Straight Talking Tech: what is a CMS?

22nd October 2020

Let’s get this straight first – “CMS”, in the web world, stands for Content Management System. Another fancy acronym. But what does that even mean? 

In its essence, a CMS gives you access to dynamic data stored in a database and/or file system. That could be a website, it could be an app or maybe even an API (another fancy acronym we’re going to shed light on next time!).

This allows you to manage and edit your website’s content, such as, creating new blog posts, adding new products, or setting up push notifications to users of your app.

Now that we clarified what a CMS is, let’s talk about how they work and look at some examples.

How does a CMS work?

Well, technically speaking, a CMS is just another website. It’s a bunch of HTML, CSS & JavaScript files, all of which make up the foundations of a website. Saying that, it also gives users the ability to access and edit the – you guessed it – content of something without needing to write or understand a line of code. 

A CMS is made up of two parts; a CMA (Content Management Application) and a CDA (Content Delivery Application).

The CMA is a user interface that allows you to manage the content on a day to day basis without the need of a developer. You are able to modify your content through a series of input fields and text boxes that are then magically converted into beautiful parts of your website. For example, a contact form or a blog post.

man using wordpress interface on desktop computer

The CDA then compiles the content you have just provided and updates the site using some of that magic we just mentioned.

How a CMS can benefit you and your business

CMSs have been designed to be flexible so they can be set up to suit the type of site you need for your business, from static sites to eCommerce to blogs.

By working with a CMS, it gives developers out of the box controls, that means they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And developers are lazy, they really don’t want to have to assist you every time you want to change the background image! If it can be automated, a CMS will do the job. It’s basically an awesome toolbox: a bit like a prefab house that also gives you the option to totally customize everything.

For the less tech-savvy among us, the benefits include…

  • Not needing to have any prior coding knowledge: the back end of the site is set up with lots of handy little input areas and the ability to preview changes to take the stress out of hitting that ‘update’ button.
  • Built in SEO features: SEO, Search Engine Optimisation, is kinda important if you want your website to appear in search results (free traffic? Hell yes!) and a CMS will have these tools set up, giving you a better chance of getting on those all important search pages.
  • Optimisation of assets: not sure how to format/compress an image or how to deliver your video? You don’t want to let your users download a 3GB photo! CMSs can be configured, or features/third party tools integrated that handle all of this automatically.

Examples of CMS

To give a bit more context to what we are talking about, you might be familiar with these examples of CMSs. This is by no means an exhaustive list, there are loads out there, but these are some of the ones you have probably heard of:

  • WordPress
  • Magento
  • Wix
  • Squarespace
  • Drupal

How do you choose a CMS?

So with millions of options out there, how on earth are you able to choose which one is good for you and suits your needs?

Things to consider:

  1. Stability/reliability – has it been around for quite a while? There are tons of CMSs that have been ‘custom made’ by agencies or other developers in the last couple of years. But if there’s no strong support, these might disappear and you could end up with no support!
  2. Features and integration options out of the box – what do you actually need? If a system has 90% of the things you need and is (almost) free and easy to set up, go for it. 
  3. Integration options – this is where the magic really happens. These days, no system exists on its own. Your workflow usually consists of a whole range of apps and tools, so how well does your CMS fit into this? Can it automatically create reports, upload information from your CRM or let your finance department know when a purchase has been made?
  4. Flexibility – how custom do you need it? If you already have very specific requirements or need advanced integrations, your developers need to be able to plug in this functionality.
  5. Add ons/plugins available – again, no need to reinvent the wheel if what you need already exists. If a CMS has a vibrant plugin ecosystem, it can save you a big chunk of time and money.
  6. Developer community – can it be supported going forward? The best CMS is not worth much if no one actually uses it…
  7. Cost – open source vs. monthly subscription.
  8. Speed and ease of set up.
  9. Ongoing hosting and maintenance cost (kind of ties in with 5, 6 and 7) – make sure you have factored in any potential additional costs going forward as your website grows and develops.
  10. What can your developer do? If you have a trusted developer who is very skilled at one language/system, there’s no point opting for something completely different.
  11. Quality of documentation – the greatest system in the world is worth nothing if no one can figure out how to actually use it!

So, to round things up, a CMS not only gives a developer the flexibility to create sites and apps to suit the unique needs of each individual business, post-development, it provides teams with an accessible space where they can manage and update the content quickly and easily. 

Want to know more about how we can help you implement a CMS? Get in touch – we’d love to help. 

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