For our buying guide of the best content management system (CMS) software, we evaluated the top performers as well as programs that occupy a specific industry niche. We sought out services that go beyond just uploading and managing content. We looked for platforms that offer customization, including plug-ins for eCommerce and SEO optimization, so your website does what you want it to do, and it shows up high in search engine rankings. We also looked for applications that allow multiple users to upload content and that allow you to customize security settings for different users of the software.
What Is a CMS Used For?
At the most basic level, a CMS lets you upload and manage the content for your website. No matter the size or type of your business, a CMS has become almost indispensable. It operates on the backend of your website, allowing you to manage the content and other facets of your website, including the visual layout.
Another benefit of a CMS is that it makes it easy for users with varying levels of tech savviness. If your tech literacy is low, CMS systems have a variety of premade themes and plug-ins that have already been developed (think phone apps but for your website) and allow you to add tools, like search or appointment calendars, to your website.
If you know how to code, or employ software developers, most CMS software is open source and can be customized to your liking. If you want to learn more about CMS, read our articles here.
Businesses of all types can benefit from using a CMS for their website. Here are some examples of how a CMS can enhance the websites for a variety of different business types:
- Restaurants: CMS software makes it easy for restaurants to add and update their menus, create coupons and offers, and allow customers to make reservations online. There are many premade plug-ins that specifically target restaurant websites.
- eCommerce: A CMS can benefit your online store by allowing you to quickly add and remove products, track sales, and manage other aspects of your business. Plug-ins are available to add a shopping cart to your site. A brick-and-mortar store can easily add a shopping cart using a CMS.
- Small Businesses: No matter what type of business you operate, a website is a necessity in today's business world. A CMS allows you to manage the content yourself and update information quickly. Most CMS applications include SEO plug-ins to help you optimize your website's content. You can also find templates and themes to quickly create an attractive website without having to hire a designer.
- Nonprofits: A CMS allows nonprofits to easily manage their websites for not a lot of money, plus you can accept donations online by adding plug-ins. Many open-source CMS applications have robust communities of developers that can help nonprofits create the best websites. Add-ons and plug-ins are also available to help nonprofits manage their social media and marketing presence.
Best Overall CMS
While it may have started as a blogging platform, WordPress is one of the largest and most widely used CMS platforms today. It's estimated that nearly 60 percent of websites that use a CMS choose WordPress. By its own estimate, 24 percent of the web operates through WordPress. Major websites that use WordPress include The New Yorker, Best Buy and Xerox.
WordPress is open source, which means that you don't need to purchase a license to operate it. In addition, open source software is constantly being enhanced by a community of contributors, including web developers, who create plug-ins and themes for the software. This makes it a good choice regardless of whether or not you know how to code or have a web developer or a team of developers. The software can be customized to fit your needs.
WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems, servicing thousands of users and websites because it offers flexibility of tools with an easy-to-use interface. While it lacks in basic web creation tools, it still has extremely useful native and third-party business add-ons to quickly create functional eCommerce sites.Read more here
Best CMS for eCommerce
If you have an online store, what you need from a CMS will differ from that of a standard website. Many CMS applications have plug-ins for eCommerce, but there are also those that are developed specifically for eCommerce sites. Magento rates as one of the best, with an open source platform and a variety of different options for eCommerce businesses of all sizes. Prominent clients include Burger King, Nestle and Zumiez.
Magento Community Edition is the basic platform, well suited for small businesses or tech-savvy entrepreneurs just starting out who want to build a webstore from scratch. If you don't know how to code, there is a community of users creating extensions with new features that you can add on to your store. Magento also supports multiple currencies and languages, which makes it a good choice if you have international customers.
Enterprise and Enterprise Cloud Edition are options for larger-scale sites. The Cloud Edition includes webhosting. There are costs associated with these options, but they include assistance with installation and troubleshooting.
The Magento content management system (CMS) is geared toward creating attractive and powerful eCommerce websites. It offers out-of-the box capabilities with ready-made themes while allowing for unlimited ability to customize with your own code. Thus, it's a good choice for growing businesses.Read more here
Best CMS for SEO
Optimizing your website for search engines is critical when building a website. Drupal, an open source CMS application, has many tools and modules to help you create content relevant to your target audience and structure your website so it can be crawled effectively by search engines. Major website that utilize Drupal include The Economist, Weather.com and Fox.
Drupal is a good choice for sites that manage a lot of pages or that have a large number of users. Having good SEO tools for a large site is crucial, as issues with duplicate content and poor site architecture can lead to poor rankings.
Drupal is more complex than other open source CMS platforms. You may have to hire a web developer or a team of designers and development staff to develop a good, user-friendly site. Drupal is well regarded as being one of the most secure open-source content management platforms.
Drupal is a well-known content management system intended to help advanced designers create a powerful website capable of handling large volumes of visitors and hundreds of pages of content. Drupal is so flexible it can create a simple blog as easily as impressive, interactive business sites. This flexibility makes this CMS a great solution for a growing business with ever-changing website needs.Read more here
Best CMS for Small Business
Maintaining a website is a necessity no matter what type of business you operate. It is often the first impression customers have of your business. Joomla is well regarded as the best CMS application for small business owners. This is an open source CMS that is easy to develop and customize. Major websites built using Joomla include Harvard University and The Guggenheim Museum and Foundation.
Joomla is a good choice for small businesses regardless of the size of your business (whether you have one of 50 employees) or the industry because of the relative ease with which a site can be developed. Joomla offers many extensions and plug-ins that can meet the needs of most small businesses. Most CMS platforms offer different themes and templates, but the sites that share those systems all convey a similar look and feel. Joomla offers greater options for customization, so your website can be unique while also being easy to use.
Joomla is an open-source content management system designed for developers with coding experience rather than beginners who are more dependent on website builders for creating web content. With a broad selection of commerce and business add-ons, Joomla works well for companies looking to step up their basic website to something more appealing, unique, interactive and professional.Read more here
CMS vs. Blogging Platforms
A CMS platform is different from a blogging platform in terms of scale. Some of the services profiled in our buying guide began as blogging platforms and offer that service, but a CMS is much more robust, offering greater control over the look and feel of your site as well as allowing for different administrative levels of control. A CMS also allows you to add plug-ins that expand the look and functionality of your site. You can brand your website, send emails, manage user access and even add a shopping cart.
Another main difference between a blog platform and a CMS is that the blog will be hosted by the platform itself. This means that your website will have the domain name of the blog host, such as Blogger.
If you use a CMS to manage and develop your website, you'll need to pay for the domain and the web hosting. Many CMS platforms include web hosting services, though you'll have to pay for the hosting. You can read our articles about web hosting to learn more.
If you think a blog platform is better suited to your website, read our reviews here.
Open Source vs. Closed Source
Content management systems fall into two major categories: open source and closed source. An open source CMS has lower costs and is created and maintained by a community of developers A closed source CMS is proprietary and is more expensive to use. Here are some other benefits and drawbacks with each type of CMS.
Benefits of Open Source CMS
- Cost: An open source CMS doesn't involve any fees to use the platform. All of the open source CMS applications in our lineup include a free option. You may have to pay for hosting or advanced features, but there are several themes that are free to start with.
- Customization: Open source CMS applications are flexible and can fit the needs of many businesses. Because a broad community of developers works on these systems, there are a wide variety of options, so you can find certain tools or plug-ins to suit your business. For example, if you want to add a feature so your customers can schedule an appointment or make a reservation online, there are several plug-ins available that are easy to integrate with your CMS.
Drawbacks of Open Source CMS
- Vulnerability: Open source CMS software can be vulnerable to security issues, especially if plug-ins and modules are not updated.
- Support: Don't count on personalized support for problems you run into with your particular website.
Benefits of a Closed Source CMS
- Security: Because this type of CMS software is proprietary, these applications undergo a more rigorous testing process, which leaves them less vulnerable to Trojans and other security flaws.
- Customized Support: You can receive ongoing, personalized support to help you troubleshoot any problems with your site. Often this support costs extra.
Disadvantages of Closed Source CMS
- Cost: Costs range from a few thousand dollars to upwards of a hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the scope and scale of the CMS.
- Lack of Flexibility: A closed source solution isn't always one size fits all, but there are fewer options for customization, and if you need something specific for your business, you may have to pay extra for it.
A content management system allows you to quickly and easily add and edit content on your website. You can control who has access to the various functions of the software and can schedule when content goes live on your website. We've assembled a lineup of the 10 best CMS applications in the industry so you can explore your options and find the one best suited for your business.