What Is a Content Management System?

What Is a Content Management System?

The Gist

  • What is a CMS. Dives deep into the definition of the content management system.
  • Modern CMS features. Highlights user-friendliness, responsive design, SEO tools, and AI integration in current CMS software.
  • Why is CMS important. Diving into key reasons why businesses need a content management system to thrive in today’s digital world. 

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated on February 1, 2024 to include new data and information. 

Since the beginning of the web, content has reigned supreme, and as such, the CMS has emerged as the backbone of online content and presentation. What does CMS stand for in marketing and media development? Content management system, a key tool helping business develop and maintain digital content. 

This article explores exactly what a content management system is, its history, why it matters more than ever today and how it empowers businesses to efficiently manage their online content, engage with their audience and ultimately drive their business.

What Is a CMS? 

What is a CMS platform? In its most basic form, the term CMS refers to software that was designed “to create, manage, and deliver content via digital channels.” A content management system is at the core of a brand’s digital strategy, enabling seamless collaboration, content distribution and a consistent online experience. As businesses strive to capture and retain the attention of an increasingly digital audience, understanding the importance of the CMS becomes crucial.

The History of the Content Management System

The history of the CMS is closely tied to the evolution of the internet and web technologies, as once the web became available, finding a way to prepare, present and display content became important, both for individuals and businesses who wished to have a web presence.

cms history

The webmasters of old, as it were, worked with flat file systems in order to create websites. They would edit each page of the website using the Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), and then manually upload the pages to a web server typically using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) software that moved the files from a local computer to a remote computer. As the size of these websites grew from a few pages to dozens of pages, it became tedious to update the menu, copyright, links, etc., on each page, so these webmasters began to use Server Side Includes (SSI) to include text files as part of each page, allowing them to update the menu text file, and upload it to the server, effectively updating the menu on every page on the site. 

Even this became cumbersome when websites expanded to hundreds and thousands of pages. Additionally, it became challenging for those not well-versed in HTML to add, edit or otherwise make changes to a web page, so only the webmaster was able to make the required changes. It was at that point that the idea of a content management system began to be considered, for reasons of both simplicity and necessity. 

Early Stages (Late 1990s – Early 2000s)

During this time, the landscape of the internet vegan to evolve rapidly, prompting the need for more sophisticated website management tools. This period marked the advent of CMS development. But what is CMS development exactly? In essence, it’s the process of creating and enhancing systems to allow for easier, more efficient management of digital content.

During these early years, CMS development focused on reducing the need for technical expertise. These early CMS were mostly custom-built, laying the groundwork for the more standardized and feature-rich platforms we see today. The late 1990s saw the rise of the first open-source CMS platforms such as PHP-Nuke, as well as early versions of the open source Drupal CMS.

Expansion and Diversification (Mid-2000s)

The mid-2000s marked a significant expansion in the CMS market. Platforms such as WordPress, Joomla and an improved version of Drupal became popular. These platforms offered more user-friendly interfaces and customizable templates, making it easier for non-technical users to create and manage websites.

Rise of Open Source (Late 2000s – Early 2010s)

Open-source CMS platforms gained immense popularity due to their flexibility, community-driven development and cost-effectiveness. In 2003, WordPress emerged as a dominant player, evolving from a simple blogging platform to a comprehensive CMS capable of powering complex websites.

Mobile and Responsive Design Era (2010s)

With the rise of mobile internet usage, CMS platforms started focusing on responsive design, ensuring websites were mobile-friendly. This era also saw the integration of SEO tools and social media features into CMS platforms.

Current Trends (Late 2010s – Present)

Modern CMS platforms have become more than just content management tools. They now offer a wide range of features including ecommerce capabilities, advanced SEO, personalized content delivery, AI integration for content analysis and multi-channel content distribution. The concept of the headless CMS, which separates the backend content management from the frontend presentation layer, has become popular for its flexibility in delivering content to various devices and platforms.

Related Article: Content Management Systems Solutions: Examining Your Core Issue

Key Features of the Modern CMS

The modern CMS has evolved significantly, incorporating a wide range of features to cater to the diverse needs of digital content creators, web developers and businesses, so much so that extensive CMS directories have become available to help brands find the specific type of CMS they are interested in. 

Erik Pham, founder and CEO of Health Canal, a health and wellness media company, told CMSWire that a CMS not only provides his business with the necessary tools for content creation, but of equal importance, it offers an efficient workflow management system. “This enables our editorial team to seamlessly collaborate, review and refine content. The structured workflow ensures that every article, infused with the expertise and authenticity that our audience expects, undergoes a thorough review process before reaching our readership.” 

Some of the key features of modern CMS platforms include:

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