Maybe you’ve heard of Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress, but never quite understood where they fit in when it comes to websites and blogs?
Whether you’re a seasoned CMS geek or just looking for a way to scale up your business site, a solid CMS that suits your needs can save you hours every week.
This article is for you, if:
- You want to know what a CMS is
- You’re looking for the ideal CMS for your next big web project
- You are curious to know what alternatives there are to CMS software
Have your notebook ready, put your learning hat on, and let’s dive right in.
What is a content management system (CMS)?
If you’ve thought about website creation and done any tentative Google searches, you’ve probably come across mentions of CMS software.
Previously, if you wanted to update the product pages of your online store, you wouldn’t need to shift through walls of code.
With a CMS, you click your way to the right pages, use the text editor to change the text and upload new photos and save your changes.
What’s the difference between a headless CMS and a hosted CMS?
In short – a headless CMS (or a front-endless CMS) refers to a content management system that only uses the backend of the CMS software.
A hosted CMS, on the other hand, uses both the front and the back ends of the content management system.
This means that a headless CMS uses WordPress, for example, to create new blog posts and add new images, but uses an API connection to connect the content to your website’s own front end.
A headless CMS gives you more flexibility and control over how your website looks to your visitors. You can load the content any way you want and you can change up your design or other technicalities easier and faster.
That’s not to say that a hosted CMS is a bad option, either. Usually, compared to a headless CMS, a hosted CMS is easier for beginners to get to grips with.
CMS vs. website builder: what’s the difference?
If you’re new to the world of web development and don’t really know your nameservers from your API, website builders make creating and managing a website much easier than a CMS.
Unlike CMS software, a website builder comes with everything you need to successfully create a website, namely:
- Web hosting
- A domain name
- Site security
- Server space
- Ready-made website templates
Most builders also have top-notch customer support because they don’t assume their users are web design pros.
Still, with a CMS platform, you’ll have more freedom and flexibility over your website.
You’re in control of the design of your site, what types of multimedia content are supported, how your content is tagged and categorized, how many users have access to edit your website, and not to mention the ability to edit your site’s code.
Setting up a website with a CMS takes longer than using website building tools, and requires some technical expertise in the field of web development.
What to look for when choosing a content management system
Content management systems, while similar, all have slightly different technical specifications.
Some might be made with total web design novices in mind, while others might be better suited to people with some prior technical knowledge.
There are a handful of key elements you want to consider when choosing your web content management system.
Ease of use
One of the most crucial content management features is how easy the CMS platform is to use.
Ideally, if you’re a beginner, you want to use CMS software that has an intuitive interface, a simple set-up process, and easy to use drag-and-drop content and text editor.
Unless it’s your goal to learn the ins and outs of website development, opting for a content management system that’s too difficult to use will only waste your time and challenge your nerves.
Themes and add-ons
The best CMS platforms don’t leave you hanging when it comes to the web design of your website.
You want to opt for a CMS that has plenty of options when it comes to website templates, different plugins, extensions, add-ons, and so on.
You should only need to touch up your favorite template to suit your business or brand, rather than extensively working on the look and feel of your website.
As for add-ons, choose the CMS software that best suits your needs. Do you need to use a calendar app to take bookings or organize sales calls? Make sure your CMS platform has that functionality available.
Marketing and SEO
You want people to know about your website, don’t you?
In order to market your website properly, you need to look for platforms that offer both marketing and SEO content management features.
Pay attention to how different CMS platforms support you in your scaling efforts: do you have access to a marketing dashboard? Can you integrate your favorite marketing apps into your website?
SEO tools are a must for all modern websites, so make sure your CMS has those in-built to the backend or offers extensive add-on options.
Performance and scalability
If you’re running a business, chances are that you already have plans for growing and scaling your company.
When it comes to enterprise content management platforms, you want to look for providers that can handle high traffic peaks.
That means that the top content management solutions need to have high speed and overall performance, and manage high amounts of data without slowing down.
Ideally, you can start with a package that suits your current needs, and as your brand grows, so does your website’s server space and bandwidth, among other things.
Security and support
One of the most overlooked but important content management features is the security of your CMS platform.
You should be absolutely sure you understand the level of security your site will have on the CMS you choose.
And if you’re not sure, you should always be able to ask customer support and get answers from real human beings, preferably in real-time.
It’s also a good idea to read reviews of the CMS platforms you’re considering using – usually user testimonials tell you more than an advert.
Here’s the good news: most CMS platforms don’t actually cost you much to use.
Open-source content management systems are the industry standard. Meaning that if you know what you’re doing, you’re only looking at paying for things like a custom domain name and web hosting.
If you’re not sure how to really set up a CMS for your site, you could consider hiring a web developer to get the job done.
Or if you have some experience in web development, most platforms like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and Contentful have a dedicated community forum with all the answers.
You shouldn’t forget about the price of potential add-ons, plugins, and themes, either. While most basic integrations and additional features cost under $100, some WordPress themes can range in the thousands.
Best content management systems on the market right now
Let’s face it – some CMS platforms are better than others.
We have shortlisted our favorite 14 platforms from beginner-friendly website building tools to more advanced CMS software.
We’re a little bit biaesed of course, but if you’re looking for a user-friendly alternative to a CMS platform that comes with inbuilt SEO tools, a marketing platform, and a strong eCommerce solution that could take on Shopify?
Zyro is the perfect alternative CMS software.
You create a website by choosing your favorite template and customizing it with the drag-and-drop editor.
Since everything from hosting to domains and more are included, you won’t have to spend extra time on configuring your site: instead, you can publish it the second that you’re happy with the way your pages look.
Zyro also has exceptional customer support, meaning that you’ll be able to talk with a real person at any point when you have a question, can’t figure something out, or generally get stuck.
Thanks to Zyro’s intuitive design, managing multiple websites, domains and online stores is effortless, and you can get started for just $10,90 per month (Unleashed plan).
WordPress is probably one of the most popular and well-known content management systems out there.
Originally used for blogs, WordPress is a great CMS for all types of websites and online stores, thanks to the WooCommerce extension, and almost limitless integration options.
Since WordPress is an open-source CMS, you can get started for free – although you will need to consider the additional costs of web hosting and your domain name.
While you can get started with free plugins and extensions, the best WordPress add-ins and themes can quickly rank up the costs.
We’d recommend learning the basics of CSS or HTML in order to touch up some of the free themes, to keep yourself from overspending.
The good thing about WordPress is also its strong community: if you have questions or get stuck at any point, there’s probably a thread about it with solutions on a forum, or someone ready to help you out.
Joomla is a great choice for people who need to stay within a budget but want the flexibility of a good free open-source CMS.
Like WordPress, Joomla has plenty of integrations, themes, and plugins available, meaning that you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to customizing your website.
To get the most out of Joomla, you will need to have some level of experience in the world of web development, or you’ll risk not utilizing the platform properly.
On a scale of intuitive to technical, Joomla sits somewhere in the middle – it’s definitely a more technical platform compared to WordPress, for example.
We love Joomla for its multilingual support: you don’t need any additional plugins to have your site in a different language. Joomla also supports plenty of different types of content, making it ideal for brands and sites with a multimedia content approach.
Looking for an alternative to Shopify?
Magento is one of the best CMS options for rapidly growing online stores.
Like Joomla and WordPress, Magento is a flexible piece of software with impressive security features and plenty of features that all eCommerce owners need.
Magento makes it easy to manage your store inventory, marketing (including SEO), and everything else in-between from one dashboard.
While this platform hasn’t got the same market share as Shopify, it’s steadily growing and proven successful with a wide array of niches.
You can get started for free with Magento Open Source, but heed a word of warning: this CMS software is not aimed at beginners or non-technical users. You need to understand your way around a CMS in order to set it up properly – or hire someone else to do it for you.
Alternatively, you can pay the Magento team to set up your store and opt for a Magento Commerce plan. Since the Magento Commerce plans start from $2000 a month, we’d only recommend this CMS for startups with plenty of preorders or strong funding.
Drupal is a free open-source content management system that’s ideal for both eCommerce sites and normal websites of any caliber.
It’s known for its flexible taxonomy system, making it easy to manage vast amounts of content. It also comes with an in-built user permission infrastructure, making it easy to add users with different roles and rights to your website.
Thanks to plenty of themes and add-ons, like with WordPress and Joomla, Drupal is a great CMS option for those with technical know-how.
Although Drupal is more technical than many other CMS options on our list, the learning curve isn’t quite as steep as with Magento – meaning that if you get help laying the groundwork for your site, the day-to-day management is smoother than you might initially think.
Looking for a CMS that’s simple to use but can manage a website with a lot of content?
Textpattern is your go-to CMS software if you want to bootstrap your website without missing out on the big features.
Being a free open-source CMS, Textpattern comes with impressive documentation, meaning that if you know your way around code, you could make your website truly stand out without spending a penny.
Although the features and functionality are clearly mapped out on both GitHub and online, Textpattern is definitely no WordPress or Drupal: you do need to have existing technical knowledge of web development to make the most out of this CMS.
Typo3 has been long hailed as one of the best CMS platforms for intranets and enterprises.
While it’s definitely not our recommendation for first-timers if you consider yourself a more technical user already, Typo3 is ideal for managing multiple websites under one CMS.
Like Joomla, WordPress, and others on our list, Typo3 is free-to-use and open-source, meaning that you can customize it to truly match your company’s needs.
Kentico is the best CMS for you if you are looking for a headless CMS that’s built with bigger businesses in mind.
Like Typo3, Drupal, and WordPress, Kentico is software built for rapidly growing businesses that need reliable features to support their expansion to new markets.
Kentico offers two different types of CMS systems: Kontent and Xperience.
Kentico Kontent is one of the best CMS platforms that are cloud-based and headless, while Kentico Xperience comes as a package with together the CMS solution and marketing tools.
You can get started with Kontent for free, but Xperience’s paid plans quickly rank up the cost to the thousands.
It’s not a beginner-friendly platform, either, so we wouldn’t recommend using it unless you’re willing to learn more about web development, or can get someone to help you out.
9. HubSpot CMS
If you’re already using HubSpot for all things marketing, the HubSpot CMS is hands down the best CMS for you.
Since the CMS can be integrated into the HubSpot CRM, you can benefit from the CRM’s sales automation features when it comes to your website.
For example, your website automatically adds any new leads to your CRM (for example, people who subscribe to your newsletter), making it faster and easier to approach them while they are still interested in your product or service.
Sure, WordPress has similar features and integrations with a bunch of CRMs, but it’s hard to argue against software that comes ready with all these features.
Rather than taking the time to configure your site, add all the right plugins, and test that they all actually work, HubSpot removes this step and allows you to focus on more pressing business matters.
Another thing we love about HubSpot’s software is that it offers both coding possibilities to technical users and a drag-and-drop editor for web development novices.
All this comes with a cost. The Professional plan costs $300 per month, while you can expect to pay $900 each month if you go with the Enterprise plan.
PrestaShop is a CMS similar to Joomla when it comes to user-friendliness and accessibility.
If you’re looking for an eCommerce CMS platform, PrestaShop combines Magento’s technical capabilities and the simplicity of Shopify’s interface.
PrestaShop boasts a massive add-on and theme library with over 6000 plugins available for users, meaning that there’s bound to be something for everyone.
Due to its open-source nature, PrestaShop is in principle free to use, but unless you know what you’re doing, support plans range from $279 to $1,299 a month.
Contentful is a CMS platform that’s ideal for bigger companies and enterprises.
Being a cloud-based headless CMS, using Contentful requires users to have some technical background to avoid the steep learning curve. Otherwise setting up the API to transfer the content that’s created, edited, and managed on Contentful gets tricky.
With security features being powered by Amazon, your website or online store will be in safe hands with Contentful – while looking every bit as stylish as a Shopify shop would.
Individual projects can get off the ground for free, but the Team plan, starting at $489 per month, is more suited for bigger companies and projects.
If you’re looking for a CMS solution similar to Drupal, dotCMS could be just what you need for your next web project.
It’s one of the open-source headless CMS options we definitely recommend for more advanced content managers, but the drag-and-drop editor interface makes it easy to visualize almost any type of content on the corresponding web pages before publication.
Arguably the best part of this software is its 30-day free trial. Rather than committing straight away, you can try the software out to see if the features work for your project.
13. Craft CMS
If you’re not the one to call shots on who gets to loosen the purse strings, Craft CMS could be the best CMS software for you.
This free open-source content management system focuses on a user-friendly platform, making it a good contender for the likes of Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal.
As the software specializes in custom content types and in providing heavily supported localization options for your site, you’ll be able to dominate the search results across the globe with a well-written blog post or two.
Craft CMS also has a worldwide community and support plans available, so you won’t be left by yourself if you get stuck or encounter a problem.
It’s free to use for individuals, but the cost for teams and businesses isn’t bad, either: the Pro plans start from $299 per project, with an annual maintenance fee of $59.
Concrete5 is a CMS software with an interesting market position: it aims to be as simple to use as a text editor.
Whereas Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla might have bigger add-on libraries than Concrete5, the available selection is high in quality and reasonably priced.
Thanks to auto-updates for both the CMS software and the add-ons, you can be sure your site is secure no matter what.
And since this CMS is open-sourced and free, you can build websites to your heart’s content without breaking the bank.
Benefits of using a CMS
There are some features and reasons that really speak for content management solutions.
Most content creators would agree that a CMS makes life a lot easier regardless of whether you’re managing blog posts, multiple websites, or full-blown audio content – or all three and more.
Rather than having to shift through pure code, CMS software makes it easier for users of any technical caliber to publish, manage and edit a website’s content.
Not even a novice can get confused with a searchable database, a text editor, and a media library, among other features.
Related to the previous point, because of their user-friendliness, CMS software is more accessible to people from all walks of life.
Professional web developers love the flexibility that open-source CMS has to offer, but hobbyists and beginners can still create good-looking websites, all the same.
Plenty of available integrations
The best CMS software is moldable and offers lots of integrations, add-ons, and other plugins to make customization as easy as possible.
This means that you’re not tied to a predefined set of tools: instead, you can personalize your website, blogging platform, or online shop to suit your needs down to the last detail.
Easy and fast content updates
Most modern CMS platforms operate with a drag-and-drop interface, making it easy to play around with different web page layouts.
Updating content is usually done quickly through a WYSIWYG editor (short for “what you see is what you get”, referring to the fact that what you see in the editor is how your content will be displayed on your website, too).
Most content management systems have been built to support teams, meaning that you can add users to your website with different roles and permissions.
Want to make sure that only a select few have access to the site settings and other important information on your website? With a CMS, assigning different permissions to different users is easy.
Which CMS platform is best for you?
The best CMS for your website and business depends on many factors.
One user might need lots of storage for their files and content, while others need their website or online store to be fast as lightning.
To make your search easier, we’ve analyzed the best CMS platforms and categorized them:
- Best free CMS – WordPress
- The fastest CMS – Zyro
- Best for personal use – Joomla
- Best for small to medium-sized businesses – Drupal
- Best for large businesses – Contentful
- Best for blogs – WordPress
Frequently asked questions about CMS platforms
Are you still keen on building a website but not completely convinced?
We hear you – that’s why we’ve compiled the most common questions people have about the best CMS platforms.
1. Which CMS platforms do big companies use?
That really depends on the company – some might still run their websites and overall operations on Shopify, WordPress, or Drupal, but more often multinational companies invest in building their own CMS systems and intranets.
Usually, that’s because as the business grows and the business plan expands, the company has more and more defined and specialized needs.
A big international online shop might need to be able to keep detailed track of its inventory across different geographic areas, while a well-established charity might need to have multiple versions of its website for different countries and causes it supports.
But that’s not to say big companies can’t manage their website with a CMS platform like Drupal. In fact, the open-source CMS boasts a wide client portfolio from universities to businesses and charities.
2. Can I use a CMS without a domain name or a web hosting service?
Simply put – not really.
One of the big advantages of a CMS platform is that you’re in control of everything, including the type of hosting service you choose for your site.
Sadly, without a domain name (your website’s address on the internet) and web hosting (the rent your site and all its contents pay a provider for being visible for all internet to see), your site can’t be published.
If you’re looking for a simple way to create a website without having to worry over technical specifications, using a website building tool like Zyro is a safe bet.
For most small businesses, a simple site with a homepage, a page for contact information, and a page for services and products work a treat.
And compared to WordPress, Zyro gets your site up and running in a fraction of the time that it takes to configure and set up individual WordPress pages.
3. Do I need a CMS?
If you simply want to have a website to promote your business or personal brand or run an online store, you can get started without a CMS platform like WordPress.
There are plenty of alternatives to CMS software – website builders like Zyro are great options for people who like to keep things simple and straightforward.
When it comes to content management features, many modern web building tools offer exactly the same functionalities, in a simplified package.
If you’re already familiar with some web development principles and have highly specialized needs for your website, you might get more out of your site by opting for CMS software.
4. What’s the best CMS software for a blog?
Most bloggers get started with WordPress – it’s easy to use, reliable and has all the basic features most bloggers need to publish and manage their blog content.
If you’re daring to dream big and hope to sell merchandise related to your blog one day, why not create your own website, instead of just a blog?
You shouldn’t pick your CMS platform just because others are using it, but rather think about your needs now and in the future.
Once you know what you need, it’s easier to start eyeing the market and shortlisting a few platforms.
Consider using free trials or demos to get a real feel for the software before committing to a purchase – some CMS solutions can quickly turn out costing you more than you’d initially expected, so make sure you know what you’re buying.
5. What questions to ask yourself when choosing a CMS?
You want to use a CMS platform that has features that suit your website and content.
Potential questions to ask yourself when analyzing the available CMS options include:
Do you need support for video and audio content, or are you going to just produce text? Check what types of content the platform supports and how easy it is to display them on your website. You might find that what’s easy on Zyro is a lot more complicated on WordPress, for example.
You want to be found online, right? All modern CMS software should come with SEO tools, or add-on features to help you optimize your keywords for search engines. Even if the tools are not built into the software, you should be able to use plugins, like Yoast SEO for WordPress.
Check that the platform comes with templates that actually please your eye, and if they don’t, you should be able to edit and customize them.
Does the platform have a text editor that works for you? What about an image editor or other photo tools? Zyro, for example, has extensive AI-powered photo editing tools.
If you want to have contact or lead forms on your site, make sure to check that your platform has plugins or integrations available beforehand to avoid disappointment.
If you’re not able to find the content that you need, a CMS can quickly become a lot more hassle than it’s worth. Pay attention to how searchable your content will be.
Software updates are commonplace in the digital world, but sometimes you might want to work a little longer with an older version of your content management software. The ideal platform lets you do that.
Multiple site management
Are you planning to launch multiple websites in the future? Your ideal platform should allow you to manage all of your websites and content from one dashboard.
Social media integrations
Never underestimate the power of social media. You want your site content to be easily shared to all your favorite social platforms, both from the page as well as from the backend editor.
Simplification of admin
Getting a CMS that only gives you more work is counterintuitive. Ideally, your CMS should simplify your administrative tasks – this could be a faster blog publication flow or automated social media sharing process.
Support, setup, and training
Will you get help setting up your website, or a hand migrating your content over from your old site? You might need some training to use your new platform effectively – check that this is offered.
You probably have a bunch of people working on your content or plan to. Being able to assign different roles to different team members is a fool-proof way to avoid any big mistakes like someone accidentally deleting a page or an important form.
If you have a smart speaker, you know how awesome voice search is. If you don’t – well, imagine just speaking your mind when you’re wondering where a particular piece of content is. Voice control is the future, so don’t settle for a platform that doesn’t support it.
Only go with a content management platform that supports the coding languages that you know. Unless you’re keen on learning a brand new one.
Compatibility with your existing tools
You’ll increase your own workflow a lot if you go with a piece of software that doesn’t work seamlessly with your existing tools (think cloud storage tools like Dropbox, or team communication software like Slack).
Remote or cloud access
A CMS that’s only accessible from a local device isn’t from this day and age. Cloud access is a must in today’s mobile world so that you can work on the go and avoid any data loss if your computer breaks down.
Knowing what content works and which websites get the most traffic is important for all kinds of business decisions. Having data available to you makes it easy to make informed decisions about the direction of your site.
Is there anything worse than getting stuck and not getting any help? The top content management software providers like Zyro, Contentful, and Kentico all offer live chat or phone support, meaning that you’re never alone with your problem.
6. Aren’t content management systems just for blogs?
It’s a common misconception that content management software is only used for blogging. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, historically, platforms like WordPress were built to make it easier for setting up a blog and sharing your thoughts with the world. But most, if not all CMS software long ago evolved past only serving the blogging niche.
Thanks to the open-source nature of most platforms, users were able to build plugins to suit their own specific needs and share their creations with others.
Fast forward to today, and most CMS platforms are so customizable and flexible that you can use them for almost any kind of project you can imagine.
Since they were originally created for managing and cataloging different types of content, most platforms are wonderful for powering and running websites with lots of content.
The ever-evolving plugin market has made it easy to create online stores and forums, as well as other more complicated website setups like membership-only sites.
Content management platforms are not just for blogs, but for all kinds of websites that plan on having some kind of content online.
7. Is it worth paying for a CMS?
That depends on the type of website you’re planning on managing.
If you’re a small business with a fairly simple site that needs infrequent updates and that you can manage yourself, you’re probably going to save money by opting for a CMS alternative like Zyro.
But if you’re a medium to large-sized corporation, or manage a site with lots and lots of content, a paid CMS plan might be the best use of your money.
Most paid CMS plans give you access to an account manager who will help you set up your site and content in the most optimal way.
If you have a dedicated team working on your site and overall content, chances are that they have the technical expertise to manage a free CMS, too.
Bring a human side to your site with a CMS
Content management software doesn’t have to be all work and no fun.
The best CMS options help you manage your site or store, have features that you need, and that can be scaled up as you grow.
And ideally, they should be easy to use, too.