You want to add content to a website, but you’re struggling to find the best digital content management tools.
In this review…
- 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.
Creating content for your audience is an essential strategy to grow your business. 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 WordPress plugins, including plugins for SEO, security, aesthetics, eCommerce…
Let’s not pretend WordPress needs any introduction.
Web 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 start 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. Visit Shopify to see more.
- 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!
Start a free trial of Shopify here.
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
Sitefinity is a marketing-focus CMS that comes with several SEO and CRM features, which you’d need plugins for in WordPress, out of the box. 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 well 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.
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.
Starting price: free, but you have to pay for web hosting
- Human-friendly URLs
- WYSIWYG and rich text editors
- Compatible with a large number of platforms
TYPO3 is another one of the veteran CMS, stretching back to the early 2000s. Its main focus is on heavy-duty sites where internationalisation and complex page hierarchies are necessary.
You really need at least a mid-sized budget and team to make the most of it, but it can handle levels of traffic and complexity that would make most CMS buckle and break.
Starting price: £3/month
- Combined website building and hosting
- Over 500 themes made by professional designers
- Large font library for further customisation
- Built-in SEO
Wix markets itself as a website builder first and foremost, and as such it presents an exceptionally easy process to getting your site online. Combined builder-hoster-CMS services are usually best for newcomers to making sites, as more advanced users likely want flexibility and control that just isn’t available.
Of note is Wix’s free plan, which – while limited – genuinely lets you make impressive sites for free. Check out this review of Wix vs Squarespace.
Starting price: around $30/month
- Akamai Image Manager automatically optimises your images for quicker loads
- Drag-and-drop page building
- Integration with PayPal and other payment processors
Similar to Wix, BigCommerce combines a website builder with a hosting solution, meaning that you can go from nothing but ideas to a fully-functional website using nothing but their services. As a Software-as-a-Service product, you’re essentially handing over control and a monthly fee for unparalleled simplicity: you handle the content, they handle everything else.
Starting price: free, but you have to pay for hosting
- Over 18 years of continual development
- Content is written in the Textile syntax scheme
- Extreme focus on minimalism and simplicity
In the CMS world, Textpattern basically takes minimalism to the extreme. You’re not quite at the level of coding the entire thing yourself, but it feels close.
That said, it’s one of the best content management systems for speed. There are plenty of plugins out there for extra features, but this is never going to be the user-focused experience of something like WordPress. Textpattern is best used when speed is a top priority or you have some technical experience under your belt.
Starting price: free
- Full integration with the Google ecosystem
- A blogging platform that does exactly what it says on the tin
- Rock-solid stability – it’s not changed in years
Blogger has one of the most storied histories of any product on this list. Originally founded in the dark ages of the 1990s, its founder went on to start both Medium (!) and Twitter (!!) and it indirectly also led to the creation of WordPress (!!!).
It’s been neglected since it was acquired by Google, but it’s still a reliable blogging platform. It’s not intended as a ‘full’ CMS for general website usage, however. If your main content is simple written blogs, and you don’t need any fancy features, Blogger is one of the best content management systems to consider.
Starting price: $99/month
- All-in-one solution for CRM, lead management and email marketing
- …and video conferencing
- …and project management, too
- Efficiency Indicator checks how good teammates are at completing their tasks
The unusually named Bitrix 24 follows the philosophy of giving you everything you could want in a communications platform in just one app. Its CRM features are more complex than some dedicated tools, and for the stuff it doesn’t handle natively, it integrates with many of the most popular digital marketing tools out there, like MailChimp, Zoho and Basecamp.
You’ll need some time to get familiar with all of its features, but if you put in the time you’ll find it’s features make it one of the best content management systems, especially for video content.
Starting price: Free! But modules and extensions range from $50 – $100
- Cross-selling post-sale screens to boost your sales
- Free to use, but can be extended with paid modules
- Promotional banners included for easy marketing campaigns
PrestaShop is an eCommerce-focused CMS that’s free to use. Instead, it’s monetised through optional ‘modules’ which you can buy to add extra features to your site, like integration with other platforms or lazy-loading for your image files.
It focuses on being easy to use more that power and customisability, but it does let developers with coding experience edit core files themselves. It’s also open-source, meaning it has a dedicated community who continually create new extensions and themes. PrestaShop is one of the best content management systems for community support.
Starting price: $100.00/month
- Microservice oriented – one part of your site failing won’t affect the rest
- Cloud-based CMS for power-users
- Highly secure for sites where privacy is essential
Zephyr is a CMS aimed at agencies, not necessarily end-users. That means it goes all-in on offering features for power-users, rather than staying simple.
It’s a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service system, which means there’s no hassle in getting it set up, as long as you don’t mind paying a monthly fee. Zephyr is one of the best content management systems for scalability.
Starting price: No set price – need to ask for a quote
- Education-focused CMS that offers courses, quizzes and other learning opportunities
- Web conferencing tools
- Google and Microsoft Teams integration
- Activity tracking to keep track of student progress
Canvas is a specialised kind of CMS, known as a Learning Management System (LMS). To that end, it has many features that show its focus on creating eLearning experiences.
Rather than creating marketing newsletters and tracking visitor analytics, you create courses and interactive quizzes to test the skills of students. It also boasts deep integration with Google’s education platforms so educators can access tools like Google Docs or Google Classroom assets easily. Canvas CMS is one of the best content management systems for creating eLearning experiences.
Starting price: $47/month (free version available)
- Software-as-a-Service business model – no installation or setup
- Focused on quick iteration and supporting different technology stacks
- Multi-site support out of the box
- Developer focused and comes with a strong API
Agility is a content-first headless CMS, meaning that rather than directly presenting content to your end-users, it serves data to other programs (such as static site generators) who create your pages. This separation of concerns makes it ideal for highly flexible setups where being able to disentangle content from its final appearance matters.
Agility CMS is one of the best content management systems for flexibility and user support.
Adobe Experience Manager
Starting price: Not available online – everyone gets a personalised quote
- Integrates with Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite
- Every installation is tailored to a client’s unique needs
- AI-driven CMS process keeps things smooth and streamlined
Is there a tech field Adobe doesn’t have a foot in? The obscurely-named Adobe Experience Manager is their entry into the CMS market.
In typical Adobe fashion, you’re paying comparatively high fees for integration with their other tools, streamlined user experiences and incredibly dense feature-sets. Adobe Experience Manager is one of the best content management systems for manageing digital assets and integrating with other Adobe products.
Oracle Web Centre Content
Starting price: nearly $3450 (!)
- Invoice processing
- Content depositories
- OCR for automatic document scanning and digital transcription
Rather than explicitly being a CMS, Oracle Web Centre Content views itself as content management system that’s primarily focused on organising, sorting and displaying content online.
A prime use-case is for organising content around departmental lines in businesses shifting to paperless routines, but its unified approach to content management means it’s also a great complement to running a corporate website. Orable Web Centre is one of the best content management systems for enterprise websites.
What is the best CMS platform?
WordPress is one of the best content management systems, given its ubiquity, ease-of-use, overall power and large marketplace of third-party extensions. It’s simple enough for anyone to use, and has enough technical depth to make any kind of site you like.
What are examples of content management systems?
Some examples of the best content management systems are WordPress, which is free, and Squarespace, a premium option. Though different products offer different features, the core of a CMS is that it makes it easy to add new content to a site or update existing content. Some also help you create websites, sell products or work with user-generated content.
What is a CMS software?
Put simply, a content management system (CMS) is a piece of software or a platform that makes it easy to create, upload and manage content for websites. They’re typically aimed at people without much technical experience, and get rid of much coding as possible (hence the phrases ‘no-code’ and ‘low-code’).
What makes a good content management system?
The best content management systems are above all easy to use. The entire point of using one, after all, is to sidestep the tedious process of manually adding new content to a website. After that, flexibility is a key concern, as it’s very common to struggle against inflexible CMS when taking a site in a new direction or scaling it up to larger audiences.
What are the main features included in CMS platforms?
Some of the main features in CMS platforms include:
- Content creation tools
- Content publishing tools
- Tiered permissions (admin, submitter, user…)
- Analytics and SEO
- Integration with other digital marketing tools
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