A content management system (CMS) is a software application that allows users to create, publish and modify digital content without coding experience

What Is the Main Function of a CMS?

Teams and individual contributors can use a CMS to manage websites and website content with minimal technical expertise because a CMS provides a GUI (graphical user interface) with tools to create, edit and publish content online. That is all to say: With the help of a CMS, you don’t need to know how to code to manage your online content. 

Most content management systems are developed to be used for enterprise content management (ECM) or web content management (WCM). 

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How Do Content Management Systems Work? 

Content management systems work by owning a portion, or sometimes the entirety, of a website or application. The CMS can then control user access management, infrastructure and content presentation. 

So what does all of this mean in practice?


User Access Management 

Security is tricky. In many content management systems, you can control whether someone is a viewer, content creator, administrator or just a member (for a site with private content). You can also get more granular in your access management. For example, maybe someone is classified as a writer but they can’t publish or edit content. A content management system can help to simplify user access across your site.


Content Delivery 

Websites are complex. What started off with basic HTML (remember Angelfire?) can now be constructed with a myriad of languages and tools including CSS, JavaScript, Perl, PHP and more. All of these languages work together to create a website users can read and navigate. The page on which you’re reading this article is no different. A content management system ensures these systems work together when we create content so readers can access the information they need. 


Content Management

Consistency is tough. Without careful management, a website could start to look more like a toddler’s collage with every page displaying a different design and layout. Moreover, since we use different devices to access websites and applications (desktop, laptop, smartphone, car infotainment systems) a content management system helps sites maintain consistency by managing the presentation of your content regardless of how the user finds it. 

What is a CMS? — Content Management System. | Video: Hooman Mardox


What Can a CMS Do? 

A content management system makes online publishing and content management widely accessible. Provided a user has the correct permissions, they can publish content through the CMS. This means we don’t need a specialized webmaster to place content on an application or website — anyone can do it. 

Content can range from a text-based publication (like the one you’re reading now) to video, photos or audio content. In each case, we don’t need to hire a developer to code and publish our content for us. Instead, the creator can manage their own online portfolio. 

In addition to making the publication of web content widely accessible, content management systems have a number of other features.

Content Management System (CMS) Features

  • Template customization: Creating a different look for a website is much easier when handled by the CMS.
  • Content organization: Create hierarchies to organize content. 
  • Responsiveness: Ensure the website works as well on mobile as it does on desktop.
  • User access controls: Manage access based on a user’s credentials 
  • E-commerce management: Some content management systems are designed to be platforms that allow you to sell items online with ease.
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What Are the Benefits of Using a CMS? 

The benefits of using a content management system are consistency, simplicity and control. 


A CMS Offers Consistency

With a CMS, you can change the look and feel of your website all at once. Without a content management system, any desired change in your website’s aesthetics will involve someone going through pages one-by-one to ensure the content’s look and feel is consistent. The level of consistency offered by a CMS also means you don’t have to worry about how users are viewing your content. Whether it’s on a mobile device or a desktop monitor, the CMS can handle it. 


A CMS Offers Simplicity

Many content management systems use what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG, pronounced “wizzy-wig”) content entry systems. That means someone can type as if they’re using a word processor, which simplifies what the content creator has to process. 


A CMS Offers Control

The administrator protects the site by managing what types of content users can access across the website. Any modern CMS will also have security tools to protect from hackers. The CMS security system also helps the website stay up-to-date because the administrator can apply updates without using any code.


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Examples of Content Management Systems 


content management system (CMS) example — a Wordpress user interface
Wordpress content management system (CMS). | Image: Adam Thomas

The content management system that most will know is Wordpress. Wordpress powers almost half of the internet, and manages some of the largest websites in existence. Spotify, Vogue, The New York Times and CNN are among their most well-known customers



Content management system (CMS) image of the Squarespace CMS
Squarespace content management system (CMS). | Image: Adam Thomas

Squarespace is a content management system that focuses on e-commerce. Whereas Wordpress has a variety of applications, Squarespace focuses on those who run websites explicitly to sell goods online. It’s an all-in-one platform popular among small businesses and entrepreneurs. 



Content management system (CMS) Webflow CMS screenshot
Webflow content management system (CMS). | Image: Adam Thomas

Webflow is a no-code content management system, which expands the CMS content into website development. 

Here are a few other content management systems you may have heard about:

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