What is a CMS (Content Management System)? A Comprehensive Introduction
October 26, 2023
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In just over a decade, the digital landscape has witnessed a revolutionary transformation.
Back in 2011, around 76 percent of all websites were hand-coded by developers. Fast forward to 2022, and hand-coding only accounts for 33 percent of the web, partly due to the rise of content management systems (CMS).
But what is a CMS, what makes it the go-to choice for website management, and what do you need to know to choose the best one for your business?
Let’s explore these questions and more.
What is a content management system (CMS)?
A content management system, or CMS, is a platform that enables you to publish content on the web easily. A CMS is traditionally used for websites, blogs, and other online media to streamline the process of content creation and publication.
You can use a CMS to upload, manage, edit, and organize different kinds of content for internal and external audiences.
Website vs CMS
Websites and content management systems are related. A CMS is a platform to add content to a website, while a website is the end product that your audience will use to consume your content.
LMS vs CMS
A Learning Management System (LMS) can also be used to centrealize different types of content, so it’s important to understand the difference between an LMS and a CMS.
An LMS is a platform designed to help teams create, manage, and deliver educational courses and training programs.
A CMS, on the other hand, is a software platform that helps users create, organize, and publish digital content, typically for websites and online applications.
The key distinction between an LMS and a CMS is their primary functions: an LMS focuses on educational content and course management, while a CMS is geared towards general content creation and website management.
There’s also a specific type of CMS for sales that helps team members organize sales and content assets so they’re easily accessible. A sales CMS can store training materials along with sales enablement content like battlecards, playbooks, scripts, customer personas, and more.
A sales CMS helps reps have the materials to answer customer and prospect questions and support prospects at various stages of the buying journey.
Read more: What is a Sales Content Management System
How a CMS works
Have you ever created a document in Microsoft Word or Google Docs? They both use a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor that allows you to see and edit content the same way it would appear when printed or shared. For example, you would see a graphic in the same place in both the Microsoft Word document and on a printout.
A CMS offers a similar experience for building a website and storing content.
Content management systems typically offer a WYSIWYG editor that allows users to format content for a website without writing code.
Once the content is ready, users can publish it to the live website with the push of a button.
There are hundreds of CMS options on the market, each with its own unique set of features and capabilities to meet a variety of needs.
Some of the most popular content management systems are:
Other content management systems are designed for specific functions or industries, such as Showell for sales content management and Shopify for e-commerce brands.
Benefits of using content management systems
Managing and maintaining a website and/or learning materials can be complex and time-consuming, especially for those without extensive technical skills.
Content management systems offer many benefits to streamline and simplify website and content management for non-technical users.
No coding required
The biggest benefit of using a CMS is that you can create websites without the advanced technical knowledge required to code it manually.
Content management systems resemble word processors, enabling you to format and publish web content easily. You can apply styles, insert images, embed videos, and add links without writing HTML or CSS.
Pre-built themes and templates
Content management systems offer a range of pre-designed themes and templates that you can use to design your website.
These can be customized to match your branding and layout preferences, eliminating the need to collaborate with a web designer for each new page.
Easy web page publishing
CMS templates and WYSIWYG editors make it simple to design, publish, and edit web pages.
In addition to text, you can easily upload media files like images and videos, optimize them for web use, and embed them into your pages.
Content management systems often include scheduling features, allowing you to plan and automate content publication.
This ensures that content is published at the right time, even when you’re not working.
Better collaboration and access
The ease of use makes content management systems more accessible, facilitating better collaboration between multiple users and teams. For example, content can go through various stages of review and revisions before being published, ensuring quality and consistency.
User roles and permissions help ensure each team member only has access to the features and content areas relevant to their role.
What to look for in a CMS
Selecting the right CMS is an important decision that impacts your ability to manage and deliver digital content effectively. With a myriad of options available, it’s essential to understand what to look for in a CMS to ensure it aligns with your specific needs and goals.
Remember that the ideal CMS should not only meet your current requirements but also accommodate your future needs and goals.
By thoroughly evaluating these factors, you can confidently choose the right CMS for your business.
The first step in selecting a CMS is to identify your primary use cases. Different CMS platforms excel in various areas, so understanding your specific requirements is crucial.
Common CMS use cases include:
- Corporate website: Many organizations use content management systems for their corporate websites. In this case, consider a CMS that balances content creation, user management, and scalability. You might also need features like team collaboration and workflow management.
- Blogging: If your primary goal is to run a blog, you may require a CMS emphasizing content creation and presentation. Look for features like a robust WYSIWYG editor, customizable templates, and easy-to-use blogging tools.
- Community and forums: Community-based websites and forums require CMS platforms with strong user management, discussion features, and moderation tools. Integration with social media and user-generated content capabilities may also be helpful.
- E-commerce: For online stores and e-commerce websites, choose a CMS with strong e-commerce capabilities. Look for features such as product catalog management, shopping cart functionality, payment gateway integrations, and inventory tracking.
- News and media: If you plan to publish news articles, magazines, or multimedia content, focus on a CMS that excels in handling media-rich content. Look for features like multimedia embedding options, image galleries, and video support.
Content creation capabilities
Content creation is the core function of a CMS, so it’s important to consider each platform’s capabilities in this area.
Thoroughly evaluate the following features to determine which platform best suits your needs.
- WYSIWYG editor: A user-friendly WYSIWYG editor is essential for non-technical users. It should enable easy text formatting, image insertion, and multimedia embedding.
- Content templates: Preview each platform’s templates to ensure they will support your needs and vision. For instance, blog templates will look very different from e-commerce templates as they serve two different purposes.
- Media management: Pay attention to each platform’s media management if you need to add images, videos, and other multimedia elements; they can differ widely. For example, some content management systems handle image hosting and include media editing and optimization capabilities, while others require separate tools for those functions.
- SEO tools: Search engine optimization (SEO) tools are essential for websites that want to boost online visibility and organic search traffic. Look for a CMS that provides tools for optimizing content, including customizable URLs, meta tags, and XML sitemaps.
- Content scheduling: Content scheduling lets you plan and automate content publication, making it ideal for maintaining a consistent posting schedule.
- Version control: Version control capabilities help track changes to content over time, allowing you to revert to previous versions if needed.
Integrations enable different software systems to work together and share information. Choose a CMS that integrates with your existing tech stack for maximum value and productivity.
Possible integrations include:
- Analytics software
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software
- Marketing automation platforms
- E-commerce platforms
- Learning management systems (LMS)
For example, integrating a sales CMS with an LMS lets you embed assets into training courses, instruct sales teams to use assets appropriately, run knowledge checks, and test pitches.
The cost of a CMS can vary significantly, and it’s essential to understand the pricing model and budget accordingly.
Consider the following cost-related factors:
- Scalability: Look for a platform to accommodate your budget as you grow and scale.
- Subscription models: Compare the costs of different subscription models where applicable, such as paying monthly versus annually. You should also be aware of licensing fees that apply.
- Hosting costs: Some content marketing systems include website hosting costs—but many don’t. Keep this in mind as you set your budget.
- Design expenses: Some systems— particularly open-source platforms—may require more technical expertise for visual design, customization, and support. Build those costs into your budget if applicable.
- Premium features: Calculate how your costs could be impacted by add-on or premium features so you can develop a more accurate picture of potential expenses. For example, you may want to purchase a premium theme instead of hiring a designer to customize a basic theme.
Ease of use
A user-friendly CMS can boost your team’s productivity and reduce the learning curve for content creators and administrators.
Review the following features for ease of use.
- Intuitive interface: The CMS should have an intuitive dashboard and navigation, making it easy for users to find and manage content.
- Content management: Review the content creation process with your team members to ensure they feel comfortable using the CMS to build, format, and edit content.
- Customization: Explore customization options to understand the effort required to customize your CMS to meet your needs and branding requirements.
- User management: Assess user roles and permissions to ensure they align with your needs so that each team member has the appropriate level of access.
- Training and support: Consider the availability of documentation, tutorials, and user support when assessing how user-friendly a CMS is for your team.
Analytics and reporting
Understanding your website’s performance and user behavior is vital for making informed decisions and optimizing your content.
Look for a CMS that enables analytics and reporting. Some content management systems provide built-in analytics to track key metrics like website traffic, page views, and user engagement. For more advanced analytics and reporting, consider a CMS that easily integrates with popular analytics platforms like Google Analytics or custom reporting tools.
Choose the best CMS
A content management system is an excellent tool for building a website without extensive coding knowledge, and there are many options to choose from. Identifying the best CMS for your organization ultimately depends on your unique needs, goals, internal skill sets, and budget.
Taking the time to evaluate your requirements and available options will help you make the right choice and set the foundation for a successful project.
Combine the power of a CMS with a learning management system (LMS) that can get your learning content to the individuals who need it. The right LMS will help you deliver product knowledge, company information, and other learning materials to your team members and customers so they can be more productive and successful.
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Jen Dewar is a marketing consultant in HR technology, focusing on developing educational content for HR professionals and recruiters. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion, lifelong learning and development, and treating people like people throughout candidate and employee experiences. Outside of work, you can find Jen snowboarding in Tahoe, enjoying a glass of wine in Sonoma, or hanging out at home with her family.
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