How to Choose a CMS (Content Management System)

Figuring out how to choose a CMS doesn’t have to be complicated. To lighten the load and get you heading in the right direction, this post discusses the most used CMS platforms and what to look for when picking one.

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Once upon a time, creating and managing websites required writing lines and lines of code, leaving all the power in the hands of web developers. But thanks to Content Management Systems (CMSs), those days are long gone! These ingenious platforms have transformed web design, development, and management, making it possible for anyone to edit and customize their way to a beautiful and functional website without technical know-how.

But with so many CMS options available, settling on one can feel overwhelming. From user-friendly interfaces and customizable templates to performance-boosting plugins and all manner of features, trying to choose between the offerings that every CMS boasts of can leave you feeling like a deer caught in headlights. That is why this post is dedicated to helping you gain some clarity on the matter.

We will be discussing what a CMS is and the value it offers to equip you with the knowledge you need to pick the best Content Management System for your specific needs. So, whether you are a blogger looking for a simple platform or a business owner seeking advanced functionalities, keep reading to ensure you get the crucial CMS decision right.

Table of Contents (Click to Expand/Hide)

What Is A CMS?

A person pointing at a CMS illustration on a whiteboard

A Content Management System is a software application that helps users manage the content of their website without the need for specialized technical knowledge. But more than eliminating the need for complex coding, CMS platforms are intended to streamline back-end and front-end processes of content management. They provide a visual interface with integrated tools and functionalities for:



  • Website Creation: A standard feature of CMS platforms is an array of customizable themes, templates, and design options. These enable you to create stunning and engaging websites with a tailored look and feel that matches your aesthetic preferences and unique brand identity.


  • Content Creation: CMSs feature intuitive editors that enable you to easily create, edit, format, and store text, images, videos, and other multimedia assets.


  • Content Organization: CMSs also allow for the organization of created content into categories, tags, and hierarchical structures for easy navigation and management. Many CMSs also enable you to optimize stored content for various devices and screen sizes (mobile phone, desktop computer, laptop, & tablet) to ensure a visually appealing look and responsive user experience when the content goes live.


  • Content Publishing: With just a few clicks on a CMS interface, you can display content on the front-end of your website, making it instantly accessible to users. Many CMSs even offer workflow automation features, such as content scheduling, where one can automate blogs or product listings to go live at slated dates and times.


  • User Management: Another functionality of CMSs is that they present website owners with the option of assigning roles and permissions to different users, controlling who can access, modify, add, and publish content.

Does Every Website Need a CMS?

Overall, Content Management Systems play a crucial role in simplifying the process of website management and content creation, empowering individuals and organizations to establish and maintain an effective online presence. However, they are not always necessary in every situation. For instance, websites with static content that rarely changes, like personal portfolios or brochure sites, do not necessarily need a CMS.

For the most part, a CMS will be beneficial:

  • If a website requires regular updates and additions to its content, such as blog posts, news articles, or product listings
  • For websites with multiple contributors or a team of editors who require a centralized platform for collaboration, content management, and version control
  • For individuals/organizations with limited technical expertise in manually managing and uploading website content
  • For websites that require dynamic or interactive content like forums or e-commerce functionality


Wherever you land in these categories, a good CMS would be a great tool to have by your side. Next up, we get into what makes up a decent CMS.

5 Key Qualities to Look for in a CMS

A person drawing a CMS flowchart

Figuring out how to choose a CMS doesn't have to be complicated. The right place to start is defining what you want from the software.

To ensure you select the right fit, you want to find one that aligns with your website's requirements. So, before diving into the sea of options, take the time to identify your requirements and goals for your websites.

What type of content will you be publishing? Are there any specific features or functionalities you need? What is your budget? Knowing what you need will narrow down your options, allowing you to focus on platforms that align with your priorities.

It also helps to know the best content management system features to look for. With that in mind, here is a list of the vital qualities that make up a good CMS.

1 An Intuitive User Interface

A user-friendly interface is paramount in a CMS. After all, the whole purpose of these platforms is to empower technically challenged individuals to accomplish website changes and updates quickly and effortlessly. Ideally, a CMS with a clean and intuitive what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) kind of editor is the way to go.

But remember that some CMSs require a little more advanced skills to operate successfully than others. So, make sure your pick falls within your technical wheelhouse.

2 Flexibility in Customization

While there are millions of websites globally, each one is unique in its own way. So, go for a CMS that empowers you to create your desired signature look and functionality.

Evaluate the availability and nature of themes, templates, and plugins/extensions that any CMS offers. Some offer loads of design options with great ease and flexibility in customizing, while others stick you with fixed styles without much leeway in modification.

3 Scalability

It is inevitable for a website to grow and require new features or functionalities down the line. So, going for a CMS that can adapt and expand with your needs is a no-brainer. A platform with a wide range of plugins and extensions will be great at extending the capabilities of your website when the time comes.

4 An Open-Source Platform

Compared to proprietary (registered as the legal property of its creator) CMS options, open-source platforms come free to use. Open-source CMSs have their code open to the public, which means users, third-party developers, and contributors can create features, themes, and plugins and integrate them into the original software.

The great thing about open-source CMS platforms is that they remain in a continuous state of improvement. As a result, they allow you to keep up with changing technologies and trends, keeping your website at its best.

Another advantage is that they come with a large support community and plenty of forums and guides for troubleshooting some of the common pitfalls of CMSs.

5 SEO and Security Features

A good CMS can do more than help you keep your website active with minimal effort. The best content management system platforms come with SEO features such as image optimization and the caching or compressing of content to increase load speeds for your website.

Depending on your chosen platform, the list of features may further include custom page URLs, analytics tools, mobile optimization, SEO plugins, and more. These are essential features to consider when searching for the best CMS for your website.

Additionally, prioritize CMS platforms with robust security features, such as user authentication, access controls, data encryption, and protection against common security vulnerabilities, to safeguard your website and data from potential threats.

Content Management Systems Word Cloud

Figuring out what you want from a CMS and knowing what features to look for helps to simplify the evaluation process. However, it still leaves you with heaps of options to sift through. So, to lighten the load and get you heading in the right direction, we'll look into the most used CMS platforms in the next section.

These curated platforms have their unique strengths that have earned them favor among the online community. They also cater to different needs and preferences. The chances are you might find your match among them.

WordPress

Naturally, this list begins with WordPress, and with good reason. It powers about 42% of all websites on the internet, making it the most used CMS globally. This free, open-source Content Management System focuses on making short work of creating, managing, and updating your website.

In addition to offering one of the most extensive collections of themes and plugins, many website owners consider WordPress the most user-friendly, flexible, and efficient CMS in the market. If you are a blogger or are launching your first website, you cannot go wrong with WordPress.

Another reason behind the dominance of WordPress is that it works for any type of website, be it a blog, e-commerce store, enterprise platform, or educational portal. It's optimized for performance and scalability, ensuring it works as effectively for large enterprise sites as it would for small blogs.

Joomla

Like WordPress, Joomla is a flexible, versatile, and open-source CMS catering to websites of all kinds and sizes. However, Joomla has a steeper learning curve compared to the more beginner-friendly WordPress. While it does feature a user-friendly interface, the CMS requires a little more technical understanding to unlock its full potential.

On the performance front, Joomla comes with a decent amount of customizable templates, built-in SEO tools, and security features, making it an ideal choice for those looking for a powerful and scalable CMS.

Joomla's strength, however, lies in its extensibility. It boasts a vast library of extensions that enables users to add just about any functionality that suits their needs. As with WordPress plugins, some Joomla extensions are free, while others may be premium and require purchase.

Drupal

With a client base of giant businesses and entities like Nokia and Tesla, Drupal is better suited for complex, ambitious, or large-scale websites with multiple domains or demanding performance requirements. Also an open-source CMS, it comes backed up with an impressive array of inherent and third-party features ranging from extensive customization options through modules and themes to multilingual support to analytics, marketing, & e-commerce tools.

Drupal shines as the best CMS for SEO, with offerings like Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), database optimization, and auditing capabilities making up some of the software's defining qualities. But while Drupal is great for creating highly customized and powerful websites, its features tend to fall on the advanced spectrum. So, that means it requires someone with technical expertise to operate it.

Magento

An open-source e-commerce powerhouse, Magento is the CMS of choice for thousands of websites. Unlike other CMSs that give you access to e-commerce capabilities through plugins, Magento is built specifically for online stores.

It offers a comprehensive suite of inventory management, order processing, marketing campaigns, and customer management features. The CMS is also highly customizable (through themes, extensions, & APIs) and scalable, making it suitable for businesses of all sizes.

Conclusion

From website design and customization to content creation and management to performance optimization and analytics, a lot goes into managing an online site successfully. A Content Management System can make handling many of those tasks a breeze.

However, it's not just about finding a platform but rather a partner in your online endeavors. The ideal CMS will not only make it easy to manage your website but also boost its performance, enhance end-user experience, and, best of all, prove invaluable for the growth of your site.

The key to finding an ideal match lies in identifying your specific requirements, carefully evaluating the available options, and choosing a CMS that aligns with the goals and vision you have for your website. Open-source platforms are free, while other CMS options offer ways to explore their functionalities through free trials, freemium plans, demo sites, and sandbox environments. So, to ensure you end up with the perfect match, test out a few CMS options that appeal to you before making your final decision.

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About The Author ~ Enid K.

Enid is a Web Hosting Expert and HubSpot certified SEO copywriter. She shares her knowledge and insights through blog posts and tutorials, helping readers navigate the complexities of web hosting and website creation. When she's not writing, Enid loves to cook and experiment with new recipes.

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