What is a content management system?

You might think that a web content management system is a system for managing web content. To some extent that is true, but most are really just authoring and publishing systems, sometimes with workflow to accomodate approval and review processes.

While not all content management systems (CMSs) are for web content, the overwhelming majority are, so the term CMS here is used to refer only to web content management systems.

Advantages of using a content management system

The advantages of using a CMS include:

  • They often include a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) text editor. This allows users to enter content through a familiar interface (similar, for example, to Microsoft Word®), without requiring technical knowledge of HTML or other web languages
  • They generally use templating systems, which means each web page is produced in a consistent way. This helps to make a website look more credible. It also makes it easier to change how a website looks or works by changing a template, rather than every individual page.
  • The same content can often be published using different templates for different purposes, for example one template may be suitable for publishing content to your website, while another may publish the same content in a format suitable for sending by email.
  • They may include workflow systems which make it easier to automate the review and approval of web content, as well as the publishing and removal of that content. 
  • They can also keep track of content changes and workflows, making it easy to work out who has changed, reviewed or approved content for publication and when it was published or removed from a site.

The downsides

There are some downsides to using content management systems however. These include:

  • While they make it easier for people to publish content without technical knowledge of HTML, web authoring still requires knowledge of how to structure and prepare content appropriately for the web. Unless users are trained appropriately, or good quality control measures are put in place, the quality of web content can decline.
  • The more flexible a CMS is, the more complicated they are to implement and maintain—and sometimes to use.
  • Most proprietary CMSs are expensive, and beyond the reach of most small to medium businesses.

In conclusion

There is a great variety of content management systems available, and fortunately many of them are open source—which means there are often no, or minimal, purchase costs. However, they also vary widely in their capabilities and ease of implementation, and use.

The preferred content management system at ContentEssentials is currently ProcessWire - a fairly new open source product. Some of the articles in the Essentially CMS series will focus on ProcessWire. However, there will also be articles about aspects of content management systems in general, as well as consideration of some of the other CMSs that are avaialble.

Published: Thursday, 28 June 2012

Last updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2013