What Is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A content management system (CMS) is a type of software which allows users to create, tweak, and publish content on their websites.

Content management systems provide an interface which you can use to make your own, self-hosted blog or website. In recent years, content management systems have become so simplified that anyone can use them without prior knowledge of coding, programming or web development.

The simple interface of WordPress, a popular CMS option

The user-friendly interface of content management systems has made it easy and popular for people to build their own websites. Individuals, businesses, eCommerce stores, magazines – in fact, every type of website – can be built using a CMS.

They also make the job of publishing pages online really simple, as any user can upload content directly from their PC to the internet!

What Does a Content Management System Do?

A content management system is structured to take care of all the dirty work for you, so you can build a website without fussing over the technical details.

Hiring a web developer to build you a website from scratch can be quite pricey. A CMS is a great cost-effective alternative, allowing you to create the website yourself.

But a CMS will take a lot of the load off your back. Rather than having to hire a developer to create a database and a system for your content, functions, and images, a CMS will do that for you, at a fraction of the price. A CMS has its own database and infrastructure that will allow you to upload and edit content with ease.

In fact, the user-friendly interface displays your content in an easy-to-manage presentation layer. Each CMS offers a set of templates that you can use to organize your website. Most content management systems come with thousands of different templates and plugins which you can choose from to adjust the look and functions of your website.

Another thing that a content management system does is it allows multiple users to work on the same web content. Which leads us to…

What is the Purpose of a Content Management System?

In addition to easily creating a website, the main purpose of a CMS is allowing multiple contributors to edit online content simultaneously. If you’re creating a website for a business, a social network, a forum, or an online magazine, for instance, you’ll probably have more people doing the work.

With a CMS, different users can edit and publish content from their computers. You’ll be able to see what others are doing, which avoids duplicates and makes delegating work very efficient. Plus, the admin can adjust the permission level of the various contributors to different parts of the website.

How Does a Content Management System Work?

Rather than writing a static HTML file, uploading it to your server, and tinkering with a bunch of other technicalities, the CMS provides a simple interface.

But to get a better picture of how it works, let’s look at WordPress, the most popular CMS which powers 34.8% of websites.

An example of the WordPress interface

As you can see, the bar on the left allows for easy navigation so you can edit the content, look, and function on your website. You can add and modify media, text, and plugins.

For instance, writing text is as simple as using any type of Word Document, be it Microsoft Word or GoogleDocs. You just select the “Pages” tab and click on “Text Editor” under “Basic Modules.”

You can copy a text to the box, or write it directly in the editor. As soon as your text is done and ready to be uploaded, click on “Publish Changes” and watch your text go online!

Uploading media is just as easy. Simply click on the “Media” tab, and drag and drop any file you like. Alternatively, you can click on the “Select Files” button and browse your media library to find the files you want to add.

As you can see from the image, you can also add plugins. Plugins adjust the functions of your website. You can use them for anything, like building an eCommerce store, adding an online chat room, boosting performance, or improving your SEO. Most content management systems offer thousands of free and premium plugins. The WordPress community alone offers over 54,000 free WordPress plugins.

Let’s Give you Some CMS Examples

Here are a few of our favorite content management systems and their perks:

WordPress

The WordPress homepage

WordPress is by far the most popular CMS option. Out of all websites on the internet, over 34% are powered by WordPress. Out of only CMS-built sites, over 60% were created using WordPress. Here are some of its top features:

  • It’s arguably the easiest CMS to use.
  • It has a user-friendly, intuitive interface. Great choice for beginners as well as pros!
  • A lot of editing options that will give you full control of your website and a sense of true ownership.
  • Thousands of free themes and plugins, which will allow you to easily customize your site.
  • Huge, helpful community! You’ll always be able to find an answer to any issues you may face from WordPress tutorials, blogs, and forums.

Drupal

The Drupal homepage

While WordPress holds the highest number of sites using it, Drupal has the highest share of high-traffic sites. Out of the top CMS options, Drupal is known to offer the best security against hacker threats. Here are some of its top features:

  • It offers excellent security for your blog or website.
  • Features versatility in terms of custom posts. Creating custom posts and management systems is very flexible!
  • Supports multilingual sites.
  • It provides an excellent taxonomy system and advanced user management and permission settings. This makes it a great choice for a website with multiple contributors.

Joomla

The Joomla homepage

Joomla isn’t as easy to use for beginners as WordPress, but does offer a greater deal of flexibility for certain types of websites. Particularly, managing custom posts – i.e., non-text content – is quite easy with Joomla. Like Drupal, it’s also a great choice for websites with multiple contributors. Here are our favorite features:

  • A lot of flexibility for custom post types
  • Offers multilingual support out of the box – you won’t need to add plugins to have multiple languages on your site.
  • Lots of versatility in terms of user management. Makes it a good choice for membership-based sites, like social media platforms.
  • You can use a variety of templates for different pages and content types.

Some other great CMS examples are Squarespace, Wix, TYPO3, Dotclear, and Serendipity.

What Can You Create Using a CMS Platform?

Originally, a lot of CMS platforms started off as blog-builders. Today, however, content management systems can be used to make any type of website, since they are highly customizable.

As CMSs offer a lot of flexibility in terms of content management, editing, and multiple contributors, they are used to build everything from blogs to eCommerce stores. Simple use of CMSs can lead to creating blogs, news and magazine sites, tutorial sites, entertainment sites, and so on. For instance, magazines such as Variety and Rolling Stone use WordPress. Some institutions, such as the White House or the City University of New York also use a CMS (WordPress again) to create and run their websites.

With a bit more work and some useful tools in your arsenal (read: plugins), you can also create more complex websites using a CMS. This includes eCommerce stores, forums, and social network-type platforms.

How do I Choose a CMS?

When choosing the best CMS for your website, here are a few important features you should look out for:

Highly Customizable Content

To give you a sense of ownership over your website, as well as allow you to achieve your vision, a CMS should offer great customizability. High customizability means a lot of themes, plugins, and flexible content editing features! In this way, you can easily control the look and functionality of the pages.

User-Friendliness

You want to make sure that your CMS is easy to use, especially if you’re not a web developer. Being able to quickly and easily publish new content will keep you motivated and happy with your site!

Flexible Management Options

You want to find a CMS that offers structured taxonomy, especially if your website has multiple contributors. This will help you divide up the work based on content!

Security

Security risks can be caused by unsafe passwords, shady plugins, and stubborn hackers. If you’re dealing with sensitive content, you want to make sure that your CMS provides excellent security.

Help & Support

No matter how computer-savvy you are, there’s a good chance that you’ll face an issue, or have a question about your CMS at some point. That’s why it’s important to pick a CMS with a strong, helpful community and lots of forums and tutorials.

How Can I Build a Website Using a Content Management System?

Building a website using a CMS is quite simple. There are a few steps you need to take before you can get to page building, editing, and publishing.

  1. Purchase web hosting and domain name. You can do this on a number of web hosting sites, including ours!
  2. Choose a CMS. Before building your website, carefully research the different CMS options to find the one that best suits your needs.
  3. Install the CMS to your web server. You can do this directly from the CMS’s website!
  4. Manage your pages. You’re now ready to choose the theme, look, and functionality of the pages on your website.

Start creating content! Finally, you can add and edit content such as text and media via the interface of your CMS.

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