CMSs: Overview of Content Management Systems

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Content Management Systems (CMS) Hosting

What is a CMS?

What is a Content Management System?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a software application that assists with the creation, editing, and publishing of content on a website.

Having a half-decent content CMS at your service is pretty much standard these days. Not only is it more convenient to have a user-friendly CMS at hand, but it saves time, energy and resources.

Why Should I Learn about Content Management Systems?

If you are a webmaster, this shouldn't even be a question.

Whether you're a technologist, a writer, an editor or even a sales associate, CMSs are worth knowing about.

To support autonomous workflows, many companies now expect their content, marketing, and creative staff to have a basic knowledge of the standard CMSs.

This closes the gap between the technologists and some front-end teams, again saving time and money.

Standard Features of a CMS

Typically, a Content Management System (CMS) provides the following features and interfaces:

  • An administrative interface (often called the "back-end") for adding, editing, and managing your content
  • A database for storing content and other data
  • A templating system for designing and displaying the content on a website or in other formats (like an RSS feed)

CMSs can be generalized solutions that are capable of handling many different types of content, or they can be specialized for use with a particular type of content, such as blog posts or photo galleries.

The 3 main CMSs

The "Big Three" Generalized CMSs

The following three CMS software systems - WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla - account for the vast majority of content-focused websites.

Together, they account for over 60% of the Content Management System deployments on the internet.

All three are open-source projects written in PHP and use the MySQL database management system.


WordPress was originally conceived as a blogging platform.

To this day, WordPress still maintains a preference for a dated-post style of presentation. It is not just the most popular Content Management System in use - it is one of the most popular and commercially successful open source development projects in the world.

The huge user and developer base mean there are an extremely large number of themes and plugins, both free and premium, and there is an abundance of online help and tutorial material available.

The variety of themes and plugins makes it extremely customizable and capable of handling almost any content-driven use case.


Drupal is the most popular CMS that does not carry an inherent bias towards blog posts as the primary form of content (though it can be used for blogs).

Drupal is partly inspired by the GNU/Linux project, so the base installation has only a small "kernel" of functionality.

Almost everything else — even the basic features typically used by everyone — are built as separate modules. This means that there is no technical difference between core functionality and added "plugin" functionality, which helps to put all types of content features on equal footing.

Drupal can be launched and used by anyone, but it is certainly geared toward people with tech skills who want to create a fully-customized deployment.


Joomla — Joomla provides the inherent flexibility of Drupal with the ease of use of WordPress.

This makes it a very attractive option for many medium-size enterprise deployments where WordPress is not seen as generally powerful enough.

Even so, the organization simply does not have the ongoing technical resources (or staff) to maintain a complicated Drupal site.

Joomla is definitely considered to be a contender for the most popular CMSs out there. It responsible for a large proportion of live websites. Joomla is written in PHP and is statistically the second most popular CMS globally.

According to official sources, there has been an excess of 50 million software downloads of Joomla.

WordPress vs. Joomla vs. Drupal

In today's marketplace, each of the "Big Three" Content Management Systems" has their own unique pros and cons. For some webmasters, the decision on which CMS to use is easy - they may have an existing preference. Alternatively, they know their skill sets and choose based on the platform that best caters to those skills.

Comparison Table: WordPress vs. Joomla vs. Drupal

How they describe themselves"WordPress is open source software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app.""Online in seconds, easy to customize, freedom to grow.""We're the leading open-source CMS for ambitious digital experiences that reach your audience across multiple channels."
LicenseFree, Open-SourceFree, Open-SourceFree, Open-Source
Ease of useCommonly considered the easiest.Between WordPress and Drupal.With Drupal 7, the user interface became very user-friendly. Advanced features require additional knowledge.
In a nutshellA favorite of bloggers for ease of use, array of blogger tools. No coding knowledge required. Vast theme and plugin marketplace. Large community of users and vendors. Drag-and-drop versions available.Simple installation. Easy extensibility. Developer-friendly. Active dev community. Online tutorials. Large number of plugins and components.Known for its powerful SEO characteristics. Best choice for advanced, versatile functionality. Robust taxonomy features for tagging, categorizing and organizing complex or extensive content collections.
Pro Tips:Make sure your plugins are kept up-to-date or your site will be vulnerable to hacking. An estimated 78% of hacked sites are running WordPress (per careful to plan out your content architecture before creating your site; avoid excessive use of nested hierarchies.Use a web host that specializes in Drupal. Use Varnish and Memcached and watch your site load with amazing speed.
PlugIn/Module/Component Marketplace?
Theme Marketplace
Supported DatabasesMySQL, MariaDBMySQL(InnoDB), SQL Server, PostgreSQLMySQL, MariaDB, Percona, PostgreSQL, SQLite. Microsoft SQL Server and MongoDB are supported by dedicated modules.
Latest stable versionWordPress 4.9.5Joomla 3.8.6Drupal 8

Selecting the Right CMS

If, however, you are new to website Content Management Systems, you may not be certain which CMS is best for your needs. Let's assume you are going to decide between one of the Big Three as your CMS for your next blog, website, or online store.

We have put together a list of the major pros and cons of each platform for you to review.

Hopefully, you'll find these pros and cons helpful for making your decision. Having too much choice is actually a great problem to have, it's the matter of perspective.

Why WordPress as a CMS?

Why Would I Choose WordPress Over Other CMSs?

Before getting too detailed into the reasons you should choose WordPress, it seems fair to say that WordPress does not have a monopoly on blogging.

Both Drupal and Joomla can create an environment where content development and blogging are the principal purposes of the website.

It's also fair to say that WordPress can also be used as a platform for custom web development, too.

As a blogging Content Management System, WordPress is pretty much second to none. As a platform for managing other website content, there are few systems that are easier to use for people with varying levels of experience with online publishing.

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Has WordPress Got Enough Customizable Features?

WordPress can even be used as a platform for custom web development, although that is not the core purpose of the platform.

If you are a small business or blogger that does not need a fully-featured website platform, you're in the right place.

If you simply need something for content management - then WordPress should be the perfect CMS for your website.

Having said that, WordPress' extensively selection of plugins and features allow plenty of room to make it your own. Many of the world's largest websites are in-fact run on WordPress, which should be a promising sign.

When WordPress isn't the best choice

If you are seriously considering a Content Management System like Drupal or Joomla over WordPress, then you have probably already reviewed WordPress.

In this case, you've determined it will not meet your needs.

Generally speaking, the reasons why this is the case falls into one of the following:

  • Handling an Online Store
  • Flexibility
  • PHP Modifications
  • Security
  • Performance

Handling an Online Store

WordPress is not the best CMS for handling an online store with a large number of products, shopping cart functionality, order processing, and so on.


WordPress is not flexible enough for your web development and programming needs.

This is often down to individual preference of developers, but it's worth taking note of.

PHP Modifications

You want to make some modifications to the PHP framework, and you need something less complex to build on from scratch.


You have concerns about the security of the CMS; because of its widespread use, it is a common and popular target for hackers.


You are concerned about performance - WordPress is not a lightweight option, which may impact important metrics such as page loading times.

WordPress can be used as a platform for custom web development, but it is better when used for its core purpose - blogging and content publishing.

The WordPress Community

The WordPress community has become more focused on third-party app developers to extend its capabilities, while other Content Management Systems have focused more on being supported by a stronger framework.

Businesses looking for a professional grade, open source content management platform that can handle flexible programming may find Drupal or Joomla to be a better solution for their needs.

Why Drupal as a CMS?

Why should I choose Drupal as my CMS?

On the surface, Drupal is very similar to much other modern Content Management Systems and includes many efficient performance features and options for custom web development. WordPress has an advantage over Drupal for those in the online publishing sector.

Drupal offers major publishers and sites with thousands of pages of content, advanced and flexible options for tagging, categorizing, organizing and displaying their content. This is due to Drupal's robust taxonomy features.

In addition, Drupal is known for its powerful built-in SEO characteristics.

It's not surprising that major sites like The Economist, Tesla Motors, and The White House have chosen Drupal.

The main reasons to choose Drupal are:

  • You can build a custom, visually appealing, easy-to-use websites from scratch
  • You can organize your site's content in almost unlimited ways
  • High-performance is built in.

When Drupal isn't the best choice

Compared to Drupal, WordPress is more friendly to website managers who are using a website to edit content and create multiple blogs.

Drupal is a more complex platform and probably better to use if you are a developer who really wants to customize a website or if you need advanced functionality.

If your primary purpose is using a website as a multi-blogging, community portal, then WordPress may be a better fit for you.

If you are choosing a custom web development platform with an easy to use Content Management System, you probably will find Drupal to be a better option for your business than Joomla.

While the development capabilities of the two platforms are similar, Drupal provides an easier to use interface for managing content.

Why Joomla as a CMS?

Why should I choose Joomla as my CMS?

When it comes to user experience, Joomla leaves a lot to be desired for developers, designers, and content managers when compared to Drupal and WordPress, especially those with more advanced skill sets.

Despite its large community of developers and wide use as one of the web's top three Content Management Systems, experienced developers still tend to find Joomla to be frustrating and un-friendly to themselves, front-end designers, and content managers.

When Joomla isn't the best choice

By comparison, Drupal and WordPress have a greater ease of use, which makes both of them a wiser selection for websites that have multiple users with varying degrees of web experience.

If you have any issues with programming, WordPress will be a better platform for you to use when compared to Drupal and Joomla.

Community and Developer Expertise

There is a larger community of users who work with Drupal and WordPress as well, so you are likely to find more support for any challenges you have using those CMSs instead of Joomla.

Our suggestion for most aspiring website owners who lack expertise in development would be to avoid Joomla and use WordPress.

For aspiring developers who want to have a better experience extending their skills with a CMS, our suggestion would be to use Drupal over Joomla.

Why Other CMSs?

Other notable Content Management Systems

WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are the market leaders in Content Management Systems, but they are certainly not the only options available.

If none of these three are quite what you are looking for, consider some of these less popular, but excellent alternatives.

Here is the list of the 9 CMSs worth knowing about, followed by detailed briefs:

  1. Magento
  2. Movable Type
  3. Tiki Wiki
  4. Expression Engine
  5. Concrete5
  6. LifeType
  7. Nucleus
  8. Mambo
  9. SilverStripe


Magento Open Source is a flexible open source content management system designed for individual entrepreneurs or small business owners who want to get started with an e-commerce website.

If your end goal is not just a website or a blog, but a full online shop, Magento should be at the top of your list.

Movable Type

Movable Type is a hot choice. Because the most popular Content Management Systems are all Open Source, there are not very many commercially successful closed-source (proprietary and commercial) CMSes on the market.

Movable Type has been beating the odds on this point since 2001. Its advanced features and slick, user-friendly admin design makes it popular with many commercial bloggers and corporate websites.

Tiki Wiki

Tiki Wiki may be the most unusual Content Management System in the world.

It is a community-based Open Source project (meaning, not connected to a corporate entity), and it has the stated goal of being the CMS platform with the most features. It does everything.

It is the exact opposite of the GNU/Linux-style philosophy of Drupal: rather than everything being a module, everything is in the core.

There are no plugins. The software, and the community that develops it is fascinating. However, it may not be terribly practical for business purposes.


ExpressionEngine is a moderately popular proprietary CMS built on top of an open source core (CodeIgniter).


Concrete5 is a beautiful new CMS with a focus on the user experience. Combines the power of a CMS with the ease-of-use of a site builder, and the best contemporary design styles.


LifeType is notable for its use of Subversion (a version control system used by software developers) as its content storage engine.


Nucleus is no longer under active development. Replaced by the LMNucleus project.


Mambo was once the most popular CMS on the planet, running over 40% of websites on the internet. Its user and developer based dried up after a bizarre copyright incident around 2005. Joomla is a derivative project, beginning as a fork of the Mambo code base and including a number of Mambo developers on its original team.


SilverStripe is a free, open source CMS built using PHP. It is one of the few CMSs that separate the tasks and UIs used by content authors (who work with WYSIWYG editing tools) and web designers and developers, who get more IDE-like views of the product.

Content Management Systems and Hosting

As its name implies, Content Management Systems are strictly for managing your content, whether they are blog posts, images, or videos. As such, you will need some way of serving your site to the internet.

In some cases, you might find hosted versions of your content management system. For example, Automattic offers a hosted version of its WordPress Content Management System in addition to its stand-alone version.

Choosing Your Own Hosting Plan

However, if you do not opt for a hosted version, you will need to see out your own web hosting. There are lots of things you need to consider when choosing your web host.

Database Support

Whether your chosen Content Management System is supported. This includes the database required.

For example, if your CMS uses PostgreSQL, you will want to make sure that your web host supports PostgreSQL databases.

Ease of Installation

How easy it is to install your CMS - for example, WordPress, being such a popular option, can frequently be installed onto servers using one-click installers.

A less popular option might require you to do everything manually


Because Drupal is generally more lightweight (and therefore performant) than WordPress, you may be able to purchase a less resource-intensive package when using Drupal.

If you were using WordPress, whose standard installation comes with many more features, you might want to opt for a more expensive, more feature-rich hosting package

In this article, we have linked to our dedicated hosting pages, where we review the best options for a given Content Management System. If you are beginning the search for your perfect web host, we recommend starting with those pages.

Alternatives to CMSs

Alternatives to CMSs

CMSs are not your only options for building a website and managing your content. Hosted website builders are good options that, for many people, function the same way a CMS would.

Here are some options you might consider:

  • BoldGrid
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • Wix


BoldGrid isn't strictly a CMS alternative - it's actually a website builder built on top of WordPress (other site builders tend to use a proprietary option).

You get access to easy-to-use site creation tools with the power of the WordPress CMS system. is an English provider of hosting and site building services.

It provides a free option, but you can upgrade to more premium features. It comes with limited integrations with companies like PayPal, so you can launch small-scale e-commerce businesses with this product.


Squarespace is an all-in-one website builder that prides itself on it's professionally designed, beautiful templates and top-notch customer service.

The product is very easy to use and is designed for even the newest of users.


Weebly is a full-featured site builder that has a great mix of features for both beginners and those with more experience. Try it for free, and upgrade if you outgrow your free plan.


Wix is one of the largest website builders around (based on the number of users).

Wix is designed to help everyone build a beautiful website, regardless of whether the person has advanced web design skills or not.

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Summary of CMSs

Summary of CMS Options

Content Management Systems are great tools to help you get a website or a blog up and running.

Not only do they provide a solid platform on which you can build your work, but they also simplify a lot of the processes that you would otherwise need to build yourself.

This includes themes, security, and other administrative features.

They are All Different

However, not all Content Management Systems are created equal.

Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress dominate the market, and generally speaking, you cannot go wrong with these options.

However, there are alternatives on the market, so regardless of what your needs are, you are sure to find the option that best fits your needs.

Finally, once you have a CMS chose and everything set up, you will need to serve your work to the internet. This generally requires the use of a web host, so we have provided some resources to help you choose the best option.

Katie Horne

About Katie Horne

Katie is a C# developer who became a technical writer. She is a lifelong bookworm and all-around nerd with a soft spot for gimmicks and packaging. She judges books by the cover, and she's not sorry about it. In her spare time, she likes to swim, knit, and do the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.
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