There’s never been a better time to start using a CMS. We’ll admit, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but they can make a huge difference to the way that you distribute content for your online business or brand, whether large or small.
With hundreds of content management systems to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start. The market certainly isn’t saturated, but we have reached a point where there are not only vastly different kinds of CMS but also very specific CMS options that are suited for particular sectors. A fun example being Bentobox, a CMS for restaurants!
You’ll be pleased to know that we’re going to use this article to explore different kinds of CMS rather than the thousands of very niche offerings. As much as we love bento. 🍱
Open-source CMS (WordPress)
There’s not a lot we can tell you about the basics of WordPress that you won’t already know. It’s an open-source database with a template-based CMS that can do a great many things, made all the more easier by a good developer or development team, and the tens of thousands of available plugins.
As a CMS, it’s fairly traditional. Content can be created as a post, page or custom element, and served just about anywhere within your site. Native tools make formatting content pretty straightforward, but you can take things up a notch with a custom builder, popular choices being Divi or Zion. Custom builders like these are an additional layer that integrates with WordPress, allowing you more creative control over your content, or to pull in more complex, bespoke templates than the basic ones that WordPress offers.
Version control is prominent and incredibly easy to manage, with a simple slider allowing you to revert back to previous versions of pages. This is a great feature if you find yourself down a wormhole of mistakes, unsure quite how you got there.
You could be forgiven for saying that WordPress is pretty basic off the shelf, but its true power is in its plugins. With almost 80,000 available, it’s safe to say that if you have an idea for your website (within reason), it’s possible with WordPress. Plugins cater for anything from e-commerce to email, two-factor authentication to testing. Of course, some plugins are better than others, but this is generally made clear from star reviews and feedback. Some plugins are now synonymous with the platform, such as Jetpack (security), Yoast (SEO) and WooCommerce (e-commerce).
WordPress’s ‘basic’ label is most likely salient from its early days as a blogging platform. But today, it’s behind some of the most popular websites on the internet, such as BBC America, The Next Web, Disney and even Sweden’s official site.
In fact, looking through the sites in this list, there are some clear similarities. They are consumer-driven brands where content plays a huge part in the makeup of the homepage. So in a strange way, this isn’t a million miles away from WordPress’s origins: a home page, individual posts, and various forms of categorisation to make particular pieces of content easy to find.
WordPress is a ‘monolithic’ end-to-end solution, with everything you need to create and present content, hosting all of this in a very simple architecture. But that’s not the only way to use a CMS…
Headless CMS (Contentful, Kentico)
Headless does away with the ‘one-stop’ approach of WordPress, honing in on just the content itself. It’s called headless because it does away with the ‘head’, which is commonly referred to as the ‘presentation layer’. This back-end only approach means that this style of CMS is more of a content repository than a full site solution.
That’s not to say there is no interface for adding and managing content. But this simple decoupling of the front-end and the back-end means that content editors can focus more clearly on creating content, storing it, and delivering it, often via a RESTful API. And they can also rest (ha) assured that wherever their content is being delivered, it’s going to be accessible, readable and shareable.
From a technical point of view, because the content creation side of the CMS is taken care of, developers are free to build the rest of the site with almost any technology that they like. Content can also be delivered to native mobile environments. A clear benefit here is that the same content is served to any instance of the site or product, whether a traditional in-browser experience or a smartphone app or perhaps even something else that can work with the API, like an Amazon Alexa. This ultra cross-platform support makes a headless CMS a popular choice.
Wider benefits of a headless CMS:
- It’s future proof, so no nasty migrations. If your entire digital product changes, your content can easily be pulled back in when you’re ready.
- It’s reliable. Being decoupled from the front-end, you can work on the back-end without affecting the day-to-day running of your site should it need maintenance.
- Less clutter. Because a headless CMS only really has one job, you won’t be overwhelmed by features and options.
A headless CMS is a wise option in 2021, so it’s no surprise that even WordPress now has an API-driven approach.
A SaaS CRM CMS (Hubspot)
Lots of letters there. Let’s break it down. Hubspot is a good example of a SaaS company whose original CRM product has diversified to offer CMS services. It’s not a million miles away from WordPress but is different in that the CMS side of Hubspot isn’t their primary offering.
Hubspot serves many businesses as their CRM solution. With that, they now offer additional layers of tools and services around content management, social media, sales, email marketing and customer service.
Hubspot’s CMS product is theme-based, with a number of off-the-shelf options satisfying smaller businesses or microsites. But with great development support, themes can be customised, or developers can create entirely bespoke sites using a mixture of traditional programming languages and Hubspot’s own HUBL markup.
Ultimately, a site created through Hubspot will be relatively simple compared with what’s possible with WordPress and of course the mega-bespoke wildlands of headless. But Hubspot’s strength is found in its ecosystem. By building a site in the same place as your CRM, email tools, ticketing system and forms, everything works together incredibly seamlessly. A solution like this makes marketing and sales teams very happy (I’m speaking from experience here) and makes integrations easy.
But, there is an additional feature that actually makes Hubspot a good contender against headless. Their HubDB enables editors to produce content and publish it in multiple places. Of course, this isn’t near as wide-reaching as headless but does add a level of reassurance when it comes to pushing content to more than one place without having to worry about staying on top of multiple instances.
Any downsides? In my view, it’s the cost. Of course, Hubspot is a product and that product has a price. Where it can get a little frustrating is their tier system, with many of the features locked behind some fairly steep monthly subscriptions. You can get started for as little as £40 a month, but that can quickly climb to well over 10x that if you want to take full advantage of the platform’s better-than-basic CMS features. This isn’t unique to Hubspot though, but more the business model that many of these CRM platforms follow.
So as you can see, the CMS landscape is not only incredibly varied but also pretty nuanced too. Ultimately, there are a number of ways to achieve a similar end-product. A simple website project could be WordPress, headless or SaaS-based – they will all exceed the brief. But when you’re looking at more complex builds or want to really push the envelope when it comes to front-end design, a strong team of developers can take you a lot further, unlocking the real power and flexibility.
And hey, what do you know – that’s us. If you still have questions about CMS, or there’s a project in the pipeline that you’d like to scope out with us, please do get in touch. We’d love to chat.