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6 Types of Content Management Systems

October 7, 2021

What is a content management system? I once thought that a content management system was simply a tool for building and maintaining websites. Interestingly enough I was right, but I was also wrong.

I recently undertook a survey of 50+ content management systems and I discovered that there are many types of content management systems and no two are alike; although by grouping them into common categories it is possible to compare them to each other.

Content management systems often span multiple categories, but here are the 6 most common categories of content management systems on the market today:

Page Builders

Page builders are excellent tools for building simple sites with simple requirements. Make no mistake, though - just because the sites are simple does not also mean that they are unattractive or difficult to use.

Because page builders do not need extra functionality that more complex systems have they are able to focus their attention on creating beautiful and functional templates, management interfaces, and editing experiences. These are some of the most enjoyable systems to create websites in.

Examples

CushyCMS, Populr, Squarespace, Wix

Headless

At the opposite end of the spectrum from page builders are headless content management systems. These systems focus entirely on the content being served and typically have no native way to display the content on their own. These systems exist to be consumed as a resource by other systems and websites.

In particular, headless content management systems have fully mature APIs for pulling content from the headless CMS into other websites or systems. This makes them ideal as a central content repository for multi-site or enterprise-grade solutions. Most headless content management systems will also contain advanced content editing features such as mature content authoring workflows, advanced permissions systems, in-depth versioning solutions, etc.

Pros

  • Advanced content authoring solutions which allow you to focus on the content separately from the presentation
  • Easy to access content from these systems elsewhere
  • Advanced permissions and access models
  • Built to scale - both in terms of the quantity and the consumption of content

Cons

  • No frontend website - you have to build a separate website to display your content
  • Tend to be a little pricey

Examples

ContentStack, Kentico Kontent, Relatude CMS, webCOMMAND

Open Source

This is what many people think of first when they think of content management systems. Open source content management systems power the vast majority of websites, yet they compose the smallest number of content management systems on the market.

Many people consider open source to be the "affordable" option, although there is a strong case to be made that these end up being some of the most expense solutions both to implement and to maintain - the costs are simply hidden or delayed.

In addition to implementing websites in open source content management systems, you also have to host, secure, maintain, and support them - which altogether often ends up costing much more than a comparable proprietary system while also adding complexity to your solution.

Open source systems are typically driven heavily by third-party extensions and plugins, which enable a nearly limitless set of features but which also come at an undisclosed cost which you are not likely to discover until something stops working properly at some point in the future and you have to figure out what caused it, why, and how to fix it.

Pros

  • Readily available
  • "Cheap" or "free" - no licensing or monthly CMS fees
  • Nearly limitless functionality from third-party code

Cons

  • Hidden costs. These can be some of the most expensive solutions in the long term
  • Hosting - and all of the related speed, security, networking, and other optimizations - must be handled separately
  • Market dominance makes these sites a frequent target of hacks
  • Third-party code makes sites more difficult to implement and maintain

Examples

Concrete5, Drupal, Joomla, Umbraco CMS, Wordpress

Licensed

These proprietary systems are typically hosted either on your own infrastructure or in the cloud. You are responsible for the machines and networks required for the system to function - although many licensed content management systems offer to handle the infrastructure for you for an added fee.

Furthermore, licensed content management systems often require a developer to write code in order to make it work properly or to take advantage of all of the features. Some systems take more effort for a developer to learn and the quality of their documentation should be a significant factor for consideration.

Most of the cost for licensed content management systems is up-front with an additional cost-per-year for the use of their software.

Each licensed content management system has its own set of features, advantages, and disadvantages - so much so that they may become difficult to compare to one another. This is easily one of the most broad categories, although nearly all licensed content management systems are feature-rich and have an excellent performance record.

Pros

  • Diverse and rich features
  • Extensible with custom code
  • Excellent performance and scalability

Cons

  • Licensing is typically expensive compared to other options
  • Set-up and maintenance of infrastructure is separate
  • Typically requires a developer to implement all or part of the system
  • Require research to understand available options and how to implement them

Examples

Censhare, dotCMS, Redakt CMS, Craft CMS

Managed

Along with licensed content management systems, these proprietary content management systems have the greatest variety in terms of features and functionality. They are also deeply invested in helping their customers succeed and typically provide excellent support for their websites.

The primary difference between licensed and managed systems is that managed systems maintain all of the infrastructure for you. Because of this they are able to offer unparalleled performance and speed optimization. Additionally, they often handle all of the security and non-breaking software updates for you.

Some managed content management systems enable you to create websites without a dedicated developer, although most are still flexible and highly extensible (with or without code). Some also perform better than others, and some companies will support you and your site more effectively.

In essence, each managed content management system is unique and it is worth your time understanding both the system and the company behind it before choosing one.

Pros

  • Fully-managed infrastructure provides ease-of-mind
  • No third-party code and non-breaking updates provides security and confidence
  • Diverse and rich features support your business needs
  • Top-tier support, performance, and scalability do not disappoint
  • Often the most cost-effective options - though not necessarily the cheapest

Cons

  • No access to core code can make it difficult to add custom functionality if it does not already exist
  • Content may or may not be consumable by third-party sites and services (varies by CMS)
  • Many options to choose from can make it difficult to decide on the "perfect solution"

Examples

Cacomas, CoreDNA, Marketpath CMS

Enterprise

These systems are the one-stop-shop for all things digital. They offer multiple solutions - one of which is a content management system - which are integrated together to form a comprehensive suite. Sometimes they sell their solutions independently of each other and sometimes they bundle them together. Either way, these systems offer notably more functionality than their competitors - for a hefty price.

If all you want is a website (or any single component of these enterprise systems), you are likely to find a more cost-effective solution elsewhere. However, if you really do need each component it will be nearly impossible for you to craft a more effective solution.

Along with their enterprise-grade features and cost, these systems also typically offer enterprise-grade support. Their customer success teams will always be there for you, whether you need help with their CRM, their CMS, their authoring and publishing suite, their email automation suite, their advanced imaging suite, their drip campaign tools, their support portal controls, or one or their many other peripheral services.

Oh, and their blogs are pretty cool too (no really - they write some pretty cool content, even if you do not buy into their product).

Pros

  • Feature-dense
  • Top-tier support
  • World-class (and world-wide) scalability and performance
  • Cool blogs. Lots of great information there

Cons

  • Expensive
  • It is possible to become "trapped" by these systems - they can be difficult to leave, even in part.
  • Internal marketing and paywalls can sometimes be annoying ("You're already using our [feature]. Why not try [feature] too!")

Examples

Agility CMS, Hubspot CMS Hub, Umbraco Cloud

In Conclusion

There are many features that differ between content management systems, and even aside from the core features every option has its own benefits and drawbacks - such as pricing, support model, scalability, etc…. We like to think that Marketpath CMS is the best solution for many websites, but if you'd like to talk with a content management system expert about your unique needs, we'd love to talk with you - even if we're not the best fit!

More about Marketpath CMS

Marketpath CMS is a fully-managed content management system. It is well-rounded with a large feature set and the best support in the industry. While it is neither a page-builder or a headless CMS, it has elements of both which make it easy to build out custom websites and even to syndicate content to other systems if desired. Because we do not expose any core code or make it possible to write server-side code for Marketpath CMS, we can keep things running smoothly with fast backend code, automatic non-breaking updates, and top-tier security. And with our custom templating engine and package manager we are still a prime option for writing custom functionality! Give us a try - you'll be glad you did.

Related Tags: CMS Comparisons, Website Development, Development, Digital Marketing, CMS Features, Agencies, Marketing

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