What Is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A content management system, or CMS for abbreviation, is software that enables non-technical individuals to easily generate, manage, and alter content for websites. CMS is a program that makes it possible to create a website without having to start from beginning with the coding (or even know how to code at all).

Instead of building your own system for creating web pages, storing images, and other functions, the content management system handles all that basic infrastructure stuff for you so that you can focus on more forward-facing parts of your website.

How Does a Content Management System Work?

A CMS provides a graphical user interface with tools to create, edit and publish web content without the need to write code from scratch. To give you an idea of how a content management system works, you may going to take a whirlwind tour of the WordPress interface (WordPress is a good example of a content management system). You may start with creating a piece of content. Without a content management system, you’d need to write a static HTML file and upload it to your server. With a content management system like WordPress, you can just write your content in an interface that looks a good bit like Microsoft Word.

Similarly, to upload and manage media, like images, you can just browse the media library instead of needing to actually interact with your web server directly. The content management system isn’t just a backend management interface, though. It also makes all of the content that you create show up for your visitors exactly like you want it to.

A Content Management System’s Components

Technically speaking, a content management system is composed of two essential components:

  • A content management application (CMA)- this is the part that allows you to actually add and manage content on your site (like you saw above).
  • A content delivery application (CDA) – this is the backend, behind-the-scenes process that takes the content you input in the CMA, stores it properly, and makes it visible to your visitors.


The two platforms work well together to make website maintenance simple.


What’s the difference between a CMS, ECM and WCMS?

A CMS, ECM and WCMS all manage content, but there are differences between them:

  • The CMS is the precursor to the ECM system. A CMS is a place to create, manage and store digital content, and works best with structured content — such as documents and database records.
  • An enterprise content management system manages both structured and unstructured content. It includes software, strategies and security to effectively manage content.
  • A web content management system is similar to an ECM system, but the differentiating factor is the WCMS is for web content — such as product pages on e-commerce websites. It contains a publishing tool and facilitates collaborative authoring.

CMS features

Among the numerous CMS solutions, features might differ, but fundamental features include:

  • Intuitive indexing, search and retrieval. These features index all data for easy access through search functions and enable users to search by attributes such as publication dates, keywords or author.
  • Format management. This helps turn scanned paper documents and legacy electronic documents into HTML or PDF documents.
  • Revision features. These features enable content to be updated and edited after initial publication. Revision control also tracks any changes individuals make to files.
  • Publishing. This functionality enables individuals to use a template or a set of templates that an organization approves — as well as wizards and other tools — for content creation and modification.


A CMS could also offer options for individualization or targeted advertising. One-to-one marketing refers to a website’s capacity to modify its advertising and content to a user’s particular attributes utilizing data a user supplies or a website collects. For instance, if a user searches for digital cameras on popular search engines like Google, firms that offer digital cameras may appear in advertising banners rather than businesses that sell gardening supplies.

Other popular CMS features include:

  • search engine optimization-friendly URLs;
  • integrated and online help, including discussion boards;
  • group-based permission systems and security;
  • full template support and customizable templates;
  • easy wizard-based install and versioning procedures;
  • admin panel with support for multiple languages;
  • minimal server requirements;
  • integrated file managers; and
  • integrated audit logs.

Benefits of using a CMS

There are a number of benefits to using a content management system, including:

  • Ease of use. Due to a graphical user interface, even those with limited technical knowledge can use the software.
  • Easy to search for information. A built-in search function enables users to enter what they are searching for and have a list of items returned to them — much like a Google search engine.
  • Easy to manage content. Not only is creating content easy, but so is removing content. A CMS makes it easy to unpublish content to keep websites up to date.
  • Accessible from anywhere. A CMS can be cloud-based or on premises, but users can access content from anywhere with a device that’s connected to the internet.
  • Allows multiple users. A CMS makes it easy to manage publishing permissions.
  • Instant content updates. A CMS enables users to manage and update content in real time — without needing to wait for a developer.
  • Easy to scale. A CMS makes it easy for businesses to add new web pages as their business grows without the need for a developer.
  • Easy to update. Development teams can roll out updates with just a few clicks.