What is a CMS and Why Use One?

A content management system (CMS) is software that enables non-technical users to store, organise, and publish web content easily.

In today’s hyper-connected digital world, fast and simple access to digital content is essential. It’s not just a modern convenience, it drastically improves the pace at which organisations conduct business. To make this happen, websites, blogs, and other forms of digital media need to be easily managed, edited, and updated so that real time, up to the minute, and convenient online experiences can be delivered to customers, employees, and partners. That’s precisely what a good CMS delivers.

Content Management Systems Make it Easier to Manage Websites

A CMS separates presentation from content on a website, so that content creators or any user can manage websites without help from a developer.

Creating and designing a website from scratch requires continually updated knowledge of high-level languages like HTML and CSS. While this might work for a website that doesn't require frequent updates, most businesses will need a CMS to allow users without technical coding skills to add dynamic content on a regular basis. With a CMS, anyone can create, edit, and manage online content with ease.

Key Components of a CMS

A traditional CMS has two primary components:

  • Content management application - a graphical interface that allows users to perform tasks like creating a webpage, adding content to the page, modifying the visual aspects of the content, and so on.
  • Content delivery application – the back-end that handles the more complicated task of compiling the modified content and updating the website with said content. It includes both storage databases and programming frameworks like Java or ASP.NET.

Analysts Say Support for Dynamic, Personalised & Interoperable Content is Vital

According to Gartner, a CMS should include at least the following functions:

  • Basic library services, such as check-in/check-out and versioning
  • User authentication, support for multiple roles and permission assignment
  • Content authoring and workflow for content review and approval
  • Multisite and multilanguage management
  • Ability to support content on various devices (such as tablets, smartphones, and wearables) over multiple channels (such as Facebook, Twitter and, LinkedIn)
The best web content today is dynamic, personalised, and consistent across channels.

However, in today’s market, enterprise users expect more than the basic features. In Forrester’s definition of web content management, it makes the argument that the best web content today is dynamic, personalised, and consistent across channels. The firm says anything that qualifies as a CMS must have the tools and capabilities to store and deliver that level of content.

Examples of functions that make a CMS enterprise-class include:

  • Content creation functions such as templating, workflow, and change management
  • Interoperability with adjacent technologies, such as sales force automation, marketing resource management, and web analytics
  • Support for real-time personalisation at digital touchpoints
  • Integration with delivery tiers, such as digital commerce, social media, and portal software

Evolution of the Headless CMS

As the number of channels and touchpoints customers use have increased over time, companies have turned their focus to omnichannel marketing, which eventually led to the creation of the headless CMS.

Omnichannel marketing is the discipline of ensuring content and communications to customers is consistent across a variety of touchpoints, such as in-store, mobile, point-of-sale, and the full range of physical and online experiences.

Headless CMS functionality was essentially born out of the demands of the digital era and the need for businesses to focus on engaging customers with personalised and relevant content through multiple channels at all stages of the customer journey.

Headless refers to a front-end agnostic architecture, meaning that it has no presentation layer. Specifically, a headless CMS has no front-end components, or head, to determine how the content is presented to end users. To gain a deeper understanding of the difference between a traditional and headless CMS, refer to this blog post.

Acronym Central: CMS, WCM, ECM, DAM, or DXP?

With an understanding of the CMS and its evolution, it's also important to note that CMS is a broad term with several different types of software that fall under its umbrella. Each of these categories were created to address different needs within companies, but over the years they have broadened their features leading to a lot of crossover, and very often, little distinction between them.

Briefly, these are the generally accepted nuances for some of these terms:

  • Web Content Management (WCM) - software for collaborative authoring of public web content
  • Enterprise Content Management (ECM) - software to manage the scanning, storage, organisation and retrieval of physical documents
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) - software to manage a broad variety of digital assets. DAM systems are often used by media companies to catalog, annotate, store, retrieve and distribute audio, video, animations and other digital media content.

As with web portals, CMSs and their subcategories are today rapidly transforming into what are known as digital experience platforms (DXPs). This is essentially a software platform that’s harnessed to create content for every digital channel available today, as well as improve business operations more broadly through digitisation and integration. DXPs are a natural evolution from CMSs, taking into account today’s digital environment. The content management needs of enterprises have grown increasingly complex with the introduction of new content types, analytics, automation software, and all the back-end integration that is required. A CMS-heritage DXP capitalises on the customer experience strengths of traditional systems, with the addition of integration capabilities and personalisation features.

While a CMS excels in the creation and management of digital content, a DXP takes this foundation a step further. Ultimately, what sets DXPs apart is their ability to integrate with multiple existing, legacy, and adjacent technologies to deliver a unified, continuous, and optimised experience.

For a deeper understanding of how DXP and CMS platforms can be used for hybrid strategies, take a look at the detailed content management tools in this Liferay product overview.

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Web CMS’s new role is a hub — content, experience, and workflow — to orchestrate customer engagement across many digital channels.

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Where to Start: Examine Your Specific CMS Needs

Though a CMS is meant for non-technical users, it may still require custom development. CMSs can range from a one-step, out-of-the-box installation to a complex, customisable solution that allows developers to create the workflow and interface that suits a company’s unique business needs. A small business owner writing a blog doesn’t need the same features as a global publication like The New York Times. Here are things that all businesses should consider when choosing a CMS:

  • How many users and user types do you need to manage?
  • How much content do you have and what types of content?
  • Where do your visitors come from and do they require multilanguage support?
  • What integrations do you need, and will a CMS or a DXP be the better option for accommodating these?

There are a large number of CMSs available today - start by researching the leading options and compare how each of these meet your specific needs. For most enterprises, the right CMS depends on balancing your need to customise the system with the time it takes to get something usable out to your end users.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

With an ever-increasing number of channels, it’s important to make sure that the quantity of digital touchpoints doesn’t affect the quality of your customer experience. Download this e-book which explores how new developments in headless CMS systems can help you scale positive customer experiences.

Ready to see how Liferay can help your business manage and create digital experiences more effectively?  Book a demo with our team here.