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What Is a Content Management System (CMS)? [2023 Guide] | Semrush
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What Is a Content Management System (CMS)? [2023 Guide]

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Margarita LoktionovaMar 20, 202311 min read

Are you looking to create and manage a website without advanced technical expertise?

A content management system—or CMS—is the tool that can make it happen.

In this guide, we’ll answer all the key questions about using a CMS:

  • What is content management, and what is a content management system (CMS)?
  • Why do you need one for your business?
  • How does it work, and how do you choose and use one?
What Is a Content Management System (CMS)?

What Is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A content management system (CMS) is a software platform that is used to create, manage, and publish digital content.

It provides users with a user-friendly interface to manage various types of content, such as text, images, videos, documents, and more.

CMSs are mostly used for websites and other online services. They help businesses and organizations with their content creation and distribution.

The best thing about using a CMS is that you don’t need any special knowledge or technical skill.

What Is Content Management?

What Is Content Management?

Content management is the whole process of creating, editing, organizing, and publishing digital content.

Content management goes into creating websites, publishing articles and blog posts, and even just sharing information online.

Digital content is pretty much anything you can imagine online. It includes text, images, videos, and audio files. It’s the central element of any content marketing activities.

Why Use a Content Management System?

Why Use a Content Management System?

A CMS is useful for pretty much anyone who needs to create, manage, and publish digital content.

Individuals, businesses, organizations, and institutions of all sizes and types can benefit from using a CMS. It can help you:

  • Save time and resources needed to create and manage a website
  • Make your content production more collaborative
  • Help you publish and edit content much faster
  • Create a better user experience for your website visitors
  • Cut overall development and design costs

In other words, a CMS allows you to create and manage effective websites in a very intuitive and easy way—without hiring an army of developers.

What Is the Purpose of Content Management?

What Is the Purpose of Content Management?

Content management makes it much easier for businesses of all sizes to create, organize, and publish digital content.

Part of this is also keeping your content accurate, up-to-date, and in line with your company’s marketing goals.

On top of all this, content management also involves tracking and analyzing the performance of content in terms of views, clicks, and shares.

The content management lifecycle is part of content management. It outlines the steps you need to follow when managing digital content.

Here’s what the lifecycle looks like:

  1. Decide on the goals for your digital content.
  2. Write, design, and produce content
  3. Review and approve your assets
  4. Publish and distribute your content
  5. Maintain, audit, and archive your content
How Does a Content Management System Work?

How Does a Content Management System Work?

If you log in to a CMS, you’ll usually find a visual drag-and-drop interface and pre-built modules. These let you create and customize their applications without writing any code.

In fact, modern CMSs are some of the most sophisticated “no code” applications around. This is a type of software product that can be built and managed without the need for traditional coding or programming skills.

For example, here’s what the WordPress interface looks like; you can add pages, blog posts, and other materials in just a few clicks:

Content management system example: WordPress

So how does a CMS actually work?

A content management system has two parts. The first is a content management application (CMA) and the second is a content delivery application (CDA).

  • The CMA is the part you’ll use the most—the interface. It allows virtually anyone to create, edit, and publish content without needing technical expertise.
  • The CDA is the engine and database that sits behind the interface. It stores, organizes, and arranges the content in a manner that suits the device that is accessing it.

For example, users could be accessing your content on a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop computer.

Key Features of a Content Management System

Here’s what you can expect in your CMS:

User management: If your business is using a CMS, you'll probably have multiple people on board. Your CMS will let you create and manage user accounts, with varying levels of access and permissions.

Content creation and editing: You’ll have a range of tools for creating, editing, and publishing digital content such as text, images, and video.

Version control: This means you’ll have the chance to track and manage changes to your content. This is good news because you can easily revert to a previous version if necessary.

Templates and themes: These are pre-designed templates and themes that can be used to quickly create a consistent look and feel for your website or product.

Media management: You’ll also be able to manage and organize digital media assets such as images and videos.

Search functionality: When you’re lost, you’ll have tools for searching and filtering content within the CMS.

How To Use a CMS

How To Use a CMS

Using a content management system doesn’t require any coding or other technical skills.

  1. Log in to the CMS dashboard and navigate the intuitive interface.

    Content management system example: WordPress
  2. Start by deciding which content you would like to add—e.g., a page or an article.

    Quick links image

    For instance, imagine you want to upload a blog post.

    All you need to do is add your content in the text editor and the CMS will take care of the rest.

    You can upload images, links, videos, or other media elements directly to the article.

    You could also format the text the way you want—e.g., by adding bold text, bullet points, headlines, and so on.

    Content management system example: WordPress
  3. Once your content is ready, preview how it will appear on your website before hitting the "Publish" button.

    You can add other changes to your website using similar logic, from creating new pages to editing the existing content.

    Note that content writing tools like ContentShake offer integration with WordPress.

    Generate your article with AI, optimize it for SEO and engagement, and then publish directly to your WordPress blog.

    ContentShake interface
What Are the Top CMS Platform Examples?

What Are the Top CMS Platform Examples?

The most widely known content management system is WordPress.org, often referred to simply as “WordPress,” which supports around 43% of all websites on the internet.

WordPress has been developed over many years. That makes it rich in features and what are known as “plugins,” which are integrations with other software services that support content management.

It also comes with lots of different themes—both free and paid. You can adapt it yourself or with the help of a developer.


However, there are many types of CMSs. They have different features, capabilities, and target users.

Some common categories of CMS include:

  • Web CMS: A web CMS helps you create and manage websites. It usually includes tools for managing website navigation, design, and other aspects of the user experience.

    Examples include WordPress, Webflow, and Wix.

  • Enterprise CMS: An enterprise CMS is for larger organizations and institutions. Enterprise CMSs often have more advanced features and capabilities, and they are typically able to support a large number of users and volume of content.

    Examples include Adobe Commerce and Shopify for ecommerce companies.

  • Open-source CMS: An open-source CMS is developed and maintained by a community of volunteers. The source code is freely available for anyone to use and modify. Open-source CMSs are often highly customizable and flexible, and they can be a good choice for organizations that have specific needs or requirements.

    Examples include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.

  • Cloud-based CMS: A cloud-based CMS is hosted and managed by a third-party provider. Users access the CMS and manage their content via the internet. Cloud-based CMSs can be a convenient option for organizations that do not want to manage their own CMS infrastructure, and they often offer scalability and flexibility.

    One example is Box.

  • Headless CMS: A headless CMS is a type of content management system that allows users to manage and publish content without the need for a front-end user interface (UI).

    Headless CMSs have become increasingly popular over the past few years. You can use them to manage and deliver content to a wide range of different platforms and devices, including web, mobile, and IoT products.

    One example is Ghost.

How To Choose the Right CMS

How To Choose the Right CMS

There are so many different content management systems available, it can be hard to know which is the right one to pick.

Consider the features and capabilities that are most important to you. Also think about the type of website or product you want to build and the level of technical expertise you have.

Ultimately, the best CMS for you will be the one that meets your specific needs and is within your budget.

Some of the most popular CMS products include:

CMS name
Best for
Anyone looking to get started with a website quickly and cheaply
Very easy to install and set up alongside a massive community of developers to support you
Updates to plugins, especially for security reasons, creates ongoing administrative effort
New coders getting started with web development
Large libraries of existing extensions and plugins for you to choose from
Joomla is not cheap, and some of the extensions can be expensive
Enterprises that need secure, custom websites

A large selection of extensions makes it possible to implement company portals with complex, multi-domain structures

Configuration can be complex as a lot of extensions are often required
Marketers looking to operate omnichannel communication strategies
Very flexible and customizable
Administrator interface can be clunky and slow
Small ecommerce businesses that want to sell online and scale
Extremely fast performance and support for 100s of payment methods
Hard to customize themes without knowing the Liquid programming language
Magento is an ecommerce website for small and mid-size businesses

Owned by Adobe, it has a big and trustworthy brand behind it; it is flexible, mobile-friendly, and has a large community of users

High cost of development, and it’s fairly complex to develop within the platform
Creative professionals, solopreneurs, freelance specialists
You can create some visually stunning websites, plus you get a free domain name with an annual license
No free option, and pricing is high
Professional web designers, mid-size and small businesses

Powerful visual designer, which means you see exactly how your website looks across different devices (TV, desktop, tablet, & mobile) in real time

Not (yet) ready for ecommerce websites
Small business owners who want to build and manage a website without coding knowledge
Very easy-to-use drag-and-drop visual editor with a massive library of templates

Too much design flexibility can cause your site layouts to break, especially when formatting between desktop and mobile

Ideal for bloggers and YouTube content creators who want to monetize their business
Great user experience and a streamlined platform ideal for the target audience
It can be relatively expensive and doesn’t always integrate well with ecommerce platforms
How Do I Measure the Success of a Content Management System?

How Do I Measure the Success of a Content Management System?

Once you’ve decided which CMS to purchase, you’ll want to measure it to ensure you’re getting value for the money you’ve invested.

Like any software tool, there’s a variety of ways to evaluate its success, and it’s advisable to track multiple metrics to get the true picture.

Ideally you’ll use a combination of “hard” and “soft” metrics—i.e., some that can be measured purely in numbers (like conversions) and some that are more qualitative (like satisfaction rates).

Common metrics include:

  1. User satisfaction: The most important feedback comes from the users of the CMS itself (i.e., your company’s employees). Try surveying everyone who uses it and ask them how satisfied they are with both its user experience and its effectiveness.
  2. Efficiency: A key metric is how long it takes your colleagues to create and publish new content from start to finish.
  3. Search engine rankings: Your CMS should help you optimize your content for search engines, so you should see an improvement in the ranking of your content or your website over time.
  4. Conversion rates and on-site engagement: Your CMS should help you improve the user experience and help you move your website visitors down the marketing funnel.


Content management systems have evolved a lot in recent years. Not so long ago, they were very limited in terms of design, time-consuming to work with, and required a lot of technical expertise to implement and maintain.

Now, thanks to modern site builders such as Webflow and Wix, anyone can publish a professional-looking website in next to no time at all.

Deciding which CMS is right for you depends on the stage of your business, the type of business you are in, and, of course, your budget.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • If you are just starting out, choose a CMS with an intuitive visual designer such as Wix or Webflow and a large community of resources such as WordPress
  • If you are selling online, choose a CMS designed for ecommerce like Shopify
  • If you need to administer multiple websites, choose a CMS designed for omnichannel management such as Drupal or Magnolia
  • If visual design is paramount, choose a CMS such as Squarespace

Now, it’s time to get started with optimizing your own content management process!

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