What Is a CMS (Content Management System)?

CMS | content management system

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Hey, CMS, what are you doing?

The right CMS (content management system) can help you tell your story, publish your messages faster, act as a unified content hub for your team and support company-wide flexibility in delivering content, all ultimately resulting in better experiences for your company and your customers. Not too shabby, eh?

These systems are the user-friendly platforms on which most of today’s websites are built. They house the front-end user interface (UI) of your site, where prospects and customers interact with your brand, and the back-end, where you, your designers and your developers bring your story to life

Many popular content management systems don’t require coding knowledge. They offer templates that let anyone add and arrange content (and adjust the look) with ease. But if your website design leaves something to be desired, you can always get by with a little help from a friend…or more likely, a savvy hired gun: front-end developers and web designers.

While templates are great, businesses that have developers, user experience (UX) designers and a content team, either in-house or through an agency partner, can use a CMS to build a completely unique, customized website that really differentiates their brand from competitors.

CMS features offer tons of benefits

  • Flexibility & ease of use: This is probably the most important benefit for anyone choosing a CMS. In the old days, sites were hard-coded HTML and you needed a developer to do anything from adding a page to updating a menu to fixing a broken link. Let’s face it: marketers aren’t coders, and coders are generally more concerned with clean code than with the site’s message. With a CMS, your marketing team can easily build and edit pages without needing to open a ticket with IT. And if you really want maximum flexibility, a headless CMS might be right for you.
  • Scalability: As companies grow, their websites need to stay aligned (think: handling more traffic and conversions, adding new pages, new products, new sections, etc.). Your CMS needs to support growth without becoming a giant mess. A CMS must be flexible enough to handle scaling amounts of content and traffic or transactional growth as your customers are swept away by the power of your marketing efforts.
  • User roles & permissions: Controllable user roles are essential to brand integrity and to keeping your CMS clean. Assigning users roles that restrict what they can and can’t edit is advised, to eliminate duplicate effort and the risk of content being added (or deleted) all willy-nilly. By controlling the power that different types of users have, admins keep things secure, organized and manageable.

A few content management systems to consider

There are plenty of CMS to choose from, and your choice of platform can affect the fluidity of workflows and coordination across sales, marketing and business processes (well, that’s a mouthful). Here are some to consider.


Initially built for blog posts, WordPress is possibly the most popular CMS in use, with tons of WordPress sites in existence. It’s open-source and hugely scalable, making it appropriate for everyone from niche bloggers to global enterprises. While it is available as a free service, the real power comes in the paid version. This CMS offers thousands of design templates, so you can have a beautiful site without needing a web designer. However, WordPress is a solid platform for coders and designers to go crazy and build a totally unique site.

And talk about flexibility! Perhaps the coolest features of WordPress are enabled by the tons of plugins it offers, and with so many to choose from, you can solve almost any web challenge. For example, with WordPress multisites, you can control pages on multiple sites (like online shops, landing pages, blog networks and forums) from a single platform, along with the rest of your site. Super admins have master control over what makes it out onto the site’s front-end.

WordPress also offers short-codes, which are small bits of code that add new functionality using, well, less code, for less chance for human error and a less code-heavy site. Just add a short line of HTML or CSS, and bam! You now have ads and social media features that users can interact with.


Drupal is another common open-source CMS, popular among higher ed and some major news outlets. While it does require a fair amount of development effort upfront, businesses that have a budget for developers and web designers may find Drupal a good fit. Content creation is very flexible, and it’s relatively easy for anyone to maintain once all the pieces are in place.

Drupal offers modules for marketing automation, depending on how users interact with your site. For example, if they download a white paper, you can send a follow up email. If they have a question, chatbots can help.

HubSpot CMS Hub:

Hubspot’s CMS integrates with their other offerings, including Hubspot’s CRM, Marketing Hub, Sales Hub and Service Hub. Two tiers are available at different price points. There’s a professional tier that includes drag-and-drop themes, round-the-clock threat protection and built-in firewall, and features for SEO and A/B testing. The enterprise tier is more expensive, but offers advantages like managing multiple domains and microsites as well as reporting for multiple websites, all in a single CMS.


Squarespace is a staple for bloggers, people who want to showcase their CV or portfolio, or anyone looking to host a small-scale online shop. This CMS requires no coding knowledge and offers tons of great design templates. Pricing is competitive, with monthly plans available and hefty discounts for multiple accounts.


Wix is a fairly powerful CMS that’s also beginner-friendly, for people who want a robust platform with minimal hassle. Easy drag-and-drop components allow users to build webpages without design or code knowledge.Wix also has many pre-built design templates to choose from, and with hundreds of apps available in their app store, you can produce newsletters, add live chat and make online bookings a reality on your site, among other lots of other features.


Magento is an ecommerce powerhouse from the tech and marketing software experts at Adobe. While there is a free version, Magento Commerce is the paid version with a price tag starting at $20,000+ (Wowzers!) If that’s in your budget, Adobe provides a full support service to help you get the best results from the system.

To call Magento Commerce customizable is an understatement. The look and functionality of your site can keep pace with both the imagination of the most creative designers and the traffic that enterprise brands (think Nike, Canon and Land Rover) attract. Adobe hosts the site for you in the paid version.

Typical challenges when using a CMS

  • Usability: Different content management systems require different levels of technical skill. Some need developers to work in code, others are no-code or low-code, built for anyone to use. If you’re in a small to mid-sized business, you might have less technical expertise available and will likely look for a solution that can be managed completely by a marketer. If you’re in a large enterprise with a bigger pool of technical resources, you might prefer a more customizable CMS. The key is to look for a CMS that fits with your business and available resources.
  • Aligning business needs: You have goals, and your CMS needs to help you achieve them. Investing in a CMS means you’ll need to get stakeholders and leadership to sign off on the cost, so you’ll also need to prove ROI. The best way to do this is to connect your CMS to a marketing automation platform so you can track how your site visitors are converting into leads (and eventually into paying customers).
  • Uniting existing tech: It’s important that your CMS plays nice with the rest of your tech stack. In order to find complementing tech, research CMS compatibility and available integrations with marketing automation and CRM platforms. Consider the out-of-the-box capabilities and available add-ons (read: plugins and apps) to determine which CMS will work best. And speaking of..

Tech stacks can be divided; integrations close the gaps

Integrations are add-on applications that make your CMS easier to use or expand the system’s capabilities. Let’s take a look at some common integrations.

  • SEO: Some content management systems offer tools or plugins for monitoring and improving your site’s search engine optimization (SEO). These can be extremely helpful in fine-tuning your content for maximum performance.
  • Analytics: How can you know if your marketing is effective if you can’t measure it? With website analytics, you’ll see the time users spend on pages, their click through rates, how they find your site and which pages they visit (and more), giving you better insight into consumer behavior, what needs improvement and what’s performing well. Note that not all CMS platforms offer this (but when they don’t, there’s always Google Analytics!).
  • Ecommerce: Transform your site into a true ecommerce platform. With plugins, you can list products, track sales, monitor inventory and give customers the ability to add reviews. You can even manage your payments and shipping.
  • Social media features: Add social widgets or feeds such as photo galleries from Flickr featured in a slideshow or customized Twitter streams.
  • Drag-and-drop builders: These no-code solutions give you the ability to easily add, select and move components on your site. Such drag-and-drop builders include Divi and SeedProd, plus countless others for your CMS of choice.
  • Point-of-sale apps: If you’re gonna get paid, your customers need a secure, reliable way to exchange funds. POS apps let you accept payments with minimal to no fees. POS apps allow you to add custom billing and offer protections for businesses in case of disputes over payment.
  • Caching apps: A slow website results in a bad user experience, causing visitors to bounce. Slow page load speeds can drastically affect the SEO value of your site as well as the impression that visitors have of your brand. Apps like W3 Total Cache, WP Rocket and Comet Cache can help make your site run at lightning speed.
  • Omnichannel customer experience: Today’s content management systems are built to integrate with marketing automation platforms and CRMs (and more), allowing for cross-channel monitoring and even real-time personalization. Dynamic content enabled by an integrated marketing automation platform can drastically increase engagement and conversion.