Before I get to the list, let’s start at the beginning: what is a CMS?
A content management system does what the name says: it helps you “manage” your website’s content in a “systemised” way.
Instead of needing to work with code whenever you want to add content to your website, a CMS lets you work in an easy-to-use editor that might look something like this:
Then, when you “publish” that content, the CMS will properly display that piece of content to visitors according to your preferences.
A CMS also handles organizing everything on the frontend of your site. For example, if you publish a blog post, the CMS will automatically display it at the top of your blog page and add a timestamp.
A CMS is more flexible than just a blogging platform, though. You can think of a blogging platform as a CMS for one specific type of content (blog posts), while a CMS can help you manage virtually any type of content.
For example, the “content” in your CMS could be:
- Blog posts
- Static pages
- ecommerce products
- Forum posts
- Private course content
Or, it could be multiple types of content at the same time! A good CMS platform can help you manage as many different types of content as you need.
What Is a Headless CMS?
In the list below, you’ll see another term: headless CMS. With a headless CMS, you’ll use your CMS to manage all of your content on the backend. Then, you can build your own frontend by querying data via an API.
The upside of this “headless” approach is that you can use your content pretty much anywhere, from a website to a mobile app and more.
A headless CMS requires a lot more technical knowledge to implement but gives you more flexibility for how and where you use your content.
What to Consider When Choosing a CMS?
When choosing a CMS, here are some of the most important features to consider:
- Pricing – every CMS has costs associated with it. Some are free and open source, but you’ll need to pay to host them. With others, you might need to purchase the software from the company that creates the CMS.
- Support & customer experience – some tools are open source with no central support options, while others come with 24/7 support – make sure you understand what you’re getting.
- SEO – it’s important that your chosen software gives you the tools to rank in Google and other search engines.
- Personalization – for business use cases, choosing a CMS that lets you create personalized visitor experiences can help you improve your marketing and conversion rates.
- Ease of use – if you’re not a developer, you’ll want to pick a tool that’s easy to use without development knowledge.
- Security – with some CMS tools, you’ll be responsible for your site’s security, while other tools handle it for you.
Best CMS Software Solutions
It’s now time to get the list of CMS options, let’s dig deeper:
WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS by far – it powers over 37% of all websites on the Internet. It started as a blogging platform but has long-since morphed into a full CMS that you can use to build any type of website, from ecommerce stores to membership sites, forums, and more.
In fact, WordPress, through the WooCommerce extension, is also one of the most popular ways to make an ecommerce store. Some of the reasons that explain WordPress‘s popularity are:
- It’s free and open source.
- You can find thousands of WordPress themes to control your site’s appearance.
- You can access 55,000+ free plugins to extend your site’s features (here are some of the best).
- Ability to add custom functions to your website frontend and backend.
Drupal is another popular open source CMS that fits in the same space as WordPress.
With its flexible taxonomy system, Drupal excels when it comes to managing sites with large amounts of content. It also has a built-in user access system that gives you plenty of control over what registered users can do inside the CMS.
Like WordPress, you can control how your site looks using themes and extend Drupal’s functionality with modules.
Along with WordPress and Drupal, Joomla is the third entrant in the trio of popular open source CMS software.
Like WordPress and Drupal, Joomla comes with large marketplaces for templates and extensions, which helps you create a website that matches your needs.
In terms of the technical knowledge that’s required, Joomla offers a nice middle-ground between WordPress and Drupal.