You want to add content to a website, but you’re struggling to find the best content management systems.
In this easy review, we’ll walk you through the 29 best content management systems 2021, so you can find the right one for your website!
- What is a content management system?
- Free Content Management Systems
- Premium Content Management Systems
- What is the best CMS platform?
- What are examples of content management systems?
- What is a CMS software?
- What makes a good content management system?
- What are the main features included in CMS platforms?
What is a content management system?
A Content Management System (CMS) helps you update and add content to a website without needing detailed technical knowledge.
While it’s possible to create every single part of a website from scratch, for anything more complex than a basic personal site, you’ll soon end up spending more time working with code than actually writing content or serving your customers.
CMS tools handle the boring and repetitive work for you, letting you focus on the stuff that actually matters.
Depending on what you need, it can be difficult to decide between the best content management systems to use.
That’s what this list is for: it’ll break down the most popular CMS tools out there, both free and paid, so you can decide which ones merit further research.
Free Content Management Systems
- Classic what-you-see-is-what-you-get post editors, with additional code editing options
- Powerful theming engine means there’s thousands of pre-made site appearances you can slot in easily
- Literally thousands of add-ons and plugins for SEO, security, aesthetics, eCommerce…
Let’s not pretend WordPress needs any introduction.
Hosting over a third of all websites online, WordPress is in many ways the default choice for a CMS.
It has unparalleled popularity and community support – whatever problem you have, someone else has had it first.
Behind the hype, of course, WordPress is popular primarily because it’s clean, simple and easy to use.
Thousands of people and companies build their first ever sites with WordPress.
If you’re looking for a simple, well supported, popular solution, WordPress is one of the best content management systems.
- Robust security protocols – less innately vulnerable than WordPress
- Internationalisation and multilingual content are built-in, no plugins (again, like in WordPress)
- Can create custom content types, something you need to edit code for in most CMS
- The only CMS with third-party support to rival WordPress (over 40,000 plugins!)
Drupal is one of the ‘big three’ best content management systems in the world, along with WordPress and Joomla, though it has less active sites than either of them.
Despite that, it’s a popular tool that’s well-suited for any kind of website.
Drupal has an awesome security record, which has led to it being used by several government institutions concerned about digital attacks.
So if you’re equally concerned about security, Drupal could be one of the best content management systems for you to consider.
- A veteran CMS built for bloggers and publishing articles
- Works with PHP, the lingua franca of CMS
- Aimed primarily at small businesses or personal sites
- Offers both a web-based app and a downloadable platform
Joomla unlike many of the best content management systems out there, doesn’t try to impress you with lots of bells and whistles.
It’s particularly old for a CMS, starting life in 2001, and it’s made it this far by being rock-solid, reliable, and simple to use.
Unfortunately, you can tell it was made over a decade ago – but despite some clunkiness in the UI and ugly graphics, it’s still a good, easy-to-use choice of CMS.
Joomla is one of the best content management systems for small businesses that aren’t fussy about their user experience.
- Blogging-focused CMS experience
- Headless CMS features for use with static page generators
- Subscriber management for newsletters built-in
Ghost is a crowd-funded CMS that sets itself apart by being focused solely on blogging.
To that end, it comes with several features bloggers have often wanted from WordPress, like a more powerful markdown editor and advanced SEO options out of the box.
Since it’s fairly new, only launching in 2018, it’s missing some of the features you’d expect from a typical CMS (it took a long time to add comments under posts, for instance).
It’s also changed direction somewhat into the headless CMS route, which makes it harder to recommend for people who just want a simple blogging platform.
What’s there is great, but maybe give it a year or two to settle down some more.
Ghost is one of the best content management systems for blogging, and is a close competitor of WordPress.
- One-step checkout process makes converting visitors into sales easy
- Useful marketing and promotional tools: landing-page creator, online polls, newsletter management
- Multiple store-fronts can be managed easily from just one admin panel
Magneto has been around in one form or another since 2008, and in that time it’s become one of the most popular eCommerce platforms on the net.
As a sign of its success, it was quickly bought up by Adobe, and today it remains a good no-code solution for people wanting to launch an online store that’s scalable and receptive to SEO.
It’s worth noting that you can’t use any extensions or get official support with the free version – and the cheapest paid plan costs nearly £2000 a month. Ouch!
- In-depth multi-user permissions scheme for accessing the back-end
- Task scheduler for automated reports, data syncing and more
- Built-in link shortener for posts to social media
Kentico offers everything you could possibly want from a CMS, and likely a fair bit more.
It’s one of the best content management systems for large enterprise environments – small start-ups are likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of features here.
If you can handle it, though, you’ll find it to be one of the best content management systems with massive amounts of customisation and very dedicated support.
- Deploys to public and private cloud server setups
- Content accessible through a RESTful API
- Publishing scheduler for files, assets, posts, etc
- Drag-and-drop functionality available for those who can’t code
dotCMS is one of the weirder content management systems on this list.
It mixes the classic CMS features you’re used to with the ‘headless CMS’ mindset – basically, the idea that the CMS displays nothing to the user, only providing content through programming interfaces that other programs can format into webpages.
It’s a more complex set-up, but it lends itself to power and customisability. dotCMS’s mixed approach also makes it easier to jump into than a fully headless CMS.
dotCMS is one of the best content management systems for handling lots of different content.
- Built around technology you probably already use, like Markdown
- Native caching system lends itself to very fast speeds
- Package manager system lets you find, update and install extensions
from the command line automatically
- Absolutely tiny minimum system requirements
Most CMS come with massive existing codebases that set down a specific way of doing things – if you don’t like it, too bad.
Grav’s philosophy is to leverage already-written third-party libraries as much as possible, which makes it much easier to understand what’s going on under the hood.
If you need customisation on a deeper level, Grav is one of the best content management systems available.
Want to use a visual editor for one post, and a program on your local machine for another? Not a problem.
- ‘Live Preview’ lets you intuitively split your screen between your editor and final web-page
- Manage multiple sites easily from one Craft installation
- ‘Matrix’ post types are a unique way to set up repeating and mixed content
In many ways, Craft is the lean, quick competitor to WordPress – both in what it offers and its underlying mindset.
Unlike other CMS, which try to make everything as simple as possible for non-techy users, Craft is aimed at people with web development experience (or those willing to learn).
It’s also ‘closed-source’, which in practice basically means that its plugins are less powerful and numerous.
On the upside, it’s got a more modern codebase than WordPress and translates that into generally quicker load speeds, making it one of the best content management systems available.
- Multiple ways to build content: grid layouts, entry into pre-filled fields, banding together components
- Very developer friendly – makes developing custom plugins, themes and tools easy
- An obvious choice if your business uses .NET code in any serious capacity
Umbraco is one of the older CMS on this list, starting development in 2005.
Since then, it’s developed into one of the best content management systems, finding use among companies as large as Microsoft, Heineken and Reebok.
Something that sets it apart is that it’s developed with Microsoft’s .NET programming language – usually considered safer, faster and more modern than the PHP that comes with WordPress.
If you need complex functionality made simple, then Umbraco is one of the best content management systems to consider.
Premium Content Management Systems
Starting price: $29/month
- Comes with hosting – one less thing to worry about for new online traders
- Automatic sales analytics on their more advanced plans
- Very simple no-code approach to setting up a store
Shopify is just about the most popular eCommerce CMS on the market. It’s comparable to WordPress in that it’s the ‘default’ that many companies drift towards when they need an online shop ASAP.
Unlike many of the tools on this list, it works off of a Software-as-a-Service model, where you interact with it through a web-app, rather than software you download to your computer.
In other words, you pay a monthly fee to never worry about installation, upgrading or security again.
Not a bad deal!
Starting price: Not publicly available – need to request a quote
- Software-as-a-Service and web-based
- Integrates with analytics platforms, payment processors and more
- Module Builder tool lets you quickly create dynamic content
It’s clearly aimed at content marketers, but it’s still a very powerful choice for any business that wants one of the best content management systems for getting their site out there.
Starting price: $12/month
- They host your site for you!
- A curated and guided creation process – hard to go wrong
- Truly beautiful themes and layouts – no need to pay for a designer
In stark opposition to most CMS products out there, Squarespace will also host your site for you.
This alone makes it attractive for people with technical skills who just want to get a page online as quickly as possible.
Naturally, it follows up on that by having perhaps the most intuitive CMS mechanisms in the industry – you don’t need any experience making websites to use Squarespace.
If you have a small portfolio or blog site, and don’t require advanced features, Squarespace is one of the best content management systems to consider for a low price.
Starting price: £38/month
- Heavy focus on marketing, analytics and SEO
- Integrated lead management
- Web-based Software-as-a-Service model
HubSpot is one of the welll known and best content management systems available, and one of the few that can be said to truly challenge WordPress.
Despite that, it’s actually targeted primarily at marketers, and isn’t always the best choice for small and growing companies.
If content marketing is a prime concern, its built-in analytics and marketing tools make it a very reliable choice.
Starting price: £3/month
- Fully-featured WYSIWYG website builder – great for novices
- Multiple payment plans for different business sizes and needs
- A built-in audience of millions of readers
Hey, haven’t we seen this one before? Confusingly, WordPress offers both an open-source CMS software product and a paid option where they’ll host your site for you.
This is a very common choice for beginners who don’t want to host their own site or install software, but it’s still a few steps up in complexity than something like Squarespace.
On the other hand, its features and market penetration and basically unmatched. You can’t go wrong with WordPress.com, it’s one of the most popular and best content management systems.
Starting price: $39/month
- Pseudo-headless: you can mix and match your front-end without changing your content
- Uses version control, similar to git, to track your changes non-destructively
- Comes with a full API for programmatic uploading, editing and more
Contentful is a cloud-based headless CMS that works off of the Software-as-a-Service model.
That’s a lot of jargon, but it basically means it’s focused on creating content that isn’t tied to being displayed in any particular way.
There’s also a strong focus on open APIs which let you access its features from other programs without difficulty.
Contenful is one of the best content management systems for integrating with different programming languages.
Starting price: free, but you need to pay for hosting, payment charges, etc.
- Open REST API which lets you manage your shop from other programs
- Leverages WordPress base to also support blogging
- An unlimited number of products, images and categories
WooCommerce isn’t so much a CMS in and of itself as it is a plugin for WordPress that’s focused, as the name suggests, on eCommerce.
It’s good at what it does – nearly a quarter of the top million eCommerce sites online use it.
This is primarily because it’s free at the point of entry, delivers excellent experiences on all devices without much setup, and is highly extensible for your shop’s particular needs.