How to choose the right content management system (CMS)


Colin Richardson
Digital Design Director

What is a content management system (CMS)? What does a CMS do? How do you evaluate one?

Read on to find out more about the wonderful world of content management. 

What is a content management system? 

A content management system (CMS) is software that makes it easy for non-technical people to update and manage a website.

A CMS is what makes it possible to create new pages, edit existing ones, and add new content without having to ask a developer. 

how would i know

How do I choose the right CMS? 

When it comes to choosing the right content management system (CMS), there are a lot of things to consider. You can pick from hundreds of CMSs all with their own strengths, and it’s not always as simple as choosing the most popular one. 

Content management systems vary in complexity, so it's important to know what you need before deciding on one. 

What do you want your website to do, who is it aimed at?

For example, the requirements for a personal travel blog are vastly different to a high-traffic ecommerce store. 

Who will build the website?

Are you going DIY, and if so what’s your skill level? You can get a long way without code, and even CMSs that do need programming knowledge have varying levels of skill required to make the most of them. 

What other considerations are there, are you holding a lot of personal data and therefore need to be extra security conscious? Do you need to integrate with any third-party services, or will you be taking payments? Start off with a website brief, even if you’re only briefing yourself. This is an effective way to think through what you may need. 

Is WordPress still the best CMS?

If you’ve done any research into content management systems, you’ll have come across WordPress. Originally launched as a blogging platform in 2003, it’s grown into the most popular CMS on the market.

It has many strong points – it’s well supported, there are a wealth of plugins, themes, and page builders, it’s free, and easy to use. You can do a huge amount without any coding knowledge whatsoever, and if you know code then you can achieve even more. 

On the flip side the interface can be a bit clunky, the quality and level of support for themes and plugins varies wildly, and it’s a massive target for hacking – so if your website is mission critical you need to know your stuff when it comes to security. 

In short, WordPress is sometimes the right choice, but there are a lot of other great CMS options in 2022. 

Let’s talk specifics

We can’t possibly evaluate every CMS on the market; however, we do have first-hand experience with a lot of different ones that might help you on your journey. 

Non-technical CMSs 

If you don’t know your HTML from your elbow there are plenty of options that don’t involve programming. However, you will still need to invest time into getting the most out of whatever option you choose. 

WordPress we already mentioned. You use to create a hosted website, or self-host if you want more control – many hosting providers offer a one-click install. If you do self-install, remember you’ll need someone to take care of security and updates. 

Or you might want to consider an alternative hosted CMS like Webflow, Wix or Squarespace. These all very capable platforms that perform well, offer easy to use visual page builders, and have add-ons for all sorts of functionality.  

There are also more niche options depending on what your website needs to achieve. If you want to launch a simple online store, then Shopify makes this straightforward with off-the-shelf themes and a wealth of available add-ons. Or if you’re specifically creating a content platform – like an online magazine, Ghost is an excellent choice with a lot of features tailored to content marketing. 

Technical CMSs

If you’re a dab hand with code, there are even more options available. Bear in mind these are aimed at developers, some requiring more experience than others, but the trade-off is more flexibility and power. These are the sort of tools you’d consider if you wanted features that don’t come out of the box, or if you want to create something truly bespoke. 

We’re a huge fan of Silverstripe for its superb user interface, enterprise level security, and underlying framework. It’s a powerful open-source product akin to slightly more well-known CMSs Drupal and Joomla. But with great power comes a great learning curve, and these may well be overkill for your needs. 

Slightly easier to learn (but still developer focused), is Craft CMS. When we mentioned WordPress being a bit clunky, Craft CMS feels like what it could be if someone rebuilt it for 2022. And much like WordPress, you can do a lot from the admin area (as opposed to working with the underlying files), plus there’s an extensive marketplace for plugins. Unlike WordPress, you will need to get your hands dirty with code to get anywhere worthwhile. 

Statamic is along similar lines to Craft CMS, however It’s unique in that it doesn’t use a database (unless you want it to) which makes it super-fast, and it has one of the slickest user interfaces of any CMS we’ve ever used.  

Then there’s a whole other world of headless CMSs like Sanity, which are designed to give massive flexibility in terms of how your content is edited and displayed. Most of the CMSs above can also operate headlessly like the horseman from Sleepy Hollow. However, if you’re reading this article and haven’t come across headless before, it’s safe to assume they offer more power than you’re looking for. 

Ecommerce CMSs

We’ve already mentioned Shopify as a non-technical CMS. However, in the hands of a skilled developer, it can become as complex as you desire with custom themes, functionality, and integrations. And if you really want the grand-Daddy of ecommerce CMSs, Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento) has you covered with both SAAS and open-source flavours, but be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart.  

Though as with everything else, the lines are blurry, and most of the CMSs above have the option of adding ecommerce functionality too. So, it comes back to thinking about exactly what you want to accomplish now and in future. 

shopping cart

So, which CMS do I choose?

Thirteen CMSs in and we haven’t even scratched the surface of all the possible choices. For a start, all the above options are either hosted SAAS (software as a service) products or PHP based. There are also CMSs built on .NET (Umbraco being the most notable) and Python (likely Django) that you might want to look at if you’re not PHP based. 

The point is, as we mentioned earlier, it really depends.  

It depends on what you want to achieve. It depends on what your capabilities are, or if you’re using a developer / agency, what their capabilities are. It also depends on your budget. Some CMSs are free, some have licenses, and plugins / add-ons may or may not come with costs, and there may be development costs involved too. 

None of the above answers the question of how to choose the right content management system, and much like a politician on daytime TV, we can’t give a straight answer.

However, we don’t want to squirm around the point until our segment is up either, so…

If you’re a hobbyist looking to build a personal site or interested in learning more about CMSs, then WordPress is a solid starting point. It has a low learning curve, is well documented, and there’s loads of guides available – this one from wpbeginner for example. 

If you’re looking to develop a website for your business, then we recommend speaking to a web design agency.

A properly created business website is an investment that should be planned, designed, and developed by professionals. And there are much better things for you to think about than what CMS your website sits on (but we absolutely recommend it does sit on a CMS). 

For example, how will you plan your website content, or how will you know if your website is a success?

If you do have any questions about content management systems, or anything else digital, feel free to ask us anything

This article was updated on , filed under website design, website development.

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