What is a Content Management System and How Does it Work?

PWA benefits

Imagine the scenario, you’ve recently started a business. You’ve done some research and the term CMS (Content Management System) comes up quite frequently.

You already know that you have content that you want edited, so naturally this terms keeps cropping up.

Its part of many web service packages and features heavily in any prospective investigating that your doing.

Some more information is singing its praises and its usefulness but what exactly is a content management systems and how does it work?

A content management system (CMS) functions to organise content for a website or web application. A CMS provides a higher level managing tool that allows the website administrator to change content such as:

  • Articles
  • Posts
  • Pages
  • Images
  • Documents
  • Graphs
  • Menu items
  • Styles

These content items can be organised in a wide variety of logical structures that a business deems effective for content on their site or platform.

This information is stored in a central database that can be hosted externally or internally on the domain of the website being edited.

The entire purpose of a CMS is to allow a website owner or user to modify database information.

This is done through the user interface.

The website then communicates with this database to populate itself with this dynamic information. It is common to organise this data by categories and dates but this is is completely customisable by the website owner.

The structures and hierarchy of this content is completely determined by the website administer and because of this allows for a lot of flexibility.

But this is only a brief overview, read on to discover more information on the power of CMS.

What does a content management system do?

While it’s clear that a CMS provides a variety of editable content. What else does it do?

Well, the website owner interacts with the user interface to manage content. This also includes the editing of user roles.

Generally, most CMS applications including commercial and open source versions allow for different user roles.

This is where a CMS can map out a hierarchy of user’s and their privileges. Essentially, these users are assigned a role that dictates how much they and interact with the content and how much they can edit.

Let imagine a situation of a news website.

A typical structure from the top down might look like this:

  • Admin
    • Will have access to the whole application and all its content. Can dictate other users privileges
  • Editor
    • Has full access to all the content – can give writers read or write access
  • Writer
    • Can create their own articles but needs permission to edit existing ones
  • Public user
    • Can only read articles and leave comments

Using a CMS, with a  user structure like this, can ensure that content can be published dynamically with the right vetting from various users

It also ensures that the more trusted users have the correct privledges.

What are examples of content management systems?

On the market today there is a huge amount of choice when it comes to content management systems.

When content management systems became popular, WordPress stood out as the only recognisable content management system.

However, there is now plenty of choices with differently styled user interfaces and functionalities.

While most of these CMS tools provide similar functionality they differ in style and implementation.

I’ve worked with a variety of CMS systems and they all have their unique user interfaces to interact with.

Here are the main ones that I have experienced using:

WordPress

Still the most recognisable today, WordPress continues to be a dominant force in content editing systems.

According to W3techs, WordPress has 58.55% of the CMS marketshare. This is a huge portion of the web and can’t be understated how much of a dominant marketshare WordPress has here.

To further strengthen that statistic, according to survey published by net craft.

75,000,000 website are using WordPress. And according to SmallbizTrends, 30 percent of the web is built on a WordPress instance.

And while some of WordPress’s functions feel a bit dated by todays standards. The release of Gutenberg is set the make the editing process feel much more modern and responsive.

Prisimic

A more web developer focused CMS, Prismic aims to provide block editing in a seamless and stylised user interface.

Unlike something like WordPress, it does not require an installation on a website and exists on a self hosted instance.

Netlify

netlify

A personal favourite of mine, Netlify provides a fantastic CMS services marketed towards web applications.

If your website is using the latest in web technologies to function as a web application, Netlify is very useful in integrating with these web technologies.

If you are looking to find out more information about web applications and why they are popular click here.

Contentful

contentful

Another staple in the CMS market, Contentful claims to be different by being a content infrastructure system rather than traditional CMS.

This is because it has features like an Images API which not only allows you to add images to you content but also to resize crop, change the background colours and change the formats.

They are also very developer friendly and is more commonly used with web applications

What are the benefits of CMS?

image management

So we’ve discussed some of the obvious benefits of user roles and editing content  but what are other benefits of CMS?

Control

CMS give you control over your content. Simply put, CMS’s allow you to infinitely edit your content on your website.

This means like you do not have to go back and pay a software engineer to make small changes to text or an article. Its completely in your control. 

If you want a new page, this is easily generated with a few clicks in your desired CMS service.

The power of a CMS is in it ability to enable non-technical users to easily publish content.

This allows the allocation of technical resources to go to more important tasks. After all, there is no point in someone with great technical knowledge editing words in an article.

Accessible Page Management

These content systems are built with non technical users in mind.

As such, it enables anyone who is given permission the ability to create and edit content. Any approved user can easily publish new web pages without any complex programming knowledge.

This can be very beneficial for those that outsource content. In these situations, you may only want to bring someone onboard for a short space of time.

Using the power of user roles, you can give this person writing access, commission the desired content to be written and then revoke their user role.

This is convenient when you have temporary hires

This is also an advantage when trying to onboard someone onto your content project.

Design is separate

You can edit content without fear of messing up the design of the website. A CMS editor is completely separate from the styling components of the website. 

Once published, your content will be pushed to a template that already full designed and your content change won’t have an effect.

Archive Data

Most CMS’s have backup functionality for your content. This means that even in during severe technical issues, you should always have a backup for your content.

This can be very reassuring as content is the eventide foundation of any successful website or business.

Remote Access 

Because most CMS’s exist as self hosted instances. You can access them from anywhere just using a browser.

This proves to be very handy when giving someone access to edit content. There is no local installation and this person can be up and running within a few minutes.

SEO friendly

Primarily, articles that are written in CMS’s need to Search Engine Optimised. This is because they need to be found in Google’s search engine to bring in value to the website.

Most CMS’s will ensure that the article or content that is written will be optimised for these search engines.

This allows the user to not worry about anything other than the quality of content that they are writing.

Workflow Management

While we’ve already demonstrated an example of workflow management of users roles for editing an article, there is much more in this.

A user roles hierarchy can be as simple or as complicated as needed for a business or product.

Using a CMS,  its workflow management can scale with a project or website. This can lead to improved system for vetting and approving content.

Notifications

As we’ve already discussed the importance of user roles. CMS dashboards  also provide notifications systems that inform users of various updates.

They can notify when requests have been made to approve content, edit articles or review changes.

This allows the content ecosystem to maintain itself as each user roles can be confident what they currently have to do by staying vigilant for any notification changes.

Security

While this is dependant on the CMS platform. Most high end systems have effective built security measures. This is important when the content that is produced is very valuable.

Mobile ready

Most CMS’s are modern web products. As a result, they are built with the latest of web technologies.

Because of this, a CMS will scale to your desired screen size. This means that you can manage your content on a wide range of portable devices.

Do I need a content management system?

While some of the capabilities of content management systems sounds promising. You might ask yourself do I actually need one?

So this depends, if you have a website and know with certainty that you have content that is subject to change or even if you know that you will be adding more content down the line then its a resounding yes.

From this perspective, a CMS is very much a necessity.  Without it, you can run the risk of encountering issues that will slow your contents production rate.

If you are a business owner, entrepreneur or content marketer a CMS  empowers the website owner by giving them complete control of their content going forward.

However, if your website’s content is fixed and you can be sure that it will not be receiving content updates. Then a CMS is not necesary but these cases are quite uncommon because it is unusual for website to never need a content change down the line.

 

Who uses content management systems?

If you have been reading into content management systems for a significant portion of time, you might ask, who actually uses them?

Would you recognise any high-end business or companies that use the these systems for their content?

These are just some examples of large firms that use CMS systems on a daily basis:

  • BBC America (WordPress)
  • Forbes (WordPress)
  • The New Yorker (WordPress)
  • London Gatwick (Drupul)
  • The Economist (Drupul)
  • Pfizer (Drupul)
  • Deliveroo (Prisimic)
  • Ebay (Prisimic)
  • Wework(Contentful)
  • Heineken(Contentful)
  • Spotify(Contentful)

These companies have invested in a technology that has enabled them to scale their business and as a result, increase their outreach.

If they hadn’t used a system that allowed for the storage, publishing, editing and hosting of their content, their effectiveness would have been significantly reduced.

Try to imagine publishing the same amount of content and asking a developer to edit it for every little change or update.

This sort of micro managing would really hinder any sort of meaningful progress in the long term. Even a content marketing strategy with clear goals and overall vision would be less effective because of this. 

Content Management systems are a staple or any modern website or business. On the web today, content is king.  So tools that help to manage this content are paramount.

Content brings in users, it creates sales and conversions and it provides visibility for a brands or website.

Overall, aside from saving you both time and money, I hope that I’ve highlighted how investing in a CMS offers countless benefits.

A properly implemented system can truly help to scale your business for the long term. It gives the owner all the control needed to continue with an effective marketing strategy without getting hung up on how the content is managed

Gareth Dunne

Full Stack Developer and creator of JSdiaries. Passionate about the latest in web technologies and how it can provide value for my clients.