Getting Started With Content Management Systems

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The need to update websites faster to keep content fresh has been ever growing. Ever since the first business owner wanted their Web designer to update their website faster, content management systems have played an important role on the Web. Why does this matter to you? How do you know if your company is ready?

In this article, we will look at how to tell if your organization needs a content management system. We will also give you information on the abilities of content management systems to help you better understand what they can do. While content management systems may seem complex, their entire purpose is to streamline your workflow and make your life easier.

A content management system allows you to create, manage, store and edit massive amounts of content without any HTML programming skill. Because you are able to edit your content from any computer with an Internet connection, you no longer have to rely on third-party developers or companies to keep your website up to date. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Every company would like to reduce costs and increase productivity.

Also consider our previous articles:

1. What Is A Content Management System?

If you have never heard the term before, a content management system (CMS) is a Web-based solution that makes it easy for a company to manage website updates internally. For many companies, updating a website is not something to look forward to because it can be a lengthy and, over time, expensive process. Most companies search for easier means of accomplishing their goals. The solution that many large and small companies have found is a CMS. The easy-to-use application allows your company to control its online identity with little to no knowledge of Web design.

Do I Need a Content Management System?

While you know your business better than anyone else, if you answer Yes to any of the following questions, your company would likely benefit from using a CMS-based website.

  • Does your company update its website content frequently?
  • Does your website contain over 10 pages?
  • Do you constantly outsource simple website updates to third parties?

Although building your website with a CMS may not save you money up front, if you need to be able to manage your own content in a timely manner, you will certainly be cutting costs in future. You will increase your organization’s speed while reducing its effort. With a CMS accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, you will speed up the process of approving, publishing, and updating.

Knowing When you Need a CMS4
Some CMS’ have in-page buttons to speed up the process of editing content, while preventing users from accessing the admin interface.

Because a CMS has built-in organizational features, content is easier to find and nearly impossible to lose (unless you delete it by accident). You no longer have to spend a lot of time on simple tasks or duplicating your efforts. All of your content is created, managed, published and edited from a single location with very simple, easy-to-use tools. Because using these tools requires very little training, you can start managing your content almost immediately.

If you have identified your business goals and recognized that your website will play a role in them, you should begin the process of implementing your own CMS. There is no set list of requirements for a content management system because each organization has unique needs. Keep your requirements to a minimum, but be sure to allow for the future growth and demands of your company. Enlisting the help of a Web design and development company5 to assess your needs is a good idea.

2. Essentials Of A CMS

Three key elements that every CMS has, one way or another, are templates, content and meta data. Understanding how these three elements interact with the other CMS features is important: the template is the graphic wrapper of your website; without the actual content, you would have no need for a website; and the often over-looked meta data helps with search engine optimization.

Content Management System Template6
An example of a CMS theme that has the same look and feel on every page.

Templates control how your content looks on the page and are extremely helpful when you have to produce a lot of pages (10+). The template is a graphic wrapper that usually looks the same on every page of the website, regardless of the content. It makes your website’s look and feel consistent. When you want to change the template (say, the color or an image), you have to make the change only once and it will be reflected on every page of your website. Popular CMS’ such as WordPress7 and ExpressionEngine8 have many free or premium templates available online that can reduce the cost of and help you customize your system.

WYSIWYG Text Editor9
This is the typical layout of a WYSIWYG editor, which has features that are standard in word processors today, such as bolding, italicizing and justifying paragraphs.

Content is created, managed and edited independent of all other CMS elements. Content could be anything from the text on your “About” page to the photo on your company press release. All content is normally managed through a WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get) that has integrated photo uploading tools. This helps you create new pages on your website, manage and edit existing pages and assign pages to multiple areas without having to copy them.

Facebook Pulling meta data10
Facebook does an excellent job of pulling an external page’s title and description meta data when you post a link to it on a fan page or wall.

Meta data plays a key part in search engine optimization (SEO). The great thing about a CMS is that it makes it nearly impossible for you to forget to add this information, thus helping your website’s search and index ranking on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. Meta data contains such information as category, author, publishing date, title, brief description and keywords.

One great use of meta data is for automatically adding a title and description to links posted on social media websites such as Facebook. This not only saves you from having to retype this information but keeps your content relevant as well. This information can also be pulled by search engines and any other website where your website is listed, so make sure to put some thought into writing it.

3. CMS Features And Functions

Content management systems come with many standard features to help you create, manage and edit your content. In addition to standard features, additional features can be added to the flexible system framework. These additional features are often referred to as add-on modules or plug-ins. Because a CMS is very flexible, you can use it for a simple website with little content or expand the features to support a complex website with a lot of content. Here is a nice list of high-profile companies that use a CMS for their websites11, which will give you a good idea of how far you can expand these systems.

Standard Features

These features are what make your content management system so extensive and highly flexible. They allow you to publish, edit and organize content and manage members, and they contain a variety of built-in security features.

Content Management System Publishing12
With these straightforward tools, you can see how easy creating and managing your content is.

Publishing is made easy with the in-depth features of a CMS. Without any knowledge of HTML programming, users can create, manage and schedule content with ease. These powerful tools help free up time within an organization by streamlining the whole process. A user can create content, set the category (i.e. the section in which it will be published) and then set it as a draft for later review.

Once the content is reviewed, it can be scheduled to be published, say, seven days from then. Once you have reached that step, the rest of the process is automated. You can write and complete a week’s worth of articles ahead of time and take a vacation without having to worry about publishing new content, because it will publish itself (if you have done your part).

Typography often causes headaches for writers, especially if the writers are not HTML savvy, but the task is made easier with built-in text editors. With most CMS’, your text can be automatically formatted to produce XHTML-valid typography. This saves you the hassle of hand-coding every piece of content and leaves the “fun” bits to the system itself. If you paste disallowed characters, such as curly quotes, bullets or accents, from text editors like Microsoft Word, they will automatically be converted into an HTML-valid equivalent.

Another great feature that many CMS’ include is automatic linking. This feature saves you from having to manually link URLs that you add to your content. All of these features are useful because they make your workflow more efficient when you create a lot of content. And if you prefer to enter your own HTML code every time because you don’t trust the automated process, you have that option as well.

Organization is a key part of maintaining a website. With a CMS, all of the content is stored in one place, only once, and is accessible from any location with an Internet connection. Content can be saved in a number of states, such as draft, published and archived. So you can keep unfinished and finished content in separate places, with different attributes. This is especially handy if you like to write content ahead of time and want to be able to easily find it when it comes time to publish.

  • Draft: this is work in progress and is not visible to the public.
  • Published: content that is visible to the public.
  • Archived: previously published content that is tucked away in a safe place, away from the main navigation. Typically used with blogs.

Member management helps you control all aspects of your website’s users. As an administrator, you have full control over how many people can access your website and how much control they have themselves. This can be extremely useful for a large company, where many people (author, editor, publisher, etc.) are responsible for creating and maintaining content. You control how many hands are in the cookie jar at each stage of the creation process.

  • Administrator: has complete control over all users and access to all of the website’s administration features.
  • Editor: can publish and mange their own content as well as other people’s content, etc.
  • Author: can publish and manage their own content.
  • Contributor: can write and manage their own content but cannot publish it.
  • Subscriber: can read content, view and write comments, receive newsletters and so on, without being able to edit anything.

Build-in security measures give you one less thing to worry about. You no longer have to worry about session management, robots trying multiple passwords to hack your account or losing data when processing forms. Almost every CMS has different session management configurations, so you can set the preferences that fit your security needs.

With the built-in “multiple password denial” feature, you can make sure that multiple users cannot access your system simultaneously with the same log-in credentials. In addition, you can automatically lock out users after several incorrect password attempts and allow forms to be submitted only once. This helps prevent loss of data and attempts to hack your system via password.

Additional Features

You can integrate add-on modules, or plug-ins, into your CMS to add value, improve accessibility and increase functionality. With the right combination of features, you can create a website that fits your business plan and helps your company achieve its goals. While the number of additional features that you can add is endless, we will focus on the major ones here.

Integrated Company Blog13
GoMediazine is a great example of blog integration.

Company blog functionality helps keep your website fresh and can be a very useful marketing tool. While CMS’ have evolved into complete website solutions, they were originally intended to manage blogs. Most blogs were used as personal diaries or breaking news outlets. Adapted to business use, they can be very useful for letting customers and clients know about what’s new and exciting with your company. If you sell products, you can announce new items or sales. Some businesses, such as GoMedia14, use their blog purely as a community-building tool to publish educational information.

Integrated e-Commerce15
The Electrorack website is a great example of seamless e-commerce integration.

E-commerce integration makes the user experience on your website a very comfortable one. Being able to sell products and services from within your website would be ideal for any business. Some companies, including Electrorack16, have seamlessly integrated their e-commerce solution into their CMS. The user doesn’t even notice that they are jumping from one platform to another because the look and feel are so consistent.

Integrated Discussion Forum17
The DesignByHumans website has a great integrated user-based community.

Discussion forums are a complete community-building solution that helps your website’s visitors exchange ideas. Users can create topics, offer feedback on existing topics and interact with other users. How you use a discussion forum depends entirely on your needs. Design by Humans18 uses its forum to post company news and to let their artists and customers interact for free.

Integrated Photo Gallery19
This website has a photo gallery set up on its system for album postings.

Photo galleries are used by millions of people around the world. Online photo sharing is becoming this era’s scrapbooking. With the increase in social media use, people can easily send everyone they know a link to their latest photo gallery. The Memory Museum20 can display photos easily through the customized gallery on its photography blog. Businesses can use this feature to showcase recent events or feature products. By organizing and displaying photos from within your CMS, you can have all of your content in one location.

Video Management Integration
National Geographic has an intuitive integrated video management system to help users view their video content through the Web.

Video management helps you organize, edit and distribute video content. You no longer have to upload videos to YouTube or Vimeo and then manage them separately. You can manage your video content just as you manage your website’s pages. You can upload almost any kind of video and then share your albums and videos on your website and on social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and Digg.

CMS’ vary in the video management features they offer. But most let you upload multiple files at once (in batch) and automatically create thumbnails. Once videos are in the system, you can track viewer behavior as well as feature content based on popularity. National Geographic21 integrates videos into its articles and offers them separately for others to embed on their own websites.

Multi-Language Support
Apple offers extensive multi-language support and uses multiple URL extensions to differentiate content.

Multi-language support lets you offer content in multiple countries within a single CMS, allowing visitors to choose their preferred language. While most small companies do not need this feature, it can be helpful. The support features may not actually translate content (and if they do, they won’t do an accurate job), but they do let you feature content in multiple languages, which is extremely useful for corporate websites that operate globally. Because Apple22 operates in many countries, it offers its website in many languages.

RSS Feed23
RSS feeds typically show excerpts of content and images (if any), as shown above.

RSS feeds are a really simple way to syndicate the content on your website. With the explosion of RSS readers, which constantly check a user’s favorite websites for new content, RSS feeds have become essential. It does not matter whether you update your website daily or monthly, your readers will be sure never to miss an update. Millions of websites publish RSS feeds on a regular basis, and yours should not be an exception. With people’s attention spans shrinking along with their free time, letting users choose the content they want to read through an RSS feed is helpful.

Newsletter Management24
A newsletter can be a great way to reach out to users who are interested in your content, especially if yours is designed as well as TV Guide Daily Scoop’s.

Newsletters/mailing lists are an extremely helpful feature, especially if you have a lot of users or want to expand your base. Many mainstream users still do not use an RSS reader, and some of them may prefer to receive your content in their inbox rather than by visiting your website every few days. You can integrate newsletters into your system and set the feature’s functionality. Usually, you will be able to manage subscriptions, create a template, compose the newsletter in a WYSIWYG editor, manage your archive and track open/click results.

Video Management Integration25
Google Analytics shows detailed information on your website’s visitors, at no charge.

Statistics/tracking is an essential feature for any website. To effectively run and market a website, you need to know as much as possible about your visitors. Analyzing whatever data is available prepares you to achieve company goals, focuses your marketing initiatives and converts visitors into regular users. You will have information on how many people visit your website, where they live, what content they view and much more. Google Analytics26 is one of the most widely adopted analytics programs that are available for CMS’. Its popularity is partly due to the immense amount of information it provides about your visitors for free.

Where Can I Find A Content Management System?

You know the size of your organization and how much you can spend on a CMS. These factors are good indicators of where to start your search. Actually finding one can be a daunting task, but if you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, you can quickly weed out the options that don’t fit your needs. Finding a solution that helps your business achieve its goals is important. Many businesses, large and small, use all kinds of different CMS’ to manage their content. Start your journey by using the resources listed below.

Further Resources

Check out the following related articles and resources:

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/03/05/10-things-to-consider-when-choosing-the-perfect-cms/
  2. 2 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/02/10/10-harsh-truths-about-corporate-websites/
  3. 3 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/category/toolbox/
  4. 4 http://www.taylordigital.com/Services
  5. 5 http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&hs=0uE&ei=h9RxSpaTB4SQsgPu26HlCA&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=taylor+digital+web+design&spell=1
  6. 6 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/10/30/color-paper-a-free-wordpress-theme/
  7. 7 http://wordpress.com/
  8. 8 http://expressionengine.com/
  9. 9 http://www.taylordigital.com
  10. 10 http://www.facebook.com/pages/Envee-Apparel-Fans/46733856618?ref=ts
  11. 11 http://websites.usandv.com/who-is-using-drupal
  12. 12 http://blog.enveeapparel.com/
  13. 13 http://www.gomediazine.com/
  14. 14 http://www.gomediazine.com/
  15. 15 http://electrorack.com/
  16. 16 http://electrorack.com/
  17. 17 http://www.designbyhumans.com/forums
  18. 18 http://www.designbyhumans.com
  19. 19 http://thememorymuseum.com/
  20. 20 http://thememorymuseum.com/
  21. 21 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/video/player
  22. 22 http://www.apple.com/choose-your-country/
  23. 23 http://feeds.feedburner.com/thedesigncubicle/ioNz?format=xml
  24. 24 http://www.tvguide.com/FAP/Newsletter.aspx
  25. 25 https://www.google.com/analytics/
  26. 26 http://www.google.com/analytics/features.html
  27. 27 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/06/29/45-incredibly-useful-web-design-checklists-and-questionnaires/
  28. 28 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/07/15-essential-checks-before-launching-your-website/
  29. 29 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/08/10/10-designers-checkpoints-to-be-aware-of/
  30. 30 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Content_Management_Systems
  31. 31 http://www.cmsmatrix.org/
  32. 32 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/tag/joomla/
  33. 33 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/tag/wordpress/
  34. 34 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/10/29/expressionengine-developers-toolbox/
  35. 35 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/09/24/drupal-developers-toolbox/
  36. 36 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/05/16/how-to-improve-your-branding-with-your-content/

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Robert Hartland is a professional designer and photographer with over seven years of experience. He has worked on projects for top brands that include corporate identities, custom catalogs, trade show graphics, image manipulation, animation and website creation/management. He constantly pulls different elements he has learned, to use them to perfect a project, and accepts freelance work through his portfolio website Aether Design.

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  1. 1

    If individuals are wanting to work for LARGE organizations that have massive Web sites they might want to try get a hold of SiteCore and TeamSite. These are large CMS systems that are not free nor do they have free plug-ins from the Open source communities. However, they are used and worth learning more about if people want to work and get steady ‘non-freelance’ type of employment.

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  2. 52

    I currently work for a small organization with a pretty sprawling web site. We are fed up with our current cms (BrowserCMS) and would like to change that and go with Drupal or Joomla. One question that I have is if there are any suggestions for getting existing content migrated to a new cms? I’m just starting my research on this process so please excuse my naivety, but are there any companies that specialize in this sort of thing?

    We are also doing a total redesign of the site so we don’t need the existing content and cms to fit into our current template.

    Any help, ideas or direction on this would be hugely appreciated!!

    Thanks!

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  3. 103

    Nice Article! It was a great read, it is hard to be “all inclusive” when talking about a CMS because there are so many companies with many different features. It was great to see that this article covered the basics and then some without being too long and drawn out.

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  4. 154

    Hi, I believe WordPress is the best content management system around. I think it really is much better than a website per say. It is much more automated and easier for the average Joe to use and will store tons of articles and content in a very organized manner. The hard part is getting your content read by anyone. For bloggers that are trying to get their content read Twittley is a great forum and you install a wordpress plugin called a Twittley button. It actually changes colors in a shuffle mode which attracts users to click on the button next to your article which retweets it to other Twitter users. Here is a great article about it. http://techpatio.com/2009/social-media/twitter/twittley-shuffle-button-colors-digg-style

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  5. 205

    Good post. Out of trillions of CMS out on the market, WORDPRESS has been my fav for last 3-4 years. Tried couple of others but let me down.

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  6. 256

    Word Press IS a content management system that is designed to run blogs. Every content management system has strengths and weaknesses. Word Press is by far not one of the most powerful cms out there (unless you are talking about blogs). It is regid and you have to conform to it or have to hack it. It is one of the most commonly used CMSs but not one of the best unless you are running a blog. There is Magento, Drupal, Word Press, Joomla, and Modx. All of those have strengths and drawbacks. Modx in my opinion is one of the best though. It is the most flexible design wise and developer friendly since you do not have to hack the core. It also has a large developer community that write snippets for it.

    I think that everyone should learn how to use multiple CMSs and learn which one is stronger for what project.

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  7. 307

    Anyone who thinks a CMS will make their life easier and it is a silver bullet is seriously mistaken. I’ve had more issues with the CMS installed than without – mostly because everyone thinks they are a l337 haxx0r dude now. The only way it’s made life easier is that people put their own content on – but they throw screaming fits when the system won’t do what they want it to do. We use Centric Minds Ephox, and it’s a pretty good local system (Australia). I wish they would understand that for the ease of adding in their own content with the CMS comes a trade-off of it not being as flexible as hand-coding (not without paying the developers to do the changes for them).

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  8. 358

    Hey, my comment has gone? Why?

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  9. 409

    Karl Francisco Fernandes

    November 10, 2009 12:00 am

    I’m really surprised nobody has given Textpattern due praise. I’ve been using it for about 6 months now, and it is perfectly suited for small sites and blogs. I would agree that WP is very popular and can be used to do anything, but it’s also well known that WP’s main purpose is blogging. And you can’t but help falling in love with Textpattern’s simplicity and flexibility.

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  10. 460

    I have used Mura (formerly Sava), which is a very good CMS that works on Coldfusion. It is the CMS the Apple uses on their website, and it’s free (though Coldfusion is not).

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  11. 511

    like many here, i also think that wordpress is the best cms for small sites and beginners.
    i have a friend who used drupal for long time, but when he explored wordpress he decided to use it in his next projects…

    nice article!

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  12. 562

    Good Info, thanks for that….
    If anybody need wordpress or Joomla integration as a CMS, http://www.psdtoany.com is the best place for that…

    0
  13. 613

    Podveg Razvedcheka

    November 10, 2009 1:22 am

    I like http://www.amirocms.com. Did anyone hear about it? It’s very easy to learn and manage.

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  14. 664

    How has no body mentioned Umbraco? It’s .NET based, but Easily the best CMS tool I have ever seen. Its not “template-based” in that you can download new look-and-feels, but it also has no restrictions whatsoever on how you construct your pages. No predefined header/footer/content blocks. And every user I’ve trained on it, in terms of using the CMS to manage their site, has been Thrilled.

    It boggles me that for everyone here, not one post about it. Oh, it’s open source as well :)

    James.

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  15. 715

    Commenting on the MetaData side of things, while, no, it doesn’t really help in terms of getting on the first page of a search result it can be used to help you organize what gets viewed when results do appear.

    Still, content and relevance is the force that drives any page. So i wouldn’t say that it is key, or even necessary, but it is thorough to include appropriate MetaData.

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  16. 766

    May I add another category of CMS types?

    The so called “Desktop CMS”.

    Being biased by working for a vendor of Desktop CMS, I still want to recommend some like “Zeta Producer” (ours) or “CityDesk” or “Weblica”.

    The idea is to have a local Windows application running on your desktop (and/or in your LAN) and then publishing the pages to an arbitrary web server by e.g. an integrated FTP client.

    The benefits of such a system is that it works with virtual any web server and that even beginners can work with it since it requires no server setup.

    In addition they are usually free/rather cheap.

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  17. 817

    Wars have been fought over what is the “best” CMS and, like the OS wars, cell phone wars or browser wars, there are never any winners. “Best” is only “best” for a specific circumstance, the bottom line is that no CMS is the “best” for everyone in every situation. And, unfortunately, rarely is the “best” CMS ever the “perfect” CMS for anyone.

    0
  18. 868

    What are your guys thoughts on flat file CMS? I know they’re good for really small sites, which clients want to update. are there any good ones out there you have used?

    0
  19. 919

    Great Article, my choice by far has to be SilverStripe, in my opinion one of the more flexible template engines for a CMS and from an end user perspective one of the easiest, to manage and use administration panels. When we move customers from a WordPress, Drupal or Joomla installation the actual content author cannot believe how easy it is to use. From a developer perspective the sapphire framework makes extending the SilverStripe CMS very easy and can really cut done coding and debugging, and even has the power of unit testing.
    As long as you scope out your project correctly from the beginning you can create a very useful tool for yourself or client. Check more information about SilverStripe as a CMS for you http://www.SilverStripe.org

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  20. 970

    Not everyone has to build a huge website with a hardcore CMS. WordPress, till now, served me pretty well. You can eventually use it as your development tool, and serve to clients just a website, managing its backend yourself. No need to give to the client a power that he would not require or wish.

    Although, for some imminent project I’m going to approach seriously other platforms like Joomla or even better Drupal. Or Magento for ecommerce.

    But, anyway, thank you all for articles and discussion :)

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  21. 1021

    I’m missing one CMS reading the thread – I used DNN for more than 2 years and then (due to unstability) I switched my sites to Kentico CMS (it’s free edtion). It’s much more intuitive and easy to use for my clients, while still fully customizable for me as a web developer.

    0
    • 1072

      I have used Kentico CMS for the last couple of years. It is the ASP.Net equivalent to the PHP-based Modx. Both are great!

      0
  22. 1123

    Although Modx is technically not a cms, but a cmf (content management framework), I will choose that any day over the popular WP (unless the purpose is just for a blog) because of its flexibility, user-friendliness, and strong support community.

    0
  23. 1174

    We have about 60 sites running on Refinery CMS, http://www.refinerycms.com. Truly simple UI, Rails-based, easy to set up (if you’re a Rails developer).

    0
  24. 1225

    If you are not just interested in the open source market, many commercial products beat the open source vendors mentioned hands down, in terms of features, scalability and Usability.

    This is probably because in the Commercial market you have to build features, and ease of use to win projects, against many competitors.

    You should try a CMS like Contensis: http://www.contentmanagement.co.uk.

    0
  25. 1276

    This is an amazing post. I love how you go in depth explaining a CMS like you did. It will help me communicate to my clients the importance of a CMS, and whether he/she would need one or not. Thank you!

    0
  26. 1327

    This is great– whenever we are choosing a CMS we construct a matrix:
    springbox.com/insight/post/CM-What.aspx

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  27. 1378

    Really great article. Thanks!

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  28. 1429

    Nicely done on the little tutorial for creating an effective CMS. If anyone needs an SEO tool to help rank their websites, I advise checking out eg.lj.atr.im

    0
  29. 1480

    Umbraco is an excellent CMS. Currently in development with a themes / skins site for umbraco websites.. fed up of all the wordpress 1s.

    http://www.umbracothemes.com/

    0
  30. 1531

    Great observations about having a strong web content manager. I’ve found that the remaining “web team” and the company commitment all play a huge role in success as well. If the company isn’t committed, then the site (and CMS) won’t perform well either. Hopefully, the WCM can get more people to support business efforts online and garner the full support a site needs.

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