What Is a Content Management System (CMS)? An Introduction to CMSs and How They Work

You don’t have to build and manage your website by hand-coding each page. Instead, you can use a content management (CMS). According to W3Techs, over 60 percent of all websites use a CMS. Consisting of free and paid software applications, they eliminate the need for hand-coding. If you’re thinking about using a CMS, though, there are several things you must know.

What Is a CMS?

A CMS is a software application that simplifies the creation and management of your website’s content. When deployed, it will provide a back-end interface from which you can manage your website’s content. You can access the CMS’s interface in a web browser. After logging in to it, you’ll see various menus and buttons that control your website’s content.

All websites have content, which is expressed in lines of code. You can’t create new content for your website without adding new lines of code, nor can you delete content without removing existing lines of code. With that said, a CMS will automatically make the necessary changes to your website’s code.

When you perform an action from the CMS’s interface, the CMS will update your website’s code to reflect it. Clicking the button to create a new page, for instance, will prompt the CMS to add the page’s code to your website. If you update the page with content, such as an article or blog post, the CMS will respond by adding the necessary code for it as well.

Some of the leading CMSs include: 

•   WordPress 

•   Joomla 

•   Drupal 

•   Magento 

•   ModX 

•   Shopify 

•   HubSpot’s CMS Hub 

How CMSs Work

CMSs work by creating a graphical user interface (GUI) that’s accessible by visiting a login URL. You can install a CMS by uploading and configuring its files to your website. Once installed, you can log in to the CMS’s interface by visiting a login URL and entering your username and password.

CMSs create a GUI that shows buttons and menus in the interface, rather than the code. They may allow you to view and edit your website’s code, but CMSs are designed to offer code-free content management. You can manage your website’s content from the CMS’s interface without manually altering its code. The CMS will convert your interface actions into the appropriate code changes.

A database is a vital component of a CMS. When you create content, the CMS will typically store it in a database. Most CMSs are written in a scripting language, such as Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP), that works alongside a database. They contain scripts that retrieve content in real time as requested by visitors. When a visitor begins to load a page, the CMS will retrieve the page’s content from your website’s database.

Advantages of Using a CMS

A CMS will allow you to create new content or delete old content very quickly. Normally, you’d have to connect to your website’s server using a tool known as a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program to change its content. An FTP program allows your computer to communicate with your website’s server, so you can download or upload content-related files.

With a CMS, an FTP program isn’t needed. You can add new content, delete old content and make other changes to your website from the CMS’s interface. All you need to access the interface is a computer with an internet connection. From here, you can manage your website’s content without jumping through the hoops of using an FTP program.

Although they are designed primarily for content management purposes, CMSs offer a myriad of other web development features. You can customize your website’s layout from the CMS’s interface. CMSs have themes that, when installed, will change the layout of your website. Many of these themes have their own built-in options for further customization, such as the ability to choose a background color or image, header image, menu placements, font sizes and more.

You can easily make site-wide changes to your website if you use a CMS. Maybe you want to place your business’s brand name in the footer. Instead of manually adding the brand name to each page, you can edit the footer section of the CMS’s page template. CMSs use templates to present content, the latter of which is retrieved from a database. Any changes you make to a template will apply to all pages that use the template.

Most CMSs support third-party software in the form of apps or plugins. There are official, as well as unofficial, app and plugin marketplaces. If you want to add new functionality to your website, you can download an app or plugin from a marketplace.

Disadvantages of Using a CMS

Using a CMS has a few potential disadvantages. It may contribute to longer load times, for example. Content stored in a database takes longer to retrieve than content stored entirely in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files. Therefore, your website’s load times may increase if you use a CMS.

CMSs also require work to maintain. It’s not something that you can set and forget. CMSs are frequently updated by their developers. When a development team discovers a vulnerability in their CMS, they’ll update it. To prevent the vulnerability from affecting your website, you must download and install the update.

Your website may become the target of spammers if you use a CMS. Spammers often target CMS-built websites because they support user-generated content (UGC). By default, most CMSs allow visitors to create comments, and some of them support other forms of UGC like images and videos as well.

With UGC, spammers can essentially pose as visitors while leaving commercial messages on your website. Fortunately, developers acknowledge the threat of spam, so they offer options to combat it. You can typically set up comments to require moderation, or you can blacklist comments containing words commonly used in spam.

The advantages of using CMS greatly outweigh the disadvantages. It makes content management processes easier by creating a visual interface. At the same, a CMS will still give you the option of hand-coding your website. Just remember to choose a CMS that’s aligned with your website’s objectives.

PerOla Hammar 陈家悦
Father of 2. Marketing, sales & web geek who is open-minded & eager to learn. Experienced a lot in the past years, both good and bad. Lesson learned? LIVE LIFE!