What is a content management system?

A content management system is a way of easily and logically managing the content on your website. Content management systems split websites into different sections so they can be managed individually. For example, the template, menu items, content and footers of websites were split so you could easily make changes to just menu items without having to update every page on your website.

Why the need for a content management system?
Back in the old days of building websites (mid to late 90’s) and well into the early 2000’s, websites were built using individual pages linked to one another. All the elements for the pages (logos, headers, menu items, content, footers, etc) were built into each individual page.

When you wanted to make an edit on a page you would need to download it (using an FTP program or a website editing program like Dreamweaver) make your change and then reupload it to the server. This was fine for making a couple of edits to page content, but when your website had hundreds of pages, this way of building and editing websites soon became unmanageable.

As websites became more popular and the internet started weaving it’s way into our everyday life (can you imagine a time where we didn’t have internet – I know it existed, but it’s now so ingrained into our lives, it’s hard to think back to those days!) developers started to build programs called Content Management Systems.

What having a content management system for your website means
Ultimately a content management system enables you to log into an administrator area of your website to manage content, menus, users etc, instead of needing to download a piece of code editing software like Dreamweaver or Notepad++ to edit your website.

The other benefit is that most content management systems use WYSIWYG editors (what you see is what you get) making editing content on your website sooooo much easier than looking at code.

Content management systems opened up running websites to more people because you didn’t have to know code to maintain a website. Sure, there’s always going to be a place for developers and designers for some of the more technical aspects of content managements systems but a CMS levelled the playing field for businesses to be able to maintain their own websites.

What are the most popular content management systems?
The three big players in content management systems are Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal – these are all open source content management systems (we will cover those in later topics) and work very well for the type of websites they’ve been developed for.

This article isn’t the place to get into which content management system is the best, easier to use, more secure, etc (there’s literally thousands of articles on the web about this) but I will say this… the three content management systems I’ve listed above are all red wines – one’s a Cabernet Sauvignon, the other is a Merlot and one is a Shiraz. They’re all red wines but they have slightly different flavours and do similar things in different ways.

One isn’t better than the other (Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red wine, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best) and they all do a particular job. It’s up to us as web designers and website developers to understand the differences in CMS’s and choose the right tool for the job.