What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

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So maybe you’ve recently taken the plunge into a new business venture, or already own one and are bringing it online.  No matter what your situation it’s a good idea to understand what is a content management system, and how can it help.

The reason content management systems are so important is, well, because content itself is so important.  In today’s world of the search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, content is critical to ranking well in their listings.  If you’re serious about using the internet to get customers, then you need to be very aware of this necessity, an optimize every bit of content you put out.

What is a Content Management System

What is a Content Management System?

At its highest level, a CMS is a system to manage the content of webpages.  They allow you and easy way to manage the version and history of different pieces of content created for your site.  A content management system not only helps with the storage and organization of digital content, but also the optimization.  You will learn quickly the importance of unique content, and that it needs to be written in a way that search engines can easily see and index.

Most CMS systems also have easy to install templates that can get a site up and running quickly.  It’s daunting to many new business owners with no technical expertise to realize they need a website.  These systems make it much easier for someone with less technical knowledge to build professional looking sites.  Some are more complicated than others, and we’ll give a run down later in the article.

Pros and Cons of a CMS


Price – Most content management systems are open source software.  This means you can go to their website, and download the software for free.  That doesn’t mean running your website is going to be cost free, since at bare minimum you need a web hosting company.  There are plenty of affordable web hosting options, so that does not mean your overall goes up much.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – There is an entire industry behind SEO at this point, and a lot of optimization techniques out there.  That said, the best content management systems do a decent job of this out of the box.  On top of that, you can add functionality to help improve your SEO and get more attention from search engines.

Design Templates – For those non-tech savvy types, this is the best part.  Most CMS systems have free and paid templates that will give your site a great look.  Certain systems have better free options than others, with WordPress leading the pack.  But you can find plenty of templates for all the systems, especially if you are prepared to shell out a few dollars.

Permission Management – CMS systems also make managing workflow much easier.  You can assign different permissions to users based on their function to your business.  For instance, you may have freelance writers you’d like to have some access, but in-house editors who need more permissions.

Plugin Add-ons – One of the greatest parts of the most popular content management systems is the ability to build upon the core functionality.  There are plugins for almost anything you want to do, and most of them have a free version with minimal functionality.  Most have premium versions, but you will be surprised at how much you can get for no additional cost.

Installation and Setup – Because these systems are so popular, web hosting companies are starting to offer free installation and setup with CMS’s like WordPress.  Check out SiteGround for a company that makes it extremely easy to get up and running.


Custom Design Limitations – So there is a lot you can get with the templates we’ve discussed earlier.  But one limitation of most CMS systems is when you do want to make a customized change.  This is possible, but you’ll either need some coding knowledge, or may have to contract the work.  The good news is there are an abundance of freelancer developers who can help with any of the popular CMS systems.  Just check sites like Upwork if you find yourself needing some assistance.

Learning Curve – These systems are fairly easy to learn, but that’s not say there’s no learning curve at all.  One can argue if you’re looking for the most simplistic website out there, a website builder like Wix is easier.  That said, a good content management system is going to give you more functionality and flexibility in the long run.  Click here if you are interested in seeing the difference between a website builder and CMS.

Most Popular Content Management Systems

Which CMS is most popular can be looked at in terms of how many sights are currently running different platforms.  But that wouldn’t tell the whole story, because there are some new players out there starting to eat up more market share.  Here’s a look at the current landscape of websites on the web.

CMSMarket ShareActive SitesUSA Active Sites

Data Source: Builtwith.com, W3techs.com

You don’t have to look at these numbers too long to see that WordPress dominates the CMS game for sites currently on the internet.  And no question WordPress is still the most popular system being used to date.  But its competitors are making gains as the following data set shows.

CMS Comparison
Data Source: Google Trends

Again, no question WordPress remains the leader by a decent margin, but newcomers like Squarespace and Shopify are starting to make a dent in the traditional CMS market.  They undoubtedly look to be taking over from some of the older platforms like Joomla and Drupal.

Comparing The Most Popular Content Management Systems

Those mentioned above do not represent anywhere the total number of content management systems in the market.  They are however the most popular, and this often leads to more functional capabilities for someone with no technical knowledge.  Let’s take a brief look at these systems to see what types of projects they work best for.

WordPress – By far the most popular CMS system out there today, and for good reason, it’s extremely easy to use.  WordPress is universally considered the easiest of the four most popular CMS systems.  Like with the app store on a smartphone, WordPress has a robust network of developers creating plug-ins.  Anything from E-commerce, forms, e-mail marketing, custom design, and much more are there to build out functionality.

Because of this large community of plug-in developers, there are more options to build on functionality.  And because of WordPress’s simplicity in general, you are less likely to incur additional development costs.

That said, many will tell you that WordPress is best used when you have a relatively simple site design.  It also thrives in a world where content creation is the main goal of the site.  Because so much attention has been given to content creation, it’s not surprising to see it’s popularity.

Joomla – When it comes to complexity, Joomla sits in between WordPress and Drupal.  It also has a large number of plug-ins which help to build out functionality.

Joomla is the second largest of the content management systems when you look at market share.  But it is very telling to look at the current Google Trends, which show Joomla as the least searched for CMS.  That leads one to believe their market share may continue to go down in the future.  And because there is less demand for Joomla, that can lead to few developers in the market to do any custom development you may need.

Drupal – Typically considered the most technically complex of these popular CMS’s, but also that with the most capability.  In other words, if you have more resources, and need to more flexibility with functionality, you should consider Drupal.

Typically you will find people and organizations with a bigger budget to pay for  development resources using Drupal.

Squarespace – Squarespace is different than the first three systems because it is not an open source platform.  Some would call this a website builder, and in today’s world the lines between pure website builder and CMS are actually getting blurred.

What’s nice about these closed platforms is they can sometimes be much easier to get started.  You don’t have to deal with getting a separate hosting company since it’s all handled by Squarespace.  At the same time Squarespace offers access to a large number of templates and other options to make a great looking site.

Content Management Systems for E-Commerce

Shopify – While Shopify is indeed a CMS, it is different than the previous three because it focuses on E-commerce.  And when it comes to that specific capability, it is the most popular hosted platform out there today.  Like Squarespace, you don’t need to find your own web host because Spotify handles it all.

Shopify has a large collection of templates to choose from, and is generally considered easy to use without much technical knowledge.

Magento – Magento is also a CMS centered around E-commerce, but unlike Shopify, it is an open source piece of software.  Again, this means it is free to download, but you will need to pay separately for hosting.

Because of it being open source, there is a huge catalog of add-ons that can be accessed to enhance functionality.  But be aware that Magento, while a fantastic product, also requires more technical skill, and may require some development work.  If you have a decent budget to work with, this could be the right solution for you.




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