A content management system (CMS) is a software platform used to manage the content of a website through a user-friendly interface. A CMS allows non-technical users to create Web presences and populate them with content in an easy-to-use package. In some cases, websites are in such a constant state of change with new content produced on a daily basis, a manually coded website simply isn’t feasible in managing large quantities of content. The content management system addresses each of these needs.
At its most basic element, a CMS consists of two elements: the content management application (CMA) and the content delivery application (CDA). The first element, CMA, allows content managers or authors — individuals typically unfamiliar with HTML — to manage the creation and editing of content without the need of a Web developer. The CDA acts as the back-end portion of the website, using and compiling content for website updates.
Content management application
The CMA portion of a CMS is typically the front-facing portion of the software, allowing content managers to easily navigate a website’s contents and manage data in a nontechnical manner. Content is easily added and updated through the use of a WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) text editor, and then with the simple click of a button, that content is pushed to the live site.
Content deliver application
The CDA portion of a CMS is essentially meant to replace a website administrator in function. Rather than needing a developer to take any website changes and manually apply them to the live website, the CMA does all the work in the background. When an author clicks the “Publish” button on a content page, the CMA performs all of the work necessary in creating the new page or establishing changes to the final website for visitors to see.
The features of a CMS vary between software solutions used, but each relies on the same philosophy of nontechnical usability. Functionality on a CMS includes web-based publishing, format management, revision control, content indexing and content searching, at the most basic level. Additional plugins are available for implementation to increase the features of a CMS and the website as a whole. For open-source CMS, such tools are often free and will allow you to better manage content and create custom review processes prior to publishing content.
Additional plugins of a CMS include:
- Google Analytics – for tracking website visitors
- Plugin manager – for managing CMS add-ons
- Database backup – to protect website content against loss
- Download manager – for tracking and managing website downloads
- Page caching – for speeding up webpage loading times
- SEO forms – for manually applying target keywords for search engine optimization
Open-source CMS software typically includes the ability to install these added features with minimal effort. All you need is to select the file for download and the CMS will upload, unzip and install the target files to their appropriate location for immediate use.
Many CMS software applications exist, from free-to-use, open source to enterprise. Depending on your organization’s needs, the distinction between these two CMS models becomes quite apparent. For most small businesses, using an open-source application like WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal is an ideal solution. Each is very flexible in use and purpose and can be set up by nontechnical users with relative ease. Enterprise-level solutions like ExpressionEngine, eZ Publish, and Vivvo CMS exist for companies requiring more control over their CMS.
While each application offers a different range of capabilities, the end result remains the same: they enable you to create a comprehensive content-driven website with minimal web development required on your end.