Content Management Systems — A Deep Dive
Without taking much of your time, a Content Management System is …
Hold on, before we look at the definition, let’s look at what content management, in general means.
Content management is an activity that involves creating, collecting, updating, and deleting (managing) information. This information is commonly in the form of digital content. Examples of digital content are images, video and audio files, and other forms of information that can be stored on the web.
Now armed with the knowledge of content management, we can now look at a clear and understandable definition of what a Content Management System is.
What is a Content Management System?
A Content Management System is a software application that is used to manage digital content through a user-friendly interface.
How Do Content Management Systems Work?
A Content Management System is made up of two components, a Content Management Application and a Content Delivery Application.
We can view the Content Management Application (CMA) as the frontend. It is what you interact with when you handle the creation, retrieval, and deletion of content on a website. The Content Delivery Application (CDA) is what acts as a backend and helps reflect the changes you make with the CMA. The CDA also consists of databases and other sub-components that make the website run.
Types of Content Management Systems
There are different types of Content Management Systems for different types of content. We’d look at four variants;
1. Component Content Management System (CCMS)
Component Content Management Systems manage content in a modular manner. Unlike traditional CMSs which manages content by pages, a CCMS stores basic elements like paragraphs, phrases, or multimedia as reusable blocks or components.
These stored components can later be reused in other content and can be translated into multiple languages. Content stored on a CCMS can also be published on multiple platforms including PDFs, mobile, and the web.
2. Digital Asset Management System (DAM)
A Digital Asset Management System provides a solution to manage media files such as audio, photos, or videos. DAMs store managed content on the cloud, making them accessible on an internet-enabled device.
3. Document Management System (DMS)
Document Management Systems help businesses to store, track and manage their documents. These documents may be in the form of proposals, contracts, or reports.
Just like Digital Asset Management Systems, they store the documents on the cloud.
4. Enterprise Content Management System (ECM)
An ECM provides a way for an organisation to easily store and manage their documentation. They offer members of an organisation access to the specific content they need for their respective projects. A notable feature of ECMs is that they delete unused files after a specified period, to help conserve space.
5. Web Content Management Systems (WCMS)
WCMSs provides a way for people to create a website and manage its content without delving into the technicalities involved in setting one up.
Unlike the aforementioned types of Content Management Systems, a Web Content Management System exclusively deals with managing content for the web.
In this article, we’d be focusing on Web Content Management Systems.
Features of a CMS
a. User-Friendly Admin Dashboard
Content Management Systems offer a user-friendly dashboard that helps you handle tasks that are essential in managing a website.
b. Content Editor
Content Management Systems make use of a content editor to create or edit posts or pages.
Modern CMSs come packed with a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editor. This type of editor helps you to add essential and interactive elements (blockquotes, third-party items) to your content without the need of writing raw HTML.
b. User Role Management
Content Management Systems serve as an ideal collaboration tool for teams. Some content teams have distinct roles. Some can be that of an author, contributor, editor, and publisher.
Modern CMSs provide built-in support to define custom capabilities for each specific role. For example, an author can be restricted to only write content, an editor restricted to review the content the author has worked on and a publisher that handles scheduling, publishing, or removing the content.
c. Responsive Themes
Themes control the frontend section of a CMS-powered website and help give it a consistent look. Modern CMSs offer a plethora of native or third-party themes for you to choose from.
d. Built-In SEO Support
What is the use of managing content if they can’t be seen by the targeted audience? For content to reach the right people, it has to be optimised for search engines.
Content Management Systems offer built-in support to add key-phrases, meta descriptions, and other vital information necessary to help optimise your content for search engines.
CMSs have built-in security measure to help protect your data and that of your customers and visitors. Some notable security measures are firewalls and CDNs to prevent DDoS (Denial of Service) attacks.
Despite the aforementioned features a CMS possesses, their native capabilities might not be enough for you depending on your needs. Because of this, Content Management Systems permit integration with other tools, commonly referred to as plugins or extensions.
For example, some Content Management Systems don’t offer built-in analytics of a site’s visitors. They can be supercharged by using a third-party plugin to integrate Google Analytics.
In other words, modern Content Management Systems are scalable and extensible.
Other notable features;
- Social Media Integration
- Multi-Language Support
Examples of Content Management Systems
It is also very extensible and has a huge library of over 54,000 free plugins (excluding paid ones), giving you limitless customisation options. This makes it attractive for both beginners and developers.
There’s another variation of WordPress called WordPress.com. WordPress.org is an open-source CMS, while WordPress.com is a blog hosting service offered by Automattic.
Fun fact: WordPress.com was also created by Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress.org.
Contentful is a headless CMS that primarily focuses on API-driven content management. It can be used with any language or framework and allows content to be edited on any internet-enabled smart device.
The Contentful CMS isn’t open-sourced like WordPress but comes packed with both a free and paid plan.
It is trusted and used by top brands like Bang and Olufsen, Spotify, Twilio and Lyft.
A Headless CMS isn’t like traditional ones because they don’t have a frontend attached to it. In a headless CMS, content management tasks are handled via the backend and APIs. Developers usually attach them with frontend stacks of their choice.
Shopify is a CMS primarily for building and managing online stores. It also comes packed with a website builder and built-in payment processing to handle purchases.
It also has a tonne of features that are highly beneficial for eCommerce businesses. Shop owners can access tools to help them build their brand and sell on social media. It requires little to no programming knowledge and is easy to use.
Shopify is a subscription-based CMS and offers 3 plans;
Just in case you want to try it out to see if it would be a good fit for your online store, they offer a 14-day free trial you can opt into, without requiring your credit card details.
Ghost is a free and open-source CMS primarily built to ease the online publishing process for blogs and publications. It can be used as either a traditional or headless CMS. With Ghost, you can also build a membership and subscription site with total control of your recurring revenue with no hidden cost.
Just like other Content Management Systems, it can be integrated with third-party services.
Ghost has a paid option, Ghost Pro, a paid hosting platform for its CMS, offering customers automatic backups and updates. It offers three plans;
Squarespace is both a website builder and a CMS. What distinguishes it from other Content Management Systems is its aesthetic designs, making it perfect for creative professionals as they can inject their droplets of creativity into their online portfolio.
This doesn’t limit Squarespace to just building portfolios. You can also make a blog with it. Squarespace is subscription-based and offers 4 plans;
Their payment plans are flexible and can be paid monthly or annually.
What Can I Build With a CMS?
You can build almost any type of website with a Content Management System, but you will be limited to what you can build depending on the capabilities of your chosen CMS. The aforementioned Content Management Systems can be used to build:
More powerful and extensible CMSs like WordPress can be used to build larger websites like:
- Job Boards
- Directories / Listings
- Social Networks
- Streaming Services
Advantages of Content Management Systems
Using a CMS to power your website has several advantages. We’d look at few notable ones.
1. Speedy Development and Deployment
Using a CMS to create your website, blog, or online store makes the whole process easy as it has pre-made settings for you to get your website running, and reduces the need for you to delve deep into complex configurations.
These pre-made settings may come in form of easy-to-edit templates/themes to customise the visual aspect of your site and support for third-party newsletter services.
2. Ease of Use
Just as Content Management Systems make it easier to set up your website, they also make it easier to manage other digital assets. For a blog, all you might have to do is to simply create a post, add an image, a few keywords, and then publish. For stores, you can easily add a product, attach an image or a price, add a coupon, and also publish.
Content Management Systems help abstract the technicalities in managing content and provide a straight forward process to handle important tasks.
Remember when we discussed the user role management feature of Content Management Systems? They make it easier for organisations to handle a website properly.
For example, a blog can have;
- An administrator who would handle maintaining the site.
- Authors who would create posts.
- Editors to help check the posts for errors.
- SEO Managers to help optimise the post for search engines, and
- A publisher to finally make the post public for readers.
Not only does a CMS provide these roles, but they also provide restrictions (which can be customised) for each role. An author wouldn’t have access to the tools available to maintain the site, and an SEO Manager might not be allowed to publish an optimised post.
Paid Content Management Systems have built-in support to aid users in areas where they encounter problems. Open-source CMS might not have a direct way of providing support to its users. Instead, they have communities and forums where experts can help those who encounter difficulties.
Disadvantages of Content Management Systems
Content Management Systems also have certain drawbacks:
1. Site Breakage
I’m sure you’ve had the popular Peter Parker principle, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This applies to using Content Management Systems.
Content Management Systems undoubtedly give you the ability to not just manage content, but also make customisations and extend its features. This also makes it easier to break your website. Common issues that result in a site breaking are:
- Using a lot of plugins
- Poor optimisation of images (not resizing or compressing)
- Poorly configured user role management
- Broken embedded elements
- Incorrect file permissions
To avoid such common errors, it is recommended you consistently update your knowledge on how to use your CMS.
Yes, maintaining Content Management Systems also has its drawbacks. Depending on the size of your website, updating plugins, themes/templates can be quite a hassle.
Also one might forget checking regularly for available updates. This isn’t necessarily a problem for paid Content Management Systems because they automate the updating process. So, when a new plugin or theme is available, they update it instantly.
For users of open-source CMS, I recommended you create a schedule to check your website, preferably every week. A more efficient way to mitigate this problem is to outsource your website maintenance to a developer.
3. Insufficient Support
This is a problem encountered by users of open-source CMS. Despite having a community of experts, there might be a situation where the solution to an error can’t be discovered even by an expert. Even in cases where a solution has been provided, there are situations where it would be too difficult to implement it.
A good way to mitigate this problem is to once again, hire a developer, or switch to using a paid CMS.
Website hacking has been popular in the world of Content Management Systems, as they power a majority of websites worldwide. This makes it attractive to hackers. A good way to avoid this is to use trusted security third-party plugins/extensions and also regularly update your website.
Coming to a Wrap
No doubt, Content Management Systems serve as a suitable solution for a lot of people and organisations. They help abstract the technicalities and complexity involved in setting up a modular extensible website and provide a user-friendly approach to handle important tasks.
We looked at;
- Their different types
- Examples with both free open-source and paid options
- Types of websites we can build with them, and
- Advantages of using them, their drawbacks, and ways to work around them.