Very few people today would dispute the importance of being on the web. So much of the interaction that structures our lives, be it social or commercial, takes place on the internet, and those who do not carefully curate an online presence are at risk of being left behind in the ongoing digital revolution. Yet websites can also be clunky, deeply technical affairs that feel like they require a team of experts to update and change. Thankfully, the modern website can be powered by software technology that automates the process of modifying a website’s content.
These software suites, known as CMS, allow us to build bespoke, complex, and interactive websites that our clients can then independently maintain, update, and change in line with their preferences. Yet there are so many different CMS offerings on the market that it can often seem daunting to select one particular option. In this article, we will concern ourselves fully with these platforms with the hope that we can provide you with the information necessary to choose which CMS is suitable for your online needs.
To do this, we will first define what a CMS is and further detail what the benefits of using CMS platforms are. Will we then list some of the most common CMS platforms, and make some suggestions as to how to best pick the best CMS for you. Finally, we will conclude with a discussion of the future of CMS and of some of the novel applications of the technology that we have integrated into our development process.
What is CMS?
A CMS, short for Content Management System, is a software platform that allows a website administrator to create, curate, and update a website without the need to manually modify that website’s source code. This means that CMS-powered websites can be modified through a software interface that makes the necessary adjustments to a website’s code whenever an administrator decides to change an element of a website.
In what appears above, we have included an example interface from our content management system of choice, WordPress. As you can see, CMS software collates the core functionalities central to web development into a complete software package, allowing a website administrator to do things as varied as creating new content, changing administrative permissions, and checking website metrics all in a single, user-friendly location. CMS software can therefore be used by anyone, with any level of web development experience. Novice web administrators can use the technology to create their very first website, while professional web developers routinely use CMS software to develop custom web solutions that give their clients the ability to update a site with ease.
Benefits of Content Management Systems
Content Management Systems have a host of proven benefits that make them an attractive proposition to any website owner:
- Usability: CMS platforms allow anyone to create modular and functional web pages on a website and further allow for the creation and modification of new content on that same site. CMS platforms allow web administrators to safely do this without any knowledge of programming languages or development best practices, and can thus prevent time-consuming outsourcing to a web developer.
- Content Modification: content management systems allow for rapid content uploads and modifications and therefore let administrators respond to business developments with speed and alacrity.
- Functionality: CMS platforms have a great deal of extendable functionality and can be updated and modified to suit a particular business’s needs.
When these three factors combine, they form a potent tool that can help any business thrive in the modern digital economy. A CMS-powered website can be tailored to suit a particular content strategy, and make the execution of that strategy substantially more streamlined, while simultaneously decreasing organizational friction. With CMS, anyone, even those without technical knowledge, can make basic updates to a website. This allows for significant optimization of the authoring process and removes the need to outsource simple content tasks to a web developer.
Optimizing the content creation process in this way allows a business owner to better control the consistency of a business’s web presence. This consistency goes a long way towards solidifying both brand presence and customer engagement. CMS platforms, therefore, are a powerful tool with proven benefits worthy of consideration.
Choosing a Content Management System: Some Considerations
CMS Platforms function as the architecture of the modern website. Having realized this, you may be wondering: how do I choose a CMS? There are a host of different content management systems on the market today, and each offers the prospective user different capabilities, at different price points. Before presenting some of the most popular CMS platforms in use today, we want to briefly discuss the factors that we think you should take into consideration when selecting a CMS: price, usability, flexibility, and maintenance and upkeep.
- Price: CMS platforms range from free-to-use options like WordPress to enterprise solutions like Contently which require a substantial financial investment. Price tends to increase with CMS capabilities and functionalities, so it is important that you consider exactly what it is you will need your CMS for before purchasing.
- Usability: Some CMS platforms are built with the complete novice in mind, while others, such as Joomla, are built to power complex sites, and therefore include tools that can best be utilized by a developer. CMS platforms with high usability generally require less (or zero) code, have more readable interfaces, and allow for visual ‘drag and drop’ website editing.
- Flexibility: While all CMS can handle their namesake, content, many have been expanded and specialized to better handle security, conduct e-commerce, or manage customer relations.
- Maintenance and upkeep: Every CMS differs in this regard, but the more complex versions can sometimes require upkeep and maintenance that can require the help of a developer.
Definitely the most popular CMS on the market, WordPress has offered a free and open-source content management solution for the past two decades. As it sits under the hood of more than 40% of websites on the internet, we have demonstrated experience building with WordPress and regularly recommend it to our clients.
- Price: Free
- Flexibility / Usability: WordPress is an open-source platform that is endlessly modifiable. Can be extended with ease, and its vast library of plug-ins allow it to power everything from blogs, membership portals, and auction sites. WordPress comes with an easily readable interface, and WordPress sites can be easily updated by people with little technical ‘know-how’.
- Security and Maintenance: WordPress can require regular security maintenance when used to power sites with certain types of sensitive data. Most serious updates can be done automatically.
Drupal is another open-source CMS, designed specifically with custom developer solutions and high-traffic websites in mind. Drupal also has a reputation for security, with a vibrant community and airtight coding standards.
- Price: Free
- Flexibility / Usability: Drupal is a flexible solution that can support a host of different types of content. Drupal can additionally be targeted at a specific market segment using onboard consumer analysis tools. Drupal is less usable than other free CMS options. As it is designed for customer developer solutions, its interface is less ‘user-friendly’ than others
- Security and Maintenance: Drupal is a highly secure CMS option that has its own community dedicated to continually stress-testing the platform. The updates this community produces, however, are not automatic, and site owners must remember to update their Drupal sites when necessary.
Joomla is a free, open-source CMS that has been around since 2005. Like Drupal, Joomla is tilted towards developers and comes with a huge set of options and extensions that allow for the creation of custom and bespoke websites.
- Price: Free
- Flexibility / Usability: Joomla is flexible, has a large library of plugins and add-ons, and has powerful backend software. These factors make for a CMS well suited for custom websites. Joomla is not particularly ‘beginner-friendly’. While novices can still use the interface to make simple changes, unlocking its full potential can often require the aid of a developer.
- Security and Maintenance: Joomla does ship with a built-in ‘auto-update’ feature, and site owners must regularly update Joomla sites in link with the recommendations of the Joomla security team.
Shopify is a CMS designed specifically for e-commerce and online webshops. It is extendable, comes with 24/7 live support, and can integrate both physical and online storefronts into a single system.
- Price: Pricing plans range from 29$/month to 299$/ month depending on which features you need on a monthly basis.
- Flexibility / Usability: Shopify is highly flexible and can be used to power a multitude of different e-commerce sites. Business owners can also buy third-party Shopify apps that can drastically extend the functionality of a site. Shopify is highly usable. It has a simple and readable drag and drop interface, and comes with around the clock customer support.
- Security and Maintenance: Shopify shops are automatically PCI compliant, and can immediately accept credit card payments. Shopify also manually backs up shops on its platforms and automatically pushes security updates to all stores.
WooCommerce is the most popular e-commerce CMS on the internet today. Technically a WordPress plugin, WooCommerce is a useable and flexible e-commerce solution that currently powers 5.8% of the world’s websites.
- Price: WooCommerce is free, but additional paid plugins and extensions may be required.
- Flexibility / Usability: WooCommerce is a flexible e-commerce CMS that comes with a host of themes and plugins that can be used to easily customize a site. WooCommerce is similarly usable and comes with an interface that anyone can use to seamlessly make changes to a website.
- Security and Maintenance: As it is technically a plugin, WooCommerce and WordPress share the same security environment. WooCommerce site owners must regularly update their site in line with best practices laid out by the WordPress security team.
Magento is a powerful e-commerce CMS developed by Adobe, specifically with large enterprises in mind. The platform is powerful and designed to seamlessly handle large volumes of data, products, and consumers.
- Price: Magento is expensive. Plans with hosting and full support start at 22,000$/year. Magento does have a free option, but this is substantially less powerful than the full business suite.
- Flexibility / Usability: Magento is highly flexible and has been designed specifically to allow for the creation of bespoke e-commerce solutions. Magento is less usable than some of the other e-commerce CMS we have discussed. It has a complex interface and set of tools and functionalities, and can often require a developer with specific experience working with Magneto.
- Security and Maintenance: Magento comes with a free security scan tool that can identify vulnerabilities on a Magento site. Updates, however, must be applied manually and this process can often be laborious.
Contentful is a headless CMS option designed specifically for enterprises. Based in the cloud, Contentful allows a business to seamlessly deliver optimized content to any channel.
- Price: Contentful can be quite expensive. The team version starts at 489$/month, and enterprise tier packages require an exact quote.
- Flexibility / Usability: Contentful is incredibly flexible, and as a headless CMS option, has been designed to enable businesses to reach users across multiple different platforms simultaneously. It is equally customizable and can be built from the ground up to suit a particular business needs. Contentful is not as user-friendly as other CMS options. Developing omnichannel solutions requires technical know-how and complex tools, and thus, beginners may struggle to maximize their gains from Contentful.
- Security and Maintenance: Contentful’s architecture is powered completely by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and is further strengthened by complex firewalls, DDoS protection, and more.
Hubspot is a CMS that has been designed to cater specifically to business owners and marketers. It is well suited for content strategies, customer analytics, and SEO optimization.
- Price: Beginner plans start from 25$/month and include customizable website themes, live chat functionality, and premium hosting.
Business plans start from 350$/month and include SEO optimization, dynamic personalization options, and link-building tools.
Professional plans start from 1,180$/month and include membership services, site performance monitoring, and multi-domain traffic reporting.
- Flexibility / Usability: Hubspot allows for flexible content management and consumer analytics. It is less well suited for e-commerce than other fully-integrated CMS but can be integrated into WordPress and WooCommerce if necessary. Hubspot is highly usable, and comes with a visual ‘drag and drop’ website editor that makes site building a breeze. Hubspot also has integrated SEO tools that make optimizing content equally simple.
- Security and Maintenance: Hubspot curates its third party content and checks it for security vulnerabilities while doing so. This means that Hubspot users have to spend less time worrying about security vulnerabilities and compatibility when using extensions to customize a site.
Webflow is a no-code CMS interface developed specifically for designers. Webflow’s intuitive editor allows for the creation of visually appealing and bespoke web solutions across various devices.
- Price: Introductory plans start at 15$/month; business options start at 45$/month.
- Flexibility / Usability: Webflow is flexible and can be used to power any type of site. Webflow additionally offers e-commerce plans that cater to the needs of higher traffic sites. Webflow is highly usable. It has a visual and intuitive interface, as well as an editor that can optimize content for SEO in real-time.
- Security and Maintenance: Also hosted on Amazon Web Services, Webflow makes its sites even more secure with free SSL certification, 24/7 hosting monitoring, and two-factor authentication systems.
Content Management Systems are an evolving set of technologies that we are happy to be at the forefront of. One of the most exciting developments within content management technology is the emergence of Headless CMS. Headless CMS differs from traditional CMS in substantial ways. In traditional CMS platforms, the entirety of a website’s content is stored in a content repository (“body”) that is then coupled to a presentation layer (the user interface, or in industry terms, the “head”). This coupling, achieved through code, forces content from the repository into a specific presentation format. While this form of CMS has largely powered the internet until now, it is hindered by the unique nature of any coupled CMS platform’s presentation layer.
To elaborate, coupled CMS platforms essentially collect every element of a website into a single bucket. This prevents other websites, apps, or devices from picking through that bucket and re-using specific content that has already been displayed on a website. While this situation is fine when operating a small website, larger enterprises often conduct campaigns across several different digital formats and locations and therefore require the capability to deliver content simultaneously through a host of different avenues. Headless CMS is a response to this. By severing the ‘head’ (the presentation layer) from the body (the content depository), Headless CMS platforms can function as a purely back-end content delivery system that can shuttle content towards multiple different technological formats at once.
This system, which delivers its content to multiple different end-users at once through an API, is both flexible and scalable, and can thus be adapted to evolving business requirements. It is also a system that has proven performance advantages when compared to its traditional headed counterparts. Simplifying the content delivery framework allows for faster load times, which in turn creates a better user experience and increased SEO value. Headless CMS platforms can also be mixed and matched with any traditional front-end framework, allowing you to combine and realize the benefits of both.
Choosing a CMS can seem a daunting task. It shouldn’t be. There is a CMS on the market to fill any niche, and choosing which CMS is right for you is as easy as deciding on what specifically your business will need from a Content Management System. In other words, there is a CMS for everyone. At Studio Vi, we are here to help you through this process. We can build confidently in any of the listed systems and have the proficiency necessary to recommend specific CMS platforms for custom solutions. The question is really: how will you use a CMS to expand your business?