If you have a great idea, run a business, or just simply want to get information out there, you need to be online to get the word out. Whether you’re aiming to run a successful website, make a lot of money, or create a helpful website, it’s so important to make the right choice at the start of your endeavor regarding what kind of tools you use to manage your digital content.
You want to get a good start, and choose a service that works for the kind of content you’re trying to create. It can also be difficult to switch to another management system later, and depending on what you’ve already created, it might not even be possible.
Okay, so that makes sense, but how to you choose the right one? You may have some experience working with digital content, but chances are, whatever you’re working on now is going to be different than anything you’ve done before. And the truth is, there isn’t one right answer to the question: “Which CMS is right for my business?”
All companies and websites are different, and you need to know what features to look for based on what type of website you want to run. That’s where we come in. In this article, we’re going to show you:
- What a CMS is and what it does
- Some of the best CMS options out there
- What features you need to focus on when choosing a CMS
- A comparison of the best features of popular CMS options
We’re going to start out by covering some of the basics, but be sure you don’t miss our comparison of the best services at the bottom of the article!
What is a CMS?
A CMS, or “Content Management System,” is a software application that allows users to create and manage digital content. It allows users to work with their content in a space that is separate from their published work, allowing for collaboration, editing, and indexing – before the work is published.
In general, a CMS is what organizations or individuals who want to run a website use to work with their content before presenting it to the public. You can save your work at any time, and then make the decision when to publish. It also allows multiple people to access the same account, so employees or individuals with different responsibilities can work with the content at any time, and make changes related to their responsibilities.
The best analogy we can think of for how to explain how a CMS works is that it’s like renting an apartment: as the renter, you get control over how your apartment looks, where the furniture goes, what’s hanging on the walls, but the owner of the building takes care of all of the essentials, like the temperature control, water, electricity, and so on. A CMS is developed and managed by a company that can store all of your information on its servers, and creates an interface for you to choose how your site looks, without you needing any knowledge of coding, or how to create a website and have it published online.
Features to look for in a good CMS
The features you need to look for regarding your own content will vary greatly depending on what your needs are, what you’re trying to present to the public, and what you’re trying to accomplish with your work. However, many features are commonly sought after, and important to all. Below we have a list of basic things to consider when looking for your CMS:
- Ease of use – Think about who will be using the CMS and what type of interface would work best for them. Do you have a worker who is well-versed in coding and wants to manipulate HTML directly themselves? Do you have someone who isn’t a coder, but is skilled visually and wants to drag-and-drop to create each page to their individual specifications? Or does your publisher have limited computer knowledge and want something where they can just plug text into a template? The interface is the thing you will be using most every day, so make sure you choose the right one.
- Has a good value for what it offers you – Price plans of CMS services vary greatly, and often, each CMS itself will offer you a couple of options for your plan, making you choose what you need. Make sure what you pay for is a good value by comparing it to what else is out there with comparable features.
- Includes the features you need, and not things you don’t – In addition to the point above, when choosing a plan, make sure you choose the one that offers you exactly what you need, and you aren’t paying more just to get additional features that you will never use. Don’t spend more many paying for premium services that should be standard, and may very well be with another CMS.
- Allows for employee collaboration – If you run a business, and have more than one employee working with your content, you want to look for a CMS that makes multiple logins and your whole team working together smoother. You should ask yourself if this site allows more than one person to work with the content at a time, or does this cause problems when saving changes on the site?
- Can make helpful suggestions for you – This varies with each CMS, but essentially, you want one that can help teach you how to use it as you go. Short tutorials, pop-up boxes, or even built-in SEO tools are all helpful tools that can really make the difference in the early stages of development with your site.
- Ways to monetize your site – Does the site offer you easy ways to monetize your site? Either by setting up an online store, adding advertisements, or some other way to earn money online? If this is something you are aiming to do, you should think about which CMS will offer the best monetization integration.
Now that you have an idea of exactly what it is you personally might be looking for, check out these 7 CMS options that are popular on the market currently, and find out why hundreds of people like you are signing up every day.
7 best CMS options on the market
WordPress.com has been well-established as a CMS, and continues to optimize and expand on its services, making it more and more popular. WordPress began as a haven for bloggers, making managing your blog posts, scheduling them, integrating other media, and everything you could need – easier than on any other site. In addition to all of these great blogging tools, WordPress now offers CMS options, both free and paid, that can help bring all of your content into one place. Its interface is incredibly easy to use, and most people can work with it intuitively, with very little (or no) computer training.
Best unique feature: The sheer number of options available to you for the type of site you want to create: personal blog or website, photoblog, business website, portfolio, government website, magazine or news site, online community, or website network.
Best for: Almost anyone – WordPress lets you choose what kind of site to create with more than just templates, making it practical for virtually any kind of endeavour, be it personal, or for business.
Wix.com became popular because, essentially, anyone can use it. Wix offers a primarily drag-and-drop interface, which means that as a user, you begin with a basic template (of which you can choose from a library of hundreds to match your needs), and then add elements individually in the exact place you want them. Using a toolbar along the side, you “Insert” the elements you want, such as images, text boxes, video, buttons, search bars, banners – and anything else you can think of, and then use the visual mapping tool to drag these elements onto your page. You build your site piece by piece, on each individual page, until it appears the way you want it to.
Best unique feature: The drag-and-drop technology is the best on the market, and allows you to measure each individual aspect you add, including how far apart your lines are, and allows you to map out the exact area you place any element in.
Best for: When you want to have control over the appearance of your website, down to the very last detail.
Squarespace.com is widely considered to be the most visually-appealing CMS in terms of its design, both while you’re working in its backend, and when your finished product appears published online; this is no surprise considering their tagline, which is “Build It Beautiful.” Like Wix, it allows you to customize your finished product down to the last detail, which, if you’re skilled enough while working with it, can give it a very professional finished look. Squarespace is known for the ability to control such minor aspects of the final detail, so if you want to change the most minute aspect, it’s for you; but if you find it overwhelming to need to put in a lot of extra work to make changes that are barely noticeable, then this CMS is probably not the best option for you.
Best unique feature: Every feature is Squarespace-owned, which means you don’t need to look around for compatible apps that allow you to add search bars, forms, or comment features. It is all there for you, and it just works.
Best for: When you want to start with a design-rich, professional looking template, and simply customize it to your company’s needs – without feeling like you want to change to add too much, as this will be extremely time-consuming.
Magento.com wastes no time letting you know what they focus on, that’s e-commerce. If you’re interested in selling something online, then this is probably the best option for you. Right from the start, instead of just choosing from templates, Magento asks you about your business needs and what industry you are in to help you narrow down where to begin. When working with sales, you need a lot more in terms of tracking tools than what a typical CMS can offer you, and Magento has a built-in suite to help with this, and can even easily help you service your customer accounts personally. Magento thinks of everything, and helps you every step of the way, including with setting up your site, cataloguing and showcasing your products, selling them online, customer payments, shipping, tracking your sales, and so on.
Best unique feature: Magento strives to be a true global sales platform, and can offer translation of your site into over 60 languages, and offers International support including calculating the correct taxes to charge based on the country of purchase.
Best for: When your website is focussed on e-commerce, you can’t beat the focus Magento places on this.
Weebly.com is very similar to Wix, in that it utilizes drag-and-drop technology to let you customize your site down to the last detail. One key difference between the two is the placement of elements you drag-and-drop into your site. Wix allows you to freeform move your elements, and shows you on a map down to the exact pixel where you are placing it, while Weebly uses pop-up lines to help you line your elements up on the page, and then drop them in the perfect place. This obviously results in slightly less control over where your elements are place, but also makes setting up your site so much easier. If you want your elements to line up well, without having to do calculations about spacing and spend extra minutes each time you place trying to get it in the right place, then trust Weebly to do it for you!
Best unique feature: The Weebly App Center: a place full of apps and integrations for your site, built by Weebly users, who can help you add almost anything you could possibly need to your site.
Best for: When you want a lot of control over the final look of your site, but want a builder that is much quicker to use, and makes adding new elements easier than other CMS options.
Joomla.org differs from the other CMS services we’ve mentioned so far, in that it is its own standalone program you must download for your computer, rather than being Internet browser-based. This has one key advantage: it is so much faster at rendering your site as you work on it than the websites that real-time updating on a webpage as you work. Joomla also offers multi-lingual services in over 65 languages, all within its core package. Another great feature is that Joomla saves each version of your site, so you can easily track who made changes and when, and revert back to a previous version if necessary.
Best unique feature: Front-end editing: the ability to make changes on your site, as the administrator, while you’re viewing it in the public, published space. You don’t need to log in, find that spot on the page, and then make the changes. One click, and you can make changes right away.
Best for: When the person using it has a basic understanding of technical skills, as the backend development tool is a bit more complex than other CMS services.
Magnolia-CMS.com is a particularly unique CMS, and is for those with a bit more advanced knowledge when it comes to computer science. It is an open-source platform that uses Java for its backend, so it does require Java knowledge and experience to make good use of it. It does however, allow for complete customization within the Java code, and is well-suited to websites that require massive file storage. Magnolia is certainly targeted towards enterprises, so is probably not the best option for a small business or personal venture. Before deciding if this is for you, you can check out a personal demo of the service and watch how it works, and you can use it for 30 days for free, which is twice as long as most CMS free trials.
Best unique feature: A completely customizable Java interface that is customizable, allowing backend editors to set up “favorites” for controls and applications they use most frequently – saving a lot of time.
Best for: Government organizations, financial institutions, and large enterprises – all of whom have IT resources and programmers versed in Java.
Comparison of the best CMS services
This chart can help you compare specific features you’re interested, to help you choose the right CMS for you.
|Name of Service||WordPress||Wix||Squarespace||Magento||Weebly||Joomla||Magnolia|
|Has drag and drop||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Allows direct editing of the code||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can be used by someone with little to no tech experience||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Has backup options and makes recovery easy||No||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Has an App Store with easy-to-access, quality integrations||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Speed and performance||4/5||2.5/5||2.5/5||3/5||2.5/5||5/5||5/5|
|Mobile-responsive editing||Yes||Yes||Only directly in the code||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Depends on individual website||Free:
|Free||Depends on individual business|
Now you have a much better idea of how to choose the right CMS for your company or personal website. If you’re in the works with a new business, check out our business-related articles and tips and tricks; you can learn all about how to make use of the best technology on the market for managing your business and making it better. If you were interested in Wix and Weebly, we’ve got entire courses on how to use them! Check them out our Wix course or Weebly course!