What Is Content Management Software? An Analysis of Features, Benefits and Pricing

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What is content management software? A content management software or CMS is a web publishing platform designed to help non-technical site owners and users upload and manage their content with ease. Using themes and templates, site owners can add pages, sections and start uploading posts, often with drag-and-drop and WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) tools. In essence, CMS mirrors the simplicity of word processors with a range of editing tools and preset features to present content in different ways.

Why use content management software? There are plenty of benefits and we will explain them in details below. The advantages of content management software go beyond publishing. Using machine learning and advanced analytics, they can personalize web engagement, which according to a Forbes study, Publish or Perish analysis of 380 CMOs,” delivers double-digit returns to marketers. In essence, CMS today are becoming a marketing tool, sales channel and communication and collaboration platform, on top of acting as a centralized content storage.

To help you understand more about CMS, in this guide, we will answer the question of what is content management software in detail and discuss the definition of the following key points:

  1. Examples of content management software
  2. Benefits of content management software
  3. Types of content management software
  4. Features of content management software
  5. Buying factors to consider
  6. Pricing of content management software
  7. Potential issues
  8. Latest trends

What Are Examples of Content Management Software?

To help you answer the question of what does content management software do let’s take a look at some of the examples of this type of software. Often, the definition of what is content management software is easily framed by actual solutions in the market today.

  1. HubSpot – It is a suite of sales, marketing and CRM tools that can act as a CMS platform for sites that focus on inbound marketing. As a CMS, it has an excellent structure to base a campaign on, build landing pages and start capturing leads. Likewise, the software helps you publish SEO-friendly content that targets your audience. Its SEO tools include blog SEO recommendations, blog analytics and social media analytics, which help you match your content with your site visitors’ interest.
    HubSpot also features tools that allow for generating qualified leads. These include tools for lead scoring, calls-to-action, segmentation and email lead nurturing. You also get to A/B test landing pages to improve marketing campaign results. The sales, marketing and CRM modules are sold separately. The CRM is free, which is a bargain for small businesses. If you want to transform your site into a lead machine and generate more sales for you, you can easily integrate it with the HubSpot suite.
  2. Wordpress – It is perhaps the most popular CMS platform today favored by bloggers and big media sites like BBC, Bloomberg and TechCrunch. Wordpress is open source and PHP-based that is quick to set up and use. It is liberal with plugins, backed by a huge community of developers offering third-party apps for this CMS. Likewise, you get access to thousands of themes, templates and widgets built on this platform.

    Wordpress started as a blogging platform and is now a full CMS. It has great publishing tools and is SEO-compliant, notably, it generates keyword-based page URLs.

  3. Microsoft Publisher – This desktop publishing solution features a range of tools for layout and typography. As part of MS Office, Publisher further extends its site-building capabilities including document-sharing, mail merge, rich media and high-resolution image management. With MS Publisher it is easy to drag and drop images to create outstanding graphics. Likewise, it integrates with Facebook and Flickr for sourcing images. You can also personalize newsletters, emails and cards using mail merge.

    As a CMS platform, it automatically saves your files in the cloud and allows teams to collaborate on multiple files. Moreover, you can send the entire html file via email. Other key features include detailed ruler and guides, high-res picture background and professional text, shape and picture effects.

  4. Acquia – An agile cloud CMS, it suits e-commerce, content and community sites. It is built on the open source Drupal architecture and, in fact, Acquia is one of the most active users of Drupal. The CMS provides both isolated hosting and shared hosting and features multiple customization levels. Key features include tools for analyzing site visitor statistics, enabling group privacy and integrating marketing.

  5. Drupal – It is one of more popular open source CMS platforms. Drupal uses an integrated modular architecture, which features e-commerce, wikis, blogging and forum platforms. It can be used for publication, communication and e-commerce. Other key features include advanced user management, page content management and plugin support.

The HubSpot Marketing dashboard.

Why Use Content Management Software?

What are the benefits of content management software? Not only media and publishing companies, but all companies need to manage their website content regularly to keep a competitive online presence. Doing so in the past meant depending on a webmaster to upload content, but, today, the purpose of content management software is to make it easy for everyone, from the executive to the secretary, to oversee content. These are the benefits of content management software.

  1. User-friendly. Content management software uses templates, which makes it simple to upload text, images and videos. It’s also handy for in-text editing following a WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) format. No HTML skills are necessary.
  2. Empower staff. You can delegate content management to anyone without requiring a webmaster. Anyone from the rank-and-file can follow the basic steps to publishing new content.
  3. Publish quickly. Upload a trending story or urgent announcement fast without needing to wait for I.T or layout artist. Users can format content, add/edit images and create links with drag-and-drop ease. You can even publish on the go, as most content management systems are mobile-compliant.
  4. Collaborate. Many content management systems allow for content sharing and act as a centralized data storage. Files are standardized and consistent throughout your organization. And since the system is accessible via cloud, you can work with remote teams and offshore staff, further extending your human resource pool.
  5. Dynamic content. CMS makes your content dynamic, meaning you can update articles as needed. This is useful for developing stories or covering a live event. Users can easily upload the latest data and re-publish with a click over and over, to give your audience the most recent content.
  6. Streamlined workflow. It is easy to assign your staff with clear regular tasks built on CMS. You can set publishing time down to the day, hour and minute. Likewise, you can check historical data to review who published what in a given period.
  7. Boost SEO. You can add plugins to a good CMS for meta tags, keyword-based URL, readability score and other dynamic tools that boost your site’s SEO.
  8. Less operational costs. You utilize existing staff instead of hiring outside help to manage content. You can drastically cut on operational expense in one budget year.

What Are the Types of Content Management Software?

CMS can be grouped by licensing and deployment. In general, these are the three types of content management software.

  1. Open source CMS. This is the most popular platform today, thanks to Wordpress, a widely used CMS for bloggers and media sites. Open source is license-free with no upgrade costs. More importantly, because they are popular, many developers focus on these CMS platforms. You have plenty of user-friendly templates, plugins and third-party apps, most of them are free, too, to choose from. In particular, Wordpress and OS CMS are easy to set up and have an SEO-friendly structure.
    Examples: Wordpress, Joomla!, dotCMS, eXo Platform
  2. Proprietary CMS. In contrast, this CMS type is licensed and requires a fee to use the system. The license is often set with terms and conditions, more tellingly, limiting the use to one license holder, meaning you cannot duplicate it for your other sites. Moreover, proprietary CMS is picky and may not support a server environment where you want it hosted. Despite these drawbacks, this CMS may have custom-fit tools that are unique to the system.
    Examples: CoreMedia WCM, Ektron CMS, SharePoint
  3. SaaS CMS. SaaS can be both open source (free) or proprietary (paid). It is deployed in the cloud, which makes it accessible anywhere..
    Examples: Accrisoft, Adobe Business Catalyst, Content SORT

Adding content in Drupal.

What Does Content Management Software Do?

What are the features of content management software? And how does content management software work? Let’s explain each key CMS function.

  1. Page management. Lets you create, edit, publish and delete pages. Pages can be in template that applies to the entire site or unique to a particular section.
  2. Word processor. Most CMS platforms have built-in word processor that allows for text formatting, rich media, in-text editing and linking. It also lets you structure the layout into tables and columns.
  3. Content repository. Different parts of your content can be edited and uploaded separately, for example, article title, article body and images. This way, on-site search can filter the parts independently, providing more accurate results to what you are looking for in the site. Likewise, you can use titles, for example, to display on homepage or on recommended read section. Content repository can also be personalized to appeal to a target audience based on rules, such as location, past visits or purchases.
  4. SEO tools. These tools can be built-in or plugged in with functionalities ranging from meta tagging, in-text keyword analysis and on-page SEO.
  5. Web traffic analytics. Some CMS platforms have built-in analytics, while others use a plugin, for example, Google Analytics.
  6. Themes and templates. The whole website, its pages and sections can be templated in design and layout. You only need to change content every time you publish. This saves time and ensures layout consistency throughout your site.
  7. Plugins. Most CMS platforms allow the integration of plugins apps. Plugins are usually developed by third-party developers to enhance a certain CMS functionality. For example, a readability plugin scores your article structure based on how easy it is to understand. Another plugin analyses the article’s SEO elements and suggests proven techniques. Other plugin functions include banner management, online marketing tools, Google Maps and social media widgets.
  8. User permissions. As with other business systems, CMS solutions feature a hierarchy of user permissions. These include system-wide access, editing controls and read-only access. These controls help you minimize unauthorized publishing, content deletion or data breach, especially when working with remote or offshore teams. User permission is part of an approval process that can be configured to suit your workflow.
  9. Open API. Most CMS platforms have an open API to connect to third-party apps, which can be plugins, templates or other complementary tools designed to enhance the CMS. An open API also lets you integrate your own app to the system.
  10. W3C compliance. The CMS generated code should comply with W3C standards to ensure interoperability with various browsers and next-generation platforms.
  11. Mobile support. Content management systems can support mobile-responsive sites or provide a separate app for mobile sites. Or, they can provide both options in one platform. Mobile support is critical especially that worldwide more users today are accessing the Internet via their mobile device. Just check this table from comScore showing the number of hours spent per month on smartphone browsing in the US and elsewhere.

Source: comScore

What Should You Consider When Buying a Content Management System?

What are the factors to consider before subscribing to a content management software? CMS platforms vary a lot and you need to be aware of the differences. These are the critical things to know before choosing a vendor.

  1. Ease of use. This applies to all business systems, but especially for CMS if you plan to delegate content management across the organization. Ease of use means the system is quick to set up, the essential tools are complete and easy to find and there is a rich knowledge base to turn to for FAQs.
  2. Out-of-the-box plugins. For many users, integrating a plugin or third-party app may be a tad difficult, so it is important that, upon setup, the CMS solution already has the plugins you need. These include SEO tools, social media widgets, cross-content promotional plugins and online marketing tools.
  3. Core functionalities. Make sure the platform has the basic content management tools to create, edit, organize and edit pages. Tree hierarchy, for example, is not available in some CMS, which may hinder the way you organize old content. There should also be a WYSIWYG editor that makes web publishing feel like a simple document creation.
  4. Versioning. It allows quick reverting to a previous post version in case of accidental publishing.
  5. Native functionalities. Plugins are great to add features to the CMS, but they are also vulnerable to hacking. That’s why it’s important to use them with care and always do a background check on the developer for legitimacy and reliability. A CMS with the native functionality you seek in a plugin provides a more secure environment; hence, prefer native features over plugins where possible.
  6. Image management. This refers mainly to accessing images using attributes. Search filters are important if you want to quickly find old images, which, otherwise are under a ton of other images that manual search is not an option.
  7. Keyword URL. The CMS that generates keyword URLs gives you an SEO advantage over sites using CMS that generates reference-number URLs (for example, www.financesonline.com/crm versus www.financesonline.com/12345). Page URL keywords are a major factor in search result ranking.
  8. E-commerce, marketing integration. You site is a sales tool above all; even static corporate sites aim to sell at the end of the day. So consider a CMS that allows for shopping cart integration. If not today, maybe tomorrow you will need to add an online shopping cart section to expand your sales channel. Besides, an e-commerce-friendly CMS is also likely to allow for digital marketing integration, such as, CRM (tools for landing page, call-to-action, etc.), social media management, review ratings and marketing automation.
  9. Deployment. As we explained in the different CMS types, open source CMS provides the best option for many companies. It is license-free and doesn’t cost to upgrade. Coupled with SaaS, this CMS type enables the most flexible infrastructure to manage content.
  10. Design options. If you want your site to stand out, cookie-cutter, thematic websites provided by CMS may limit your design. But there are CMS solutions that allow for template customization; some platforms even let you drag and drop design elements to help you achieve a unique appearance built on a themed template.
  11. Mobile support. As pointed out above, you cannot ignore millions of mobile users that access the Internet from their smartphone. Go for a CMS that allows a mobile-responsive design or has a separate app for mobile sites.
  12. Browser interoperability. The CMS should subscribe to W3C standards to ensure your site works properly on various browsers, especially on the top three web browsers based on the U.S. government data: Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari.
  13. Technical features. You would also like your CMS to provide technical tools if you have a tech team or you have coding skills. This gives you more control over the site’s design and behavior. Many CMS solutions have HTML and CSS coding options behind a WYSIWYG editor.
  14. Community. Choosing a CMS is a long-term decision. As an added layer of assurance to the CMS’ reliability, check if the platform is widely used by other companies. Look for an active community that delves into FAQs and other issues related to the CMS. A robust community is your clue that the CMS is quite reliable, and you have plenty of resources to walk you through  the issues common with the CMS.
  15. Pricing. Even if you are using an open source CMS, check its paid plans and see if the platform allows room to expand or add more sophisticated features. Should your requirements grow, the free version may not be enough, so make sure there are paid plans to scale with your needs.

What’s the Cost of Content Management Software?

The cost of content management software vary. Here are the different ways CMS solutions are priced.

  1. HubSpot. It is sold as separate modules–CRM (free), Sales and Marketing. The Sales module starts at $50 per user/month , while the Marketing module is from $200 per month.
  2. Microsoft Publisher. It includes a one-time purchase of $109.99 or as part of Office 365 with an annual subscription from $69.99.
  3. Drupal. Free open source platform.
  4. Wordpress. Free open source platform with paid plans starting at $200 per month, billed yearly.
  5. Brightcove. By quote only.

Video library in Brightcove.

What Are Potential Issues When Implementing A Content Management Software?

You should be aware that you will face serious problems in implementing CMS if you are not careful. Here are some of the major troubles that may happen with a poor CMS strategy.

  1. Self-defeating control. One of the strengths of CMS is to give the site consistent design and content flow. When a CMS gives too much control over the layout and design, it defeats its purpose. The site may end up featuring pages with clashing themes and convoluted navigation.
  2. Poor asset management. Some CMS solutions lack smart filters like tags and attributes to help you filter through old images. Prolific publishers easily get overwhelmed with images; without reliable asset management they will be burdened quickly.
  3. Incompatibility. Not all CMS work on all operations systems or devices. Similarly, not all allow for mobile design, which greatly diminishes your site’s reach. Another area where incompatibility can be debilitating is when you decide to migrate to a new server that does not support your CMS. Likewise, migrating to another CMS may prove difficult and you may end up manually uploading each post!
  4. Non-keyword page URL. A CMS that generates reference number instead of keywords as page URL undermines the site’s SEO efforts. In general, keyword-based page URLs are given priority in search results.
  5. Limited integration. Many key elements on your site are integrated tools including analytics, shopping cart, social media widgets, RSS feeds, news tickers, etc. If the CMS has limited plugin support, it undermines your site’s functionalities.
  6. Security threats. Open source and plugins provide an avenue for hackers to breach your site. A CMS with poor security makes your source code, database and the entire site vulnerable to hacking.
  7. No regular content. If you do not publish content on a regular basis, you may not need a CMS at all. CMS is designed to streamline publishing, but with limited content, it only adds to your system load or bloat the coding. You may be better off to tap a web designer to build an HTML site for a one-time cost.
  1. Lightweight CMS. The age of all-encompassing CMS may give way to micro CMS as a more streamlined and cost-efficient architectural strategy. Lightweight CMS follow the idea of microservices in other business applications, where features are in modules and scalable to the  growing needs of the business. Customers pay only for the modules they need. Not only that, companies can divide their online assets by their distinct functionalities to target specific audiences, while still keeping them integrated.
  2. Headless or decoupled CMS. It renders your site future-proof by allowing developers to innovate the site’s design and functionalities without having to reimplement the entire CMS. In short, content management is split from presentation, allowing for multiple front-ends to co-exist.
  3. Machine learning. It impacts on almost all business systems. Machine learning is applied in CMS as an advanced form of analytics to push highly rated content and for, among others,  A/B testing, personalization, lead scoring and social marketing. We may see machine learning as a built-in CMS tool or an integrated system like Azure, Amazon and IBM.
  4. Smart search. It is already utilized by many CMS today, but we expect search tools to be smarter and able to find what you are exactly looking for, thanks to AI. These means contextualizing metrics like relevance, geolocation, suggesting alternative search, correcting spelling, supporting multiple languages, following natural language patterns and more intuitive ways.
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