To be a successful business owner, one of the important skills you need is the ability to identify the right tools that enable you to run your business effectively. For many businesses, that will include using a content management system (CMS).

What is a Content Management System?

A web content management system is software expressly designed to help you create, edit, organize, and publish your content online. It provides an intuitive interface for editing your web pages that saves you from having to deal with coding directly, or call your developer each time you need to make an update. And it makes it easy to provide the right level of access to every person in your company that contributes or makes changes to the website.

Within a CMS, you can store all the content you’ve already created and any media you want to include on your website. You can easily keep track of which content is published, which is scheduled, and which is in draft form. And many CMSs allow you to track changes to pieces of content, so you can see how versions differ and revert to an earlier one if needed.

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Does My Business Need a Content Management System?

For small businesses, “need” might be too strong a word here, but most businesses will benefit from having a CMS. A CMS will particularly be useful for any business where:

  • Anyone in charge of making updates to the website lacks coding skills. Whether you have a one-person business or over 100 employees, if anyone in a position to add content to the website or make tweaks to the pages already there isn’t skilled at coding, they’ll struggle to do their job without a CMS. And since small coding errors can sometimes bring down a whole site, you don’t want to take that risk.
  • Multiple people have access to the site, each of them for different tasks. A CMS lets you set up accounts for the different people in your company that need some level of access to the website, but you can define what level of access they have with WordPress user roles to improve security. If you hire a blogger to write and publish blog posts, you don’t have to give them the ability to make changes to your home page. A CMS gives you control over who can change what, and helps you protect your website from accidental errors and malicious changes alike.
  • You already have or plan to create a lot of content. If your business is doing a content marketing strategy, a CMS provides a centralized location for you to store and manage all the different pieces of content you have. Everyone involved in content creation, editing, and scheduling can easily access everything they need and keep track of its status.

A good web content management system will make managing your website a lot easier—both for you and anyone else you employ to help out. And it will help you keep your content and web pages organized and looking the way you want them to.

How Much Do Content Management Systems Cost?

As a business owner, it sometimes feels like you can’t go a whole day without hearing about some new product or service you need. You only have so much money to spend, so even if the argument is persuasive, learning that there’s one more product you should invest in is often dispiriting.

So here’s the good news: almost all of the most popular content management systems are free.

They have add-ons and plug-ins that cost more, if you want additional features. And in some cases, hiring a web developer or someone to help you get your CMS set up or get more out of it is worth it. But a good CMS in and of itself doesn’t have to cost you anything.

Even with a CMS though, you will still need to invest in web hosting and register a domain name, if you haven’t already. And a CMS isn’t usually the best tool for doing web design—you’ll want a professional web designer or a good website builder for that part. But once you have those basics covered, a CMS enables you to maintain and update your website over time without any added cost.

What to Look for in a Content Management System

Every business is different, so what your business will value most in a CMS depends on your particular goals and needs. Even so, there are a few main features most businesses will want to consider when deciding which CMS to go with.

Look for a CMS that:

  • Is within your budget. This may seem strange to mention when we just told you that most content management systems are free, but there are potential costs involved you need to consider. To start, a couple of CMS options that provide specialized features or functionality do have a price, so there’s a small chance your best option won’t be free. Secondly, even with free CMS tools, you’ll likely want to use some plugins or extensions to get the full functionality you need. So before you make a decision, research the cost of the additional tools you expect to invest in, so you get a more accurate picture of the full cost of your choice.  
  • Is intuitive. Some content management systems are more user friendly for beginners than others. Sometimes that means a tradeoff: a CMS that’s harder to learn and work with could provide more options for customization, if you know what you’re doing. If you value ease of use over being able to realize a very specific vision, then you want to look for a CMS that you’ll be able to start using without having to spend a lot of time learning the ropes.
  • Lets you define permissions and roles. If more than one person will be involved with updating the website, you want the power to control who has access and what kind of access they have. A CMS that makes it easy to set up other users and define their level of permissions reduces the risk of letting people into the backend of your website by making sure each one can only make the kinds of changes you’ve assigned.
  • Makes it easy to apply proper formatting. Strong copywriting can improve your website tremendously. Generally speaking, good writing for the web includes using headings and formatting to organize your content for readability. Applying that formatting with HTML can be confusing, so a good CMS should provide easy options for doing so within its interface. Adding headings, italics, bolding, and list options should be a simple as clicking on a button.
  • Helps you organize your content and media. The more web content you create, the more important it will be to have a good method for keeping it all organized. Consider if your CMS provides options for categorizing the content, blog posts,and media you upload, and easily finding the specific piece you need at the moment you need it.
  • Provides support. Technology is complicated and you’ll inevitably hit up against questions or challenges when using your CMS. Choose an option that has plenty of online resources for helping you find the answers you need and/or customer support staff you can reach out to. Because the most popular content management systems have huge communities of users, you can usually find good support resources in spite of not paying for the software.
  • Is compatible with your other software. If you already have software you use for things like e-commerce, website analytics, or customer relationship management (CRM), then you want to make sure your CMS will play nice with the tools you have.
  • Provides on-site optimization features. You want people to find your website, so SEO should be a top priority. A CMS can simplify optimizing your web pages for SEO with features that allow you to customize page URLs, title tags, headings, and alt tags—all without having to touch the page’s code.
  • Has an extensive library of plugins. The CMS will provide the basic functionality you need, but most businesses will want access to an array of different features that don’t come with the CMS itself. For that, you’ll need plugins or extensions. The most popular content management systems have huge libraries of plugins made by hundreds of developers that you can use to add functionality to your website.
  • Offers security options. The flip side of choosing a CMS that’s popular is that it could become the target of hackers. But you can protect yourself from that risk by making sure the CMS provides basic security options such as two-factor authentication, security software and plugins, and regular updates to fix any security vulnerabilities they find.

You may not need every one of these features, but consider which ones you’d like your CMS to have and how much of a priority each one is. Once you get set up with a CMS, it’s easier to stick with it than to switch to a new new one, so making the right decision to start will make your life a lot easier.

5 Most Popular Content Management Systems

When starting your search for the right CMS for your business, there’s a good chance one of the most popular content management systems out there will satisfy your needs. Here are the main ones to check out.

1. WordPress

Easily the most popular CMS, with well over half of the market share, WordPress is a great choice for many websites. There are endless benefits of WordPress as a content management system. Because of its popularity, there are loads of experts and developers working to provide a vast library of resources for the CMS. That includes over 50,000 popular WordPress plugins, thousands of themes to choose from, dozens of thorough WordPress blogs, and a huge community of users who can help with any questions you have.

WordPress itself is free. Many of the plugins and themes will cost you, although often the cost is reasonable. And you can even find WordPress web hosting plans specifically designed to work well with this content management system. For lots of small businesses, WordPress will provide just what you need.

2. Joomla

Joomla is one of the other most popular content management systems out there. While its community isn’t nearly as large as that of WordPress, it still boasts over 2 million sites and 1,400 volunteers who help keep the CMS running smoothly and improving over time. Joomla has a reputation for being a little harder to learn than WordPress, but it’s still pretty easy for beginners and advanced users alike. And they provide a comprehensive library of resources to help users learn how to get started with Joomla and get the most out of it.

Like WordPress, Joomla is free, but you can invest in extensions that add functionality at a cost.

3. Drupal

Drupal is the third most popular CMS option, with over 1 million websites using it. They have a reputation for being better suited for developers with some skill than for beginners, and for providing more options for customizing your site and powering more complex solutions.

Like the others, Drupal itself is free, and there are many integrated modules you can use to customize your website that are also free. But since taking advantage of the CMS’s flexibility to do more with your website requires skill, you may need to spend money on a developer to get your site where you want it to be.

4. Magento

Magento is a CMS that’s specifically designed for ecommerce websites. Magento has both a free open source version and paid versions that pack greater functionality. The free version includes ecommerce features like mobile shopping and integrated checkout, payment, and shipping functionality. The paid version includes additional analytics and marketing features. For ecommerce businesses, it’s worth looking into.

5. Blogger

Blogger is a simple and straightforward CMS for anyone primarily interested in learning how to start a blog. It’s free and easy to use, but somewhat limited in its functionality in comparison to the other content management systems on this list. It’s not an open source CMS, which means there’s less flexibility and fewer plugins or other add-ons you can use to customize your website or add functionality. For simple websites, it can be a good enough choice. For many businesses, it won’t offer enough features for your needs.

Choosing a Content Management System for Your Website

The easier it is to update your website, the more power you have to improve how well it works over time. The right CMS will put control of your website into your hands, without having to learn complicated programming languages. Determine which of these solutions makes the most sense for your business and get started.

HostGator supports all of the most popular content management systems with our web hosting plans, including WordPress, Magento, Drupal, and Joomla.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.