Not so many years ago, the process of creating a relatively simple website could be quite complex and difficult. At least, if it was intended to have a minimum enforceable visual quality, navigation structure, and variety of content.
On the other hand, updating the content of the website also became a difficult task. Especially as the website grew, having more web pages, a more complex structure, or hierarchy of pages.
Essential utilities, such as modifying existing content, searching and locating pages, and, in general, managing both the pages and images and resources on the server, required custom tools or developments, which increased the cost and complexity of the website.
In short, a general and easy-to-use tool was needed that would allow, first, the creation of a website without the need to continually resort to advanced technical resources. And second, its management, administration, and maintenance over time within an integrated environment and without resorting to other external tools.
The content management systems or content managers normally referred to by the acronym CMS “Content Management System” emerged to respond to this need.
Next, we will delve into the concept and dynamics of a content manager or Web CMS, what we can use it for, what features it should have, and, finally, what content managers, affordable but powerful, we have at our end.
What is a Web CMS?
Saying that a CMS is “a software tool to create, administer and manage a website”, although correct, hardly covers what we should understand by a content manager.
To better understand what a Web CMS is and what we can do with it, we are going to stop at its 3 main functions, which we have already pointed out:
- Website creation
- Management and maintenance of the website.
- Administration of the website and the CMS itself.
These are not the only functions that a CMS website can perform, but without some of them, we could not consider it a true content manager.
CMS’s that are more advanced, or specialized for some specific activity (for example, e-commerce websites), will have additional functions for the specific needs of those types of sites (for example, a product catalog in an eCommerce).
We mentioned it in the introduction: creating a website involves various technologies, both for generating HTML pages and for storing and accessing resources used by them (such as images or documents for download).
A content manager allows the creation of a website without having to know any of these technologies or, at most, basic knowledge related to the editing of web pages. Mainly, those related to the text format (bold, italic, links, etc.).
When creating a website with a content manager, such as a WordPress CMS, it allows separating two aspects that, from the user’s perspective, are integrated: the design or visual appearance of the website and its content (both text and images). ).
In a content manager, design and content are independent. This means that the design of the website can be changed without affecting the content, which is still shown adapted to the characteristics of the new design.
Although content managers allow design elements to be inserted into content, they should be avoided as much as possible, since a change to the website design could mean reviewing all content to remove or revise those elements.
Therefore, one of the first tasks when creating a website with a content manager is usually to define, select, or design its visual appearance. What in the WordPress content manager, for example, is called “theme”, although different Web CMS may use different classifications.
Once a design or theme has been chosen, the content manager provides us with the templates available for this theme, and, through the manager interface, we can enter the contents that will be shown in the spaces reserved for that purpose in those templates.
Website Management and Maintenance
In most cases, a website is not a static entity, but grows and evolves over time, either to include new web pages, with more content or to modify existing ones.
Even websites, such as corporate websites, which we can assume will have little change in principle, often have a news section or customer testimonials that should be updated frequently.
Through the content manager, performing this update or maintenance of the content only requires locating the template or type of content that you want to create or modify, edit the content accordingly and save it, almost as if it were a document in a text processor.
Likewise, the manager offers various utilities to organize web pages and easily search the contents of the website, through a simple and intuitive interface, without the need to locate the physical files on the hard disk or know the real structure in which they are stored…
The same consideration extends to the rest of the resources that the website uses (images, documents, videos, etc.): the CMS manages and stores them for us, which we will only have to search for and select when we need them.
The versatility of the content manager is such that, in reality, there is hardly any difference between creating a website and updating it: everything is done through the same interface (that is, menus and web forms) and the same utilities.
CMS Website Administration
When we are using an additional tool to manage a website, a new configuration layer is added to manage its functions and capabilities, in addition to other aspects related to the operation of the website.
In principle, these characteristics are independent of the website itself and its content and describe how it will behave or be managed as a whole. For example, in the case of website administration, what will the web addresses look like, how will the web pages be organized or how will the images be stored?
On the other hand, the content manager itself, like any other computer application, also has its own configuration and administration options, related to its operation. For example, the language of the user interface, the date formats or, a very common feature of CMS that we will see later, which users can manage the website and with which profiles.
Likewise, we will also see that content managers allow us to extend their functionality through plugins, which, in turn, must be configured and administered, also through the same management interface. Generally, the default content manager settings are valid for most websites, especially small ones.
However, at the moment when our functionalities are added to the website through plugins, or if you want to optimize some specific aspects of the website (for example, for SEO positioning), then you have to carefully review the configuration to adjust it to the best possible.
What is a CMS for?
Until now we have been talking about what we can do with a CMS (create and manage a website, focusing on the content instead of the technical part) but, can we manage any website? Does a content manager impose any limitations in this regard?
The answer to the first question would be yes. In fact, today practically any website, be it commercial, general, or custom-built.
For a simple reason: we cannot afford to have a website whose content can only be managed by qualified technical professionals; for cost and dynamization of the website.
The answer to the second would be no, although with limitations. Not only are there different types of websites, but depending on the owner’s needs and strategy, one or another service or functionality will have to be included.
For a custom-built content manager, this is not a problem – it is built from the website owner’s specifications.
For its part, a general content manager usually has enough versatility and flexibility so that, through small custom developments or by incorporating modules or independent plugins, it can also be adapted to its specifications. Possibly an additional cost, but much less than a custom CMS Website.
To get an idea of the versatility and power of content managers, let’s see below some types of websites that can be built with a commercial Web CMS, often without the need for specific adaptations.
Corporate websites usually have a fairly generalized structure and management that is perfectly assumable by a CMS Web: home page, product/service catalog, company information, company news/blog, project/customer list, contact page and even a private section for clients or employees, with downloads, included.
Blogs can have their own entity, not only as part of a website. In addition to managing blog articles, the CMS provides features to facilitate user management, both of the articles themselves (such as the categorization of articles or configuration of their publication and properties) and other resources (such as images or downloads). ).
The requirements of an Electronic Commerce platform are greater than the two types that we have seen so far. At least, if you want to facilitate navigation and purchase by users.
On the one hand, the content manager must allow quick and efficient management of the product catalog and the customer portfolio, in addition to advanced navigation and search tools that make it easier for the user to locate products of interest to them.
On the other hand, it must also include a secure and robust online payment support, without the need to leave the website and with various options that the user can select.
Online Courses Platform
In this case, the complexity of the CMS may be even greater than an eCommerce, since, in addition to a catalog of courses (comparable to that of products), it must include management, communication, and student monitoring tools.
In turn, students must have a private area, with everything necessary to take one or more courses: access to content, a list of activities and exercises, communication tools with teachers and other students, taking exams …
In addition, a CMS of online courses will include tools for the management and differentiation of teachers and students, organization of courses, achievement statistics, sharing of resources between students or teachers, etc.
What characteristics should a professional CMS have?
As we have seen, a CMS website incorporates a large number of website possibilities, sometimes by itself, other times adding specific adaptations (for large websites).
However, a professional CMS must include “standard” a list of features and functions necessary to build a relatively standard website without requiring additional modules or custom adaptations.
In this section we are going to list and describe these characteristics, which will give us a better view of the scope and possibilities of a content manager:
What is the best CMS to create websites?
If we do a quick search, we will find that there is a huge offer of content managers. Against this background, which one to select for a new website? Are there any “better” than the rest?
However, as we have seen, it cannot be said that a priori, there is a better CMS than the rest. At least, in all situations.
Although the technology of plugins allows incorporating almost any functionality to a content manager, some “factory” features can make one more suitable than the rest to create a specific website, so as not to have to depend on plugins or developments.
A good way to decide which content manager we can use is by browsing through websites that we like and see what technology they are using, in case we are interested in using it. We have two ways to do it:
- Through an online tool, such as What CMS, that analyzes the website that we introduced to it and tells us the name of the manager:
- Through a Chrome extension, like Wappalyzer, which even provides additional technical information about the website:
Let’s see which are the most popular and what we should consider selecting one or the other depending on the characteristics or complexity of the website.
By far, the CMS to create a WordPress website is the most used content manager on the Internet, mainly due to its extreme ease of use, which makes it almost the best option for beginner users who want to create their first website or for most from relatively small websites without special requirements, such as corporate sites or blogs.
Its support for plugins is very strong and it could be said that there is almost at least one plugin for practically any need. Not to mention its user community, by far the most extensive, which will be very useful for solving problems: almost certainly someone will have already had it and shared it in different forums.
Perhaps the main limitation of the WordPress CMS, if we want to be a bit picky, is that its “factory” web design possibilities are somewhat limited, although compensated by the huge offer available of themes and templates, both free and paid, to cover virtually any type of website.
While the WordPress CMS may be the best option to get into content managers, although powerful and versatile enough for advanced users and websites, Joomla presents a somewhat greater learning curve.
The aspect that differentiates Joomla from other CMS’s is the versatility of its plugins (“extensions”), which can completely change the appearance and functionality of a website, although this flexibility implies a greater technical qualification of those who have to operate with the manager.
Its power is such that there are even different types of extensions (plugins, modules, and components) depending on the impact or change they produce on the website, from basic functionalities to completely recreating a website.
The most complex manager that we have seen now and with the largest learning curve. However, this difficulty is compensated by an increased ability to build large websites, such as large portals or business group sites, without the need for external plugins.
In addition, Drupal incorporates basic editing and web design tools, without having to rely exclusively on external utilities or plugins.
But its main advantage is its support for the optimization of organic positioning (SEO), by including integrated solutions and tools, without the need for external plugins, as happens in previous CMS.
Until now, we have seen generic CMS’s, which can be used for practically any type of website, although installing additional plugins or carrying out custom developments, which can either increase the cost of creating the website or make it more difficult to manage.
In this sense, PrestaShop offers a specialized solution for e-commerce platforms, incorporating most of the most common functionalities on eCommerce sites from the factory.
With the functionalities that Prestashop incorporates as standard, it is not necessary to install or configure third-party plugins to create an online store, although it also has a system of complements or modules, to improve the shopping experience of users.
Another specialized CMS, this time for the creation of online course platforms. Again, generic CMS’s can be configured, with the appropriate plugins, to provide this functionality, but in general, a specialized solution will be easier to use and manage.
Thus, in Moodle, we will find as standard everything that can be expected from an online course platform, from the management of the courses themselves, with their respective contents and monitoring of evaluations, to the management of different types of users, such as students, teachers, creator of courses, etc.
A Web CMS offers various tools, available through an integrated interface, to create, manage and administer a website and its contents, in addition to other functions that may be necessary for its operation (such as SEO optimization, resource galleries, or user, among others).
A fundamental characteristic of CMS is the possibility of installing plugins, which allow adding new functionalities not initially contemplated or supported by the CMS to create more complex or varied websites.
Although generic CMS’s provide many web solutions, with WordPress CMS being the most popular, for specific cases, such as eCommerce platforms or online courses, there are specialized CMS’s that offer, with their basic installation, everything necessary to build this type of websites, without installing plugins.