What is a content management system?
A content management system (CMS) is a web-based application that allows non-technical users to manage online content from a web browser. This might include creating, editing, publishing, archiving and deleting content, files and data. Many CMS use a Graphical User Interface (GUI). This means that actions and functions will be represented by icons and visual cues versus command-line or code-based execution. Many of these systems will have content editors that are born from the Microsoft Word framework.
There are a variety of content management systems available, from free open-source systems to expensive enterprise and custom built systems. Choosing the right CMS starts with a clearly defined set of requirements and an evaluation of how each system can satisfy those requirements. For example, do you need a lot of customization or support? Do you need to be able to define multiple system roles and permission levels? Do you need an e-commerce system? Will you need to integrate your CMS with data from some other source? Will you need support for other languages?
If you need a high level of technical support and guidance, an open-source system might not be suitable to your needs. Most often with these systems, the only available support is provided by members of the user community via forums. As helpful as these users are, sometimes it can be time consuming to find the correct answers to your questions. Plus, the questions you post may not be answered right away. However, don’t always assume bigger is better; price doesn’t necessarily correlate to product performance and free isn’t always free.
Let’s look at a few
The CMS Matrix (cmsmatrix.org) lists more than 1,200 content management system products. This post will focus on four of the most popular open source systems.
WordPress is the most popular content management system with more than 74 million websites using it. WordPress makes SEO easy and the major search engines love WordPress websites, which have a clean structure and are easy to crawl. Additionally, there are plugins* such as the Yoast SEO plugin that can help improve your on-page SEO.
WordPress is updated often, which makes it a secure platform if you keep up with the updates. Most security issues occur as a result of poor site management and/or third-party plugins. To counter issues, there are security plugins available such as the All in One WordPress Security Plugin.
Since it’s the most popular platform, many developers have created plugins and themes* for this CMS. That being said, many of the plugins in the WordPress directory provide little actual functionality or have not been updated in years, making them no longer compatible with new versions of WordPress and more susceptible to security issues.
The setup of a WordPress site is easy and incredibly user friendly allowing anyone to set up a basic site or blog with little effort. WordPress has also become highly customizable by utilizing robust themes and combinations of plugins, making it suitable for larger sites with extensive functionality. However, the e-commerce plugins for WordPress are not as robust as other e-commerce-focused systems such as Magento, which will be discussed later in this post.
Originally designed as a blogging platform, WordPress can be made to do almost anything; however, if you intend to publish hundreds of posts per week, WordPress might not be the most effective choice for this high volume of content.
A nice feature: WordPress has an easy to use media manager that allows you to edit your photos without needing Photoshop or similar editing tools.
Of the top three CMS systems, Joomla is the least effective for SEO. While there are plenty of features for improving SEO, many need to be customized and require several extensions*.
Early versions of Joomla had infrequent releases and little incremental versioning. As such, new releases were often so different from the previous that site updates and upgrades were difficult. However, using older versions with older extensions made sites vulnerable. Joomla 3, the latest release, has had far more updates and is overall a secure CMS.
Joomla has advanced technology but is also user-friendly, making it suitable to both businesses and individuals. Designed originally as an enterprise CMS, Joomla can support a lot of content and customization and has a large library of free and commercial extensions, templates and plugins from a very active developer community. While it does have a larger learning curve than WordPress, it is a powerful CMS suitable to a wide variety of websites.
A nice feature: Joomla advanced sorting and filtering to find content in larger sites.
A major flaw: Joomla doesn’t offer a way to preview draft content in your theme, a major disadvantage in our opinion.
Released in early 2001, Drupal, like WordPress and Joomla, is an open-source CMS using PHP and MySQL. In terms of SEO, it is a middle-of-the-road solution. There are a number of SEO features but, like Joomla, require more customization to provide notable results.
Drupal features great core security. In fact, Drupal has a number of security measures that protect against spam and hacks that are far superior to other open source CMS. Drupal is also built better for managing user roles and permissions and handling of multiple languages than other systems.
Drupal is highly customizable and flexible. Currently, the CMS has about 17,000 free modules*. However, Drupal is built more for web developers. It is more complicated compared to Joomla and WordPress and requires at least some knowledge of coding. There are also fewer free themes, plugins and modules. Overall, Drupal is recommended for large projects where power is more important than ease of use.
A major flaw: in many cases, for any module you want to install, you often have to install other modules because of dependencies that you may not have been planning for.
While the above three systems can all accommodate e-commerce solutions, Magento was specifically built as an e-commerce system. Like the others, Magento is an open-source solution based on PHP. It supports an extensive product catalog but is also suitable for less intensive e-commerce needs.
Magento allows you to manage multiple stores from one installation and supports multiple languages and currencies. It is relatively user-friendly out of the box though product creation can be cumbersome, requiring a “simple product” be created for each variation of a configurable product.
This system, like other CMS solutions, offers extensive customization through themes* and extensions*. There is a large user community from which to find support and answers. However, the system itself is very complex, which can make it difficult to find qualified developers for customizations. Magento does offer an enterprise platform, but it is pricey to get into.
Magento’s complexity (utilizing over 20,000 files and 200 database tables) makes its use on shared hosting plans ill-advised. On a shared hosting plan, your Magento store will run slow and become frustrating for both users and admins.
Notable deficiency: The CMS pages are difficult to include in navigation and there is no core blogging system.
Other open-source, PHP-based e-commerce systems include: ZenCart, OpenCart, Abante Cart, osCommerce, PrestaShop and VirtueMart each of which is worth exploring as alternatives that might suit your specific needs.
Choosing a CMS can be overwhelming, but it’s an important part of the website planning process. Your decisions here and the needs of the end user will aid in determining which system is appropriate to support the business objectives and growth strategy of your online presence. If you have questions, we encourage you to get in touch; leave a comment below or drop us an email.
*Each solution has its own terminology but extensions, modules and plugins are roughly synonymous in the context of this post. Extensions, modules and plugins all extend features and functionality whereas themes affect a site’s appearance.
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