What is a CMS – A Quick Overview

This post takes a look at what a CMS is (content management system) how they are used within web development and a few of the important things to consider when picking a great one!

In this post we’re going to be exploring what a CMS is. As an introduction CMS stands for Content Management System and is pretty much exactly as it sounds, a place to manage content whether for a website, app or any other digital application.

It is often said that Content Management Systems are primarily designed to make adding content to a website with minimal technical experience much easier. This is true of them, however it’s only one of the great reasons for using a CMS.

Content Management:

So let’s explore the adding content element a little further. Many Content Management Systems are designed with blogs or website page content in mind. For example if a website is coded and a novice or non-developer needs to be able to edit that content in either a text editor based format or similar, then a Content Management System stands to do that job. Many different Content Management Systems include features tailored towards a specific type of website user for example there are those aimed more at bloggers and those aimed at people looking to edit and upload products to an e-commerce website.

Some good examples of a CMS are:

WordPress – One of the most heavily used Content Management Systems in the world this platform is great for a huge array of content management needs ranging from blogs to regular websites and even membership and e-commerce sites. The versatility of the platform really is that broad.

Shopify – Targeted predominantly at e-commerce websites this Content Management System provides a dashboard and tools placed to achieve store management effectively. That’s not to say it doesn’t have other CMS features, there’s an integrated blog and the ability to expand the platform with plugins.
Add-on Components and Tools:
As mentioned above with Shopify but present with a whole range of different platforms another key benefit of a Content Management System is often the ecosystem that comes with it. In many cases this includes additional tools such as plugins, add-ons or apps for greater functionality.

A good example of this is contact form tools / plugins, these tools make it an easy process for those who aren’t able to code at all or in the language that the site was written in to be able to manage contact forms.

It’s important to consider the types of add-ons that are available with the platform that you’re using. A very well used platform such as WordPress has plugins in pretty much most of the categories that you can think of. However a more specific or dedicated platform may have less plugins available or plugins that are only relevant to the niche that the CMS serves.
Speed and Performance of a CMS:
The next element of a CMS that we’re going to consider is how they may influence the speed and performance of a website. There isn’t necessarily a clear answer to this as it will depend entirely on the specific Content Management System that you are using and how you’ve built your website within it. However in most cases using a CMS will add to the size of your website and reduce the speed slightly when compared with a HTML or CSS only based website. That’s not to say you can’t heavily optimise them or implement methods to make a site that uses a Content Management System as fast as a site written in raw code.

There are also options such as using a Headless CMS which we won’t go into detail about in this post however if you’d like to read more and understand what a headless CMS is take a look at our article here.
Cost / Pricing Elements of a CMS:
The cost / price of a CMS will depend entirely on which one you’re using. Many are open source such as WordPress meaning that it’s free to download and you will only need hosting to have it online. Whereas other tools such as Shopify which includes the hosting element have a monthly fee, so there’s different components to weight up depending on your needs.

Another major thing to consider is the cost of any add-ons / plugins some CMS platforms may be relatively cheap or free but feature very expensive plugins whereas heavily adopted and open source platforms like WordPress have a wide variety of premium and free plugins.

For a basic site if you’re an efficient coder it would generally be cheaper to create a raw HTML, PHP or other coding language based site. In this instance you would only need hosting and the resource usage of that hosting would usually be lower with a directly coded site. However there is more to consider such as the time involved in building a site like that, if it’s relatively simple it may be faster than using a CMS and updates will be just as easy however the more complex the site becomes the harder it is to update without some form of CMS base.

Another example of this can be found in the complexity of adding additional tools / plugins to something that is just directly coded. If you have a need for more functionality within a website, plugins whether paid or free can help you to achieve this at a generally much lower price than if you were to directly write the code for the functionality. Of course there are always exceptions and plugins add to the size of a site for most people they provide an easier way of accessing more functionality.
Accessibility / Flexibility:
A further consideration when working with a Content Management System is how flexible and easy to access that system is.

So one of the first things to look at is hosting, if you’re using one of the more common Content Management Systems most website hosting providers will include auto installers / some form of script generator to make getting started nice and easy.

Others will go as far as to tailor hosting specifically to / for a certain type of CMS for example many providers offer dedicated WordPress hosting options which can have extra features like easy staging sites, included premium plugins and more.

Most of the CMS platforms that are included with generic hosting are portable meaning that if you decide to move hosting provider or need to change servers it’s all achievable as the CMS isn’t specific to one provider and is either open source or licensed.

Some Content Management Systems especially those that target a niche or are designed to make it easier for those who know less about coding and development will be tied into their own ecosystem. For example Shopify is hosted by them and you pay for hosting with them and that’s the only real option.

Which one is better will depend on your experience, goals for your website and what your budget is. Hosting sites yourself gives you more freedom however a CMS that can only be hosted by the platform provider can make the process easier as it’s all managed by them. So really there’s positives and negatives to both.
Existing Resources:
The next thing to look at when considering a Content Management System is the availability of existing resources. Whilst a CMS that is very well used will have a wealth of resources available for novices right the way through to experienced developers, some platforms may not have developed this yet. It’s important to consider as some content management systems are written in less common coding languages so if you aren’t as proficient in that language and the resources are limited it can be harder to learn.

The other part of this is that existing resources can allow you to create, understand and get up to speed much faster with a platform and are an invaluable tool.
In this post we’ve considered a few of the basic elements that surround Content Management Systems however they are an enormous topic to consider and there’s a tonne of resources out there. We hope this has helped with an overview and provided a foundation towards understanding how good a CMS can be and when they are best utilised.

If you found this helpful we’d appreciate a share and any comments, thanks!

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