Choosing A Content Management System
By Charles Hopkins
Published 11/28/2007 | Web Design
A content management system, or CMS, is a piece of software that makes
it easy to create and manage websites. It is very important for a
website's content to be frequently refreshed and updated. Fresh content
keeps visitors coming back and can improve search engine rankings.
However, publishing new content on a regular basis can become
complicated if the webmaster has to make a new HTML page each time he
adds an article, image, link or other piece of content. Content
management systems have been developed to solve this problem.
With a content management system, there is no need to create new
HTML pages manually - the CMS does it automatically. The webmaster
simply enters the content into a form, clicks a button and the software
generates a new web page. A content management system separates the
content (e.g. images, text, links, files, etc.) from the layout. When
the webmaster sets up a new website he creates a set of templates for
the pages. Whenever he adds new content, the pages are automatically
laid out based on these pre-defined templates. This may sound
complicated, but in most modern content management systems, setting up
the templates is simple. The webmaster will probably use an HTML editor
like Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expression Web to create templates
for the CMS. They contain all the page elements that are common across
the whole site like header, footer, logo, and navigation. Spaces are
left in the templates for the CMS to insert content when a new page is
Users who are not confident with HTML need not worry - most content
management systems offer some ready-made templates that can be used
'out of the box'. Many open source content management systems offer
free templates, which have been submitted by their community of users.
It is also possible to buy CMS templates from online template stores.
Another alternative is to find a designer to build custom templates.
These are the basic principles upon which all content management
systems are based. So how do you choose which CMS is right for you? The
first thing to establish is the size of your budget. Content management
systems range in price from zero up to thousands of dollars. The
no-cost end of the market is comprised of the many open source content
management systems that are available. At the high end of the market
are the custom built enterprise systems used by big corporations.
For the purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the open
source options; there are so many CMS products to choose from in this
category that there is bound to be one to suit most needs. Open source
software has an open license, which means it is free to use and the
source code is available for anyone to modify it.
Some of these open source systems are capable of running complex
portal websites with lots of dynamic functionality, whilst others are
much more simple. It is important to establish the scope of a website
before choosing the CMS. Most websites exist simply to publish standard
content. For sites like this, a complicated portal CMS is not required.
(We will discuss portals in more detail later.)
Learning how to use a portal CMS can be quite a demanding task
because of the complexity of these systems. For most simple websites
there is no point in going through this learning process. Instead
choose a simpler CMS that will require far less time and technical
skill to operate. One of the simplest content management systems is
called sNews. Other simple alternatives include most of the blogging
software packages (e.g. WordPress, Nucleus, Typo, etc.). Although these
are called 'blogs' they are, in fact, content management systems. By
default, they have been configured to run blog sites, but by simply
changing the templates they can be made to run many other types of
There are also many simple content management systems that are not
primarily designed to run blogs. These systems will run a wide range of
websites (including blogs!) and although the core software is usually
fairly simple, there may be add-ons and plugins, which can be used to
extend the system's capabilities. A good example of this kind of system
is a package called 'CMS Made Simple'.
We have already briefly mentioned portal systems. As well as
managing content, these provide all kinds of additional functionality
like front-end user registration, polls, forums, ecommerce, mailing
lists, etc. They are very powerful pieces of software and, for the
advanced webmaster, they provide almost endless possibilities in site
creation. However, for novice and intermediate users, the high level of
technical ability required may be prohibitive. Examples of portal
systems include Joomla!, Mambo, Drupal and Postnuke.
You should now have an overview of how content management systems
work and some of the things to consider when researching which CMS to
use. It is important to note that there are hundreds more open source
content management systems than the handful mentioned here.