Whether you are operating a blog, eCommerce site or even a community based website, a CMS (Content Management System) would be suited to your needs. It could give you the flexibility and a certain degree of control over your content without the need to have a web development background.
With each CMS, you ‘manage’ your site through an admin panel or dashboard – either on the front-end or backend of the site. Some CMS’ allow for you to edit on the actual page such as Concrete5, whereas WordPress requires you to go into the back-end through a dashboard.
The appearance and functioning of the site can be controlled through these admin areas such as changing the theme/template or adding and removing a plugin/extension. Rather than manually editing the raw code of your website, everything is usually done in the form of an intuitive interface and at the click of a button.
Knowing which CMS to use depends on your intentions. Some are stronger in the blog and general website area, where others are solely for eCommerce such as Shopify. Ideally, the role of a CMS is to make creating and editing of content to be as simple and straightforward as can be.
WordPress is currently the most popular CMS. Originally intended as a blog, WordPress has steadily taken on other competitors and has come out relatively on top in terms of popularity at least.
A successor to b2, WordPress was built on PHP and MySQL in 2003. In the time since it’s creation, WordPress has climbed the ranks to become the current market lead with 58.7% share of the CMS market while powering 18.9% of all websites.
There are two options with WordPress: hosted – WordPress.com and self-hosted – WordPress.org. The latter has more flexibility in terms of customisability such as creating a bespoke theme, whereas the hosted version of WordPress is primarily aimed at those less development savvy, little time to tailor their code or those wishing to focus on blogging.
Joomla! is also open source software and relatively easier to use for designers and those wishing to customise the appearance than a CMS such as Drupal, though not as user friendly as WordPress.
Built on Mambo CMS in 2005, Joomla! is more of a community based platform with strong social networking features. Joomla! can be expanded through it’s extensions which are built up of Components, Modules, Plugins, Templates and Languages.
As of June 2013, Joomla! has a market share of 10.2% of all CMS platforms – consisting of 3.3% of all websites.
Drupal is a little more developer friendly in that there is a lot more flexibility in the behind the scenes coding. For this reason, it is sometimes considered less user friendly – which is not necessarily the case. Drupal can in fact be used for small or large scale websites and can be further extended through the use of modules – a component that adds additional functions or features to a site. Drupal has slightly less of the market share with 6.2% of the CMS market, 2% of all websites.
Due to the vast functions available with Drupal, it can be a little overwhelming for designers so there is a slight lack of choice in available themes. In theory, you can achieve a great deal more functionality with Drupal in terms of creating membership sites and advanced communities.
Alternatives to some of the open source platforms can be the likes of Perch. Perch is a premium CMS. For a one off payment of £50, you have the possibility of branding the backend with your branding and dynamically managing content. The beauty of Perch is it’s simplicity and ease of use. Don’t be fooled in thinking that it’s a lightweight CMS though.
Another popular alternative is Expression Engine. Expression Engine is available in three versions: Freelancer, Non-Commercial and Commercial. Users are not required to know a great deal of PHP as the focus is on ease of use. While the price may put off some, the versatility of Expression Engine is highly desirable.
Magneto is an eCommerce option. Magneto is also available as open source, but it also has an an enterprise version which cannot be customised and a hosted version called Magneto Go. It’s marketing features, catalogue management and SEO abilities are worthy of any online shopping experience.
Choose What’s Right for Your Project
Whilst one CMS may be incredibly popular, it might not fit the criteria for your site. Even though the big names are free to use, you may find that a premium version is more appropriate and vice versa. Focus on how intuitive it is to use, the ability to customise it (if it’s an important aspect for you), the support and something not addressed earlier – the frequency of updates.
Due to the amount of people using a CMS, they are always going to be vulnerable to attacks. Ensure that the CMS you choose receives regular updates and security patches. The same applies to any of the plugins, extensions or modules you download. Make sure they are compatible with the CMS version you are using and that they are updated enough.
Aside from the content managing of one’s own site with relative ease, the vast majority of these platforms have great support for SEO. If it’s not out of the box functioning, there certainly is an available plugin that can be downloaded for free or at a premium.
With a few exceptions, many of these CMS’ are open source – built by and for the community with a PHP and MySQL structure. They are relatively quick and easy to install and most have a large active community. Though despite the similarities, they all have their advantages and disadvantages.
Predominantly, the choice is yours and it all boils down to what features and functions you’re looking for most and whether you are willing to pay for certain privileges. However, a lot of these solutions are free and for the most part, always a time saver.