To manage the content on your website, you should add a CMS to it. Such solutions are available in free and premium versions. It will be easy for you to handle them even if you lack coding skills. In this article, we'll answer the questions "What is a CMS for a website?" and "How does a content management system work?". You'll get to know about different types of CMS. We'll tell you about the features and benefits of such solutions.

How Does a Content Management System Work?

Building a website from scratch without a CMS is a complicated and time-consuming process. You won't be able to cope with it if you lack coding skills. You need to be familiar with HTML to create navigation and add verbal and visual content to web pages. To fine-tune the looks and style of all your website elements, you should resort to CSS. To benefit from slide-in CTAs and other types of advanced functionality, it's essential to have a good command of JavaScript.

To save all the work that you've done, you need to know how to upload HTML files to a server. Each time you'd like to introduce any changes, be ready to download the already existing files from the server and edit their HTML code manually. When doing so, you should stay vigilant to avoid breaking links or making other errors.

If you opt for a CMS, you won't have to follow this instruction. You won't be required to work with code or sophisticated technological tools. A CMS is a system with a user-friendly interface that works on the following principles:

  • Can be accessed online from any device. Some solutions can be used in offline mode as well.
  • Let your generate, format, edit and publish content. It can be articles, contact details, product descriptions and many other types of content. The process of completing all these tasks resembles using Microsoft Office or Google Drive. Everything is simple and nicely visualized. Selected solutions support private or offline publications. Yet in most cases, the new content will go live on the front-end part of the website.
  • Allows you to share access with other users. Business owners can invite all their staff members to join the CMS. You'll be able to assign a specific status to each person, such as admin, author or editor. Each user will get access only to those features and opportunities that correspond to their scope of responsibilities.

Most CMSs consist of two layers: back end and front end. The former is responsible for adding fresh content to the website. It's where your databases are stored and various technical processes take place. The front end is the visible part of the system that users interact with. It enables you to style and structure your website. The powerful combination of the front end and the back end removes the necessity of writing the code.

Are CMS, ECM and WCMS synonyms?

Let's start with answering the question "What is a content management system?". A CMS is a system that enables you to manage any type of content for any type of website. It's optimal for working with databases and documents.

The ECM acronym stands for "enterprise content management system". It is created to handle huge amounts of data and puts more emphasis on security. Such systems are good for managing both structured and unstructured content.

The WCMS acronym denotes a web content management system. It specializes in handling web content — that is, such content that is available on web pages. Multiple users can edit this content collaboratively and publish it with the help of in-built tools.

Types of content management systems (CMS)

You can choose from four main types of content management systems: coupled, SaaS, decoupled and headless.

  • Coupled CMS

This is the most common type. You get access to a back end to add new content. This content goes live through the front end. Such a system can be characterized as "all in one". Dedicated web hosting is essential for using a coupled CMS. This type of hosting is affordable but you need some technical knowledge to deal with it. Most probably, an experienced admin will set up and configure such a CMS for you.

  • SaaS CMS

This type of CMS resembles its coupled counterpart. The main difference is that SaaS requires cloud hosting. This type of hosting is excellent for scaling. You pay only for the resources that you consume. The provider will take care of all the technical aspects related to hosting. You won't need to ask an administrator to set up such a CMS for you.

  • Decoupled CMS

In such a system, the back end is separated from the front end. You'll be able to access the former through an API. Such an approach grants enhanced flexibility. Imagine that one day, you'll want to use the data stored in your back end for a new digital product. You won't have to download all this information to a carrier and re-upload it to a new source. Instead, you'll simply connect your already existing back end to your new digital product. Owners of simple websites will hardly ever need this opportunity — but medium-sized businesses should appreciate it.

  • Headless CMS

This is the most advanced and sophisticated type. Such a CMS consists only of the back end. The front end is available as a web app that you can use to access the database in the back end. A developer needs to create this web app for the CMS users and connect it to the system. Such an approach provides you with an unprecedented level of flexibility. Only experienced users can make the most of it.

CMS features

CMSs vary greatly in their features. Most of them allow you to complete the following tasks:

  1. Revise the content that has already gone live. The history of all content updates will be saved in the system and you'll be able to check it at any moment.
  2. Change the format of the content. Organizations deal with documents of miscellaneous formats. Some of them are scanned papers, others were initially created in digital form. Your CMS will convert all the files into PDF or HTML.
  3. Use templates for publishing content. All the content that appears on your website should have a uniform structure and style. It's an important principle of brand identity. Templates will enable your staff members to create and modify the content.
  4. Search for data. All the information stored within the CMS will be indexed. Each piece of content will include its author's name, keywords and publication date. When you need to find specific data, you'll be able to do it quickly and easily.
  5. Personalize your marketing. This feature allows you to show only such content to your website visitors that they will be most likely interested in. Let's imagine that you run a website about home decor, food and gardening. A certain user has recently googled Italian cuisine recipes. When this person visits your website, the CMS will suggest to them ads and articles that are related to Italian cuisine.

Besides, a CMS can offer integrated file managers and integrated audit logs. You might be able to create SEO-friendly URLs. Top CMSs feature excellent help centers and discussion boards.

Benefits of Using a CMS

Below, we'll list the ten most common arguments in favor of using a CMS.

  • No Coding Knowledge Required

You don't need to be tech-savvy to build a website from scratch. The CMS enables you to design web pages, customize them and add plugins to extend their functionality without writing a single line of code. However, if you're familiar with the basic principles of coding, your creative opportunities will be even more impressive.

  • Easy Collaboration

All your team members can access the back end of your CMS simultaneously. Each professional can focus on their type of task: enhancing security, adding content or scheduling emails. The CMS fosters collaboration within the team and enhances your staff's productivity.

  • User Roles and Permissions

Each specialist will get access only to that part of the system that is relevant to their position and responsibilities. Without a CMS, you would need to edit permissions with the help of JavaScript code. It would be a much more complicated and time-consuming process.

  • SEO Features and Extensions

To optimize SEO, you can resort to the in-built instruments of your CMS and add extra plugins. You'll be able to accelerate your pages loading time, build XML sitemaps, edit meta descriptions and page titles and so on. As a result, your website's search engine rankings will improve.

  • Security Features and Extensions

Depending on which CMS you choose, you can expect to get SSL certificates, SSO memberships, a powerful firewall and other security features. Extra functionality can be added with the help of plugins. Some solutions offer the services of dedicated security teams that are ready to consult customers 24/7.

  • Predesigned Templates

Top CMSs feature extensive collections of templates for businesses from various niches. After you pick a template that fits the specifics and aesthetics of your company, you can customize it. Templates are usually responsive, which means they can adapt to any device.

  • Simple Updates

Whenever you want to spruce up the design of your home page or and new sections to your website, you'll be able to do so with minimum effort. You won't have to hire or outsource a professional to write the code for you. You can introduce all the necessary changes without third-party help, through an intuitive dashboard.

  • Blogging Functionality

Businesses from all niches should consider adding blogs to their websites. It will allow them to achieve the following goals: establish themselves as industry experts, improve their SEO rankings, get more traffic, boost their brand visibility and generate backlinks. The CMS lets you add a blog to your website in a couple of clicks.

  • Content Scheduling

New content should go live on your website regularly. Your audience needs to know when to expect the updates. To schedule the content without a CMS, you would need to be good at coding and be familiar with GitHub. Thanks to a CMS, you can plan all the updates by clicking the button of your mouse. You can decide in advance when a certain article will be published, a new page will become available and a newsletter will be sent out.

  • Easy Access

When you start building a website from scratch without a CMS, you can do it only on a device that remains connected to the server. The CMS allows you to access your content from any device through a handy control panel. You can publish new articles, enable or disable plugins and fine-tune the settings on the go.

Top CMS Options

In this part of the article, we'll list the best web content management systems that can come in handy for your business.

  • WordPress

Over 40% of all existing websites were built on the basis of this headless CMS. You can create nearly any type of website on it, from a landing page to an online store. It has a shallow learning curve. You'll be able to select from thousands of themes and plugins. WordPress is highly customizable and SEO-friendly.

  • Joomla

This is a go-to solution for those who're planning to launch a social network, an educational website or another complex web resource. Joomla features templates for both the back end and the front end. One of its primary competitive edges is user groups and user management options.

  • Drupal

Compared to all the other free CMSs that we recommend, this one is targeted at more tech-savvy people. It doesn't provide hosting — but you can be sure that your website will be highly secure and will load quickly. You'll appreciate the opportunities for user and permission management as well as content presentation.

  • Adobe Commerce Powered by Magento

This headless CMS is available in two versions: free and premium. It's popular among chain stores and large organizations. Websites built on Adobe Commerce are fast and easy to scale. You'll be able to integrate all major payment solutions and create an intuitive checkout. It would be great to have basic web development knowledge to make the most of this system.

  • OpenCart

It's an open-source solution for building ecommerce projects. Your online store will be SEO-friendly. You'll be able to add an unlimited number of products and product categories to it without paying any extra fees. Merchants value OpenCart for the convenience of creating specials, discounts and promo coupons. It's SEO-friendly and connects with most payment providers without extra fees. This solution features excellent reporting tools that you can customize. They will provide you with actionable insights on improving your website's functionality and business processes.

  • Squarespace

It's a universal example of a content management system, suitable for creating nearly any type of website. It lacks free functionality and offers paid subscriptions. The selection of templates is large but customization opportunities are not too flexible. Squarespace will provide you with hosting, social media integrations and marketing tools. Strictly speaking, it deserves to be called a website builder and not a CMS. Nevertheless, it can serve as a CMS and that's why we include it in our list.

  • Wix

This one is similar to Squarespace in many ways. The primary difference consists in the fact that Wix offers a free plan to those who use its subdomain. The selection of templates is impressive. It will be easy for you to integrate blogging features and social media into your website. The step-by-step wizard will provide comprehensive instructions to you. On the flip side, you'll have to put up with the Wix branding on your web pages.

  • Ghost

Ghost is a spot-on option for bloggers, subscription sellers, online magazines and those who send out newsletters. Its interface is minimalistic. Its editor enables you to use Markdown. This CMS is available in two versions: free and premium. The former is open-source while the latter is not. Both feature decent SEO tools and social sharing instruments.

  • Shopify

This brand specializes in ecommerce websites that sell physical and/or digital products. After you sign up for this system, you'll be required to pay a monthly fee. The functionality that you'll get access to will enable you to launch an Internet shop, design product pages, run a blog, add a FAQ section, specify shipping information and so on. You won't need to take care of hosting and domain name. You'll be able to benefit from in-built marketing tools.

There are many more CMSs available on the market. The more popular a solution, the larger the community around it. If you opt for a popular CMS, you'll be able to ask questions and share experiences with other community members and get quick feedback.

How Much Should You Be Ready to Pay to Use a CMS?

Most of the examples of web content management systems that were listed in this article are available for free — at least in their basic functionality. Nevertheless, you should be ready to pay a couple of hundred dollars per year for the simplest site. This is the price of hosting, domain name and plugins.

The larger your website and the more complex its functionality, the higher your expenses. It can cost you a few thousand dollars per year to run a CMS-based online store and dozens of thousands for an enterprise-grade site. Even though this might look like a big sum, the CMS will help you optimize the costs.

Business owners with limited experience often strive to cut down expenses. They opt for the most affordable solutions and the cheapest plans — and then discover that the free functionality is not enough for them. They start adding extra features to their websites and they end up paying much more than intended. It would be more cost-efficient to select premium plans with affordable prices from the onset.

Websites that were built on the cheapest plans might face scaling problems. The more plugins you add to them to extend their functionality, the slower they work.

Tips on Picking the Optimal CMS

When picking an optimal solution for your business, it would be wise to follow these recommendations:

  1. Get to know your staff members' needs and preferences. The CMS should be available to people who genuinely need it. It should feature the functionality that they require.
  2. Analyze your business needs. Which pain points will the CMS help you fix and which goals to achieve?
  3. Think about compatibility. Will the CMS integrate smoothly with the software that you already use?
  4. Ask people from your industry about the CMSs that they rely on and their opinions about them.
  5. Assess your budget.

Send proposals to the teams of the most opportune CMSs. Evaluate their responses and pick the one with the most lucrative terms. Most probably, they will offer you free access to their demo versions. Test these versions together with your staff members to detect the top one.

How to Build a Website with a Content Management System

The cheapest way out is to build a website with your own hands. The initial version of your site will be ready in a few hours even if you have never done it before. Select the best content management system for a website, sign up for it and start building. Top CMSs offer handy guides to their users. Most likely, you'll see informative pop-ups.

First, you'll need to choose a template that fits your industry and reveals the specifics of your business. Then, you can customize this template. Once the basic structure of your website is ready, it's time to start filling it with content. Plus, you'll need to purchase a domain name and choose a hosting option for your site.

If you don't have a server where you could run a CMS, it makes sense to opt for a cloud-hosted solution.

Even though you can do everything yourself, it would be wiser to entrust the task of building your website to an agency. You'll need to pay for the development services but your site will look much more professional. All its pages will load quickly and it will be ready for scaling. Your site will feature all the necessary functionality and its components will be smoothly integrated with each other. You'll be able to start making a profit much sooner. Your site won't go down because of a sudden traffic spike or internal errors.

We'll be glad to build a top-notch website with the help of a CMS for you! We'll start by discussing the specifics of your business and the requirements of your project. If you're not sure of which CMS to choose, we can recommend an optimal system to you and make sure it fits your budget. We'll inform you about the time frame of the development process. The more complex your website, the longer our team members will be working on it — but we always strive to complete tasks as promptly as possible.

Our agency is ready to work with all the major CMSs and build websites for any niche. The site that we'll create for you will be aesthetically appealing and functional. It will have intuitive navigation and a high conversion rate. Reach out to us and let's start the development!