What Is A Content Management System (CMS)?
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Big words and phrases can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to creating a website. Acronyms are confusing too.

One of those big, but crucial-to-know phrases is Content Management System, also just called a CMS.

But what exactly is a CMS? And what does it do? And how exactly do you you use one?

Don’t worry. I’m going to break down everything you need to know.

The Main Functions And Features Of A CMS

First, a definition of a Content Management System is in order:

A CMS is a piece of software that helps you create, edit, and manage content, and in many cases, build a website with that content.

It’s simple, isn’t it? The main thing a CMS does is allows you to create, edit, and manage content on the web or on an intranet. That’s it. Easy.

Now, that’s the simple definition, but there’s more to a CMS than just that.

For example, there are two features every CMS has: a WYSIWYG editor and FTP. I know, that’s a lot of letters, so let’s simplify both of those.

WYSIWYG editor: It looks like your typical word processor, like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. You type something in, hit publish, and it shows up just as you typed it. Hence, what you see is what you get. You aren’t typing any weird code or anything like that.

WYSIWYG editor

FTP: This stands File Transfer Protocol. It’s a way of transferring files between computers. It’s how content is uploaded and downloaded from the CMS.

FTP - File Transfer Protocol

On top of those two, there are plenty of other features that most CMSes have — here are some of them:

  • With indexing, you can search for content with specific parameters (publish dates, keywords, authors, etc.)
  • You can scan paper documents and convert them to HTML or PDF documents
  • You can still update and edit content after you’ve published it (and all changes are tracked)
  • You can use the CMS’ templates to create content and pages
  • With one-to-one marketing, you can customize your website and advertising to match certain characteristics of your users, thanks to info the user provides or the site finds (also known as cookies)
  • Your website will have SEO-friendly URLs
  • You’ll have access to discussion boards and technical help
  • And numerous other options

The beauty of a content management system is that it allows you to quickly update content without needing to change much, or any of the actual code. You simply go into the CMS, use the WYSIWYG editor, and you’re done.

What’s The Difference Between A CMS And A Website Builder?

“More definitions?” you ask. Yes, but hold on. It’s really not that complicated.

You may have seen acronyms like WCMS (web content management system) and ECMS (enterprise content management system). The lines between them are blurry, but a CMS, a WCMS, and an ECMS are just other ways to say content management system, but for different situations.

They all allow you to create, edit, and manage content, either in the form of a website or an intranet.

But when it comes to a website builder, the differences are much clearer. With a standard website builder, your content belongs to the web provider, while a CMS gives you complete control over your content.

Additionally, website builders (Wix, Weebly, etc.) tend to make it easier to customize the design of a website without needing to do any code. Some content management systems have that function, but most require some basic knowledge of coding in order to make bigger site design changes.

This means that with a CMS, you can publish your content with any host you want. Website builders are much easier to use, but CMSes have much more customizability.

What Are The Biggest CMSs?

The most popular CMS platforms, understandably, are free. But they’re also the most popular because they’re downright good.

Let’s take a look at all three and what they offer (then we’ll cover how to choose a CMS).

WordPress

WordPress CMS

If this were a brawl, WordPress would be the Hulk Hogan of the CMSes.

WordPress powers 30% of all websites, which is significantly more than the other top options. They currently own a staggering 60% market share out of all CMSs, with Joomla coming second at 6.3%. It’s really no contest.

But once you see how powerful and easy to use WordPress is, you’ll understand why they win over the hearts of businesses like TechCrunch and Vanity Fair and people like Usain Bolt and Katy Perry.

When it comes to a CMS, it’s hard to beat WordPress. It’s relatively easy to use, has thousands of website themes and plugins, and can do just about anything you need it to.

NOTE:

There are two versions of WordPress:

Here’s the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

Drupal

Drupal CMS

Drupal is for those who know their way around HTML, CSS, and PHP. And if you had to Google those acronyms, you may not be ready for this CMS.

But if you know what you’re doing when it comes to coding or you want to learn, Drupal can be a great choice. Its forte is power, but it also provides lots of modules, image styles, and customizable everythings.

Joomla

Joomla CMS

If you don’t like the sound of the previous two options, Joomla is the CMS for you. It’s the balance between WordPress’ simplicity and Drupal’s power and customization. As far as popularity, it’s second to WordPress but beats out Drupal.

Other CMS Options

Even though those three CMSes are the giants in the game, they’re not the only ones. So below are some of those other options (some you’ll need to purchase).

dotCMS

dotCMS does more than just websites — it can handle intranets, mobile apps, and literally anything that requires an internet connection. It’s tailored toward big companies that need workflows to fit their systems and who need easy integration with third-party software.

Hippo CMS

Hippo CMS comes with analytics that show you which content of yours has the highest conversion rates and engagement. This can be a nice tool for any size company or entrepreneurs of varying success levels.

Magnolia

Magnolia runs on Java and it’s an open-source CMS. Its main purpose is to help businesses manage content across multiple channels, languages, and websites with ease. If you need fast speeds and easy integration, this CMS might be a good option.

SharePoint

SharePoint offers a way to store, manage, and share info within a company.

Documentum

Documentum also has tools that help businesses easily store and quickly retrieve content. Users respect if for how much control you have with it.

M-Files

M-Files allows you to store and manage your electronic documents using a unique meta-tag algorithm.

DNN

DNN is geared toward marketers, and allows for easy access to their digital assets no matter where the data is being stored. You can also publish and personalize content based on each visitor.

Oracle WebCenter

Oracle WebCenter allows you to manage content from one location while sharing it across several applications. It’s made up of three main features: Oracle WebCenter Content, Oracle WebCenter Sites, and Oracle WebCenter Portal.

Pulse CMS

Pulse CMS is a piece of software for smaller websites that helps the web developer easily add content to a site in a short period of time. It doesn’t need a database, but rather uses Apache with PHP 5. And if you’re a paying customer, you get customer support.

TERMINALFOUR

TERMINALFOUR is another software-based CMS that prides itself on offering support and inspiration from the user community.

OpenText

OpenText, which is available onsite and through the cloud, is meant for enterprises who need to manage lots of content at once and both online and mobile management.

Backdrop CMS

Backdrop CMS is a free, open-source CMS run by Drupal. Its goal is to provide a powerful CMS at no cost to the user in hopes that will help small to mid-sized businesses.

How To Choose A CMS

Okay, so that’s a lot of info. There are a ton of CMSs, so how in the world can you choose just one?

For 60% of people using a CMS, the answer is WordPress.

Out of all of the choices, consider choosing one of the top three most popular CMS options: WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. That way, you’ll have a CMS that’s tried and true, with huge support communities waiting in the wings if you need help.

Still not sure? Here’s how you can narrow your options.

Figure Out The Purpose Of Your Website

Ask yourself what you need your website to do. Is it a blog, an ecommerce site, or something else?

How to choose a CMS, WordPress, Joomla, Drupal

If you’re just blogging or making a typical business website, WordPress is probably your best bet. But if you need a full-on website with all the bells and whistles, you may want to look into Joomla or Drupal (professional web developer may be required).

How Big Is Your Operation?

Do you need a portfolio for yourself? Are you running a one-man business that you hope to scale? Are you part of an enterprise? How big is your company?

The answers to these questions can impact which CMS you decide to go with.

For example, if you’re a multi-million dollar enterprise with multiple administrators, a free WordPress website built by you is not going to do you much good, unless you know what you’re doing.

WordPress can handle massive loads, and major brands all around the world use it, but you’ll need to be sure you build your site appropriately.

The CMS needs to fit, so what’s your size?

Are You Willing To Pay?

As I mentioned before, some CMSs are free and some require a bit of investment (money and time). So what are you willing to pay for this website?

Keep in mind, if you use a free CMS or website builder, you’ll probably end up paying for other things that a paid CMS includes, like hosting and technical support.

Plus, you may need to hire a web developer to help you customize your site, regardless of which CMS you choose.

Who Will Be Managing The CMS?

This is an important one. If you’ll be managing it, then it really depends on your expertise with coding and web developing. But if you’ll be hiring someone, you can try one of the more complicated CMSes (like Drupal) because you know an expert will be dealing with it.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully by now, you have a better idea of what a CMS is, what it can do, who it’s for, and how to pick the right one for you or your business.

A CMS essentially makes tedious tasks, like manually updating content on a site, much easier.

See, that wasn’t too complicated.

What Is A Content Management System (CMS)?

Written by Alex Jasin

Last Updated: March 27, 2018