Mark, why would you “never use Artisteer” for your templates? I use it for simple client creations which do not need to be “feature rich” but need to look good. I find it is a great way to create custom designs for simple cms sites. Cheers Ian

    • Maor

      Artisteer is junk , makes bad code and I won’t suggest using it for nothing.

  • I completely agree with you on the template/theme comparison, creating a custom design (or converting a static HTML or PSD into a site) is far easier with Joomla’s template system than WordPress. First, Joomla uses a single index.php file for layout where as WordPress uses at least three files (index.php, footer.php and header.php) and usually more.

    Second, I find that WordPress’s widget placement system is far more confusing to use in theme development compared to Joomla’s module system. In WordPress you have to deal with the functions.php file where as there is no such file required in Joomla.

    On the upside for developing themes for WordPress, I like the built-in drop-down menu system, which make it easier for developers to add multi-level horizontal menus in WP themes. I also prefer jQuery, the Javascript library that comes with WordPress over the MooTools Javascript library built into Joomla.

    Overall, I find it far easier to create custom designs for Joomla than WordPress.

    I also have to add that I use both WordPress and Joomla and think there is a place in the world for both.

    I am also very excited about the upcoming Joomla 3.0 release. The admin panel has been completely redesigned and I think it now compares to WordPress in ease of use. Joomla 3.0 also uses Twitter Bootstrap as the default CSS framework and this is should make it easier to use Joomla for those developers who are familiar with Bootstrap. Joomla 3.0 is also going to have an option to use jQuery in the front end, rather than MooTools, which makes me very happy.

    I have been reading Sitepoint for the past 10 years and this series ranks among the best. Thank you Mark!

    – – – Wild

    • Thanks for stopping by to read and comment once again, Wild.

      Again, I agree with the sentiments you have expressed.

      Also cannot wait for Joomla 3.0! Very exciting, indeed. The change to Twitter Bootstrap should be interesting

      Thanks so much for the kind words, I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. Plenty more to come!


  • Richard Gibson

    RocketTheme all the way :-)

  • Tim

    Drupal for the win!

    • Scott


  • Mark, I too was wondering why when you mentioned “the ability to select a specific template/theme for different pages” you said WordPress did not have this functionality. WordPress has “page templates” functionality built right in and majority of the time that is all that is needed by developers. In fact from a different perspective, I would say creating a new “page template” in WordPress is far simpler than creating a second full “template” in Joomla to style pages differently. And now that this is brought up, having the “page template” system is one of the reasons for having the separate files (header.php, index.php, footer.php). So there are even cons (as well as the pros) to having one Joomla index.php versus the WordPress multiple files structure.

    I enjoyed reading the first blog about this and this second one, and will continue to follow throughout all six. I work for an agency and use both CMS systems often. I prefer WordPress over Joomla myself, but I do believe they both have their pros and cons as well.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Stan.

      You are quite correct. It was a complete misinterpretation of information on my behalf and something that is inexcusable. I guess I’ve never had to use WordPress’ Page Templates function because every CMS site I’ve done that required multiple templates fell more into the scope of Joomla.

      I will be adding a note into the post to correct the statement.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. I look forward to your comments over the following four posts.


    • Though I would just like to add that I don’t think the page template functionality is user-friendly whatsoever for the end-user. Because this series is targeted at the end users (our clients) rather than developers like you and I, I would probably still recommend Joomla in this instance, which (to me) seems a bit more intuitive.

  • I find that Joomla is more complicated but you can get better results. However where I am coaching people with limited experience of administering a website I prefer WP. Incidentally there are numerous themes which allow individual custom pages

  • Tim

    As a couple of others have already said – it is very easy indeed to create a custom template for any page – it is built right into WordPress as a feature and you get a dropdown list on pages to select which template you would like to use.

    Many themes come with a handful of useful specific page templates such as full-width (removing the sidebar for wider content area), contact (which includes a form), gallery, and more.

    You can also add the choice of specific templates to posts, but this is a little more difficult.

    If you are using custom content types and custom taxonomies then again it is pretty easy to have various theme templates to choose from for them.

    I admit I much prefer WordPress over Joomla (and over the last year consolidated all my sites onto WP), but you do make some very good points elsewhere. The one about page templates is, however, incorrect.

    • Quite correct, Tim. Please excuse my blunder. :)

      I will edit the post to point out page templates.

      I guess I’ve never had to use WordPress’ Page Templates function because every CMS site I’ve done that required multiple templates fell more into the scope of Joomla. I will point out that I did attempt some research into the matter, but my Googling skills are quite obviously dismal.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tim.

      – Mark

  • Creating a different Template for different Pages in WordPress is really not difficult at all
    Just duplicate page.php and add the following at the very top:

    ‘Your_Page_Template_Name’ will now appear as a drop-down list option in the Edit Page area

  • Gijs W. Brouwer

    I must agree with Anonymous, templates or maybe I should say template engines are horrible. I prefer a system in which I can use plain, simple HTML/CSS pages and a very, very, limited number of macro commands to pull any content I wish into that specific page.
    Third party frameworks are even worse – they have a life of their own causing the one in charge of maintaining the site in even deeper shit. Seperation of logic and content should be the objective and creating views should not require in depth coding knowledge. I therefor prefer a strict MVC structure or something similar were the final viewing limits itself to straight HTML pages and some simple syntax place holders designate where the content items should be positioned. It can be done but both WordPress and Joomla – from a historical point of view – lack the proper structure to accomplish this

  • Scott

    Being a long time Joomla developer, several months ago I stumbled upon Ultimatum for WP. For the first time ever in either WP or Joomla, Ultimatum finally gives a developer/designer a blank canvas to start from. No preset positions, no preset themes, it is truly a blank page starting point and is HTML5/CSS3.

    Finally, you are liberated from having to re-engineer an existing theme design in order to fit something together for a client. It is a 960 grid that lets you decide the layout and positions of modules/widgets/content with full control over container and wrapper css, it plays nice with all WP plugins (at least so far as I can tell) and really gives you complete freedom. Supposedly there is a Joomla version soon to be released as well. Ultimatum is far more that what Catalyst tried to do, it is a game changer for developers.

  • I am all for Joomla and I love warp but why on earth you would place the Gantry framework above the likes of some of the other great frameworks available is beyond me? Gantry is restrictive, heavily bloated and the script conflicts it causes are not only annoying they are downright unnecessary! The other fact is they do not provide a Responsive Design like Warp and many others out there and they are still stuck in the days of the 960 grid with no easy way to modify that. That alone makes it one I would place at the very bottom of any list.

    • Thanks, Kevin.

      I can only say that my experiences with Gantry and RocketTheme have been been only positive. It is bulkier, yes, but the function it provides suits many end-users just fine.

      I prefer Warp, but believe Gantry has its place. I’m sure it will be made responsive in the not too distant future, too.

      – Mark

      – Mark

    • Just goes to show you, it’s all about opinion. I’ve used templates that employ the WARP framework before, and I found it to be absolute garbage. I’ll never use it again. On the other hand, I LOVE the Gantry framework, and use it on any site that I build, regardless of whether or not I am using a RocketTheme template.

  • So WordPress doesn’t natively support unique page templates?
    Try this on: http://codex.wordpress.org/Template_Hierarchy
    By simply naming the template, you’ve attached it to a specific page, etc.

    The complaint of having to use three files, header.php, page.php, footer.php isn’t a problem, its a blessing. By using the template hierachy, code that changes per page is isolated. The header and footer, which typically don’t change, become universal.

    However, if you really have to, you can use as many headers and footers and sidebars as you like by calling them into a specific page template using get_footer(‘my-special-footer’) for example.

    How’s that for versitile?

    WordPress all the way.

  • Maybe I’m partial…but IMHO WordPress beats Joomla any day. There’s very few things that I haven’t been able to do with WP and at the same time make it easy for my clients to update.

    • I teach both Joomla and WordPress. WordPress is by far, easier to use and teach but Joomla, being more complex, is more versatile (and has a corresponding steeper learning curve). One thing that repeatedly comes up with students of both cms’s (especialy if they have done some design in Dreamweaver or Frontpage) is frustration that page elements cannot be arranged in a ‘drag and drop’ fashion. Its a thing I have to repeat for my students. Content management is not web design. Students who are unfamiliar with html/css (and increasingly jQuery or Mootools) are locked in to fitting their site around someone else s template or theme design. Systems such as Artiseer come some way to addressing this problem but are not perfect. I also understand there are plugins available to allow templates to be designed in Dreamweaver. Has anyone used any of these? Another way to go, if you have a handle on web programming, is to use the core Joomla frame work only (a similar thing can be done in wp), taking advantage of back end functionality of these systems but free to use an architecture and design of your choosing.

      • Big Aussie

        If you want to suggest an easy “drag n drop” solution to your students; check out a great product called Builder which is getting better with each version from iThemes.com.

        I don’t have any affiliation with the developers of the product; except as a user. It still isn’t perfect, but the Ajax support built in, with a great admin backend for the end user, combined with unlimited combinations of layout, including widget placement makes it great fun to use for any project.

  • DJ BassTone

    As I have done lot of work with WordPress now one and half year, I have started to like it. I think it is not perfect. Many times it needs to be tweaked when it comes to real life programming. When need to do multilanguage web site with pages, post and blog options with several languages, it is not easy. There are plugins, but in real world must be a seasoned PHP professional to make solution which work in WordPress. I think same in other CMS systems too.

    Sometimes peoples should remember, these systems are free. Computer dudes make these because love of programming. For common peoples they do these… Like Monty Widenius (father of MySql) and Linux Torvalds (father of Linux), from Finland they come.

    Greetings from Finland to South Africa. Thanks for tweaking Linux to Ubuntu.

    DJ BassTone – Hip-Hop Old School DJ, IT-programmer in every day work.

  • Disappointed in the lack of research that went into this.

    I’m not sure how we can take your series seriously after this article — you’re just a couple articles in and you say something that you obviously didn’t research and have no clue about. WordPress has a templating system, and, well, if you were unable to figure it out, you simply didn’t even look. Too bad, really, because there sure was a lot of talking going on there.

    …but that’s how Fox “news” works… um.

    • Jay

      I must agree that WordPress provides a way to use different templates to different pages. It’s as simple as adding a tag to the template file and selecting it from within the editor. Seems you have completely overlooked that on this article.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Quite right, that was a definite blunder on my end.

      I would explain myself, but have a feeling it might fall on deaf ears. :)

      If you do happen to read the rest of the series, I trust that you will enjoy it and provide criticism (hopefully more constructive) where applicable.

      The post will be edited to correct my error.

      – Mark

  • Omo

    Would have like a little more discussion on Joomla’s single template file approach versus the multiple template files used by WordPress.

    For me this is a fairly big difference between the two CMS’s and one of the reasons I prefer Joomla for sites requiring a customised design. Plus, I would have like to hear if/how you’re using template overrides in your designs.

    Anyway thanks for your effort so far, I’m enjoying this series, we’re really lucky to have so many great free CMS’s to choose from. Please do a series like this on opensource shopping carts :)

    • Thanks a mil, Omo.

      Perhaps I can tackle that in a later post. I wrote this series mainly with the end-user in mind, so I have omitted anything that I felt was a bit too technical.

      I hope you enjoy the rest of the series.


  • RocketTheme is now moving towards responsive design: http://www.rockettheme.com/blog/team/1555-responsive-design-rocketthemes-extensions and we all are excited to see this shift!

    I agree with Mark’s opinions on both WordPress and Joomla. I prefer Joomla, but find that many tend to prefer WordPress and we do develop on both frameworks. I only push for responsive design since it deals with the mobile movement without the need for expensive app development.

  • WordPress tiene un panel de administración excelente y un manejo de usuarios facil y muy bueno para restringir a nuestros clientes lo que no queremos que toque.

    estoy haciendo mi primier sitio en woprdpress y creo que no vuelvo a Jooomla…

    • Big Aussie

      Estoy de acuerdo. El panel de administración de WordPress es mucho mejor. WordPress es también más fácil para el usuario final también.

  • Paul

    This is interesting. As a wordpress only developer I often wonder about the comparison with other CMSs. I did dabble in joomla a little bit when I first started out, because I needed to check out a few to decide which one I wanted to work with, and I can understand why one could say joomla is easier than wordpress to customize templates. On the other hand since I only work with wordpress, to me it seems very easy to make custom templates with wordpress and it seems also that there are no limitations.

    Several people mention pages, but categories, custom fields, taxonomies and tags also allow for a high degree of customizing capability. It’s basically as easy as copy and paste the code of one template into a new template and renaming it correctly. The you just open the template and rename the outer div, which is actually not necessary in most cases because wordpress will dynamically rename, or add a class to, the div. You can even call a different header, footer or sidebar if you want. Then it’s just a matter of styling the css accordingly.

    Basically it’s the same with pages. How to make the calls so that these functions work is a little more complicated though. The beauty is that dynamically it is on another level. Joomla may be simpler in a building blocks kind of way, but I think wordpress is more powerful dynamically. Once you learn the dynamic functionality of wordpress, you will see what I mean. I don’t think wp is better than joomla. I just think that everyone has their cup of tea. I chose wordpress and I’m going to stick with it for many reasons. I won’t branch off to another CMS at least until I master wordpress, because learning two CMSs is spreading myself out too thin. Besides, a CMS is not where the money is. Marketing is where the money is.

    I think you are right that joomla is easier to use. I think the learning curve for working with joomla will be much steeper for a non developer trying to whip up a webpage. On the other hand, wordpress has a much more dynamic capability which, it seems, would be conducive to blogging. Also, because of it’s page templates, CMS type of functionality and a more static page type characteristic can be infused into wordpress sites.

  • Cheryl

    Has anyone had experience with WP: Thesis, Headway or Genesis? They sound great but I am not that experienced in WP. They use movable blocks to create your own themes.

    Have created a couple Joomla, a couple WordPress, used GoLive years ago and my own site in Dreamweaver using CSS so not expert in anything lets say.

    Seems to me WordPress is easier for clients that do not edit that often and do not want to relearn how to edit each time they go in.

    I found Joomla just as easy to work with as WP if you don’t recode anything.

    Important as anything to keep Plugins & Extensions updated or you may be hacked.

  • I like Joomla CMS and its templates as well,though if you are just a beginner it’s really got a bunch of stuffs to get familiar with.From my experience ,at the beginning of using Joomla templates was very discouraging,but its goodness is that the more you dig in Joomla the more you become an expert to customize it ,but you should at have a basic web design skills.Joomla it’s not spoon feeding as WordPress, after the end of the day you may become an expert of Joomla .

  • My progression in the field of web design has been quite odd; I didn’t start off with HTML & CSS, it was Flash CS3 that pulled me in. From that point I learned how to properly write HTML & CSS, before getting into CMS’s. I used WordPress first and liked it, but it was Joomla that caught my attention. I even purchased the DVD from Barrie North on how to use Joomla 1.5.

    Unfortunately, I never really got it. The Joomla theming system seemed more difficult than it was worth at that particular point. WordPress, on the other hand was like clay in my hands. I resold the Barrie North DVD on Amazon, had no use for it really. WP offers a variety of templating options ranging from custom post types to custom pages, and custom taxonomies. My point is not to discredit Joomla, I can’t say WP is better, because I did not research it since 2009. What I can say is that WP worked better for me, and your post is not complete or well researched.

  • Dennnis

    Thanks for your article but I found the first article much more objective. The second article in the series gives me the impression you are not very familiar with the full functionality and power of WordPress. The article is skewed to recommend Joomla because you have obviously spent more time on the platform and are more comfortable in it. I understand it is difficult not to show a preference for what you are more comfortable with but it is very important to do a thorough research before dabbling into a hot topic like this. I have some experience in web design and started off using Joomla as a CMS. I found it quite complex to use and customize and soon abandoned it. I started using WordPress early this year and found it very intuitive and easy to learn. With an average knowledge of HTML and CSS you can achieve a lot in WordPress and page/post creation and customization couldn’t be easier or more intuitive. For the non-technical end-user it is also easier to hand over a WordPress back-end because it is easier to carry out simple update tasks unlike Joomla that my clients always complained about its complexity. Finally, thanks for the series but please be objective in your analysis and research the topics thoroughly. Google should indeed be your best friend :)