What Is a Content Management System?
- 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.
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.
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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:
- User-Friendly Interface: Modern CMS platforms offer intuitive and user-friendly interfaces, making it easy for users with varying technical skills to create, manage and publish content.
- Responsive Design Compatibility: This ensures that content is optimized for various devices, particularly mobile, with responsive design capabilities built into templates and themes.
- SEO Tools Integration: The modern CMS often includes built-in search engine optimization (SEO) tools to help improve the visibility of content on search engines, including capabilities for metadata management, URL customization and integration with Google Analytics.
- Content Personalization and Targeting: Advanced CMS platforms offer personalized content delivery based on user behavior, preferences and demographics, enhancing user engagement and experience.
- Multimedia Support: Supporting a wide range of multimedia formats, including images, videos and audio files, the modern CMS often comes with built-in media libraries for easy management.
- Ecommerce Integration: Many CMS platforms now offer ecommerce functionality or integrate seamlessly with ecommerce platforms, enabling businesses to manage both content and online sales from a single platform.
- Multi-language Support: To cater to a global audience, the modern CMS provides multi-language support, allowing content translation and localization.
- Security Features: Enhanced security features are a staple of modern CMS platforms, including regular updates, strong password enforcement and protection against common security threats like SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).
- Customizable and Extensible: Extensive customization options are available through plugins, extensions and themes, allowing businesses to add new features and tailor the CMS to specific requirements.
- Social Media Integration: The modern CMS enables easy integration with social media platforms, allowing content to be shared directly to social networks while enhancing social media marketing efforts.
- Content Workflow and Collaboration Tools: Tools for content workflow management are often incorporated, such as content scheduling, version control and collaboration features for teams.
- Headless CMS Capabilities: Some modern CMS platforms offer “headless” capabilities, where the content management backend is decoupled from the presentation layer, providing greater flexibility in delivering content to various channels and devices.
Kate Smoothy, founder and director at Webhive Digital, a web design and SEO agency, told CMSWire that as a web designer who has been designing websites since she was 12, the two most important things she looks for in a CMS today are flexibility and usability.
“The platform needs to be flexible enough that we can create a website fit for the client’s needs, but it also needs to be user-friendly for our clients to use themselves,” said Smoothy. “While we offer website support and maintenance for our clients, we do not feel they should be forced to use it for small content updates or publishing blog posts.” Smoothy explained that some clients also want their marketing team to be able to create new landing pages as needed, so ease of use is even more important for them.
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How to Use CMS
The right content tool is pivotal in streamlining CMS digital marketing strategies. To get started, it’s important to select a content management system that aligns with your specific business needs, considering factors like:
- Ease of use
- Integration capabilities
Once a CMS is in place, it’s time to organize your content strategy. This step involves categorizing and scheduling your digital content, whether that’s blog posts, news updates or product descriptions. Ensure your team leverages the CMS to maintain a consistent and responsive design across all channels and platforms.
Next, focus on optimizing your content for search engines. Utilize various tools within the CMS to add relevant meta tags, set SEO-friendly URLs and incorporate keywords. Regularly update your content to keep it fresh and engaging, and monitor user engagement and feedback through built-in analytics features, as this data is invaluable in refining your content strategy to better meet the needs of your audience.
Keep in mind that effective use of a CMS goes beyond basic operation. It involves understanding how to create content management system processes that are tailored to your organization’s unique needs, which requires defining workflows for content creation, approval and publication and ensuring these processes align with your team’s structure and content strategy goals.
The Impact of AI on the Modern CMS
The integration of AI into the CMS has marked a transformative phase in digital content management, enhancing the capabilities of these platforms and paving the way for more sophisticated and efficient content strategies.
AI’s impact on content management systems is multifaceted. One of the most significant advancements is in content personalization and recommendation. AI algorithms analyze user behavior, preferences and engagement metrics to deliver personalized content to users. This not only improves the customer experience but also boosts engagement rates, as content is more relevant and aligned with individual user interests and behaviors.
The integration of AI into the CMS has also been responsible for a conscious effort to add more humanity into the mix. Jay Sanderson, senior product marketing manager of digital experience at Progress, an enterprise application solution provider, told CMSWire that in an era where digital interaction is increasingly favored, the humanization of digital experiences has become more crucial. “Businesses are now tasked with finding innovative ways to embed human elements into these digital interactions,” said Sanderson. “This can be achieved through the integration of conversational AI and omnichannel experiences, facilitating a more natural connection with customers while easing the burden on human resources.”
Another area where AI has made a substantial impact is in search engine optimization and content creation. AI tools can suggest relevant keywords, predict trending topics and even generate content drafts, streamlining the content creation process. This technology helps brands maintain a high SEO standard, ensuring their content ranks well in search engine results and reaches the intended audience.
Automated content tagging and categorization is another function where AI has proven to be invaluable. By understanding the context and semantics of the content, AI can automatically tag and categorize it, saving time and improving content discoverability and organization.
Customer support and interaction have also been revolutionized with AI in the CMS. Chatbots and virtual assistants, powered by AI, can respond to customer queries, provide instant support and enhance overall customer engagement. These AI-driven systems learn from interactions to provide more accurate responses over time, improving the efficiency of customer service operations.
The Top 6 CMS Platforms Today
The top CMS platforms based on popularity and usage include the open source (and free) WordPress, Drupal and Joomla platforms, all of which are widely recognized for their versatility, robust community support and extensive customization capabilities. Here’s a brief overview of them along with three other notable CMS platforms:
- WordPress: According to daily reports from W3 Techs, WordPress is used by 62.9% of all websites using content management systems, accounting for an astounding 43.1% of all websites. Compare this to the next most popular CMS, Shopify, which accounts for only 4.1% of all websites. WordPress is known for its ease of use, flexibility and a vast ecosystem of both free and premium themes and plugins. It’s suitable for everything from simple blogs to complex ecommerce websites.
- Drupal: Known for its powerful and flexible framework, Drupal is particularly well-suited for complex, data-intensive websites and applications. It offers a high degree of customizability and robust security features, but does come with a fairly steep learning curve.
- Joomla: Joomla strikes a balance between user-friendliness and robust functionality. It’s a versatile CMS, suitable for creating a wide range of websites, from personal blogs to corporate portals. While it does not require any coding or programming knowledge, it still has a moderate to steep learning curve.
- Shopify: Although primarily an ecommerce platform, Shopify — the second most popular CMS — functions effectively as a CMS for online retailers. It offers an intuitive interface, beautiful designs and extensive ecommerce features, making it ideal for businesses looking to sell products online.
- Wix: A popular and user-friendly CMS, Wix is particularly favored by users for its intuitive drag-and-drop interface and a wide array of templates, making it a great choice for individuals and businesses looking to create professional-looking websites without requiring extensive coding knowledge. Garry West, creative director at Imagefix, a UK-based design and digital marketing agency, told CMSWire that a flexible CMS with a range of templates, widgets and customization options allows his business to tailor each website to the unique brand identity and target audience of its clients. “We believe in providing our clients with the creative freedom to express their brand’s essence through their website, and a CMS that provides a broad range of design styles is essential for achieving this goal.”
- Squarespace: Known for its sleek templates and user-friendly design interface, Squarespace is a popular choice for creatives and small businesses. It offers a range of features including ecommerce capabilities, without requiring users to have extensive technical skills. “We have a reputation for designing websites that not only look stunning but also allow our clients and their teams to manage their own content after handover,” said West. “A user-friendly CMS is essential for this, allowing non-technical users to navigate and update content without feeling overwhelmed by technical jargon or coding.”
Each of these CMS platforms caters to different needs, desires and skill levels, from the multitude of themes and plugins for WordPress to Drupal’s robust and scalable architecture to Wix’s simplicity and ease of use. The choice of CMS often depends on the specific requirements, technical expertise and the nature of the project at hand.
“Selecting an appropriate CMS transcends a one-size-fits-all approach,” suggested Sanderson. “Important considerations include security, functionality, scalability, user experience, omnichannel capabilities, support and the need for continuous upgrades.” Sanderson reiterated that scalability is paramount as it must cater to both performance demands and organizational growth, ensuring the CMS can adapt to rapid content demands and expanding content teams.
Shaping the Future: The Role of CMS in Digital Evolution
What is a CMS? It’s a central platform for managing and distributing online content, an indispensable tool for brands competing for customer mindshare in the digital realm. The modern CMS leverages the capabilities of AI-enabled personalization, automation, analytics and extensibility alongside robust features for stylized content creation, collaboration and omnichannel publication. With no-code, user-friendly interfaces enabling teams to efficiently produce optimized, engaging content, the CMS provides the ability for brands to build enduring connections with customers across devices and touchpoints.