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There are many things to consider when it comes to creating a website. Generally, you tend to look for a user-friendly, search engine friendly and low maintenance website. If you cannot invest on a web developing team, installing a Content Management System (CMS) for your website is the next best option.

With the recent advances in CMS technology, we have many software available in the market today that make creating a basic to high-end website very easy.

For all those who are not sure what a CMS is, how it benefits a webmaster and how to choose between the myriad of CMS software available on the web, this post is going to be your guide.

First, let's start with some basics.

What is a CMS?

CMS is an abbreviation for Content Management System. It is a software that simplifies the publishing process of all types of content (text, image, video, contact forms etc.) on a website.

It has a frontend that is visible to the site visitor and a backend where you can add a design theme, text, image and video content, manage forms, connect to social media sites and plenty more options based on the CMS that you choose.

The good thing about a CMS is you don't have to code or HTML. With the drag and drop functionality in the most common CMS's, you can build and manage your website (without the help of designers or developers).

Shown below is a quick depiction of how CMS works:

How a CMS Works

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using CMS Vs Hand-coded Or Static HTML Site:

Conventionally, static sites were built on HTML that were not interactive. Gradually with website coding languages such as PHP, ASP.net, advanced and interactive dynamic sites came into the picture. Creating such sites required web development skills. However, as an alternative for those who did not want to depend on a developer or designer, CMS came into existence. Most small to mid-sized businesses who like to build and manage their own sites opt for CMS software these days.

There are some pros and cons of using a CMS as opposed to a hand-coded site, which are listed below:

  • Ease of Use: While for a hand-coded site (e.g. ASP.net or PHP sites) you need to depend on a developer who specializes in that particular code, for a CMS you need no special qualification. It is as simple as operating Microsoft Word with drag and drop functionality and an admin panel that is normally self-explanatory. Documentation for these software is also available for beginners.
  • Constant Frontend Design: In a hand-coded or a static HTML site, design elements may change when you add new content. On the contrary, on a CMS, you just have to install a design template or a theme that stays the same in the front end, regardless of the changes you make to the back end.
  • Cheaper: There are many free CMS out there that are hosted on their own servers too. So you practically get a website for free. Some other advanced CMS's cost far less than the constant development and maintenance cost of a hand-coded website.
  • DIY Troubleshooting: All CMS's may not have a support team but they have an online user community that help troubleshoot problems on the CMS. The information is available almost free on support forums. There may be some paid forums too. Nevertheless, the cost of troubleshooting is far lesser than in hand-coded sites that need coding experts.

Disadvantages Of Using CMS Vs Hand-coded Or Static HTML Site:

  • Security – Surprisingly so, a simple static HTML site is way more secure than a site based on the most advanced or popular CMS. Also, hacking a ASP.net or PHP coded site is tougher than hacking a CMS.
  • Scalability  and Customization – You can add as many pages or improve functionality of a hand-coded site. For CMS's the scalability in function and customization is limited, especially for bigger sites.

Checklist That Tells You – You Need A CMS:

  • You want to save time and money.
  • You want to manage your own content.
  • You want an inexpensive responsive website.
  • You want a blog site.
  • You want a site with in-built SEO elements.
  • You want a site that will not exceed 1000 pages.
  • You want a site whose content can be managed and edited by other administrators regardless of where they are located.
  • You want a site with low maintenance costs.

How To Choose The Right CMS For You:

Some CMS may have a variety of features in functionality, but they may not be required if your website is just a blog. Hence, it is necessary that you list out what you need from your website and go through features, pros and cons of each shortlisted CMS that is perfect for your website.

In many cases, you also need to foresee the growth of your company before you settle for any CMS. If your website needs scalable options in future, check whether the product you choose have the necessary resources (plugins and extensions) to enhance the functionality and size of your website.

You may also want to take advice of a developer who is proficient in website coding language, in cases where you foresee progressive expansion in business..

There are many CMS options online, but we are going to discuss about those who are popularly preferred, user-friendly and budget-friendly. With the pros and cons listed for each CMS you would know which software will suit your website's needs better.

I have listed the five most popular CMS software below based on its cost, functionality, user-friendliness, size of user community on the web and scalability (in no specific order). You can also see a table that sums up their features.  Additionally, I have listed some related CMS products which you can research further by going through their respective websites.

But remember, while choosing a CMS for your website, regardless of my opinion or anyone else's opinions, you must always test it with a free trial or a free version before you fully commit to one.

Now, let's start choosing: 

WordPress:

Description:  From being a popular blogging platform to a complete website solution for small to mid-sized sites, this CMS has come a long way. 18.9 percent of the sites on the web are powered by WordPress. Here is the link to WordPress support forum.

Pros:

  • Free
  • Easy setup and maintenance (no training required)
  • Widest user community
  • Largest number of plugins and extensions available.
  • Search engine friendly with additional SEO plugins
  • Good selection of themes

Cons:

  • Customization limitations
  • Security flaws
  • No in-built system to give multiple administration permissions (a third-party plugin is used, which is a security flaw).
  • Limited functionality for multiple content areas within a single template

Suitable for:

  • Blogs
  • Small Business Websites
  • Personal Sites
  • Affiliate Sites

Drupal:

Description: It is a powerful CMS tool for building complex sites. From being a message board back in 1999 to being an open source software that was developed by more than 6 million users and developers Drupal has come a long way. Here is a link to various Drupal features and here is the link to its support forum.

Pros:

  • Free
  • Best for high traffic sites
  • Easily scalable
  • High stability
  • Content editing ability on the frontend of the site
  • In-built feature to add new user accounts and give multiple administration permissions.
  • Search engine friendly

Cons:

Suitable for:

Magento:

Description: This is a popular e-commerce specific CMS that has many built-in online store features. All current product plans on Magento have a 30-day free-trial that gives you the room to test drive this product of your site. Here is the link to the product's support forum.

Pros:

  • Free (Magento Community Edition only)
  • Manage multiple store fronts, with multi-language and multi-currency support
  • User-friendly and simple backend
  • Substantial amount of plugins and extensions available
  • Has a user community for support
  • It can handle tens to ten thousand product pages
  • Good marketing tools, for e.g. ability to segment customers and offer different discounts
  • Highly customizable
  • Supports many payment gateways
  • Search engine friendly

Cons:

  • You need a developer specialized in Magento (PHP and MySQL), and they are generally hard to find.
  • The high number of pages and scalability features of this product can only run on specific servers meant for it. It cannot run efficiently on shared servers.
  • Slow loading speed if not used with servers that support this product
  • Training needed to learn the administration area of the product

Suitable for:

Prestashop:

Description: Yet another popular CMS for online retail stores, Prestashop is an open source software that offers a feature-rich interface. You need MySQL 5, Apache web server 1.3, Linux and PHP 5 for installation of this CMS product.

Pros:

  • Free
  • Easy set up
  • Higher loading speed as it is a lightweight software
  • Search engine friendly
  • Easily customizable URLs for product pages (with keywords)
  • Allows to setup different file permissions
  • Multi-language (41 languages) and multi-currency support
  • Supports many payment gateways

Cons:

  • Multiple bug fixes are released with time and since there are no automatic updates on the software the webmaster has to spend time on making necessary changes.
  • Some functionalities offered for free in  other similar CMS's are charged in Prestashop
  • No built-in export tool. Hence, cannot export products to a CSV or other file.
  • Some Prestashop modules are quite expensive
  • Lacks some good themes

Suitable for:

  • Startup e-commerce businesses

Tumblr:

Description: Some have heard of Tumblr as a social media hub and some others have heard of it as a microblogging site, but only a few smart webmasters know that tumblr can be the most economical CMS platform too. You can create a website using the many paid and free themes provided by tumblr.

Pros:

  • Free
  • Custom domain at no extra cost
  • You can host a subdomain on Tumblr for blogs instead on your main website such as blog.yourdomain.com
  • Simple to use, no training required
  • Question and Answer and Fan Mail features
  • It has a iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows phone app, so you can manage your content from any of these devices.

Cons:

  • Not suitable for sites with multiple functionalities such as shopping carts
  • It is mostly image-centric, so does not work well for text heavy sites.
  • It is still a budding CMS hence not many user communities or support forums to rely on.
  • High maintenance if you wish to expand your site. Modifying and uploading javascript, fonts or images is time consuming as you do not own the hosting.
  • Possible duplication of your markup and CSS in various places for example, to build a separate mobile theme you cannot reuse the code used in the desktop theme.
  • Hosting on the Tumblr server. Hence, lack of full control over the site.

Suitable for:

Other Alternatives:

So, this was my take on popular CMS's on the web and I hope it helps you choose the right CMS software for your website's needs.

You can also consult with some of your peers who have used these platforms and get a clearer first-hand analysis of the CMS's from existing users. This would certainly simplify the decision making process.


 Are you using a CMS in your website? *Let us know in comments which CMS is your favorite and why.*