A Crash Course in Content Management Systems
If you’re a small business running a large website, with lots of updates and changes being made every day, you no doubt know the difficulty of changing content on a regular basis. When you have a lot of content to shift around, or your content needs to be updated on a weekly or daily basis, content management systems (CMS) can really save you time and energy in managing your website or blog.
In this article, I will walk you through some of the benefits of using content management systems as a part of your website management, as well as talk about three CMS systems that will work well for first time users.
Content Management Made Easy
CMS systems are applications, usually run on your computer (though there are a few that can be run in-browser), that allows users to publish, edit, modify, delete, and organize website content, as well as maintain a site through a central interface. It is easiest to think of CMS like a blog – they allow you to regularly post, update, edit, or move content around quickly, via a program or website.
CMS programs can also handle multiple users, allowing you to assign roles and maintain workflow from a central interface for a blog or content heavy website. Since websites, and blogs in particular, require a lot of upkeep to stay fresh, CMS is an invaluable system to a business.
Are CMS systems for everyone? For the most part, no. These systems do not allow you to squeak by without any coding experience or help – you’ll still need to build the site itself, which may require outside HTML, CSS, or PHP. Some CMS clients will also require a little bit of coding knowledge. If you need a simpler site, or simply want to build a site and have it run, you should check out these website builders built for small business.
Popular CMS Sites and Programs
The following list is comprised of three, open source content management systems. There are more systems and sites, some of which I will list at the end, but I encourage you to check out more exhaustive lists like Udemy’s advice on CMS.
This one is for those of you that don’t know code. WordPress is a simple solution to your content management needs, and is easy to pick up if you don’t know code. There is no program to download, either – you can create a site, customize it, and manage its content on WordPress in browser, and for free*. The WordPress community is large and thriving, creating a ton of widgets and layouts to help you customize your site.
Managing content on WordPress works like managing a blog – you create posts or pages, and add that content to your menu bar using the Menus option under the appearance menu. You can publish and unpublish pages easily, and move content around with relative ease. The site also handles visual content well, depending on the theme you are working with. WordPress can seem overwhelming at first, but the site has a low learning curve; you can easily figure out what you’re doing by plucking around WordPress’ options. Any thing else you can get from the thriving support forums.
The downside to WordPress is that, in order to heavily customize your site, you will need skill with HTML, CSS, and/or PHP, and be willing to muck around in the guts of your theme’s code. The good news is that there are a plethora of themes to choose from, widgets to install, and the support forums are excellent – check WordPress out for yourself at https://wordpress.com/
Like WordPress, Drupal is widely used and has a thriving user base and community to help new users along the way. Unlike WordPress, Drupal allows you a lot more freedom in how you work with the program. They have prebuilt distributions available for new users, or you can get started with the program from scratch. There are hundreds of modules and themes, as well as a wide variety of language support, to allow you the most freedom in creating and maintaining the site.
Like WordPress, Drupal is best for text content and visual content. However, where WordPress is the lower end, needing the least coding experience to function, Drupal is the higher end, offering much more customization to those with, and without, coding experience.
Drupal runs on the PHP coding language by default, and this can be a bit daunting for non-programmers. There is also quite a lot to process when first starting out. However, Drupal offers a plethora of tutorials, support forums, and guides to help you along so, though the learning curve may be steep, the software itself is relatively user-friendly. It’s flexible, and allows you a surprising number of customization options, no programming required – check it out at https://www.drupal.org/start
Joomla is the last of the truly open source CMS, and is the middle ground between Drupal and WordPress. Drupal and WordPress, both, can handle text and excel in visual content. Joomla is ideal for large amounts of text-based content. Joomla is more user friendly, though it lacks the WYSIWYG interface of WordPress and the community of Drupal.
Joomla gives you the ability to clean up URLs (like Drupal), and has MySQL integration (like both WordPress and Drupal) to handle your website’s server needs. The program supports PHP, but also supports a wide variety of other coding languages. If you’re looking to run and manage an eCommerce site, Joomla comes the best equipped to help you with your storefront – with widgets to help you manage shipping, inventory, payments, and taxes.
You can use Joomla for free at http://www.joomla.org/
Other content management systems
As I mentioned before, there are a ton of other content management systems out there, and some may fit your needs better than the systems above. SquareSpace, for instance, while primarily a website builder can help you manage content. There is also Cushy, which features a WYSIWYG editor, to check out. Beyond the content management systems above, though, you will run into more closed source and payment based systems, so if you would like to try out CMS for free, I would recommend WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla.
Do you use a content management system? Which one, and how does it help your business? Let us know in the comments below!