If you manage a website, you likely use some form of content management system to do so. Put simply, a content management system is a computer application that allows you to create and modify digital content. A content management system is a tool that lets you easily add, edit, delete and rearrange content on your website.
Though they differ in popularity, complexity and specificity of the application, all content management systems share some key features. All will have authentication systems that will let you log into some form of back end, and all will have at least a basic editor through which you can alter text and images on various pages quickly and easily. Here, we compare four of the top content management systems out there and highlight some advantages and disadvantages of each.
Drupal is the second most popular content management system (CMS) currently in use. It is used by a number of large organizations including many parts of the U.S. Federal Government such as The White House (www.whitehouse.gov).
Drupal is very flexible and very extensible, but it is a bit more complex than other CMS’s. It has the advantage of being able to do almost anything, but it requires skill to modify, and it is not as easy to update. For example, Drupal is known for breaking backward compatibility with every major release, which is its policy. One of the pros of that is you can move your web properties onto newer technologies sooner. However, Drupal’s modules (plug-ins) have to be rewritten for every new and major version, and that may leave your favorite plug-in completely abandoned if a developer stops using it.
It can also be difficult to update modules because Drupal does not provide an auto update system. There are tools that can help you with that, but Drupal is not nearly as polished as other CMS’s in that regard.
Joomla! Prior to the arrival and takeover of WordPress, Joomla! was the most, or at times, the second most popular CMS on the market. Joomla! Is now the third most popular CMS and is the longest-developed open-source system. Many large-scale organizations use Joomla!, including a notable number of colleges and universities. Like Drupal, Joomla! is extensible, meaning you can easily add plug-ins and themes. It has a large commercial ecosystem around it for plug-ins and themes, and there is some level of official support for commercial extensions.
Due to smaller number of developers and support, much of what you find is going to be paid rather than free. In general, you will have to pay more money on Joomla! if you want to do it yourself because of its commercial popularity. Included in the advantages of Joomla! is the fact that support can sometimes be better for these paid extensions than for free ones.
WordPress is the most popular CMS on market, powering up to 25 percent of all sites on the internet. It has an enormous developer community with a very wide selection of plug-ins, themes and commercial services that can allow you to quickly put together functionality and enhance the speed and stability of your site with just a few clicks.
The downside is, due to sheer popularity, it is the CMS that is most commonly-targeted by exploit attempts, meaning that you need to exercise good judgment in choosing your plug-ins and themes. If possible, make sure to choose ones that are created by reputable, well-known authors that have shown to be quick to update their plug-ins if there are ever any issues found within them. Despite its reputation, WordPress’ core is considered to be very secure, and its auto update system ensures that any flaws that are found can be quickly patched by the WordPress security team and deployed to all WordPress installations across the internet.
At McNutt & Partners, WordPress is our CMS of choice because it is easy to modify and very flexible in what you can get it to do without lacking in power. The large community surrounding WordPress has allowed it to become a truly general purpose platform suitable for powering anything from a personal blog to some of the largest e-commerce sites on the internet.
Magento is a specialized CMS designed specifically for web stores and serves as the back end for most high-end clothing stores. It is among the market leaders for self-hosted ecommerce solutions due to its wide ranging integration with payment processors, POS systems and other business tools. Magento is known for being resource-heavy, requiring more expensive web hosting—even a dedicated server—to properly support, and because of its weight and specialized nature, the developer community surrounding it is considerably smaller.
Magento is also not strictly a free product. While it offers a community edition, which is widely used, it also sells an enterprise and premium enterprise product starting at $10,000. This can be cost-prohibitive to all but the largest organizations. However, these enterprise products are directly supported by the creators of Magento and run much faster than the base community edition.
One of Magento’s other downsides is that it is somewhat difficult to update, and as such, many Magento installations are often left without critical security updates, which can leave them open to attack. Check back with us though because new developments are in the works for Magento that will harden and auto update its installations for you so that you never have to worry about it.
All of the content management systems that we mentioned here are open-source products. That means that they are all easier to modify than closed-source, or, proprietary, products. Open source products are more easily reviewable for security and quality issues and more widely developed by nature. They are also all free in cost, (with exception of Magento’s commercial tiers), but that doesn’t stop you from purchasing high-quality commercially-supported add-ons for each.
There are many more content management systems on the market, some of which are considered
software as a service, meaning they are hosted by the service provider. Some of these include Squarespace, Webflow and Shopify, which provides an e-commerce focused CMS.
Have questions about the content management system you are using? Ask us in the comment section below!