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Content management system (CMS) is a software application used to manage, create, publish, edit or modify digital content on the internet. CMS platforms are software platforms that support the design, development, and publication of website content.
Simply put, a content management system (also known as “CMS software”, or “CMS system”), is a software that allows you to create, manage, modify and publish content on a website with no coding or technical knowledge required.
In this guide, we explain what CMS software is, in the easiest to understand way. By the end of this guide, you will know what a content management system is, how it works, how you can use it to set up a website, and the top rated most popular CMS platforms.
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 and acronym is CMS, an acronym for Content Management System.
But what exactly is a CMS? What does it do? And how exactly do you use one?
What is a Content Management System (CMS)?
CMS, an acronym for “Content Management System”, is a software application that is used to create, edit and manage digital and web content. Contents in a CMS are usually stored in a database and displayed in a presentation layer based on a set of templates.
In layman’s terms:
A content management system is a software tool that helps you build a website from scratch without necessarily having to write any, or, all of the HTML code from scratch yourself.
You may have come across 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.
Do I need to learn coding to use a CMS?
No! You do not need to know how to code at all to use a CMS to build and manage your website or digital content.
The main function of a CMS is to enable users to create, edit, and manage content on the web or on an intranet. That’s it. However, there’s more to a CMS than just that allowing users edit and manage digital content.
Beyond creating and designing websites, you can also find and use content management systems for other functions such as document management.
Features of a content management system software
There are two key 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 is a short acronym for “What You See is What You Get”.
It is a visual page editor that lets you visualize the content you put and see the output even before you save or publish.
In simpler language, a WYSIWYG looks like your typical word processor – like Google Docs or Microsoft Word, you type something in, it takes its form and you see what it would look like when you save or publish.
FTP is a short acronym for “File Transfer Protocol”.
It’s a way of transferring files between computer systems or servers. It’s how content is uploaded and downloaded from the CMS.
Other features worth noting
While a visual editor and File transfer protocol are the two key features of any content management system, there are plenty of other features that most CMS software have, and they include:
- Indexing: With indexing, you can search for content with specific parameters such as publish dates, keywords, authors, etc.
- Ability to scan paper documents and convert them to HTML or PDF documents.
- Content editing: You can still update and edit content even after it’s been published and still keep track of all changes.
- Change URLs and links: Your website will have SEO-friendly URLs.
- Design templates: 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, according to their interests and preferences.
- Access to discussion boards and technical help.
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 to edit, add or remove what you want, and you’re done.
CMS Software vs. Website Builder: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between a CMS (Content Management System) and a website builder is that, with a standard website builder, your content belongs to the web hosting provider, while a CMS software gives you complete control over your website content.
Additionally, website builders such as Wix 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 would require some basic knowledge of coding or HTML if you want to make huge or custom website design changes.
With a CMS, you can publish your content with any hosting provider you want. Website builders are much easier to use, but Content management systems have much more customizability.
Content Management System Examples
In alphabetical order, examples of CMS include:
What is the most popular content management system software?
The most popular CMS platforms are:
- WordPress (the most popular)
- Website builder software: Wix, Squarespace and Weebly.
Although many of the big and popular CMS platforms are free, understandably, they’re also the most popular because they’re downright good.
Just as Google is to search, so is WordPress to content management systems.
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.
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.
Drupal is a developer type of CMS 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 everything.
If you do not 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 goes, it’s second to WordPress but beats out Drupal.
Other CMS Options include:
Even though the above mentioned three CMS platforms are the giants in the content management systems world, they’re not the only ones.
Below are some of the other content management systems that are not so popular..
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 (now Bloomreach) is a content management system for enterprises. It comes with analytics that measures and shows which content has the highest conversion rates and engagement to its audience and delivers personalized targeted digital experiences based on that insight. This can be a nice tool for any size company or entrepreneurs of varying success levels.
SharePoint offers a way to store, manage, and share info within a company.
Magnolia CMS 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.
Documentum (now owned by OpenText), is an enterprise content management platform with tools that help businesses easily store and quickly retrieve content. Users respect it for how much control you have over it.
How To Choose a Content Management System (CMS)
Okay, so that’s a lot of info. There are a ton of CMSs, so how in the world can you choose just the right 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?
If you’re just blogging or making a 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 earlier mentioned, 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.
CMS digital content management
Who will be managing the CMS content?
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 CMS’s (like Drupal) because you know an expert will be dealing with it.
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.
References and additional resources
- W3 Techs. “Usage statistics and market share of content management systems, https://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management”. Accessed June 24, 2022
- What CMS. “Tech Reports – What CMS, https://whatcms.org/Tech_Reports”. Accessed June 25 2022
- Andreas Mauthe; Peter Thomas (2004). Professional Content Management Systems: Handling Digital Media Assets. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-85542-3.