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A content management system, or CMS, is software that includes a user interface, allowing you to post and edit content on your site. In other words, just as its name sounds, a CMS allows you to manage content in an organized and straightforward setting. Since content has become so incredibly important to online success, these platforms have become very popular.

That’s why the statistics on the use of a CMS are so mind-blowing, as best indicated by the prominence of WordPress (WP), which has been the dominant market leader for years. W3Techs estimates that WordPress is in use by 58.6% of sites that utilize a CMS – meaning that the technology is incorporated into 27.4% of sites worldwide.

How a CMS operates

The CMS is for those who like efficiency, basically. A website is created using databases, which can be rudimentarily understood as massive spreadsheets of information. It would be painful for developers to have to enter the server and make adjustments one by one. To address this pain-point, “groups and individuals have created content management systems to help users communicate easily and efficiently with [their] database using a secure and easy-to-use interface,” explains Josh Medeski of Lifehack.

 

 

How a CMS presents content differently than a book

Bill Powell of Lifewire discusses the presentation of content within a CMS in contrast to the way that a book introduces material.

Typically a book is read from the first page through to the end. A content management system is different because it’s unreasonable to expect someone to move step-by-step through your blog articles and other pages.

There is less need for various pathways to content within a book. Many will contain a table of contents and/or index, but those sections are nonessential.

In the case of a site, the order in which content is consumed will tend to be more random. Therefore, an important feature of a CMS is to provide your audience numerous methods to navigate to useful content.

Specific examples include:

  • Lists of newer articles, along with short summaries
  • Tags and categories that group your content
  • Articles that are related to the current one
  • An Atom or RSS feed to syndicate pieces
  • A date-organized archive, a sort of content timeline.

 

The most popular CMS options

To expand beyond WordPress, let’s briefly review the four most commonly used content management systems, along with their market-share numbers. All of these options are free and open source; people appreciate the nonexistent cost, of course, but may also like the opportunity to help expand and improve these platforms. The four top systems, with usage proportion among sites using CMSs and throughout the Internet, are:

 

WordPress (58.6%; 27.4%)

The statistics on WordPress are astounding, as discussed above. To put that percentage into perspective, it represents almost 75 million websites. How much is 75 million? Well, have you heard of Baby Boomers or Millennials? There are as many websites using WP as there are either of those two groups.

How is WordPress so absurdly popular?

  • Simple installation – Typically hosts make it possible to get WordPress up and running through one-click installation (which isn’t favored by everyone but is helpful for many). Even if you go through a conventional installation process, initially setting it up only takes 5 minutes.
  • Flexibility – WordPress has far more themes and plugins that the other CMS options, notes Robert Mening of WebsiteSetup.org. “Because of it’s widespread popularity,” he says, “more third-party designers and developers will create free (or relatively inexpensive) new WP tools to help you create/start a blog that looks like a high-dollar custom website.”
  • Free – There is no cost. Some plugins and themes are paid, but literally tens of thousands of them are also available for nothing. That means startups and others on a shoestring budget don’t have to second-guess choosing it.
  • Community – When you run into challenges with WordPress, there is an incredibly active support community to help you find a path forward. One of the best places to visit in these situations is the software’s support forum.

Now, obviously, not everyone is using this platform. Why? Part of the reason the framework is simple is that it makes it challenging to overhaul the way it looks. It isn’t easy to make major structural adjustments unless you hire a designer.

Nonetheless, this platform is typically viewed as the go-to option for someone new at websites or who wants to simply set up a blog without any technical challenges.

Drupal (4.8%; 2.2%)

Let’s skip to the third most popular content management option, Drupal. Drupal is a little bit more advanced than WP, but it is also considered by many to be more robust.

Here are its basic strengths:

  • Technical complexity – From a technical standpoint, this CMS is the most sophisticated.
  • Speed – A page within Drupal will generally have a better load time than those within Joomla or WordPress. Essentially, it is more efficient and lightweight, so the strain on infrastructure is reduced (meaning your resource expenses should be minimized – especially if you use high-performance cloud hosting).
  • Flexibility – Like WordPress, the Drupal community has created a broad range of plugins and themes. You can even edit the root files.
  • Free – You incur no direct costs to install and use it.

Drupal is incredibly robust, but you may feel overwhelmed if you feel uncomfortable “looking under the hood” at your site’s code.

Mening recommends having an introductory understanding of standard coding languages such as PHP and HTML. “You don’t need to be an expert necessarily,” he says, “but being able to troubleshoot error messages and identify code problems will be a HUGE benefit.”

Joomla (7.2%; 3.4%)

Now let’s take a look at the 2nd most popular content management system. We’re looking at this one last because it is generally considered to be a middle-ground between WordPress and Drupal.

This option isn’t as technically complex as Drupal is, but it is similarly robust.

Here are basic reasons why so many people choose it:

  • Flexibility – Similarly to the other two major platforms, Joomla can be customized by simply picking out the themes and plugins you want – out of a catalog of more than 6000 of them.
  • Social networking – Many users consider Joomla the best CMS in which to seamlessly create social networks.
  • Commerce-ready – This platform is also probably the fastest and least challenging in which to place an online store.
  • Technically approachable – This option is a good fit for those who find WordPress overly simplistic and Drupal excessively advanced. The majority of people won’t require technical help to create and maintain a Joomla website.
  • Support on-demand – Joomla’s help portal may not be as wide-ranging as the WordPress support forum is, but it is more easily manageable than what Drupal has available.
  • No cost – Like the other two major CMS environments, Joomla doesn’t cost anything to download and use.

People who adopt Joomla appreciate that they can get great user-friendliness while still being able to craft their site relatively freely. “Joomla has brilliantly combined the power and flexibility Drupal has to offer,” Mening comments, “while also retaining the intuitive, user-friendliness that WordPress excels at.”

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