What Is a CMS? Exploring Content Management Systems

What Is A Cms

A CMS, or content management system, is software used to create, manage, and publish online content.

It provides a user-friendly interface for businesses to manage publishable content on a website without code. The interface supports publishing content like images, blog posts, and videos.

Content management systems play a strong role in website management. Popular CMS platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal power most websites and simplify website development, content creation, and online publishing.

Previously, website creation and management required knowledge of advanced interfaces and coding languages. Now, non-technical users can use a CMS to manage everything from user permissions to content approval — all through an intuitive, user-friendly interface.

Understanding CMS Basics

To fully understand how a CMS works, it helps to look at the history and evolution of CMS technologies. In this section, we’ll also discuss key components to look for in a CMS, the types of CMS software you can find, and standard features.

Key Components of a CMS

All content management systems provide many features for the management and publishing of online content. However, there are four key features that every CMS provides:

Content Repository

A content repository allows users to create, store, and manage content from one dashboard.

Content repository illustration

Content creation means having an editor to add content, edit/format text, and upload images.

A solid CMS also includes unique content types like landing pages, blog posts, and product pages.

Content storage and management go hand-in-hand since a CMS connects with a database to store all content.

This allows users to retrieve, edit, or delete content while also planning its life cycles — with scheduling, revisions, and publishing approvals.

User Management

A content management system provides strong user management to dictate which users can access certain areas of the platform.

User management illustration

This may mean blocking certain users from publishing posts, editing the website design, or installing plugins.

The user management module of a CMS usually includes features to assign user roles, create users, and set permissions.

This detailed control helps keep the platform safe and secure by stopping unauthorized changes and potential security problems.

User management also allows administrators to monitor user activity and often includes features for password management, two-factor authentication, and user activity logs.

Publishing Tools

Publishing tools tie into the content repository, except they offer advanced planning, scheduling, and publishing features. For instance, most content management systems let users schedule into the future. You may even find options to backdate a post or change it to a more recent date for SEO purposes.

Publishing tools illustration

With help from built-in features and plugins, content management systems assist with publishing to other platforms, too.

For example, users can publish product pages to Etsy from WordPress (with a plugin) or how you can send posts to social networking sites like Facebook and Pinterest (also with a plugin).

Most notably, however, publishing tools offer a CMS’s most basic yet crucial functionality: the option to click a Publish button to present the content online.

Analytics and Reporting

After publishing content, it helps users to see the results of their work.

Analytics & reporting illustration

Therefore, content management systems include reports and analytics to track everything from page views to conversion rates.

Basic analytics usually come built into the CMS, but you can install a plugin or app for more advanced data.

The point of these analytics is to track the performance of all published content, allowing creators to improve content, SEO tactics, and traffic.

Types of CMSes

There are three major types of CMSes: open-source, proprietary, and headless. Learning how each work helps you understand which might assist your business or organization in publishing content.


An open-source CMS, like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, is a free software for users to download and install on a server.

The source code, developed by multiple users across the globe, gets published for public use.

Open-source content management systems have many benefits, like regular updates and more people working on the project.

Small blogs and large enterprise websites can operate on open-source CMS software, but it usually requires a moderate level of technical expertise.


A proprietary CMS is a closed-source software developed and owned by one company that is sold to its users at a price.

The original developer protects and controls everything from the code to its distribution, so only company-hired employees have access to its development. Proprietary content management systems sell for a one-time fee or as a recurring subscription.

Popular examples of proprietary content management systems include Shopify, Adobe Experience Manager, and Squarespace. Users like proprietary solutions since they’re sometimes more user-friendly to implement.

For instance, a proprietary CMS doesn’t need third-party hosting, and it relies less on third-party plugins. Proprietary content management systems support businesses of all sizes, but rapidly growing ones may prefer the control of an open-source CMS.


The idea behind a headless CMS is to separate the backend and frontend interfaces so an organization receives the best possible solution for each.

A headless CMS also enables developers to display and publish content across multiple platforms since the backend CMS doesn’t restrict how the frontend gets developed.

Therefore, a headless CMS only powers a website’s backend, more specifically, its storage and content management. The frontend remains separate from the CMS, allowing developers to use any coding language and publish content to several platforms.

A great example of a headless CMS comes from Bigcommerce. In short, Bigcommerce recognized that its proprietary eCommerce platform lacked the content management capabilities already established by WordPress.

Therefore, it offers a headless integration where WordPress powers the content management of a blog that integrates with the eCommerce platform from Bigcommerce.

Common Features and Functionalities

We’ve covered the key components of a CMS — content repositories, user management, publishing tools, and analytics — but what about all the other common features and functionalities?

In this section, you’ll learn the features to expect when using a CMS.

  • Capabilities for eCommerce: Tools for selling products, managing an online store, accepting transactions, and handling shipping and taxes.
  • Web design templates: Prebuilt themes and templates for a professional design within seconds and without code. These templates often cater to specific industries, like restaurants or lawyers.
  • Mobile optimization: Content dynamically adjusts to appear properly on all devices like laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Plugins, add-ons, and integrations: Third-party extensions for adding functionality to a CMS. Some content management systems have plugin stores; you can also buy directly from third-party developers.
  • Search engine optimization: SEO-enabled designs and built-in features for automatically and manually adding crucial SEO elements like metadata and custom URLs. Some CMS options have tools for on-page SEO and analysis.
  • Visual design tools: Frontend website builders to minimize coding. These design tools often come as WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop, or block editors.
  • Search functionality and menus: Search bars and menu elements on the frontend and backend allow both users and admins to navigate the interface and locate content.

Along with the core functions for content creation, publishing, user management, and data analysis, you should seek features to improve the user experience and make the most of your CMS.

Exploring Popular CMS Platforms

Although proprietary, subscription-based CMS platforms have caused a shift in the industry, open-source options still hold the most market share. That’s likely since options like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla provide the most flexibility and control for developers.

We’ll explore the top CMS platforms below to guide you in your search.

Pie chart displaying CMS market share
When it comes to content management systems, WordPress comes out on top.

WordPress remains the most popular CMS, while Joomla and Drupal also serve as wonderful solutions in the CMS space. Learn more about them below.


WordPress, the world’s most popular CMS, caters to beginners and advanced users alike. Not only can you develop a website within minutes using a theme, but the platform offers immediate access to site files for custom coding. It’s also known for its thousands of plugins.

Overview and History

Launched in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, WordPress started as a simple blogging system. Due to its open-source development process and user-friendly interface, the platform quickly evolved into a full-fledged CMS.

WordPress logo

Built using MySQL (for its database) and PHP (the scripting language), WordPress is known for speeding up web development and online publishing.

Over the years, WordPress has released dozens of versions, ranging from its introduction of plugin integrations in 2004 to its controversial overhaul of its classic editor to what’s now called the block editor (Gutenberg).

WordPress has grown into the most popular content management system, with more than 43% of all websites using the platform.

Features and Benefits

WordPress’s standard features lay the foundation for the benefits that appeal to so many users. For example, WordPress offers a sleek dashboard for easily creating, editing, and managing content.

It also has a visual block editor, customizable blocks, support for themes and plugins, and options for developers to access website files.

The core WordPress features provide several benefits:

  • Impressive customization: WordPress offers free and paid themes for designing a website within minutes. It also provides block and code editors for remarkable levels of customization.
  • Affordability: WordPress is free to download as an open-source CMS. Although not entirely free — due to third-party hosting, plugins, and premium themes — the free software allows users to control their web design budgets.
  • Scalability: WordPress supports website growth without downtime. You can find a scalable host that supports growth (instead of getting stuck with a built-in hosting provider). In addition, WordPress supports plugins and unlimited users.
  • Regular updates and online support: With about three main releases each year, you can expect security patches, new features, and interface updates. On top of that, WordPress has a huge online community.
  • Extensibility: Thousands of third-party WordPress plugins allow you to add new features to your website. You might incorporate a social media integration, email marketing tool, or a complete website builder like Elementor or Beaver Builder.
  • Easy publishing and distribution: The roots of WordPress have always revolved around online publishing. WordPress makes that simple with its visual editor, quick publish buttons, and ability to plan content.

There are numerous benefits of using WordPress beyond what’s listed above. One of the most notable benefits, extensibility, involves working with plugins and themes, which we’ll talk about further in the next section.

Extensibility with Plugins and Themes

One of WordPress’s main advantages is its extensibility via plugins and themes. A plugin acts as an extension of the core WordPress product. So, if WordPress lacks a feature you need, you can turn to the WordPress Plugin Library to add the desired feature.

As small pieces of software, WordPress plugins come from third-party developers for site owners to install. You can search for plugins via the WordPress dashboard or purchase directly from a developer’s website.

Marketplaces like CodeCanyon also offer premium plugins. The features you receive depend on which plugin you install. For instance, WooCommerce adds eCommerce functionality, while Akismet filters spam.

WordPress themes serve as design helpers. You install a WordPress theme to activate a specific frontend appearance without coding. Themes also offer customization settings for typography, global colors, logos, and layouts.

You can install a theme on the WordPress dashboard or purchase a premium theme from a third-party developer or marketplace like ThemeForest.

Pro tip: WordPress themes vary in design. Some function as multi-purpose themes for developers to make hundreds of clients. Other themes cater to very specific industries, like restaurants, eCommerce, or real estate.

Use Cases and Examples

As the most popular CMS around, you won’t have to search long to find notable websites using the platform. Here are some examples of real WordPress sites:

  • Rolling Stone: Rolling Stone’s WordPress usage comes in handy for its paywall, robust search functionality, and clean frontend interface.
  • NASA: The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration runs on an enterprise-level WordPress build with intuitive navigation, massive content archives, and multiple media styles.
  • Harvard University: Harvard uses a WordPress multisite setup to connect sites for several departments, and it offers a contemporary design with intuitive navigation.

Each real-world instance shows how WordPress is a powerful solution, especially for organizations that need to scale up and support an extraordinary amount of content.


With a little more than 1% of the market share, Joomla may seem far behind WordPress. But it really just serves a different, smaller market. Massive enterprise websites use Joomla to support online bookings, news distribution, and the organization of educational content.

Known for its intuitive interface — particularly for enterprise organizations — Joomla offers a suitable alternative to WordPress for simplifying complex websites.

Introduction and Background

Joomla, initially released in 2005, came about as a fork of the Mambo CMS.

Joomla! logo

The open-source software gained popularity thanks to its model-view-controller framework, which separates the framework from the CMS.

This provides developers with a more versatile system, especially for integrating with other software.

Although Joomla has a reputation for an intuitive interface, it primarily caters to enterprise-level websites thanks to its robust feature set and flexibility. You can run a simple blog on Joomla or operate a global eCommerce platform.

Core Features and Extensions

Joomla’s core features make it an excellent choice for scaling a website. You can also install Joomla extensions from the JED (Joomla Extensions Directory).

Explore the core features and notable extensions for Joomla below:

  • Content creation, management, and publication: Joomla has a comprehensive set of tools to generate multiple types of content, from articles to media files. It also provides features for editing and organizing content.
  • Multilingual support: Joomla does not require extra plugins to create multilingual sites. It’s all built into the core.
  • Access control list: Also referred to as the Joomla ACL, the access control list offers powerful, granular controls for user permissions.
  • Menu creation: Perhaps more powerful than the WordPress menu creation tools, Joomla offers support for complex navigation menus.
  • Extensions: Thousands of extensions exist for Joomla. Some categories include eCommerce, social media, and SEO.

Joomla’s core features and its potential with extensions present a scalable and flexible CMS for all websites. Although it has a reputation for supporting enterprise websites, it’s also suitable for small blogs and mid-sized business websites.

Customization Options

Joomla boasts an impressive collection of customization settings. To begin with, Joomla has extensions that allow you to add features to your site with the click of a button. As for the core customization options, Joomla supports prebuilt, third-party themes, including customization options for colors, typography, and layouts.

The access control list lets you customize which users can access certain parts of your site, while the multilingual support makes Joomla useful for multinational corporations.

Finally, the Joomla core has a block editor for customizing your homepage, blog posts, and other areas.

Case Studies

The prevalence of Joomla in the enterprise world becomes clear when looking at active Joomla sites. It functions as the foundation for countless government websites, large educational institutions, and multi-billion dollar eCommerce stores. Here are some examples:

  • Orvis: The entire eCommerce operation from Orvis uses a combination of Joomla and WordPress to establish a headless online presence for its store, blog, and support resources.
  • New York State Government: Using Joomla and a few other content management systems, the state of New York fields millions of website visitors each day. The site features Joomla core features and extensions for payment processing, navigation, and online forms.
  • Cambridge: Combined with other content management systems (including WordPress and Drupal), Joomla helps Cambridge with its beautiful designs, intuitive modules for online learning, and a navigational system for its content archives.

These websites all have similar needs: support for large collections of media and other content. This requires a robust menu system and integrations with other platforms for the most streamlined content delivery.


The Drupal CMS caters to large organizations, but it can support any website of any size. It’s known for its strong security and scalability, so many government, banking, and educational organizations use Drupal.

Overview of Drupal CMS

Drupal, an open-source and free CMS, came out in 2001 using the PHP framework.

Drupal logo

Built by a developer named Dries Buytaert, Drupal gained popularity thanks to its scalability, flexibility, and ability to support robust infrastructures.

It became a standout solution for large businesses and organizations with complex content needs.

Some notable features from Drupal include its powerful menu management, support for RSS feeds, and account registration management. Drupal relies on modules to add more features — similar to plugins in WordPress.

Businesses and organizations with elevated security requirements often turn to Drupal, too.

Flexibility and Scalability

Drupal’s flexibility comes from its modular structure; developers can extend and customize a website using modules.

A developer might add an eCommerce module or one that offers search engine optimization tools. This helps when adding web design tools to minimize coding.

Drupal’s scalability stems from its robust infrastructure. The Drupal system offers clean coding and many features to cope with spikes in traffic. As such, Drupal works wonders for high-traffic websites and those with large content libraries.

Community and Support

Although not as popular as WordPress, Drupal has a large, active community of developers, users, and online content creators. The developers contribute to updating Drupal regularly, while users chat on forums and provide free customer support through online discussion. The Drupal community also hosts many in-person events, like DrupalCon.

Notable Drupal-Powered Websites

Drupal has made a name for itself, supporting organizations with high security or content needs. From banks to travel websites, Drupal definitely has a knack for powering the most complex websites in the world.

  • Chase Bank: Alongside Adobe and several other CMS platforms, Joomla helps Chase manage its large content library while also protecting its sensitive data.
  • Tripadvisor: Here’s another website that uses Drupal, WordPress, and some other content management systems to form its infrastructure. Drupal assists with TripAdvisor’s comprehensive menu items and its content management.
  • NCAA: With Drupal as its main CMS, the NCAA website has an extensive archive of statistics, articles, and scores. Drupal helps users navigate all that content.

Global news organizations, colleges, and banks enjoy Drupal’s security and content support. Booking and eCommerce sites like Drupal for its payment processing security and management of large product collections.

Choosing the Right CMS for Your Needs

To choose the right CMS, you must establish your needs, the purpose of the website, and the features required to meet those needs. We’ll show you how to assess your requirements and compare different CMS platforms.

Assessing Your Requirements

The first step in choosing the right CMS involves assessing your requirements. A good starting point is the required size and complexity of the site.

Do you expect a few dozen visits per month or several thousand? Will your website have thousands of product pages or blog posts? Or will it display all content on one page?

Next up, consider the type of content you’ll manage. Some content management systems work better for eCommerce content, while others handle blog posts best.

Along with those assessments, look into the features desired to make your website fully operational. You may need SEO tools, social media integrations, and powerful user permissions.

Ideally, you locate a CMS with your desired tools built into the system. If not, you should have the option to install plugins or extensions. It’s also wise to consider customization options ranging from prebuilt themes to frontend block builders.

Pro tip: Always think about your budget when deciding on a CMS, too. The most popular solutions are free, but you may need to spend money on plugins, themes, and hosting.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a CMS

Various factors come into play when choosing a CMS. The most important depends on your requirements (as discussed above). All content management users should look into these three categories when evaluating a CMS: ease of use, scalability, and security.

Ease of use refers to the simplicity of the interface. This is crucial for organizations with users with limited technical skills.

The interface should make things easy, allowing beginners to complete simple tasks like writing blog posts while helping advanced users access and modify code.

Scalability is also an important factor. If your business plans to grow, how will the CMS support that growth?

Security should also play a significant role in your choice. Reputable content management systems must have security measures to prevent harm from cyberattacks. It’s also essential to have plugins and extensions that add to the core security features.

Comparing Different CMS Platforms

The top CMS platforms have similarities and stark differences. View this comparison table to understand how the best content management systems stack up. We’ll highlight everything from customization tools to extensibility.

Experience level required (ease of use)Beginner to intermediate; easiest CMS to useBeginner to intermediate; straightforward enough for non-developersIntermediate; complex content management and customization
Customization Tools and Themes12,000+ themesNo official themes, but hundreds of third-party options2,500+ themes
Plugins, Modules, or Extensions59,000+ plugins and widgets5,500+ extensions40,000+ modules
Community and SupportMassive community with lots of beginner users, documentation, forums, blogs, and third-party supportLarge community with many beginner and intermediate users, documentation, forums, and third-party supportLarge community with more intermediate and advanced users, documentation, forums, and third-party support
Best ForAny size blog, beginners without design experience, mid-sized business sites, and the occasional enterprise websiteIntermediate users, enterprise-level websites, small and mid-sized blogs/business sites, and websites with large amounts of contentIntermediate users, extensive content collections, enterprise websites with moderate levels of customization, and high-security sites

As for your budget, you could spend $3 per month or $10,000 per month on hosting any of these platforms. It all depends on the size and traffic of your site.

We recommend that beginners opt for WordPress, but WordPress also works for intermediate and advanced users. Joomla makes sense for beginner and intermediate users handling large content libraries.

Drupal delivers the most complex interface, but its robust and secure infrastructure makes it a leading contender for high-security, content-heavy sites.

Setting Up and Managing a CMS

Configuring a CMS only takes a few clicks with the right host. You should receive a one-click installation button to put the CMS software on a server. After that, you’re ready to customize and manage the CMS, which we’ll walk you through below using WordPress.

Installation and Configuration Process

Before anything, find a hosting provider suitable for your website. To install a CMS (in this case, WordPress), log into the hosting provider’s dashboard. In the custom dashboard or cPanel, find the button to install WordPress.

This varies by the host; Kinsta has an Add Site button, while A2 Hosting (and most hosts using cPanel) provides a button called “WordPress Toolkit.”

Screenshot of WordPress Toolkit button
(Source: A2 Hosting)

After opening WordPress Toolkit, click the Install button.

Screenshot of Install button within WordPress Toolkit
(Source: A2 Hosting)

Walk through the WordPress installation process from your hosting provider. This usually ends with you creating a WordPress Site Title, WordPress Username, and Admin Password. Click the Continue or Create button to finish installing WordPress.

Screenshot of how to add a new WordPress site

Once the installation finishes, the hosting dashboard or cPanel presents all the WordPress login information you need: The backend login URL, the website URL, and your login credentials.

Click through to your backend login page (the one with wp-login.php at the end).

Screenshot of backend login page

On the login page, type in the admin username and password you just created. Click “Log In.”

Screenshot of WordPress login screen

That brings you to the WordPress dashboard.

Screenshot of WordPress dashboard

The WordPress dashboard is the main hub for managing content and designing your website. The following sections explain these functions.

Creating and Managing Content

To create content in WordPress, go to either the Posts or Pages options in the menu. For simplicity, we’ll stick with Posts in this tutorial.

Screenshot of WordPress dashboard

This section provides ways — filters, search bars, and customization buttons — to manage posts created previously. Click on any of those posts to edit what’s inside the post. To make something new, click “Add New Post.”

Screenshot of WordPress posts

This reveals the WordPress Block Editor. In the editor, you can add a post title and whatever content you desire. Type in text, or use the + buttons to insert content blocks for images, bullet points, blockquotes, and more.

Screenshot of blog in WordPress editor

Selecting any content block brings up additional settings made just for that block. For instance, selecting an image block shows settings for alt text, image dimensions, and resolution.

Screenshot of blog in WordPress editor with arrow pointing at 'Add image'

When you’re done creating the content, go to the Post tab and click “Publish.”

Screenshot of blog in WordPress editor with arrow pointing at 'Publish'

As an alternative, click the link next to the Publish heading to select a future date and time for publication.

Screenshot of blog in WordPress editor with arrow pointing at 'Immediately' with dropdown calendar

After publication, you receive a public URL for the post, allowing you (and others) to view it on the frontend.

User and Permission Management

To establish a global default user role, go to “Settings” > “General.”

Screenshot of WordPress Settings menu

Next to the Membership heading, check off if you’d like anyone to register on your site. Next to “New User Default Role,” pick which user type every new user receives.

In general, regular users should go under the Subscriber role. Everything else has some level of control over backend functionality. Learn more about WordPress user roles here.

Screenshot of adding user within WordPress dashboard

To change user roles and permissions for individual users, open the Users tab.

Screenshot of Users tab on WordPress menu

Either click “Add New User” or select a current user to change its user roles.

Screenshot of 'Add New User' within Users tab

Use the drop-down menu next to the Role section to reveal all the user roles in WordPress. Choose Subscriber, Contributor, Author, Editor, or Administrator.

Screenshot of selecting 'Role' within user list

When you’re done managing a user, click the Update User or Save User button.

Customizing the Design and Layout

Some themes have custom design portals. Most of them, however, work just fine in the built-in WordPress Customizer. To customize your theme, click “Appearance” > “Themes” in WordPress. Click “Customize” next to the desired theme.

Screenshot of WordPress themes

The WordPress Customizer shows a visual, editable preview of your website. On the left side, you’ll find a menu for customizing the Navigation, Style, Pages, Templates, and Patterns of your site.

Screenshot of customizing a WordPress theme

You can also click anywhere on the visual preview to edit content modules, like if you wanted to change text or upload an image.

Screenshot of customizing WordPress theme

WordPress has automated saving capabilities, but it’s always a good idea to click “Save” just to be sure.

Performance Optimization Techniques

The most effective way to improve performance for WordPress, or any CMS, is to get a reliable hosting provider. You’ll also find that some of the best performance optimization tools come from third-party optimization plugins.

We recommend choosing an all-in-one performance optimization plugin to minimize the use of plugins in WordPress.

Here are tips to optimize performance using the standard WordPress features (no plugins):

  • Use a CDN (content delivery network): A CDN (as opposed to a CMS) delivers media files to the end user through a network of computers, always opting for the server closest to the end user. This improves performance for that user. This isn’t technically a built-in WordPress feature but one you can get from a hosting provider.
  • Choose a lightweight WordPress theme: Many themes have unnecessary features, poorly written code, or bloated interfaces that hinder performance.
  • Optimize your images: Resize and reduce the file sizes of all images before uploading them to WordPress. This decreases page load speeds since images are often extremely large.
  • Update WordPress and your themes/plugins: Each WordPress release includes performance enhancements and bug fixes. The same goes for plugins and themes. Either manually update these items or opt for automatic updates.

You might also consider occasionally cleaning up your database, deleting old themes/posts/photos, and limiting the number of post revisions. All these get saved in your database, making for a potential slowdown with so many unused assets.

Extending Functionality with Plugins and Modules

One of the main benefits of any CMS — especially the open-source ones — is the ability to extend functionality with plugins and modules.

Overview of Add-Ons and Extensions

Virtually every reputable CMS has a collection of plugins, modules, or extensions to extend the core features of that CMS. Many plugins and extensions are free, while others require a one-time payment or subscription.

WordPress has plugins. Drupal has modules. Joomla has extensions. Keep in mind, however, that they aren’t interchangeable, so you can’t use a WordPress plugin in Joomla or a Drupal module in WordPress.

Dozens of categories exist for CMS plugins: eCommerce, social media, SEO, security, website building, and more. The installation process is simple, but the management of each plugin varies depending on its developer.

Installing and Managing Plugins/Modules

You have two ways to install a plugin on a CMS: by uploading its file to the dashboard or by using a built-in extension store for a one-click installation on the CMS.

Here’s an example of how to install a plugin through the WordPress dashboard:

In WordPress, go to “Plugins” > “Add New Plugin.”

Screenshot of 'Add New Plugin' button

The Upload Plugin button provides a way to upload a .zip file of a plugin downloaded elsewhere on the internet.

Screenshot of 'Upload Plugin' button within Plugins page

A more user-friendly way to install a plugin involves typing a keyword into the search bar. For instance, typing in “WooCommerce” shows the WooCommerce plugin.

Screenshot of searching 'WooCommerce' on Plugin page

To install the plugin, click “Install Now” next to that plugin. Afterward, click “Activate.”

Screenshot of 'Activate' WooCommerce button highlighted

Each plugin or module has a unique interface. WooCommerce, for instance, creates several new menu tabs, including WooCommerce and Products.

Screenshot of WooCommerce appearing on WordPress menu

Open every new tab available and walk through the settings required. Many plugins provide the desired features without much configuration.

Others demand advanced configuration. You can see that WooCommerce has several settings to make product pages, customize your store, get paid, and collect sales tax.

Screenshot of WooCommerce dashboard within WordPress

You typically have to get a feel for each plugin after you install it. Luckily, most plugin and module developers offer forums and documentation.

Best Practices for Plugin Selection and Management

There’s no perfect strategy for choosing plugins, modules, and extensions. However, it’s wise to follow basic rules to ensure you don’t burden your website with useless plugins or expose it to security issues.

  1. Limit the number of plugins/modules used: Too many plugins opens up the potential for increased security and performance issues. Before installing a plugin, ask if you really need it.
  2. Read user reviews: Go deeper than the average star rating when analyzing plugins and modules. Maybe the plugin works just fine but has an outdated interface. That’s something you can’t see by looking at ratings.
  3. Test plugins before installation: Putting a plugin on a staging site allows you to test how it interacts with themes and other plugins. It’s not uncommon to find that a poorly developed plugin slows performance or conflicts with another plugin.
  4. Update plugins and modules regularly: To minimize security issues, you must update your plugins. Updates provide security patches to keep your site safe.

Besides all that, think about your budget for plugins and modules. The low cost of an open-source CMS can easily become inflated if you sign up for too many plugins with monthly payments.

Optimizing SEO

Search optimization has many forms for CMS platforms. The best approach is to understand the basics of SEO and then learn how to leverage CMS features to improve your tactics in the future.

Leveraging CMS Features for SEO

Reputable CMS platforms offer controls for manually and automatically establishing relevant metadata and permalinks. These built-in CMS features help you optimize permalinks — making them short, relevant, and descriptive while also including the right keywords.

CMS platforms also provide metadata fields to fill in meta titles and descriptions. Those are the elements that search engines read and present as results. As a rule of thumb, create relevant metadata with a few useful keywords and descriptive information about the content of the page.

Integrating SEO Plugins and Tools

CMS platforms like Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla have various SEO plugins to improve upon the built-in search engine optimization tools.

The goal is to find one SEO plugin that provides SEO analysis, on-page SEO suggestions, keyword optimization, and tools for XML sitemap generation. For example, WordPress has plugins like Rank Math and Yoast SEO.

Monitoring and Improving SEO Performance

To get the most out of your SEO tools, it’s wise to monitor the results of your efforts regularly. Tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics help with analysis. The CMS itself offers useful data to determine the effectiveness of your SEO attempts.

Whether using the core analytics from your CMS, a third-party plugin, or a tool like Google Analytics, look at these metrics for improving your SEO performance: keyword rankings, bounce rates, organic traffic, and traffic sources.

Pro tip: For a more advanced SEO analysis approach, consider paid tools like Ahrefs or Semrush.

Security Considerations and Best Practices

WordPress, Joomla, Magento, and Drupal sites account for about 99% of all infected websites. But it doesn’t mean that these are less secure platforms — it simply means they’re the most popular, so most of the attacks get directed toward them.

Common Security Threats

The most common security threat is a brute force attack. That’s where a hacker attempts to guess your username and password using automated software. It’s also common to see SQL injection attacks, malware infections, phishing attacks, and cross-site scripting.

SQL injections target poorly coded forms, while malware infections and phishing attacks try to plant malicious code within your site through methods like spam comments.

Cross-site scripting uses a technique to inject malicious scripts on pages viewed by its users.

Securing Your CMS Installation

The first step in securing any CMS is regularly updating the core CMS software and adding extra elements like themes and plugins. These updates provide security patches, so it’s essential to install them.

Bar graph displaying infected websites platform distribution of 2022
WordPress is the most popular CMS for infections, accounting for 96.2% in 2022. (Source: Sucuri)

Other security tactics involve creating secure passwords and usernames.

The best plan is to use a password manager; this way, you don’t have to remember passwords and the tool generates strong passwords and usernames.

Along with that, two-factor authentication, firewall protection, and DDoS protection should be implemented.

Also, back up your site in case something should happen that crashes it. The final measure is to install an all-in-one security plugin or module with all these protection elements in a single suite.

Regular Updates and Patch Management

The updates for your CMS, themes, and plugins aren’t merely suggestions. Attackers know that outdated software makes for an easy target, so they seek websites with such vulnerabilities.

Applying consistent updates to your site closes security holes, and it all happens thanks to security patches sent out by the developers. One way to simplify the process is to activate automated updates.

Backup and Disaster Recovery Strategies

When an attack occurs, you’re left with a downed website, lost revenue, zero visitors, and a damaged brand image. That’s why backups are so important.

You want to minimize downtime, restore a recent version of your site before the attack, and get back up and running without risking sensitive data.

The ideal strategy for backups and disaster recovery includes automated backups. Use a plugin to run backups every day or week. Ensure the backups get saved in multiple places, and practice how to restore the backups.

Scaling Your Website

In this section, we explore how to handle increased traffic loads, use performance optimization techniques, and implement strategies to scale quickly — like with CDNs and load caching.

Handling Increased Traffic and Workload

To handle boosts in traffic and workload, start by opting for a hosting provider with scaling capabilities. Cloud hosting works best due to its network of servers, but a VPS handles traffic increases rather well, too.

You should also look into caching tools, CDNs, database optimization, and load balancing. We’ll discuss these options in detail below.

Performance Optimization Techniques

Performance optimization plays a significant role in speeding up page load times, improving the user experience, and helping scale up your website.

Some techniques to optimize any CMS include minification, database optimization, and image optimization. It’s also wise to look into server-side caching and a CDN.

Implementing Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

A content delivery network serves up content with a network of servers. It chooses the closest server to each end user to ensure the fastest delivery possible.

Graphic comparing speeds with and without a CDN
There are multiple CDN providers to choose from. WordPress, for example, offers several CDN plugins.

For CMS platforms like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, you have CDN options like Cloudflare, CacheFly, and Akamai to consider.

Load Balancing and Caching Strategies

Load balancing distributes site traffic across several servers, splitting resources between them and preventing one server from becoming overloaded.

Caching takes a snapshot of a recent version of your site content to deliver it faster every time a user visits your site. Both improve performance and page load speeds.

Luckily, popular CMS platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal have third-party plugins and extensions to activate both load balancing and caching strategies.

The future looks bright for the world of CMS platforms. Here’s what we expect to see in the coming months and years:

Headless CMS and Decoupled Architecture

Headless, decoupled CMS platforms separate the backend CMS from the frontend layer. For instance, one form of headless design combines WordPress for content management with BigCommerce for eCommerce management.

Some developers also like to use Joomla or Drupal on the backend with options like Vue.js or React on the frontend. We’re even seeing CMS solutions made specifically for headless architectures; examples include Contentful, Strapi, and Sanity.

AI and Machine Learning Integration

AI has already disrupted the online publishing space, and we should expect developers to include the option for AI content creation in content management systems.

WordPress and many of its plugins already offer AI-supported creation for product pages, SEO, and blog posts. Drupal continues to experiment with AI for decision-making processes and content strategies.

Enhanced Personalization and User Experience

The future looks promising for the CMS end user. Trends to look forward to include dynamic content delivery, engaging and personalized experiences, adaptive content, and personalized recommendations from eCommerce stores and news syndicates.

Sustainability and Green Web Practices

CMS developers and hosting companies continue to shift toward greener, more sustainable practices.

We expect this trend to gain traction with pushes for lower energy consumption, increased green hosting providers, and rules on energy-efficient coding practices.

Eco-friendly tech isn’t going away because it has environmental and financial benefits for companies.

If more customers demand sustainable practices, hosting companies and CMS developers will make the shift. Minimizing resource usage can actually decrease the cost of computing altogether.

Harnessing the Power of Content Management Systems

Content management systems have grown from fledgling blogging platforms to powerhouse website builders. You can create an enterprise eCommerce site with WordPress or run your blog from the same CMS.

Platforms like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla make it easy for anyone to sign up, especially since they’re all free. The main expenses include hosting, plugins, and themes, all of which pay for themselves with benefits like security, extensibility, and customization potential.

CMS platforms are easy to install, but they require a bit of technical knowledge to manage. Having said that, they power the vast majority of the internet, and for good reasons.

With the perfect CMS for your business, you can share your content with millions of potential readers and future-proof your business with open-source technology supported by invested community members and constant updates.