CMS – Definition & complete guide to choose your CMS
When launching your web project, one of the first choices we face is the method of creating its website. In fact, whether you choose to work with a web agency, freelance, or even create your site, you will in any case be brought to work with a site creation software, more commonly called CMS (Content Management System). It is therefore important to be familiar with these essential tools.
What is a Content Management System (CMS)?
Definition of a CMS
A Content Management System, more commonly known as CMS, is a software that allows you to create, edit, and publish content on a website. Most CMS also offers collaborative tools, which allow several people to act on the site at the same time, according to rights predefined in advance by the administrator. CMS may have other names, however much less common, such as Web Content Management (WCM) or Digital Experience Platform (DXP). More concretely, a CMS makes it possible to carry out all the following tasks:
- Writing of text
- Editing metadata (especially useful for SEO)
- Website design
- Prioritize content
- Define a logical URL
- Import media (video, image)
- Schedule release dates
- Define user roles (editor, administrator, etc …)
- Automatically organize the publication of the content (depending on the dates of publication, the type of content, the hierarchy of the site, etc …)
- History of changes to the site
- Content indexing
- Search on the site
- Backup and recovery of content
- Harvest information about your visitors
Most CMS available on the market also offers a plug-in system. Plug-ins are small software that can be added to the CMS to acquire new features that you may need.
Why use a CMS?
Today, all companies on the web (or almost all) use a CMS to manage their websites. This is also the case for bloggers, or experts in digital marketing, who go through CMS for not having to focus on web technology but only on their field of professional competence. For example, it is unlikely that a fashion or kitchen blogger is a web development expert, but thanks to CMS, they can develop their presence on the web in an ultra-qualitative way, without having to edit a single line of code.
If the benefits and objectives of a CMS still seem unclear, dig deeper into the web to understand their full interest. How is a website – concretely – made? A website uses mainly several languages to function, the main ones are:
- HTML 5: HTML is the universal language of website architecture. It makes it possible to create different web pages in the same site, to create hypertext links, to define the various types of content (page title, article title/paragraph, image markup, content blocks, etc.).
- CSS 3: CSS is a language complementary to HTML, and which corresponds to everything related to the style of a web site’s design (colors, size, and position of HTML blocks, basic animations, etc …)
- PHP: PHP is a development language for dynamic web sites, connected to a database.
To create a modern and qualitative website from A to Z, one would have to have very advanced knowledge on each of these languages, and many others. A CMS acts as an interface between the user and these different languages, allowing you to create a website and content, without necessarily having to put your hands in the grease of the code. In addition, a suitable CMS will save you a lot, a lot of time in the administration of your website.
What are the different types of CMS?
CMS hosted versus managed CMS
Before diving into the heart of CMS, the first question to ask yourself before you start is: do you prefer to acquire your own CMS (hosted CMS)? Or use a pre-managed solution (CMS managed)?
A managed CMS is a complete solution managed by an external provider that takes care of all the technical aspects. This is the case of the most popular solutions like WordPress, Shopify etc … These solutions have the advantage of offering an active and accessible support, a continuous development and regular updates that allow the solution to be aware of best practices on the web, both technically and securely.
However, these solutions may lack adaptability and customization tools, especially in terms of design. Indeed, the latter is inherent to the template you have selected, and the templates are often quite rigid. For example, you can be sure that an e-commerce expert will recognize at a glance a site that runs Shopify.
The main CMS
WordPress is the mastodon of CMS. With about 20 million internets powered by it, WordPress is by far the reference. Accessible and highly customizable, it can do just about everything on the web.
Main target: blog, All types of sites
Shopify is the platform that has been rising for several years now. This e-commerce specialist propels around 600,000 sites across the web. From design to payment methods, Shopify is the ideal platform to quickly launch your business on the web.
Main target: eCommerce
Price: 14 days free then 29-79 € / month
Drupal is a CMS with extensive applications. Like WordPress, Drupal is an open-source CMS available for free in its native version. It is said to be more powerful than WordPress, but harder to use for a non-warned user.
Main target: Institutional, marketing, Web development professionals
Joomla is at Shopify what Drupal is at WordPress. Less intuitive than the Canadian platform, Joomla is an extremely powerful tool in the hands of a seasoned web developer. Although Joomla is losing momentum, it remains a CMS widely used by web development professionals.
Main target: All type of website
Produce and distribute content via CMS
At this point, it’s important to understand something about CMS that will make your life easier: Most CMSs separate design and content. If this approach can cause some rigidity, it is a great time saver when you produce your content. Indeed, all your content will automatically nest in a previously drawn design, a bit like Russian dolls.
In addition, most CMS designs are “responsive”, which means that they are able to automatically adjust to the size of the screen of the user viewing your site. The screen of a smartphone being much less wide than that of a computer, it appears logical that the design must adapt according to the “user device”. The theme of your CMS will do it for you, and will even offer you – depending on the CMS and the selected theme – tools for customizing your different mobile and desktop design.
As mentioned above, CSS is one of the main players in design. In fact, things are a little more complex. The HTML and CSS languages have a significant interest in terms of design, but they need a precise diagram to interweave ideally into each other. It is the role of the database inherent in your CMS that you offer this basic architecture, kind of foundation before you put the walls of your site.
How is this architecture concretely expressed? Imagine that on your home page, you want to display 3 articles, with their respective titles, images highlighted, and a short excerpt from each. In addition, you want only the most recent articles in the “good plan” category to be displayed on your homepage.
If you had to code all that yourself into HTML, it would take a lot of time, and you should rewrite your code every time you write an article. With a CMS, things are much simpler! You just have to explain once what you want to display on your home page, and the CMS will automatically calculate what item it should “tidy” in which box, based on the information it has collected in its database. given (date of publication of the article, category, etc …).
So, once your CMS is programmed, you just have to write your articles as you see fit, and they will automatically land where they are supposed to be distributed to your visitors.
Beyond these technical considerations, the CMS will also propose you to generate a menu, a header, a footer, and other design elements that you can display – or not – on your different pages.
Simply put, the design of your site, powered by a template you have chosen, allows you to give directions to your CMS so that it can distribute the content autonomously, according to your wishes. In general, we advise you to think carefully about the architecture of your site before making it “live”.
A good architecture is a legible architecture, efficient, and easily scalable by your teams.
Editorial writing and management
If content is the king of marketing in 2018, timing should be considered as its legitimate queen. The combination of these two elements is certainly a vector of success on the web, provided that these two factors are perfectly mastered. This activity can be summed up in two words: content management.
As such, CMS are excellent tools available to you. Not only do they have, for the most part, tools allowing you to easily write your content (texts, insertion of videos, etc …) but, and this is their strength, also allow you to determine in advance of the date of publication of said content.
With a CMS, it becomes easy to produce content and share it in a timely manner, without necessarily being in front of your computer day and night. In fact, it becomes much simpler to set up an effective editorial strategy over time. Let’s take a simple example: you spent the morning writing content promoting your new project, but the official launch of this project is scheduled for the same evening at 10pm.
Thanks to your CMS, you will not need to work overtime. You will only have to prepare your content completely, and schedule its publication at 22h. Thus, your CMS – which is hosted on a server active 24/24 – wisely wait 22h before making “live” your content.
Following the same idea, you might also want content to be automatically deleted on a specific date. This is, for example, often the case in e-Commerce promotions. Again, your CMS can do it for you. Say you made a promotional banner that will run for two weeks. You propel your banner to your site, and ask your CMS to remove it, or replace it, after two weeks. Nothing’s easier.
If you’re creating content, you’re likely to have some shells from time to time. A spelling mistake is quickly arrived, as well as an untimely deletion, or the use of an image / video that should not end up on your site. Again, a good CMS will offer automatic solutions for archiving and reviewing content.
Thus, you can easily modify any content, and update it instantly on your site. Overall, managing content reviews should be one of the top priorities when choosing your CMS, as mismanagement / review of content can quickly become time-consuming and overwhelming.
The CMS and its “user roles”
Like a traditional physical business, you may have to delegate certain responsibilities to your website. CMS developers have obviously thought about this, and you can define a hierarchy and a level of responsibility specific to each of your collaborators, it is the principle of “user roles”. The users roles allow you to define, for each person having access to the site, the elements to which this collaborator has access, or not.
Take the example of a media site. You employ journalists who distribute information on your site. They must have access to the “blog” section of your site, and must have the power to write / edit their articles, and only theirs: it’s very easy to program on a CMS. Then, let’s say you have an editor, or an editorial leader. The latter may have access to all the articles written on the site, may modify them if he wishes, and may also decide on publication dates (which a journalist may not be able to do).
Again, it’s very easy to program via a CMS.
Finally, you will probably have in your team of web developers who will take care of all the architecture of the site. They should have access to the entire technical dimension of your CMS, but will not have access to journalist articles, nor will they be able to decide on publication dates, since this whole thing is not their responsibility. This hierarchical system could be designed very simply on a CMS, allowing all of your employees to work on the site at the same time, without leaving their areas of expertise.
In most CMS, the classic roles are as follows, and they are editable as needed:
Readability & SEO
To be effective, a website must first and foremost be viewed by visitors. If you do not optimize the architecture of your site and its SEO (search engine optimization, or optimization of organic traffic in French), your content may fall into the limbo of the web.
Again, CMS can be a formidable help. SEO is a big subject in itself, but CMS – helped by some plug-ins – can allow you to quickly and easily optimize the links and meta-data of your web pages, so that they correspond to the requirements and algorithms of search engine.
If we take the example of WordPress: When you write an article, the CMS pre-manufactures a logical URL based on the title of your article, but you can completely rename it to your goodwill for, for example, include keywords that can often be searched for in Google.
Beyond the title of a page, search engines are also based on your content and the structure of the latter, especially via HTML tags. Editing these tags requires some knowledge of HTML, but using a good CMS, you can organize your content in a logical way, and optimize its SEO without even noticing it.
A good CMS is essential when developing a project on the web. If web development is based on several languages described above, the web resources available today have become so huge that it has become essential to rely on a CMS to develop its project.
There are certain pre-existence solutions that are already doing a very qualitative job, but you can also, if you wish, develop your own CMS by a specialized agency. Finally, the web is a constantly evolving universe, one of the most interesting of which is the PWA (Progressive Web Apps).
These can be considered as online applications, very powerful, accessible, and do not need to be downloaded by the user, such as the graphical tool canva.com for example. Developing a project in PWA is expensive, but can allow you to go even further in interactivity with your customers on the web.