Content Management System (CMS)
What is a CMS?
A system that allows project stakeholders to edit content across their digital properties.
Why do you need a CMS?
Typically the people who are responsible for editing content on websites and apps day in day out have marketing rather than coding backgrounds. They have a million other things on their plate and don’t have the time or inclination to learn the technicalities of coding these things up from scratch. That’s where a content management system (CMS) comes into play. A CMS allows key project stakeholders to edit digital content without knowing how to code. They sign into a web based admin module, and from there they can edit all kinds of things from their web browser. For example they might create a new web page, add text to it, add some images, set the page title and click ‘publish’ to make their web web page live. Or if they run an eCommerce site they might log in to edit product descriptions and prices, and to see information on how their products are selling.
Wordpress - The World’s Most Popular CMS
The most popular CMS on the planet is Wordpress. It started as a platform for blogging, but has developed into a CMS that can power pretty much any kind of website. It’s not technically the most secure or sophisticated CMS, but its popularity means that there is a huge development community supporting it - writing how to guides, documentation and custom plugins. Wordpress is a safe choice, as there will always be people who can develop for it, and whatever you want to do with it there will be a free plugin that kind of fits the bill, and a good looking ‘theme’ to use as a starting point for the design of your site. It’s the Swiss army knife of CMSs.
Open Source Content Management Systems
Wordpress is open source, which means that anyone can download it, install it, and even modify it without having to pay anyone for a license. It’s written in the PHP programming language, and uses MySQL as it’s default database engine. Like Wordpress itself these underlying technologies are also hugely popular and open source.
Other popular open source CMSs are Drupal, Joomla, Umbraco and DotNetNuke. Open Source CMSs can be downloaded from sites like Github and then uploaded to your webserver and configured to work for your site from there.
Software as a Service (SaaS) Content Management Systems
If you don't want to worry about setting the hosting for your CMS you can subscribe to online Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms that contain CMS functionality. Wordpress itself has a paid for version which runs this model, called wordpress.com. Other popular general purpose SaaS CMSs are Squarespace, One Wix and Weebly. For eCommerce Shopify is the most popular. These SaaS offerings have the benefit of being easy to setup, and they often provide very well designed ‘themes’ for your website out of the box. The downside is that you have to pay for them, and because you can’t get at the code (like you can with open source systems) your options for customisation are limited.
Getting a Custom Made CMS
If the functionality you require from a CMS is very specific to your needs, or if you want to administer content on a mobile app as well as a website, or if you require tailored integration with other business systems - then it may be a good idea to look at getting a CMS built specifically for you. As with all custom software you should first look to see what you can buy ‘off the shelf’ and only then if nothing fits the bill then explore a custom build. Custom CMSs can be very powerful tools though, as they allow for total freedom of customization, and the kind of ongoing flexibility that existing systems cannot provide.