It is common to refer to WordPress as a CMS, or Content Management System. But what does this term actually mean? And why are CMS so useful? Let’s find out!
In this post, we’ll explain what a CMS is, look at some examples of different Content Management Systems, and answer why they are so useful.
Then, we’ll look at the different parts of a typical CMS, including the dashboard, content editor, plugins, and other features.
Finally, we’ll help you decide which particular CMS is best for your particular project.
Ready to begin?
What Is a CMS?
CMS stands for Content Management System. A software system that lets you publish and manage your content. Pretty simple!
While you might not be familiar with the term CMS, you’ve almost certainly heard of a CMS or two. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and Magento are the most popular CMS.
A CMS lets you create websites and manage your content easily. Instead of having to edit and upload HTML, CSS, and JS files yourself, you can use a CMS to have it all managed for you. For example, with WordPress you can easily create a website in less than 60 minutes.
All you need to do is create your content and publish!
As you can imagine, this is extremely useful, as it dramatically cuts down the amount of time required to set up and manage your website. You can start a blog and focus on writing your content, not managing the technical details.
It also allows non-technical people to work on your website. Prior to the invention of the CMS, it was very time consuming to create a website and publish content on it.
Types of CMS
There are a few different kinds of Content Management Systems. In general, they are differentiated by what type of website they are designed to build.
- Multipurpose: WordPress is perhaps the classic example of a multipurpose CMS. It can be used for just about anything, including eCommerce (via WooCommerce), blogging, forums, news magazines, and more.
- Blogging: Some CMS are better for blogging. WordPress, for example, started with a focus on bloggers, although it now can be considered multipurpose. Joomla is another strong contender for a blogging-focused CMS. Shopify, on the other hand, has somewhat limited blogging capabilities.
- eCommerce: These CMS are designed for running an online business. Shopify and Magento are prominent examples. However, Drupal and WordPress also make it easy to make eCommerce sites.
Best Content Management Systems
We’ve listed a few of the dozens of Content Management Systems out there that stand out for their functionality, performance and features.
We have a list of top content management systems that millions of people use to build their websites. They include WordPress, Shopify, Joomla, Drupal, Magneto, Blogger, WordPress.com, Wix, Squarespace, BigCommerce, Weebly, and Ghost.
Let’s take a quick look at each of them!
WordPress is the single most popular CMS — and for good reason! It is extremely flexible and can be modified to create just about anything.
With over 50,000 plugins and 10,000 themes, it’s also easy to add functionality in a few clicks. As of May 2021, WordPress is used by 41.4% of the top 10 million websites!
WordPress includes all the basic features like pages, posts, comments, plugins, themes, users, and everything else that a CMS should include. You can create your entire site without writing any code, but, if you’re a programmer, making modifications is easy.
WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform, which means it has a strong content focus. However, other plugins like WooCommerce or bbPress make it easy to create an online store or web forum.
With tons of available resources, learning WordPress is easier than you think.
While Shopify is not typically considered a CMS, it has all of the features of one and tends to be included in lists of “Top CMS”, so we will include it.
After WordPress, Shopify is the second most popular CMS on the market. As of May 2021, it powers around 1,700,000 businesses in approximately 175 countries.
As the name suggests, Shopify is designed for creating online shops and other eCommerce businesses.
It has extensive features for launching your business, keeping track of your inventory, selling products on social media and in marketplaces, and performing other business management tasks.
However, Shopify does not have a large variety of plugins or themes and its blogging capabilities are quite limited. Shopify is thus designed almost exclusively for eCommerce users.
Though it has a few limitations, Wix has made its name in content management systems (CMS). The platform can be beginner-friendly and is worth consideration for anyone who wants to build a website without having to do much work.
It has a drag and drop interface making it simple for you to create pages and posts just the way you want. The other advantage is the number of pre-made templates available to you to choose from. All these templates are fully responsive and function well on all devices.
Wix offers an app to your site from the Wix App Market.
You need to be careful when selecting a template because you can’t change it to a different one which means you’ll be stuck with a layout.
Wix is useful for simple websites or for those who value ease of setup over customization.
Wix is free and comes with Wix-branded domains and ads running on your website. The paid plans offer a little more flexibility and are available from $13 per month.
Squarespace is another popular CMS platform that started around the same time as WordPress. It isn’t open source, meaning you can’t download software and install it on your server. It is instead a cloud-based website builder, blogging platform and hosting service.
You simply need to sign up for a subscription, and the platform makes it easy to build a website from scratch. It is handy if you don’t have web development experience and is also a favorable choice if you want your site up and running in a short time.
Like WordPress, Squarespace allows you to install different themes and build a responsive website using text, images, and videos.
It offers a business-ready package to help you decide on your domain, unlimited bandwidth, storage, SSL security and Google AdWords credit.
Squarespace is a beginner-friendly CMS platform with an intuitive design and many themes.
The disadvantage is that it has no free plans and is available starting from $12 per month.
Most CMS platforms offer eCommerce capabilities, but BigCommerce allows you to build and modify your online store with full-featured eCommerce solutions. It is specifically designed to make CMS simple and offer you a wide range of control over your store.
BigCommerce makes it super easy to start your online store and manage your product. It is simple to add, revise, and categorize your products, whether i’ s a complex category or only a few products on the site. We suggest BigCommerce, WordPress and Shopify as the best three platforms to build an eCommerce store.
It offers flexible order processing and inventory management, including centralized inventory, where you can manage sales across all the channels on the site. The platform also integrates with payment platforms like PayPal, Stripe, Visa and Mastercards.
BigCommerce comes with built-in SEO tools to make your content rank well on search engines.
The platform is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an eCommerce platform and want to try something different to WooCommerce.
After WordPress and Shopify, Joomla! is the third most popular CMS on the market today. It comes with many built-in features (like multilingual support, for example) and also works with thousands of extensions.
The Joomla community is quite large and very helpful, so you can be sure that you’ll get help with any issue you may have.
While there are more features built-in, the dashboard can be a little confusing and does have quite a learning curve.
Adding extensions is also more difficult than WordPress, and the number of available extensions is far less.
Drupal powers about 13% of the top 10,000 websites, making it a popular choice.
It’s known specifically for its strong security features, and as such is used by many governmental entities and nonprofit organizations. This includes the Government of the State of Colorado, the Rainforest Alliance, Greenpeace, Redhat, and The Economist.
Drupal has a rich feature set, including multilingual support, marketing automation, personalization, and a unique ability to have the front and back ends of your site be separated, so you can scale content across different platforms.
While powerful, Drupal does have a learning curve and is generally not intended for use by individual bloggers or small businesses.
Last, but certainly not least, is Magento. Originally launched in 2008, Magento is designed with eCommerce in mind. It was acquired by Adobe in 2018 and as of 2019, it had roughly 30% of the online eCommerce ecosystem according to Toptal .
Magento is a complex but powerful CMS that is endlessly customizable. It has an extensive list of features, including a page builder, product recommendations, live search, customer segmentation, merchandising, and more.
On the whole, it is designed for more technical users that need extremely complex customizations for their eCommerce businesses. As such, it is likely too complicated for those new to web development or eCommerce.
Blogger is a relatively old CMS launched in 1999. The platform mainly supports blogs rather than other types of websites.
Websites built on Blogger have ‘blogspot.com’ in the domain. But it is possible to use your domain too by paying a premium.
The platform is simple and easy to get started with. You can set up your blog in minutes and design and develop it for writing and publishing posts.
It offers free elements to add to your blog easily and includes contact forms and ads.
Here, your site will be hosted by Google, so you don’t have to install, update, or pay for any hosting. It offers a generous amount of space and no limit on the number of posts you publish.
You can quickly build up to 20 static pages, and all your images will be stored in Google Drive with a 15GB limit.
Blogger is ideal for anyone who wants a simple platform to experiment or write blog posts. It isn’t really suitable for anything else though.
Blogger is completely free, except for if you decide to buy a custom domain name.
Despite the name, WordPress.com and WordPress.org are not the same.
WordPress.com is a hosted platform that allows you to begin your blog or website. It requires no setup and no maintenance and is simple to start with.
The platform was launched in 2002 and has become a significant part of the internet. It is based on PHP and MySQL, providing you with tools to design and develop a feature-packed website.
WordPress.com has the functionality to install pre-made and third-party themes to personalize your website accordingly.
The platform is an excellent choice if you’re looking to start a personal blog, experiment with a niche or want to create something with minimal effort.
It offers free membership tools to help you publish. It has a default domain ‘wordpress.com’ with the name you select for your website but you can pay for a premium domain if you like.
WordPress is a fully hosted platform with a simple user dashboard and navigation. It is fully responsive, out of the box, and SEO friendly. It also has premium plans.
WordPress.com offers all kinds of websites along with eCommerce. The paid subscription costs between $4 and $45 per month and provides the installation of plugins to add more features.
We suggest using WordPress.com if you’re experimenting or just starting out. It’s not ideal for more experienced users or those who want more control over their website.
Weebly is similar to WordPress and is a name you’re probably familiar with. The CMS is simple to use and lets you set up a simple website in hours.
It uses a drag and drop interface, making adding features and media to your website easy. You can similarly remove any element too.
The best thing about Weebly is its wide range of plans and pricing. It offers unlimited storage, a custom domain name and Google Ads credit.
You can get started with Weebly at $5 per month.
The one disadvantage of Weebly is that it has a limited editor interface or customisation features. With the selected demo and templates, there are very few changes that you can make from your end.
Weebly stands out in terms of the plan, website building and ease of use.
Ghost is a Content Management System designed for bloggers to build a responsive website. The platform is usually referred to as a ‘headless CMS.’ The meaning means that the platform doesn’t force you to deliver content in a specific way.
The content you create can be either shown on a website or sent to a mobile app or something else differently.
It is a good choice for bloggers to present their content uniquely. Ghost is beginner friendly. You don’t have to be an experienced developer to get started.
Ghost uses the markdown editor to format text and add special characters. It is somewhat similar to WordPress’s blocks. It also offers built-in SEO, so you don’t need plugins to deliver it. It provides a layout, themes, and appearances suitable to get started with your blog website.
When it comes to flexibility, Ghost lags far behind compared to CMS platforms like WordPress. Despite that, it’s a solid, reliable option.
Ghost is a free platform, but if you prefer extra features like a good domain name and versatile options, it offers a premium subscription from $36 per month.
What Problems Does a CMS Solve?
Now that we’ve looked at a few examples of CMS, let’s examine the idea itself.
Why exactly should you use a CMS? What makes it better than just creating your own website with HTML, CSS, or PHP?
Probably the single biggest advantage of using a CMS is that it requires zero programming knowledge. You can build a website and create content without writing a single line of code.
This makes it easier for non-technical people to start websites, generate content, and create online businesses.
When you use a CMS, you don’t need to create a website from scratch, using HTML, PHP, JS, or similar. Depending on the complexity of your site, this can be a difficult and time consuming process. WordPress, for example, comes with dozens of different file types.
You can just install the CMS and you’re ready to go. Everything is set up ahead of time and you don’t need to worry about reinventing the wheel for things like blogging or accepting payments.
Most CMS are designed to stay out of your way and let you focus on publishing your content. You don’t need to worry about maintaining your site, coding extra features, or modifying complex files to make minor changes.
For the most part, you just need to keep your themes and plugins up to date, which is a straightforward and simple process.
If you run a popular news site, blog, or magazine, you know how important planning ahead is. Trying to do everything at the last minute is a recipe for failure!
Thankfully, with a CMS, you can prepare and schedule all of your content. Want to publish a post automatically every Monday? Not a problem. You can easily set custom timelines for all of your posts and other content, especially with autoresponders.
Collaboration With Other Users
CMS are popular among businesses and large organizations for many reasons, but perhaps above all because of the collaboration features.
They let you create an unlimited number of user accounts, which is essential if you want to have multiple team members log into your site and add content or make modifications. Without this, you’d be unable to have more than one person editing a file on your site at a time.
In addition, you can create different user types, each with their own levels of access.
For example, you can give certain team members the ability to edit posts but not delete them, or allow guest writers to work only on a specific post.
Plugins and Themes to Add Extra Designs or Functionality
One of the strongest advantages to using a CMS is not the software itself, but its ecosystem of plugins and themes. These are listed in the WordPress Repository.
These extensions can add a significant amount of functionality to your site and include nearly anything you can imagine. This includes pop-up forms, discussion forums, email newsletters, and other tools.
For example, you can use the Astra Widget plugin to add widgets to your site’s header, footer, and other locations.
In WordPress alone, there are over 50,000 plugins and 10,000 themes, including Astra, the most popular theme.
In Magento, there are thousands of different plugins. Other Content Management Systems like Joomla and Drupal have similar amounts of plugins, although WordPress has the most by far.
The internet is global, which means that your website should be available in multiple languages. Luckily, a CMS makes this an easy task.
Most CMS have multilingual support, either built-in or with add-ons. WordPress, for example, has a number of translation plugins that can translate your site into hundreds of languages. These include Polylang, WPML, and many others.
Finally, a CMS can help you optimize your content to get better search engine optimization, SEO. By using a WordPress SEO plugin, you easily add things like keywords or meta descriptions to all of your pages and posts.
While you can add these yourself manually, it takes significantly longer. With a CMS like WordPress or Magento, it’s effortless.
You just need to install a SEO plugin, make some minor configuration changes, and then add your data to your posts. Setting up SEO with WordPress is very simple.
How does a CMS work? Let’s examine the different parts to see what you can do with it.
While each CMS is slightly different, they mostly tend to have the same overall structure. Each includes the following aspects:
- Dashboard / Interface
- Content editor
- Front-end design editor
- Plugins and extensions
- User accounts
Every CMS has a dashboard. This is where you can manage everything from your content, plugins, themes, and other aspects of your site.
In WordPress, for example, you can access the dashboard by going to YourSite.com/wp-admin. This is the WordPress dashboard, where virtually everything is accessible.
Here, you can manage your posts, pages, plugins, themes, and every other part of your website.
This is where you edit your content directly. Most CMSs have the same basic features, which include:
- Modifying the text font, size, and color
- Aligning text (left, right, center, justify)
- Adding bold, italics, underline to text
- Adding links
- Uploading images
- Putting text in blockquotes
In WordPress, you have two options for editing your content. Historically, everything was in a simple text editor window. Other CMS programs operated the same way.
You can still edit your posts this way using the Classic Editor plugin.
In 2018, WordPress launched Gutenberg, a drag-and-drop page builder system.
Gutenberg is now the default, and preferred way, of creating pages and posts in WordPress. In Gutenberg, you can create pages by adding “blocks” of different types. These include things like paragraphs, featured products, headings, and more.
Themes are like “skins” that lay on top of the structure of your site. They keep the content the same, but change how that content is displayed.
Themes are very useful, as they make it easy to modify the appearance of your site without having to recreate everything from scratch. You can change the theme in a single click.
Prior to the invention of WordPress and Joomla in the early 2000s, you had to directly change the HTML and CSS code if you wanted to make any design changes to your site. This, as you can imagine, was hugely inefficient and took a long time to even make basic changes.
Luckily, CMS makes changing your theme a matter of minutes, not days or weeks!
Many themes also come with templates, which help you set up a website with a premade style and layout.
Astra has over 150 templates, for example.These are designed for yoga studios, bloggers, small businesses, and dozens of other types of websites.
Most CMS have a visual design editor that lets you modify and fine-tune your theme, mentioned above.
In WordPress, you can do this in the Customizer:
Here, you can change nearly every aspect of your website and immediately see how it looks. This allows you to quickly experiment with different colors, fonts, header images, and other elements of your site’s design.
You can also activate other themes to preview what your site would look like with them.
Virtually every CMS has a plugin system that allows you to selectively add new functionality to your site. WordPress has plugins, Magento has extensions, and Shopify has apps. These extensions cover everything from email marketing to forums and bulletin boards.
ConvertPro, for example, is a popular plugin that helps you collect email addresses and perform other conversions on your site. Adding it to your WordPress site takes only a few minutes and adds powerful marketing and outreach tools.
Finally, every CMS has a user account system. This allows you to have different accounts for individual members of your organization, instead of requiring everyone to access the site via a single account (as is the case with a standard website.)
Most CMS also let you have varying levels of access or authority. In WordPress, these are called User Roles. For example, User, Editor, or Administrator.
By default, there are six predefined roles in WordPress: Super Admin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor and Subscriber.
For each role, there is a set of allowed tasks, which are called Capabilities. These are completely customizable and you can add or remove your own user roles.
By having different user roles, you can give a variety of people access to your site without worrying if they’ll delete or modify something important.
For example, you can add Editors, which have the ability to edit posts but not delete them. If you run a magazine or news site, this is a very useful feature.
What Is the Best CMS to Use?
For nearly any situation, WordPress is the best CMS to use. It is free, flexible, comes with a powerful set of features, and can be extended and modified with over 50,000 plugins and 10,000 multipurpose or specific purpose themes.
You can add everything you need, or easily modify it to match your needs. This is why WordPress is by far the most popular CMS, with over 60% of the market.
The types of sites you can build with WordPress include (but are not limited to):
- Magazines and newspapers
- Directories and classifieds
- Financial companies
- Videography and photography portfolios
- Yoga studios
- Event listings
- Conference and concert planning
- Landing pages
- Internal company websites
- Consulting firms
With Astra, the most popular WordPress theme, you can use one of 150 templates to create your perfect website. These templates are designed for every type of website you can imagine, including freelancers, yoga studios, and more.
However, there are a few instances where you may want to consider a different CMS:
Which CMS Platform Is Best for eCommerce?
If you want an eCommerce-specific feature and don’t plan on blogging, Shopify is a great choice.
Just be aware that its blogging and content creation tools are quite limited in comparison to WordPress. You’ll also usually have to pay a monthly fee for each individual plugin.
Which CMS Platform Is Best To Build a Small Business Website?
Squarespace offers many themes and templates available to help you create a beautiful website without the need for coding. If you intend to provide an online presence for your small business on your own, Squarespace is a good choice.
Which CMS Platform Is Best for Client Websites?
WordPress is the best choice for building websites for your clients. It is a flexible and popular CMS that offers a wide range of themes and plugins to help you make an attractive and unique website. You also control and manage all the data, which is equally important.
Which CMS Platform Is Best for Blogging?
The answer again is WordPress. It is the most popular out of all CMS, especially when it comes to building a blog website. WordPress powers 43% of the website worldwide and has many themes and plugins. On top of that, it is a free, open-source platform.
A Guide to the Content Management System (CMS)
In this post, we learned what a CMS is, how they work, and why they’re so powerful. We also examined the five most popular CMS in the world today, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Overall, we recommend using WordPress, as it is the easiest and most flexible option available. The combination of flexibility, ease of use, and content focus makes it a strong choice for creating virtually any type of website. If your business grows or changes focus, it’s also easy to modify and expand a WordPress site.
If you’ve used a CMS other than WordPress, what was your experience like? What did you like or not like? Let us know in the comments!