A content management system, more often referred to as a CMS, is a type of software that enables users to create and manage content on a website without knowing how to write code. Content teams use CMSs to draft, publish, edit and manage their content, all via one user-friendly interface. And because everything is stored in one place, using a CMS makes it easy for teams to collaborate on content creation—even if they’re working from different locations.
As well as helping users create web content, CMSs also help users build their actual website. They offer a holistic platform for creating web pages and storing images and other media, and some even give their users an indication as to how well their page is expected to perform in search engine results. All this means that, while the CMS takes care of the infrastructure, your team can focus on creating engaging, meaningful content your audience will love to read, and which your business can generate leads from.
At the time of writing, there are 1.8 billion websites on the internet. And 65.5% of all those websites are built with an out-of-the-box CMS. Of course, no single CMS can offer every single company all the features that they need on their website, so there are a lot of platforms on the market, each catering to a slightly different use case.
But before you start comparing solutions, it’s important that you know what to look out for when it comes to choosing a CMS. In this article, we’ll explore the top features to look for in a web content management system—no matter whether you’re setting up your first website for the lockdown hobby that just keeps growing, or looking for a better way to host thousands of articles for a global newsroom.
Intuitive Administrative Dashboard
When you log into your CMS, the first thing you’ll see is the administrative dashboard. Because it’s at the heart of everything you’ll use the CMS for, it’s important that this dashboard is user-friendly and easy to navigate. From here, you’ll be able to manage all the tasks involved with producing content, including scheduling, uploading and publishing content, tracking user activity, reviewing article performance, and installing templates and plugins.
The strongest CMSs enable you to create and edit content publishing and approval workflows that match the infrastructure of your content team. These workflows make it easier for teams to track the status of each article, from the first draft, through the editing process, right up to publication and promotion. This is particularly useful for organizations with a team of multiple content writers and editors working on their content, and those that focus a lot of their marketing efforts around content. The dashboard will appear slightly different to each user who logs into it, depending on their role—this is a security feature, so we’ll discuss that in more detail later. But some CMSs allow you to personalize the dashboard with your company colors and logo, providing each user with a consistent visual experience, even if the functionality differs a bit. While this isn’t a necessary feature, it can help foster a culture of teamwork and belonging, which may be desirable for remote teams.
User-Friendly Content Editor
The content your team creates is one of the core ways in which your audience interacts with your brand. And to produce that content, your team needs a reliable, intuitive content editor.
The content editor of a CMS is basically a word processing tool that content teams can access via their main dashboard. Once a new piece of content is created in the editor, the CMS should integrate it into your admin-defined workflow to be approved, scheduled and published.
Writers can draft content directly in the editor, from snappy news features to long form informative pages, and they should be able to enhance that content with custom layouts (such as using tables or pull quotes) and embedded media, including CTAs, forms, images, videos, audio clips, and even Tweets. The best web CMSs offer an in-built media library, where your team can store any components that they may wish to re-use in future articles.
It’s also really important that whoever is responsible for publishing an article can preview it before it’s uploaded, to check that everything appears as it should on the front end (i.e. that there aren’t any rogue HTML elements displaying incorrectly, and that the images are properly sized). You should also be able to update live content, and unpublish articles that you don’t want to appear on the site anymore without deleting them, such as seasonal promotions or archived news. And when you publish or unpublish content via the editor, it should automatically update any links across your website, so that your audience can find information quickly and easily.
Multilingual Content Creation
If you’re serving an international audience, or expect to at some point in the future, you should choose a CMS that supports multi-language, multi-channel content creation and delivery. This will enable your marketing team to interact with multiple audiences across the globe, running localized campaigns on the best channels suited for each audience (as indicated by your integrated analytics tools). You may also want to check that your chosen CMS offers information governance controls in line with each location that your audience are reaching you from. This will help you comply with local digital privacy laws, which differ from country to country.
Built-In SEO And Analytics Tools
Search engine optimization, or “SEO”, is the process of improving your content to boost its visibility in search engine results. The better your visibility, the more likely it is that people will be drawn to your website via organic searches.
The best CMSs come with built-in SEO tools that make it easier to optimize your content so it performs well in organic searches. These might include:
- An indication of how many times you’ve used your keyword throughout the content
- An analysis of the strength of your title and meta description
- Breadcrumb navigation and automatic link updating site-wide with SEO-friendly URLs
- Tips on how to further improve your content, such as suggesting adding images, alt tags, and internal and external links
- Warnings of duplicate content
As well as helping you optimize your content before you publish it, your chosen CMS should also integrate with third-party analytics tools—such as Google Analytics—so you can track how your audiences are engaging with your content once it’s live. This will enable you to track the performance of each piece of content from your main CMS dashboard, without having to remember multiple logins or sync data manually across different platforms. This information (where your audience is based, how they’re finding your content, what tech they’re using to interact with it, which pieces of content are most popular, etc.) can help you continuously improve your content strategy and create increasingly high-performing content. It can also help drive design changes across your website, based on how users are interacting with it.
CMSs exist to make the content creation process more effective and efficient. And a big part of that comes from using templates to structure your content. Templates simplify the publishing process by providing your team with out-of-the-box page and component layouts, so they don’t have to start from scratch each time they want to publish a page.
A template could be predefined for each type of content, such as a landing page or article page, or it could define the way a certain component looks on the page, such as:
- A “contents” or “jump to” section
- Automatic image resizing
- Prompts to add relevant tags and categorization
- A recommended products widget based on those tags
Each of these templates saves your content team time when uploading and formatting content, so that they can focus more on the quality of the content itself.
No CMS is going to offer every feature you need as part of the core platform, so you should look for one that offers lots of useful extensions or “plugin” integrations. These enable you to extend your CMSs functionality so you can customize your content to do just about anything you want it to. You need definitions to show when users hover over technical language? No problem. You want to pull in more granular SEO analytics from another platform? Sure thing! You want a lyric from Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” to appear in the corner of each of your admin pages? There’s a plugin for that, too! With over 50,000 free plugins available in its library, WordPress has one of the largest offerings of CMS extensions. Drupal also has an extensive offering of 44,000. However, many of those won’t be relevant to your business, so you need to make sure that you look specifically for the functionality you want your site to have—don’t just get drawn in by whichever vendor has the largest directory.
All organizations are at risk of a data breach, either caused by simple human error or as a result of a cyberattack. Data breaches can have not only devastating financial impacts, but also lead to a loss of reputation, and the exploitation of both your employees and your customers. To combat this, you need to make sure that you implement security at each layer of your business. That includes protecting your web content.
Protection Against Cyberattack
61% of all data breaches involve the use of lost or stolen credentials, usually via a phishing or password cracking attack. The best way to prevent data loss caused by credential theft is to make sure that an attacker can’t access your data, even if they do manage to get hold of an employee’s password. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a digital verification method that requires each member of your team to prove their identity in two or more ways before they’re granted access to an account. These methods of verification can include something they know (e.g., a password, PIN or secret answer), something they have (e.g. a hardware token or an authenticator app), or something they are (i.e. their biometric information, such as a fingerprint). So, look for a CMS that offers integrated MFA, and make sure to enforce the use of MFA across your team. That way, even if someone’s credentials are compromised, an attacker is unlikely to be able to access your content backend. After all, it’s much harder to scan someone’s iris without them noticing than it is to work out the name of their pet or their birthday!
Protection Against Human Error
But data loss or a breach isn’t always caused by a cybercriminal. Sometimes, it comes as the result of simple human error: a mis-click could cause a whole category of content to be deleted, for example.
To mitigate this, you should look for two further security features: version controlling and tiered user permissions, also known as “role-based access” (I told you we’d get to this bit!).
Version control tools are simple, but really effective. Essentially, they save a copy of each piece of content every time it’s worked on. That means, if someone accidentally deletes something, you can easily roll the content back to a previous version, restoring any lost data. Role-based access controls ensure that each team member can only access the content and features within the CMS that they need in order to do their job. When choosing a CMS, make sure first that your solution offers role-based access. Then, check that the roles are in line with your team’s needs. WordPress, for example, offers six different roles: Super Admin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor and Subscriber. Authors, for example, can create and publish their own posts, while editors can publish and manage anyone’s posts.
Whether your business is just starting out and you’re thinking about creating your first website, or your organization already has a website but you’re looking to improve your content publishing workflows, investing in a CMS can help your team to produce content more efficiently, effectively, and securely.
You should now have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for when comparing solutions, but there are still a lot of different platforms out there, and this can make the process of finding the right one for your business a little overwhelming.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a guide to the Top 10 Web Content Management Systems.
Your team is making great content. It’s time to find a great platform to help them deliver it.