CMS Demystified: Understanding Components, Types and Selection Criteria



Not until the early 2000s did the content managementsystem (CMS) become a key tool for creating and maintaining websites. The evolution of the CMS coincided with that of the web as a whole. In the early 1990s, the first websites emerged as static web pages built on simple HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and consisting mainly of text and links. As web browsers progressed in development, websites became increasingly visual, function-rich and interactive. However, the process of manually building, uploading and maintaining these more-complex websites was tedious and time-consuming. This led to the development of a new category of software, the CMS.

While exploring the rise of the CMS, it is important to identify the components and types of systems available and how to choose the CMS that best suits your needs.

The Early Days of CMS

The first CMS products — FileNet, StoryBuilder and Documentum — debuted in the mid- and late 1990s. These early systems, which facilitated the creation, management and storage of digital content, were closed source. As a result, only those who could afford the hefty licensing fees and had the technical expertise to manage them could access them.

The Rise of Open-Source CMS

The 2000s marked a significant shift, as open-source CMS platforms such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla emerged. Accessible to all, these free platforms democratized content management. This period also saw the evolution of specialized types of content management solutions like the web content management system (WCMS), which focuses specifically on managing website content such as product pages on ecommerce sites.

The Modern CMS Landscape

Today, the CMS remains at the core of digital platforms, even as it has expanded into more sophisticated systems like digital experience platforms (DXP). DXPs are designed to meet the complex online content needs of both users and enterprises, integrating various digital marketing and customer experience tools.

Components of a CMS

A CMS comprises two elements. The content management application (CMA) is the front-end component that creates and manages content through a user-friendly interface. Often utilizing a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor, CMAs enable even users without knowledge of HTML to design and edit content, streamlining repetitive aspects of content creation and editing through templates and automated processes.

The second element is the content delivery application (CDA), the back-end component that stores the CMA’s content in a repository and displays it on websites. The CDA ensures users can view content without altering the core components, therefore maintaining the integrity of the content repository.

Types of Content Management Systems

CMSs have evolved significantly and now encompass several categories:

Web Content Management System (WCMS or WCM)

Gartner defines web content management as the process of managing content across digital channels via specialized management solutions based on a core repository. A WCMS’s functionality includes content creation, organization, metadata management, library services, website management and integration with other platforms. In essence, a WCMS allows organizations to create, manage and deliver content across multiple digital channels. WCMSs can be classified as:

  • Open-source, which is free to install and use, though technical expertise is needed for installation, customization and maintenance. Popular examples include Drupal, WordPress and Joomla.
  • Commercial or proprietary,which requires payment of license fees, annual charges for support and upgrades and additional costs for customization. Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), Sitecore and Microsoft SharePoint are good examples.


Digital Asset Management(DAM)

DAM systems serve as a central repository for accessing, maintaining and delivering media files and graphical content across various channels, enhancing the customer experience.

Document Management System(DMS)

A DMS helps enterprises store, maintain and track electronic documents and scanned images, allowing multiple users to efficiently manage and update documents.

Enterprise Content Management(ECM)

ECM systems manage unstructured data such as emails and reports, ensuring the right documents reach the appropriate audience and deleting files after their retention period to free up storage.

Component Content Management System (CCMS)

A CCMS focuses on managing content at a granular level, storing and organizing reusable components such as words, paragraphs and images. This is ideal for media companies that need to publish content across various platforms.

How to Choose a Content Management System

Selecting the right CMS requires a clear understanding of your business needs and content management practices. Consider these key criteria for choosing
  1. Personalized customer experiences: A CMS should provide consistent customer interactions and personalized experiences across all channels.
  2. Ease of use: An intuitive user interface will allow even nontechnical users to manage content efficiently.
  3. Customization and integration: The chosen platform must be flexible for adding new features and integrate seamlessly with other enterprise applications (such as CRM)
  4.  Security: Robust security features, including site backup methods, software updates, security add-ons and SSL certificate provision, are essential to keep your site and data safe.
  5. Cost: Balance your organization’s needs with your budget. Proprietary CMS platforms offer various price points with different features. For an open-source CMS, consider the costs of implementation and ongoing support.

Understanding your specific needs and evaluating CMS features, costs, scalability and integration capabilities will guide you to the best choice.

When and Why Should You Choose Drupal?

An open-source and secure CMS, Drupal enables organizations to develop robust web applications to deliver a best-in-class online customer experience, a key business driver in today’s digital-first economy. Following are a few factors that make Drupal a CMS of choice.
  1. As a general-purpose CMS, Drupal gives you flexibility and freedom to develop a site to your specific requirements, rather than your having to adapt the site to a special-purpose CMS.
  2. With more than 48,000 modules and 3,000 themes in its theme repository, Drupal provides a high level of customization that enables you to create the site of your choice.
  3. Drupal offers secure handling of critical data and low vulnerability compared with other CMSs. It also benefits from a dedicated community of individuals who regularly perform bug fixes and security updates.
  4. As an open-source platform, Drupal is free from commercial license fees or restrictions. The only fees you might incur would be those of an implementation partner.

Whether you’re initiating a new project or contemplating a migration for your existing site, Material’s team of specialists excels in Drupal-based website development and maintenance. Consult with our experts to discuss your goals and requirements, and let us enhance your website with Drupal’s capabilities.