Content Management System (CMS)

A content management system (CMS) is a standalone or group of applications and tools that organizations use to create, edit, review, and publish digital content.

While a developer can design a website from scratch, a CMS enables creators with non-technical backgrounds the opportunity to create web content.

What is a content management system?

A CMS is a software application that facilitates the creation, storage, configuration, and publishing of online web content. Content management systems offer a graphic user interface (GUI) on a device screen to access the platform via a web browser.

Upon logging in, users can access several tools and applications built-in or downloadable from the CMS platform. These tools streamline content creation and management with building blocks that form an entire website or single webpage. 

While developers manipulate code to adjust webpage margins, color scheme, font, a CMS allows users to drag-and-drop specific blocks for text, images, or graphics and configure additional web content settings. 

CMS Features

Content creation

Create a web page, insert static and dynamic data, and format content

Content storage

Store web pages and content for continued, consistent access

Workflow management

Ease workflows with user roles; index and search features


Publish web pages and organize the display of public web pages and site theme

CMS vs. Website Builder

Content management systems and website builders offer users the ability to create, edit, publish and manage web content. Where they differ is their features and intent. 

While a CMS manages a website’s content, a website builder goes further in offering custom domain name purchases and web hosting. Often used by organizations to build sites fast, the downside of website builders is their lack of content-specific features. 

While it might take longer to finish a website with CMS, users have complete control of the website design, multimedia, content tags and categories, users, and more.

Why do I need a content management system?

CMS platforms ease website and content creation for users who otherwise wouldn’t be able to without technical programming skills. Without a CMS, interested users would need to know HTML (bonus: JavaScript), compile their webpage in assembly language, and upload it to a web server.

Content management system examples

WordPress has long been the most popular CMS brand for creating websites. As of 2021, the open-source platform holds over 64% of the market, valued at over $20 billion. Beyond WordPress, the industry remains competitive. 

Marketable Differentiators for CMS

  • Ease of use for non-technical users who want to create web content
  • Design options for creating content and maximizing its appeal to viewers
  • Data portability for moving content between platforms or websites
  • Plugins, extensions, and add-ons for designing and managing web content
  • Technical support and assistance for troubleshooting and guidance

CMS: Free vs. Subscription 

While several top CMS vendors offer their service for free and market their solution as open-source, there is always a cost attached to web development. A user could use a free CMS, but they still have to pay for domain registration and hosting. Add in the price of premium plugins, and it’s worth considering an upgrade to a subscription plan where several tools are built-in.

Designed by Sam Ingalls. © Webopedia 2021.

Content Management System Vendors

Top picks

Superlative CMS
Best Overall WordPress
Best for Developers Joomla
Best for Managing Data Drupal
Best for Beginner eCommerce Shopify
Best for Advanced eCommerce Magento
Best Templates and Designs Squarespace

 Honorable mention

  • BigCommerce
  • Bitrix24
  • Bynder
  • Ghost
  • HubSpot
  • Magnolia
  • PrestaShop
  • Textpattern
  • TYPO3
  • Weebly
  • Wix
  • WooCommerce
Sam Ingalls
Sam Ingalls
Sam Ingalls is an award-winning writer and researcher covering enterprise technology, cybersecurity, data centers, and IT trends, for eSecurity Planet, TechRepublic, ServerWatch, Webopedia, and Channel Insider.
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