Optimization glossary

Content management system

What is a content management system (CMS)?

A content management system (CMS) is an application that is used to manage content, allowing multiple contributors to create, edit and publish. Content in a CMS is typically stored in a database and displayed in a presentation layer based on a set of templates like a website.

The following are common features of a CMS:

  • Content creation, allows users to easily create and format content
  • Content storage, stores content in one place, in a consistent fashion
  • Workflows, assigns permissions for managing content based on roles such as authors, editors and admins
  • Publishing, organizes and pushes content live

Benefits of a content management system

One major advantage of a CMS is its collaborative nature. Multiple users can log on and contribute, schedule or manage content to be published. Because the interface is usually browser-based, a CMS can be accessed from anywhere by any number of users.

The second major advantage of a CMS is that it allows non-technical people who don’t know programming languages to easily create and manage their own web content. The drag-and-drop editors of a typical content management platform allows users to enter text and upload images without needing to know any HTML or CSS (programming languages).

When a company uses a CMS to publish its web pages, it reduces its reliance on front-end developers to make changes to the website, making it quicker and easier to publish new web pages.

CMS examples

While there are hundreds of CMS platforms, some of the more popular cms providers are listed below:

What to look for in a CMS

Before choosing a content management system, it is a good idea to start with thinking about how your website and content will be consumed.

You will need to begin by making a list of the business problems you are trying to solve as well as any specific requirements you may have. This will help you choose the right content management system – the one that supports your business requirements – rather than the most popular or well-liked.

CMSs come in all shapes and sizes, each with its own set of features and benefits. Some are ideally suited for bloggers; others may be tailored to ecommerce sites with features for pricing and online store functionality. Specifics will vary based on your company’s needs and resources.

Here are some questions to consider when picking the best CMS for your situation:

What is your budget?

If you have infinite resources to spend, there are some very complex content management systems with features designed to make content creators’ and editors’ lives easier. With a limited budget, however, your choices will be more limited. Your web content management system will needs hosting, so it's good to take costs for a domain and web hosting into account when deciding.

What business operations does the CMS need to support?

After price, the next major consideration is which business operations the CMS will need to support. Does your company need to publish hundreds of new videos a day? Change prices on thousands of products per day? Host images for blog posts?

What technologies does the CMS need to support or integrate with?

If your company already uses a CRM, ERP or web analytics program, you’ll need to consider a CMS that has integrations with existing online marketing software. If you have developers in-house, a solid API and documentation might also be needed.

How easy is it to create and edit content?

The larger the company, the more removed the end user of the CMS will be from the person who implements it. Ideally, the system's back-end will be user-friendly and intuitive, with features like a WYSIWYG drag-and-drop editor, which allows editors to edit digital content without knowing how to code. For the more advanced companies, who might want to build more than templates or needs a CMS for mobile apps, a headless CMS might be a good alternative.

How many different groups of users will there be?

One thing to consider is what various levels of rights are needed in your CMS. Consider the different user roles, including the role of managers in reviewing scheduled content. These different types of users also need document management for files like PDFs or images on your CMS. Good digital asset management (DAM) is key to creating great digital experiences.

How big is your website and company?

Depending on the size of your website or company, you will have different requirements. Larger companies typically have more strict requirements for content management applications and may even require features only found in enterprise content management systems. Small business however, should focus on picking an easy user interfaces and maintenance as the teams who manage the software application are typically smaller.

How will you measure success?

Depending on the goal of your CMS, like a blog or a commerce site, you should strongly consider using a web analytics platform like Google Analytics or Mixpanel to measure conversions. A CMS allows authors to make rapid changes to your content without requiring a front-end developer. You can measure how these changes are impacting your website by running an A/B test. Great CMS software allows you to do this in an easy way, without building complex integrations.

Is the platform SEO-friendly?

It is important to think about how people will get to your website. If being listed well on search engines (SEO) is important to your company, you will want a CMS that has automation for basic on-page optimization tasks such as title tags, urls, alt tags on images, and a sound internal linking structure. Often CMS software has plugins to help manage these requirements. Practicing search engine optimization typically also helps your website's appearance on other platforms like social media and when visitors share links to your website.

What technology is it built on?

Most CMS platforms use custom templates and integrate with your existing marketing systems. This requires work from a developer or implementation agency and not all developers and agencies can work with every CMS. Therefore it's important to pick software that your developers have the know how to work with. Common programming languages for CMS platforms are php, .NET or Java(script).

How well is it supported by developers?

Some of the CMS platforms, particularly Wordpress and Drupal, come with very large open-source developer communities. The advantage to a sizable community is the amount of online help and documentation you will find on most aspects of customization. Optimizely Content Cloud also has a large and active forum for developers that might be able to help.

Answering the above questions can help you select the right content management system for your business or organization.