A Guide to Website Content Management Systems
The first web pages were maintained using complex scripts. Editing and creating sites were solely the domain of developers, because they were the only ones who knew how to fiddle with the backend. This effectively gatekept content creation and management to the tech-savvy few.
Then at the turn of the millennium, platforms like WordPress broke the gates wide open. The tools’ simplified interfaces enabled everyone to craft content on the web, proficient in code or not.
Today there exists a wide range of tools, growth arguably driven by the boom of eCommerce and the exponential growth of Internet users. Some 4.33 billion people–or over half of the world’s population–is now online. And most marketers are using some type of Content Management System (CMS) to put themselves in front of these users.
Types of Content Management Systems
The available options range from simple drag and drop website creators for individual business owners to enterprise-level tools that allow you to toggle permissions, assign roles, and share files from the cloud, often used by entire sales and marketing departments.
For business owners new to CMS, the amount of options may be overwhelming. The tool you need ultimately depends on your goals. To make the choice easier, we’ve narrowed down the most promising platforms by function.
If you’re looking for: Blogging platforms
Over the years blogs have morphed from personal spaces to crucial business tools. Marketers who use blogs are 13 times likelier to see positive ROI than those who don’t. Below are 3 popular options for businesses looking to start their own blogging strategy.
WordPress is probably the biggest platform you’ll find across the entire CMS space. The popularity brings many benefits, such as thousands of templates, themes, and plug-ins already built for the platform. WordPress is perfect if you’re looking for a system that allows for deep customisation.
The major downside is if you choose to self-host your blog, you’ll be responsible for maintenance, which involves updating the site and working through buggy plug-ins. These time-consuming tasks may be a dealbreaker for individuals looking for a more hands-off solution. There’s also the issue of security. WordPress is currently home to some 60 million blogs, which makes it an attractive target for cybercriminals.
The platform’s interface will take a bit more time to get used to than WordPress, but you still don’t need a background in IT to navigate your way through. The plug-ins and themes are kept in an organised, directory, which makes it easier to find what you need compared to WordPress, where you’re largely left to meander on your own. The admin panel is user-friendly, and lets you control publishing across multiple domains. It’s a powerful platform used by publishing sites like HuffingtonPost.
Moveable Type’s most stark difference from WordPress is cost. Where you can still run a fairly polished website without paying anything on WordPress, Moveable Type requires you to pay for a license or by the hour, as well as for dedicated support. The price tag may be off-putting for businesses on a budget.
Drupal offers many features that enterprise-users will find appealing, such as security and faster page load times. Users receive regular security fixes and reports, and Drupal’s security team doubles down hard on vulnerabilities. There’s even a dedicated Twitter page posting constant security-related news for users. The platform’s impressive clientele speaks for its reliability. It’s used by several governments, including the city of London, and institutions who deal with sensitive data like hospitals, research institutes–even NASA.
Drupal’s power comes with a price. The platform is usually the most technically demanding on any list. It is possible to learn to work the site without hiring a developer, just as anyone can learn programming. However, you would have to spend significant time or even spring for classes to get to a working knowledge of PHP and HTML, which is the bare minimum you’ll need to feel comfortable tweaking code on your own.
If you’re looking for: eCommerce-first solutions
Online retailers made a neat £96 billion in 2018. Forecasts predict the spend to only increase in the next couple of years. Yet for many shoppers, the online experience is still far from seamless. More than half abandon their carts because of poor UX and site errors. A sizeable chunk awaits savvy business owners who can offer better shopping sites online. Below are 2 of the most popular CMS platforms that can help get you there.
Magento is arguably the biggest open source platform for eCommerce. Users with enough background in PHP can alter the template codes to create custom features based on their needs; and there’s over 5,000 add-ons both paid and free to start with. This flexibility allows business owners to scale down or up fairly quickly without paying additional subscription costs. Plus, sellers on eBay will be pleased to find seamless integration with Magento, which was acquired by the online retail giant in 2011.
As with most open source tools, near limitless capabilities is as much a bane as it is a boon. Some users report slow page load times. Businesses with only a handful of products may want a simpler solution that gets their shop up and selling as soon as possible. Individuals with no background in coding may not be able to fully utilise the site’s powerful customisation tools without hiring a developer.
Shopify is a platform built primarily for creating eCommerce sites. Most of its features are geared for making online selling as easy as possible: a drag and drop visual editor, native support for online payments and selling on Facebook, automated calculation for EU VAT, a built-in module that allows you to manage catalogues easily instead of editing products page by page, and analytics.
Unlike Magento, the platform isn’t open source, which limits customisation options. Shopify only has around 100 apps, tiny compared to Magento’s thousands. Being proprietary also means users have to pay a subscription fee for use. Shopify’s most basic plan costs roughly £7 a month, while bigger businesses with more traffic will probably shell out £60 to £227 for higher tier options.
If you’re looking for: Website creators
A website is an integral tool for any business, even if you’re not selling your products online or looking to publish a blog. The path to purchase for many shoppers starts with an online search, even when they’re in brick and mortar stores. Below are 2 popular CMS options that are built around website creation to help you get started.
Squarespace features a beautiful drag and drop visual editor. Unlike most website creators, placement is predetermined per theme: you can only move elements into specific areas around the page. While some may find this limiting, it ensures that your site looks attractive and is already optimised for the user experience on a basic level. There are plenty of add-ons–called “blocks”–that allow you to customise content around your site with little to no coding required.
The platform doesn’t allow for tweaking pages with your own code. This limitation may be a problem for business owners who want to control all the elements of the site for branding or selling purposes. Another annoying quirk would be the limitations of the themes. You can pick the perfect design, only to find out that the blocks can’t be moved to where you need them to be.
Unlike Squarespace, Wix allows you to place content like text, videos, images, and forms anywhere you want on the site. But Wix is more than just Squarespace’s less rigid cousin. The platform offers a massive trove of design and function options for users. You can control shapes, the thickness of your fonts, embed your own code–your design sensibilities are the limit.
What gives many business owners pause on Wix are the tier plans. The free plan is nearly always a pass if you want a professional-looking site, because it means adding Wix ads to your pages. Combo, their cheapest plan at £6,limits your bandwidth to 2GB per month. The average web page in the UK is around 1.7 MB. This means that loading times will begin to crawl if you get more than 40 visitors per day, almost certainly a deal breaker if you’re running ad campaigns.
CMS platforms usually can be divided into two categories. On one hand, you get easy but less powerful. On the other, endless customisation, but too complex for the average user. Ultimately what you choose depends on the size of your business and your technical knowledge. Small businesses may be perfectly fine with simpler solutions, while bigger companies will want something that is expandable and offers more control.