An important question for anyone is whether they need a CMS or not? A CMS or content management system is a system of tools, processes and features which enables content to be produced, managed and edited without the need for programming skills or knowledge.

This means it can be done by a relative novice or a team of people in an organisation who are not ‘technical’ but can be taught how to create and manage content in a short space of time.

There are some CMSs which require a certain level of expertise in order to function in the best way possible but others can be used by people from a non-technical background.

The main issue is finding a CMS which achieves a balance between design, usability (e.g. easy to use) and development (coding).

If this applies to you then use this guide to learn more about content management systems; the different types; their advantages and disadvantages and how they compare with each other. We have included the most popular systems to date but more will be added as time goes on.

It is a good idea to have a checklist prepared beforehand which can be used when reviewing the various aspects of an individual CMS. This assessment or ‘evaluation’can remove a great deal of the fear, confusion and anxiety when choosing a CMS.

Reviewing a CMS

A CMS should contain the following 10 aspects:

  • Easy to use, accessible interface: this should be simple, effective and enjoyable to use.
  • Flexible: a good CMS will enable a person to customise their website to their own requirements. This means being able to change the design of the templates to achieve a desired style.
  • Extensible: this refers to the ability to incorporate extra features into a website by means of plug-ins. Examples of these include social media tools, calendar, maps, photo galleries etc.
  • Content editor: a CMS should contain a WYSIWYG editor which enables someone to create or edit content, e.g. text without having to touch the code. This is ideal for people who are not programmers or with little technical expertise.
  • Usable and accessible: usability and accessibility are important features of any website which enable visitors to navigate it in order to complete a desired task or goal. But it is equally important that the CMS can be used by authors, editors, designers and developers as well.
  • Optimised for maximum performance: choose a CMS which will ensure that the site connects instantly to the server and that pages load quickly as possible. This speed is one of the main factors in regard to website traffic as pages which are slow to load tend to drive visitors away.
  • Security: it is important that a website is protected against malicious attacks, viruses etc. A good CMS will enable security plug-ins to be installed which will offer a range of protection for both the site and the visitor. These will include security monitoring, maintenance and log in and password features.
  • Standards compliant: it is important to choose a CMS which adheres to current web standards, e.g. W3C standards and is always striving to improve.
  • Documentation: this is a particular issue for open source CMSs who have been accused of having inadequate documentation to support their system. This documentation is designed to help users with using a CMS and should be supported by a community.
  • Community: this relates to the issue of documentation. Many open source CMSs such as Joomla, Drupal and Mambo have a large, active community which helps to further develop the CMS as well as providing answers to any questions users may have.

Examples of CMSs which contain these aspects include WordPress, Mambo, Joomla, Drupal, Plone and CMS Made Simple. Find out more about these within the open source CMS section of this guide.

An open source CMS is a good option for anyone on a tight budget but an alternative to that is a commercial or ‘propriety CMS’which can be costly but is a mature established system with in-house technical support, documentation and security.

Find out more about these in the open source CMS and commercial CMS sections within this guide.

Reasons to not use a CMS

Content management systems are popular with many people who enjoy its range of features, ability to maintain websites by non-technical users and ease of use.

They have many advantages over a static HTML website and have relegated this to a minor role. Nowadays few sites are built in this way and with the advent of Web 2.0 there is a greater emphasis on interaction, social media, tags, mashups and web applications, e.g. Java applets.

Whilst a CMS is suitable for most websites there are a few websites which do not require either an open source CMS or any CMS at all. These include:

  • Websites which are artistic or graphic based
  • Micro websites, e.g. contain less then five pages
  • Brochureware websites which are updated infrequently

In these cases it may better to have a website built with a web authoring tool such as Dreamweaver or hand coded with an HTML editor.

It’s a good idea is to download trial versions of a range of CMSs which will enable you to test them and see if they fit your requirements.