A Content Management System (CMS) is a one-stop-shop for building fantastic websites, and has seen a dramatic rise in popularity over the past dozen years. Let’s examine the most popular options.
If you wanted to build a website in the mid-90s, you had to know how to write HTML – there was simply no way around it. Granted, websites were much simpler back in the Internet’s infancy (as a bit of a bonus, check out these hilariously awful 90s-tastic web designs), but there weren’t too many shortcuts to making a functioning website.
Thankfully, both the overall aesthetics and the ease at which they can be created have improved dramatically over the past 15 years. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest factors in this sea change has been the rise of the Content Management System, or CMS.
A CMS can be essentially viewed as an application that gives users a much easier interface to build, publish, and maintain content (a website) through a central portal. Instead of having to code individual lines of HTML (HyperText Markup Language for you young whippersnappers out there) for elements of a web design, CMS allows users a much more intuitive interface. Want an image on your page? Just upload it! No managing attributes and figuring out all the <img> and other tags. Now, websites aren’t only for the super-HTML savvy – anyone who can create a decent Word document can get a site up and running with a CMS.
Which option is right for you? Let’s take a look at some of the leading contenders.
The undisputed king – and it’s really not even close. According to W3 Techs, a leading web technology surveyor, nearly half of all websites use some form of CMS. Of that approximate 43.3%, nearly two-thirds (58.9%) are WordPress sites – which for all you math ninjas out there, works out to over a quarter of all websites in existence use WordPress. That’s a pretty good market share.
Released all the way back on May 27, 2003, WordPress started as a blogging-style system, but has since expanded its capabilities into full-fledged CMS. To create a simple website is free, and there is a rich and vibrant developer community that also releases free “themes” (design templates) for download and installation. Some of the biggest brands in the world (the NFL, Best Buy, and TechCrunch to name a few) have WordPress sites.
To put in perspective how much of a grip WordPress has as the king of CMS, the second place platform – Joomla – accounts for just 5.6% of CMS sites compared to the near 60% of WordPress.
Some of that has to do with the head start WordPress had, as Joomla wasn’t released to the public until August 17, 2005. Another element has to do with the fact that it’s a little more user-intensive than WordPress. If making a nice WordPress site was creating a Word document (using our above analogy), using Joomla is a bit more like a PowerPoint presentation with lots of drop-shadowed text, cool effects for slide transitions, and maybe even embedded video. Again, not rocket science and not a lot of programming involved, but a bit more difficult than WordPress.
The flipside of that is that many users find the customization options in Joomla to be far superior and more exhaustive than WordPress. Some of the biggest entities trusting Joomla for their websites are The Hill, Linux, and the Guggenheim Museum.
Moving on down the list in popularity, Drupal is on the medal podium of the CMS Olympics in third place with approximately 4.9% of CMS sites using it. It’s actually one of the older CMS platforms in existence, tracing its origins back to 2001. Why then, if Drupal has had the most time to latch on, is it languishing in a distant third?
Many believe it’s due to the even more intensive and less user-friendly interface than Joomla. While Drupal offers more customization than either WordPress or Joomla, it’s definitely the most difficult of the three to master. But if you have even a scant amount of development/programming experience, you’ll likely feel right at home with Drupal. Although the most recent Version 8 is said to be much more intuitive than versions past, it still is very developer-centric.
Some of the largest Drupal sites in the world include The Independent, Box, and Entertainment Weekly.
There are loads more CMS choices out there outside of these top three – Magento, Blogger, TYPO3, Shopify, and Wix are some of the more well-known. Depending on your level of expertise, you’ll want to spend a little time researching and reading reviews to see what the best fit is for you (as well as checking out some of the sites made by these various CMS platforms to see what’s possible).
Another thing you’ll want to look into is finding a hosting partner that can optimize your site based on your CMS of choice – like Total Server Solutions.