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Content Management Systems Explained

Date published: March 23, 2018
Last updated: March 23, 2018

A CMS(Content Management System) is a software or a set of related programs which facilitate generating, organizing, publishing, and editing digital content. They are generally used for web content management(WCM) and enterprise content management(ECM).

An enterprise content management software promotes collaboration within the organization workspace with the integration of records retention functionalities, management of digital assets, and document management and providing access based on roles to the company’s digital assets for the end-users.

Both WCM and ECM have two components: a content delivery application(CDA) and a content management application(CMA). The CMA is a GUI(graphical user interface) that enables users to handle the generation, removal, and modification of content from a website without the need for having any knowledge of HTML. The content delivery application(CDA) part of CMS offers back-end services that aid the content delivery and management once it is generated in the content management application.

Features of a Content Management System

Features vary among different offerings of CMS but the core functions include search and retrieval, indexing, revision control and publishing, and format management. Retrieval and search features, and intuitive indexing index the whole data for easy access via search functions and enable users to search by attributes like keywords, publication dates, or author.

Format management facilities convert the legacy electronic documents and scanned paper documents into PDF or HTML documents. Revision features enable content to be edited and updated after initial publication. Publishing functionality enables users to utilize a set of templates or a template approved by the company, as well as wizards and various other tools to generate or modify content.

Types of Content Management Systems

A content management system can be broken down into three major types. They are Open Source CMS, Proprietary CMS, and SaaS(Software as a Service) CMS. Let’s learn about these in detail.

Open Source CMS(OS CMS)

The highly popular Open Source content management systems run on PHP(a server-side scripting language and powerful tool for web development). WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are the major examples. These content management systems can be used by anyone for any purpose and you need not purchase a license. Also, you need not require any special permission to customize OS CMS. OS CMS is cheaper as there are no contracts to sign, no long-term commitments, no fees for upgrades, and no license fees.

There are numerous free plugins, modules, and complementary tools as anyone can develop OS applications. So, you need not approach a developer for this. Numerous free themes or templates are at hand for Open Source CMS. Also, it is simple to rank high in search engines with the help of user-friendly plug-in tools as search engines love OS CMS. Examples of Open Source CMS include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and so on.

Proprietary CMS

Many organizations sell licenses to utilize their own proprietary CMS. Your proprietary application means you are the owner of that application and others must purchase a license from you or need your permission to use it. In most cases, even with a license, the license holders cannot still make changes to CMS or duplicate the application unless they purchase a developer's license.

Few proprietary CMS are designed to and can work outside the creator’s environment but you must understand where the CMS you opt for runs properly as most of the proprietary content management systems run when the site you develop with them is hosted by the owner of CMS.

Two major disadvantages of proprietary CMS include the cost of licenses and as many web host companies don’t support proprietary content management systems, you are left with limited options to host your website.

The reason behind many small business owners not opting for proprietary CMS is the lack of portability. Examples of proprietary CMS include Microsoft SharePoint, Kentico, Shopify, and so on.

SaaS(Software as a Service) CMS

SaaS(Software as a Service) CMS solutions usually incorporate WCM software, web hosting, and technical support. These virtual solutions are based on a subscription model and hosted in the cloud, usually on a per-site or per-user basis. The pricing generally includes storage for your data and content, amount of data transfer, and ongoing support. There are two kinds of cloud content management systems.

  • Partial Cloud CMS is situated on your own cloud web server. It offers greater flexibility since you can change the functionality either by altering the source code or with add-on modules.
  • Fully Cloud CMS comes as part of a service or a package. These are proprietary systems under the control of suppliers, so it is not always possible to alter or customize their functionality to meet your requirements.

Cloud CMS offers few major benefits to small and medium-sized businesses. They include:

  • Costs are usually low - a small setup fee generally covers the basic implementation.
  • SaaS supplier handles maintenance, upgrades, and technical issues.
  • Software is accessible from any laptop, computer, or mobile device with an internet connection.
  • Features and upgrades to the software are available in real-time.
  • Packages are easily scalable - more sites or users can be added as your needs change.

Choosing a CMS

Before a company decides to invest in a content management system, there is no certain limit to the factors that must be considered. The two basic functionalities to look for are intelligent search capabilities and an easy-to-use editor interface. However, the use of a CMS by some companies depends on certain requirements.

For example, consider a company’s geographic dispersion and space. The CMS administrator should know the number of people who will use the application, whether the CMS requires multi-language support and the size of the support team that should be needed to maintain the operations.

Considering the level of control both end-users and administrators will have when utilizing the CMS is also important. The diversity of the electronic data forms utilized within a company should also be considered. All kinds of digital content must be indexed easily.

You must also remember to speak with your business teams and take their requirements and suggestions into account. For instance, your IT team may require a CMS that fits with the current infrastructure stack. Your sales team might need e-payment systems or CRM integration. Your marketing team might look for digital marketing or automation capabilities. If you plan to sell services or products from your website, ensure the platform you choose is suitable for e-commerce.

It is good to prioritize your content management system requirements as stated below.

Would have - features that seem like but aren’t appropriate or required at this point of time.
Could have - features you desire but are not critical for performance.
Should have - features you regard equally important but not time-critical.
Must have - Critical features you cannot work without.

Let’s look at the key points that must be considered while choosing a CMS.

  • Ease of use.
  • Level of technical knowledge required to utilize the CMS efficiently.
  • Kind of platform(cloud, proprietary, or open-source).
  • Scalability.
  • Responsiveness.
  • Design flexibility.
  • Ease of deployment.
  • Level of support.
  • Security.

You must also consider licensing and budget while choosing a CMS. Every project can be different but the above-covered factors must help you narrow down the choices to choose a few that may fit your particular business needs.

Finding the Right Supplier of CMS

The process of locating the right supplier of CMS is analogous to choosing any other IT supplier. You must deal with someone you can support you and whom you can trust because you have worked with this person throughout the process. You should also see that the supplier should meet all your business requirements within your allocated budget.

Examples of CMS

In this section, I am listing out the most popular content management systems that are widely used by most companies.


WordPress is a PHP blogging platform and by far the most famous CMS for blogging. It started as simple blogging software but has evolved as a completely functional CMS by utilizing thousands of plugins, widgets, and themes.

Thanks to its quick installation wizard and excellent documentation, it is a great platform for beginners. Another advantage of this Open Source CMS is that the latest versions get auto-updated with their core and plugins from within the backend without the need to download even a single file.

A WYSIWYG editor has been provided for users who don’t have knowledge of HTML or another markup language. The backend layout is intuitive and streamlined so that a new user can easily go around the administration section. This CMS also comes with built-in multimedia and image uploading support.

The theming language for developers is straightforward and fairly simple and has the widest base of themes and plugins to choose from. Also, there are plenty of WordPress developers to help you in case you need help with anything right from theme installation to optimize your WordPress site’s speed.


Considered a community publishing system, Drupal is a content management system that has been optimized to be utilized as a social medium on the internet. It is a system that takes significant components of the content management system, e-commerce, and blogging platforms, forums, and wikis for creating an integrated modular solution that can be utilized for communication, publication, and e-commerce.

Drupal is an Open Source CMS system that can be utilized to power many applications and websites for free. It offers features like advanced user management and menu management. The users can utilize these features to create sophisticated yet simple blogs, websites, social networking pages etc.


Joomla is a well-known and widely used Open Source content management system. You can utilize this CMS to monitor all kinds of content that is published on your website and govern their quality. It is analogous to a library that stores and monitors books.

Joomla can be used to create and manage content like images, music, video, text etc. You need not require content management knowledge or any technical skills to use this software. Joomla lies between advanced Drupal and simple WordPress in terms of complexity.

Cushy CMS

Cushy CMS is altogether a different kind of CMS. Though it consists of all the functionalities of a regular CMS, it does not depend on a particular language. Cushy CMS is a hosted solution and there will be no downloads or future upgrades for this software.

It takes info related to FTP and uploads content on the server, which in turn the designer or the developer can modify the layout and the posting fields by altering the style classes of the styles.

Cushy CMS is a free software, even for professional usage. However, an option to upgrade to a pro account for using your own color scheme and logo is present.

Pulse CMS

Pulse CMS is a proprietary software and is designed for small websites. This CMS allows a web developer to add content to an existing site and handle it quickly and easily. The database is not required for this software. It utilizes Apache with PHP 5 and provides user support for paying customers.


Site Manager is the flagship product of TERMINALFOUR. This is a proprietary CMS that provides substantial multi-platform support. While the on-premises license is expensive, previous updates have been favorably reviewed and it supports a broad user community platform for peer-to-peer help and exchange of ideas.


A collection of web-based and cloud technologies that makes it easy to manage, share, and store digital information within a company.

Final Words

Choosing the right CMS is a complex task. It needs careful consideration of business needs, integration, scalability, costs, and features. Most businesses start the selection process by ensuring that they have a clear understanding of their business(the present and future requirements and content management practices). They must come up with a clear set of requirements that the content management system should meet and decide from beginning what CMS is best for them.

Many content management systems offer free basic components but charge for web hosting, high-quality templates, custom domain names, and other features. So, before choosing a CMS, you have to review multiple options so you can select the one that best fits your needs.

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