What is CMS and How to Choose it?

A content management system or CMS is a fundamental pillar for all those who manage content on the Internet. These programs facilitate the design, construction and updating of Internet pages, from blog to e-commerce portals. In this article you will learn what a CMS is and what its main characteristics are.

Before talking about a content management system, it is necessary to convey some basic concepts. They will help you assess how the use of a CMS simplifies the management of web pages to the maximum.

What is a website and how does it work?

When as a user you access a web page from a browser, a client-server relationship is established. In this case, your terminal is the client, which demands information located on another remote computer, which is the server.

The vast majority of web pages currently used, store the information of their pages in databases. When you access these pages, your browser extracts information from those databases, and displays it in a certain format. Notice then how there are two important components to this operation:

  • The data, which is extracted from the server.
  • The way such data is displayed on the client.

It is clear then that for the operation of a web page we require one or more programs that carry out the following tasks:

  • Manage the information located in the server database.
  • Interpret the formats assigned to the information contained in the client’s page.

In order for these tasks to be carried out correctly by all browsers, work standards have been established. Therefore, all Internet pages are written with a single programming language, called HTML.

What is HTML?

HTML, short for Hyper Text Markup Language , is the language in which web pages are written. The literal translation into Spanish of the phrase that originates the acronym is Hypertext Markup Language. She gives an idea of ​​what this language is designed for: establishing the format of hypertext documents.

You will have noticed that the writing of the texts of the Internet pages has its own characteristics. These differ from the traditional texts of the books, in some basic aspects, such as:

  • They allow a non-linear reading, in which you can go from one place to another in the text of the document. Or even to a different document that is relevant to the idea presented in the first one. This is achieved using the links or links, which redirect the documents to other places.
  • It uses different audiovisual resources, called multimedia resources, to complement the information presented in the texts. It incorporates images, audio and videos to the content that make reading more enjoyable and fruitful.
  • It allows the reader to interact with the text, through actions that are interpreted by the program. For example, when placing the mouse cursor over an image, a new legend appears, previously not visible.

What difficulties does HTML present?

HTML works with a series of instructions and commands that are interpreted by the browser you use. Since HTML is a low-level language, its instructions are closer to computer logic. In other words, it is difficult for a human to interpret and understand instructions written in this language.

To understand how complex it is for a common user to understand HTML, you can do the following experiment. On your computer keyboard, press the Control key and the U key at the same time ( Ctrl + U ). The window that pops up shows you the HTML code of the page of this article. Surely a big difference between the way you see the article and the way its code looks, isn’t it?

Given this, it is easy for you to understand how complicated it is to create a web page directly in HTML. Without a doubt, it is a job that can only be done by an expert in the area, and with a lot of effort. Now imagine what it means, for example, to unify the design criteria of the pages of a portal with HTML. Or change some design element of those pages, once they are prepared.

How is server data managed?

When you access a web page, your browser accesses the information in the server’s database. From there download the data required by the web page you are consulting, including the content in HTM format. And as in any database, you can only access the information to which you are authorized.

Now we are going to place them in the database management from the server point of view. There are many challenges that arise here, given the characteristics of particles that it possesses, which include:

  • Working in a multi-user environment, since there can be thousands of clients accessing the data simultaneously.
  • The different levels of authorization that they must handle, especially on the pages where you must access with a login.
  • Security measures must be taken to protect the valuable information contained in the data.

What is a CMS?

For the aforementioned, designing and managing a web page directly requires a lot of knowledge and effort. You have to handle one or more programs with logic very close to those of the computer. This represents a challenge, often impossible to overcome, for a common user.

Fortunately, a series of programs have emerged for the management of web pages that are closer to human logic. These also add new functionalities, related to content management and interaction with users. You can think of them as translators, who interpret your instructions and translate them into HTML. And that greatly facilitates the link with the server database.

An advantage that these programs also have is that they allow you to show how the content will look once published. Knowing in real time how the content will be displayed represents a great advantage for the person in charge of its design.

A content management system is a computer program, the purpose of which is the administration and management of content. It is often denoted by the name of CMS, which is short for the Content Management System.

A content management system is an interface capable of interpreting instructions in a logic closer to the user. Thus, it allows you to create, edit, publish and catalog content on your website, without dealing with HTML. The CMS then translates these instructions into HTML language, so that they are interpreted by web browsers.

It is a fact that the growth in quantity and quality of websites has been possible thanks to CMS. It is estimated that 39% of all web pages are developed with some content management system. And this percentage is increasing, especially due to the boost received from CMS dedicated to e-commerce.

The main features of the content management system are as follows:

Website creation

When creating a website, you need to handle various computer programs, including the use of the already named HTML program. Also transmission, storage and management technologies, data and multimedia resources used on the website. A CMS allows you to create a website, without the need to become experts in those areas. You just need some very basic knowledge, generally related to text editing.

When creating a website, you handle two main aspects: the content of the site, and the visual aspect. A great advantage that a CMS offers is that it operates independently of both. For example, you can modify the appearance of the page without affecting its content. Without a doubt, being able to experiment with different designs without affecting the content, facilitates the process of creating your web pages.

Website management and maintenance

The web is characterized by the constant incorporation of new tools, and the continuous changes in trends in its users. This dynamism means that websites are not static, and constantly have to be modified, to adapt to the new reality. And a CMS makes this update as simple as editing content in a word processor.

Managing content in a CMS is very simple, since information is conveniently organized. There is no need to know the actual location of the files or their storage structure. It is enough to locate them with a search function, very similar to that used in word processors.

The foregoing also applies in the case of multimedia information that enriches the content. Even if some resource is modified, this update is automatically reflected in all the contents that use it.

On the other hand, the CMS allows to modify the visual design of the page, keeping the content intact. For example, you can change the font type and title color of all your articles, in a single step. That is, you should not modify the format of each of the titles of your articles one by one. This feature makes it easier for you to redesign your website, allowing you to modify it every time you need it.

Website Administration

Many of the websites are run by multiple individuals, each with different functions and capabilities. It is for example, the case of a website of a company or organization, where there is an established hierarchy. There are editors who write the content, and editors who review it before publishing. And administrators who schedule the date and time of its publication.

A CMS allows you to configure the administrative permissions of each individual, allowing or not allowing them to perform certain actions. Thus, for example, you can establish who has permissions to publish, and who to modify content already published.

But a CMS empowers you to manage far beyond the individual permissions of those who work managing the portal. Provides the ability to set how web pages are organized, and how images are stored. This functionality allows you to establish the structure of your page, which is vital for a good positioning of it.

Other functionalities

CMS accept extensions, which are other complementary programs that enhance their work, increasing their functionality. For example, if your orientation is towards the publication of articles, there are extensions aimed at improving the layout of them. With them you can show a more professional design for your blog, than the one originally offered by the CMS.

One of the most used extensions in management systems are those designed to verify positioning. These verify that your texts have certain characteristics, which facilitate their positioning in Internet searches.

What are the main advantages of the CMS?

The success of content management systems has been leveraged by the advantages they offer. These are:

  • Developing web pages with CMS is much faster and easier. This shortens the time that occurs between the moment you have an idea, and the time you materialize it.
  • The CMS developer community is very active, constantly generating updates. These also generate extensions or add-ons, which give them new functionalities, including security elements. In this way, your website can be easily updated whenever market trends demand it.
  • Once the web project is developed, the content management is quite simple. The end user avoids dependence on third parties when updating the contents.
  • It allows to establish different hierarchical levels of administration of the web page, adapted to the organization chart.
  • It allows a scalable modular development, in which functionality is added to the page as required.

As you can conclude, the use of a CMS greatly facilitates the development and management of your web pages. With its use, you avoid working with programs whose logic is different from that used by humans. And you can take advantage of management tools developed by third parties, which previously had and satisfied your current needs.

How to choose a CMS

The correct selection of a content management system is a necessary requirement for your project to be successful. Choosing the CMS that best suits your particularities allows you to achieve the established goal with less effort.

Choosing a content management system based on its popularity, without paying attention to other criteria, can be a serious mistake. You must determine if the CMS adapts to what you want, and allows your page to turn out the way you want it. All this, without this choice implying additional efforts and resources to obtain the desired result.

On the other hand, the choice must be in accordance with the operational capabilities that you have. Certain CMS can be very powerful, but you should not choose it for that, if its use requires capabilities that you do not have. For example, if you have experience as a programmer, you can choose a CMS whose logic is closer to the computer. But if not, you should look for a CMS geared more towards user logic.

Then, when selecting a content management system, I suggest you pay attention to the following considerations. They are listed in order of hierarchy, starting with the one that I consider to be the most important.

1. Orientation of the page to be developed

The main criteria that you should use to select a CMS are the use that you will give to the content to be developed. Each CMS has particular characteristics, which strengthen or weaken its use, depending on the orientation of a particular web page. Thus, a CMS with high performance for a blog page can have low performance in another of e-commerce.

In general, we can classify CMS by their orientation, in the following types:

Generic use

As the name indicates, its orientation is multifunctional, being able to use it in different types of pages and web portals. You can use it for the creation and management of corporate pages, and online stores with simple functionalities.

The most used CMS in the market are of generic use, highlighting among them:

  • WordPress.
  • Joomla.
  • Drupal.
  • Textpattern.
  • Mambo.

The addition of extensions (plugins) allows the use of this type of program on pages of specific use.

Blogs and news

These content management systems are aimed at managing blogs and news diaries on the web. They are specialized in portals and all kinds of web projects where the important thing is the content. You can handle complex link structure, and properly categorize the contents, as well as add web 2.0 functions.

Among these types of blogs are:

  • Blogger
  • Movable Type.
  • B2Evolution.
  • PHP Blog.

It should be noted that although WordPress is for generic use, it is one of those used for blog management. In general, CMS of generic use are used in the management of blog and news pages.

E-commerce

Here we include content management programs specifically designed for e-commerce pages. They are aimed at facilitating online buying and selling operations and product catalogs. They also have various functionalities that allow synchronous communication between the seller and the customer. Without neglecting the management of the forms of payment used in the purchase of the products offered.

Some examples of this type of management program are:

  • Magento.
  • PrestaShop.
  • Opencart.

Learning

These are CMSs dedicated to managing personalized online learning community platforms. These platforms are called Knowledge Management Systems or LMS for its acronym in English ( Learning Management System ).

These CMS have various functionalities that facilitate cooperative learning between the student and the teacher. It includes various tools for conducting evaluations, as well as for synchronous and asynchronous communication of its users. And others that allow the monitoring of progress and performance of the participants in the training activities.

Learning-oriented CMSs include:

  • Claroline
  • Mahara
  • Moodle

Other specific uses

There are countless CMSs designed to meet page management needs for other specific uses. These include:

  • Koren and Pixelpost , targeting websites with portfolios and image galleries.
  • Discourse and Vanilla Forums , designed for forum management.
  • BuddyPress and Pligg , specialized in social media management.
  • WikkaWiki and MediaWiki , oriented to wiki-like pages.

It is important that you choose the CMS according to the orientation of its central core, without considering the extensions. This is because the central core functionalities work faster and consume fewer resources than the extensions.

2. Type of distribution license

The type of CMS distribution license determines whether or not you should cancel for its use. We are talking about a distribution license, since there are programs made with open source software that require payment for their use.

Free CMS

The advantage of free distribution CMS is that they are made with open source programs. For this reason, they have the support of an extensive community of collaborators, who are constantly incorporating functionalities to them.

When choosing a free distribution CMS, you must verify all the functionalities to which you will have access without additional charge. It is common that functionalities of the CMS or its extensions are restricted, releasing them only for paid versions. For example, the Yoast extension for WordPress (one of the most used) can be partially used for free.

CMS with paid license

The use of these managers requires the acquisition of a license, and their source code is not freely available. They have the guarantee of the marketing company, and their technical support adds a lot of added value to the product.

3. Security

You must evaluate the level of security offered by the available CMS, before opting for one of them. There is a tendency to point out that open source CMS are by nature insecure, a view that is unfounded. In reality, no content management system is completely secure, regardless of its type of license.

It is clear that in an open source program it is easier for a hacker to determine its vulnerability. But among its broad community of developers there are those who are constantly evaluating security, and making the required modifications. So for practical purposes, one condition compensates for the other.

The way to evaluate security is to study the up-to-date opinions that users have about it. You should evaluate if:

  • There are frequent problems regarding the security of the pages created with the CMS.
  • The community or company informs promptly when there are security problems related to the content manager.
  • The community or company responds and quickly solves security problems.

The best source to make the above evaluation is to consult the CMS user forums. There the situations are presented in frank and direct discussions, without any kind of censorship being applied.

4. Data management manager

On many occasions you need to integrate some previously existing databases with the content of the web page. Therefore, it is necessary to determine the compatibility of this data with the CMS database manager. Taking this consideration can save you hours of work, facilitating the link between the existing data platform and your page.

This is of utmost importance for retail stores looking to work together their physical and online sales. If the store is originally of a physical type, surely it already has an inventory control system. It is preferable that the database used in that system is compatible with the CMS data manager. Or at least, that the data is easily exportable from the original database to the one managed by the manager.

The database managers most used by CMS are:

  • MySQL is the most used database manager in the world, and it is developed with a dual license. It is sponsored by Oracle, who retains the right to part of the code.
  • MariaDB , derived from MySQL, but open source.
  • PostgreSQL , is an object-oriented manager, and whose code is open.
  • Oracle , is an object-relational type manager, and whose code is closed.
  • SQLite , similar to Oracle, but with a relatively small library, and written in C. It is licensed freely.

5. Optimization for search engines

The success of your website depends to a large extent on the visibility that search engines like Google give it. The result that your page shows in organic searches depends on some parameters directly related to your CMS. As a general rule, all CMS have the potential to do this. However, the effort required to achieve this goal varies between different CMS.

For example, WordPress and Blogger are optimized for search engines, so they do not require significant effort for this purpose. On the other hand, if you work with Drupal or Joomla , you will have to make an additional effort to configure the searches properly. Of course, unlike the first ones, you can work with very elaborate searches.

6. Connection from mobile devices

The percentage of users who connect to the web from mobile devices increases every day. Therefore, when choosing a CMS, you should consider whether it has templates adapted to these devices. If so, you have the peace of mind that your pages will be able to adapt to navigation from said terminals.

In conclusion, when selecting a CMS, you must attend to a series of considerations. The first and foremost is the orientation you have to the web page to manage. Then you must determine if you opt for a free distribution CMS and one with a paid license. You should also verify if the security and handling of the data offered by the CMS are adapted to your needs. Finally, investigate whether the effort required for search optimization matches what you are willing to accept.

Hi, this is Viney Bhatia, a blogger, an engineer, and an affiliate marketer. I love writing about topics related to WordPress, blogging, marketing, monetization, and so on.

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Viney Bhatia