A content management system (CMS) is a digital platform that gives you the ability to create, store and share digital content. Today, the primary use of a content management system is for website creation and website management.
In this guide, we’ll take a close look at everything about content management systems. Not only will we cover CMS basics, but we’ll talk about how a content management system is different from other website building options. You’ll also learn why you want to use a CMS for your next website project and we’ll show you the best option to use. Let’s dive in!
What Is Meant by Content Management Systems?The term content management systems refers to the systems used to organize digital content for the purpose of administration, organization, and control.
Content management systems have useful applications for websites, especially for websites that require a user interface for adding, editing, and managing the content of a website.
5 Types of Content Management Systems
Content management systems aren’t just used to create websites. There are five different types of CMS, which are:
- Component Content Management System (CCMS)
- Document Management System (DMS)
- Enterprise Content Management System (ECM)
- Digital Asset Management System (DAM)
- Web Content Management System (WCMS)
The focus of the remainder of this article will be exclusively on Web Content Management Systems (WCMS), which is the category of CMS that WordPress falls under.
Why Is a Content Management System Needed?
While there are certainly other ways to build and maintain a website outside of the realm of a content management system (using flat HTML, as an example), a CMS is by far the easiest way to build and manage a website.Just like the name would lead you to believe, a content management system lets you create, modify, store and publish your own digital content.
A CMS also allows multiple individuals to work simultaneously on the same project by sharing, collaborating, and editing within the same file libraries and dashboard.
While a content management system may seem highly technical at first impression, a huge selling point for using one to create and run a website is the ease of use. Rarely, if ever, will you need to have coding knowledge or prior website building experience to use a CMS platform.
That’s really the beauty of a CMS: Content management systems allow users to manage their websites without any code, server access, or file editing. Content management systems make having a website much like editing a document in a word-processing application.
How Does a Content Management System Work?
As an analogy, think of building a website like building a home. The content management system you use is akin to your home “building essentials” such as:
- The roof
The CMS is your building essential that makes sure a basic foundation is firmly in place for the rest of the project. A CMS allows you to begin making your project liveable by furnishing it and decorating the interior to your liking. This is what you’re doing when you begin populating your new website project with content, change the way it looks, or give it the best UX (user experience) possible.
For example, WordPress is often said to be a “core functionality” for building a website, with WordPress core being the foundation. However, all content management systems will allow users to expand on the core functionality by introducing new code or installing plugins. Some are just easier or more intuitive to work with than others.
What Do Different Content Management Systems Have in Common?
While no two content management systems are exactly alike, there are definitely some features that are essential for all of them. Let’s look at a few of the most important features.
Features of a CMS
A few examples of the most important features of a content management system include:
1. Overall Flexibility
The CMS will provide the basics of building a website. The site developer (you) then has the ability to build on those foundations by including unique functionality that makes for a unique and dynamic website.
2. Permission Controls
The main purpose of permission controls within a CMS is security. The controls allow you to assign specific user roles to each member of a team.
Everyone will be able to access the functionalities and content to perform their assigned role, but no more than what they require.
3. Multi-Language Support
The Internet is translated into nearly every language on Earth. Your site doesn’t need to be limited to a single written language either.
Most of the top content management platforms provide translation abilities and can bring your site to life in many different languages.
The hope for most websites is that they will grow as time goes on. This growth will include the amount of content a site features as well as how many users it has.
Because of this, content management systems are built with scalability that will match the needs of your website as it matures.
5. Open API
API stands for Application Programming Interface. An open API allows you to access your website using tools that are otherwise unconnected. You’ll have the ability to manage your site content without using the default CMS site interface.
Other Website-Building Technologies
Of course, a content management system isn’t the only tool a developer can use to create a website. Even with all of the technologies available in 2020, skilled developers are still able to code a high-performing website from scratch using raw HTML.
Those on the opposite end of the spectrum may choose to remove nearly all technical aspects of building a website and use a site builder to do most of the work for them.
But why even use a content management system for your website? Is that definitely the best way to achieve the vision currently in your head?
Before you go any further in your website building project, it’s best to know the answers to these questions.
Why You Should Use a Content Management System for Your WebsiteOne of the biggest reasons for why you should use a content managment system is simple: Many CMS options are completely free and use open-source technology.
There’s a good reason over half of all websites in the world are run on content management systems. And while this is definitely a huge bonus, it doesn’t paint the entire picture. Popular CMS platforms have a way of putting both complete beginners and expert website builders on a seemingly equal playing field. You can also customize the entire experience of your site management.
As with most other technologies, however, there is always a learning curve. Not only will you need to learn all the intricacies of your chosen CMS, but you’ll need to train team members on how everything works. This means you’ll want your content management system to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible.
But, at the end of the day, using a CMS will give you almost complete control over every aspect of your website. It’s also important to verify that the content management system you use will support site functionalities that you require. This will be covered in more detail a bit later. For now, understand that every CMS has different ways to enable more personalized site expansion.
Perhaps you’re already familiar with the plugins that a CMS like WordPress features. This is an example of one of the ways a CMS provides you with the ability to customize your site and implement more complex functionalities. Other content management systems use different tools other than plugins.
Your decision to use a content management system for your website mostly hinges on what your requirements are. You also need to consider the type of site you want to create and how you intend to scale it in the future.
Some might say that the biggest determining factor for using a CMS is that you don’t need to have a bachelor’s degree in coding to build a terrific website. Using a well-built CMS will remove most of the highly technical aspects involved in site-building, while still giving the designer a ton of control over how the site looks and functions.
5 Reasons to Use a CMS
A CMS makes the web more usable. It lowers the barriers to entry and makes it much easier to launch a site, keep it updated and get more out of it.
Here are 5 reasons you and your organization should be using a content management system to manage your web site:
1. Cheap or Free
Using a CMS for your website means you can use cheap or free software and save loads of money. Haven’t you heard? Stingy is in.
2. Ease of Use
If you’ve got any computer savvy, most CMS software is easy to use. If you can send an e-mail, use Microsoft Word or set up a Facebook account, then you can use a CMS. And in most cases normal use doesn’t run the risk of mucking up the design. It’s web site creation for non-techies.
3. Do It Yourself
With a content management system, you enter the Do-It-Yourself world. No more waiting for and paying a programmer to fix a tiny error, saving you time and money.
4. Many Users, Many Places
Most CMS software is online and offers multiple users, which means you’re not the only one who can fix something in a pinch and you can access it from anywhere. Which means if you’ve got Internet access in Tahiti, you could work from there. That also means your important site is backed up on a secure server with multiple redundancies, not some high school kid’s laptop.
5. SEO Optimization
Most content management systems also make it easier to optimize your search engine results. That means your site is more likely to land on the first page of Google results because of your website’s SEO, which means people are more likely to find you.
What Are Examples of Content Management Systems?
As you begin to dive into content management systems, you’ll soon learn that there are quite a few options on the market. While we’re not going to cover all of them in this article, we are going to look at the four most popular solutions.
You’ll likely recognize some of these popular platforms for website content management systems.
1. WordPressAs we head into 2021, WordPress is currently the most popular CMS in the world. It’s not even a close competition.
In fact, usage statistics and market share of WordPress reports that WordPress now powers more than 38% of all websites on the Internet. That’s nearly 60% of all websites!
When the average person thinks about WordPress, they often make the mistake of thinking that it’s a simple personal blogging platform, rather than a full content management system that can handle even enterprise-level e-commerce sites. While the WordPress platform definitely did earn its initial fame as a straight-forward blogging tool, it has long since become a powerful content management system. WordPress is the CMS that runs literally millions of websites.
But how, and why, did WordPress become such a popular tool for creating websites? One key reason is that the WordPress platform has remained a community-run, open-source project from its inception.
The driving factors behind the WordPress project since launching in 2003 are that it remains:
- Open and free
Creating in WordPress requires basically zero prior web development experience. Almost anyone with a keyboard, mouse, monitor and internet connection can install it, start building a site and begin adding features and content within a few minutes.The huge number of design themes and plugins available also makes WordPress stand out from competing CMS solutions.
There are, however, some negatives to using the popular platform. For example, even though the core is highly secure, because of its popularity it’s a target for frequent hackers and bot attacks. Themes and plugins that are poorly coded will also bring additional security vulnerabilities to your site.
All things considered, WordPress is a wise choice for both newcomers and experts alike. WordPress remains a simple (but powerful!) content management system solution that will offer you a ton of power and control over your website, especially once you start looking under the hood.
And remember, WordPress is completely free to download and doesn’t even try to sell you any premium options. Beyond that, a lot of website hosts provide a pre-installed or one-click install WordPress option, such as with our iThemes WordPress hosting.
Moving on to some comparable but lesser-known content management system solutions is where we find Joomla! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the official name).
The name of this CMS stems from a Swahili word meaning “all together,” which is a reference to the platform’s community of open-source developers.
When comparing Joomla! to WordPress, you’ll find that Joomla! is a bit more focused on skilled developers, while still riding on an interface that’s user-friendly.
The platform has cultivated a large community of users that create themes and extensions that work to bolster the functionality of Joomla! Joomla! may be an option for website developers that can’t find the level of control they want in the WordPress environment.
The extreme flexibility of the platform also makes it a good choice for highly complex sites, such as:
- Stand-alone social media sites
- Online communities
- Membership sites
Similar to WordPress’s plugins, Joomla! uses themes and extensions (in lieu of plugins) to allow for site customization.
Most Joomla! users are running highly professional business sites with large development teams working behind the scenes. It’s probably not the best option if you’re just starting out or if you’re working alone.
What’s more, the deeper you dive into WordPress the more you’ll see that it’s customization is nearly as powerful as Joomla!, with less experience needed.
The learning curve on Joomla! is definitely steeper than on WordPress. This is especially true for users that have used another CMS for past projects.
However, some developers argue that Joomla! gives them more flexibility and freedom than WordPress.
This CMS platform is also free to download and use, without pushing any paid options.
Most hosts have one-click install options for Joomla!
Joomla! was a step up in complexity from the WordPress solution. Drupal is a leap in complexity.
Drupal was first released in 2001 and is far and away the most advanced content management system on our list in terms of technical demands. It’s an ideal solution for skilled developers that want complete control over the sites they build while receiving little technical guidance.
As you’ve probably guessed, Drupal is most suited for ambitious, highly advanced sites. It’s extremely versatile and allows developers to create nearly any kind of website they want, with almost zero limitations.
Some developers argue that it’s the most powerful content management system available. Using Drupal nearly guarantees fast site load times and strong security right out of the box.
For these reasons, Drupal is the perfect choice for:
- Enterprises with skilled development teams
- Developers who demand consistent reliability and high speeds
- Companies who have a substantial development budget, including agencies, developers and marketers
Many universities and government agencies use Drupal as their CMS solution.
It offers extensibility with themes and modules. As with the previous CMS platforms, it’s a free and open-source technology.
This is the final solution on our list and is known as somewhat of an outlier.
While Magento is a fully-functioning CMS, its focus is on e-commerce. WordPress offers powerful e-commerce functionality with the WooCommerce plugin. With Magento, e-commerce is all you get.
To date, it remains one of the most popular CMS platforms for building online storefronts.
Magento makes it easy for beginners to:
- Set up their online store
- Manage product offerings
- Build intuitive user navigation
Additionally, there are quite a few extensions that allow users to further enhance and customize their store.
If you’re not building an e-commerce site, Magento isn’t for you. But if you are, it’s worth comparing side-by-side with WooCommerce for WordPress. If nothing else, it may convince you that WordPress is going to give you more overall customization abilities than Magento.
This CMS is also an open-source download you can get for free. However, it offers a number of paid upgrades, including Magento Commerce.
What Is the Best Content Management System?
WordPress as the best content management system is difficult to beat in terms of:
- Ease of use
- Customization abilities
- Overall user experience
- Widespread usage
- Active development for frequent WordPress updates
- A thriving, engaged community
- Millions of plugins and themes
- Scalability and flexibility
Need even more reasons to check out WordPress? Check out this in-depth article on the 15 reasons why WordPress is such a great solution for websites of all shapes and sizes, from small personal blogs to enterprise e-commerce solutions.
Wrapping Up: Content Management System Explained
Now that you have a better understanding of content management systems, which one is the best one for your project? Why not start working on your project today by installing the WordPress content management system on your chosen host? Your completed new website may be just a few days away!
Kristen has been writing tutorials to help WordPress users since 2011. You can usually find her working on new articles for the iThemes blog or developing resources for #WPprosper. Outside of work, Kristen enjoys journaling (she’s written two books!), hiking and camping, cooking, and daily adventures with her family, hoping to live a more present life.