What is a content management system (CMS) and how does it work?
It’s no secret that consumers prefer digital experiences when they’re interacting with their favorite brands and products. And with every experience, they expect a deep level of personalization that speaks directly to their wants and needs. From a business perspective, this requires extra resources to be directed at providing customizable content and making updates across websites, apps, social, IoT, and emerging channels.
But inefficient content workflows, a lack of user-friendly content creation and publishing tools, and slow, costly development cycles have left marketing and IT teams without the resources to quickly create quality content at scale.
The solution? A cloud-based experience where marketing and IT teams can work together. The right content management system (CMS) can help you create, manage, and deliver the digital experiences your audience cares about across all channels, devices, and apps. Marketers can create the content for these experiences without having to burden developers with requests — because a tweak here and an update there can add up to hours of unnecessary work.
Pairing marketing-friendly templates with developer-facing tools in the same platform allows teams to publish personalized, memorable content in record time. When you're equipped with the right technology, you’ll never miss an opportunity to connect with your customers.
In this guide to content management systems, you’ll learn about:
What is a content management system (CMS)?
A content management system is a platform where users can build and manage digital properties, including websites and apps. A CMS makes it possible for multiple team members to create, edit, and publish content. It also acts as a centralized database for content storage.
A critical aspect of any content management system is the ability for editors to make changes to digital content in real time while viewing the experience in the format it’ll be published in. This way creators can easily preview websites and apps as they are worked on. A CMS should also integrate directly with a company’s digital asset repository to centralize resources and streamline workflows. This ensures that all assets are kept up to date with no opportunity for duplication or rework to impede timely operations.
How a CMS works
If you’re running a site without a CMS, you might be in for a major headache. From trying to edit highly technical, static web pages to waiting days for changes to go live, manually running a site takes up time that teams simply don’t have in today’s digital age. Teams need a system built to facilitate the ever-growing demand for a constant flow of personalized content.
To see how publishing content with a CMS works, let’s walk through an example using Experience Manager Sites.
Within Experience Manager Sites, you have the flexibility to choose between traditional, headless, or hybrid content delivery. You can structure, manage, and deliver content using template-driven authoring or GraphQL APIs. This makes it possible for content authors to easily find, add, edit, and manage new content within the same cloud-native structure that developers use to create personalization at scale. For example, the quick site creation feature allows content authors to drag and drop editable components to their site pages, including text, images, and social media sharing blocks. They can even do all this while developers are doing their work on the back end.
Once marketers have created the content, IT teams can leverage “headless” capabilities to deliver the content across multiple channels. When the content is decoupled from the presentation layer (the head), it can be delivered in a channel-neutral format to power any platform — email, mobile app, webpage, social post, and more.
With Experience Manager Sites, the flow of content from the author to the audience simplifies the process into three simple steps.
- Content authors make updates to the site content. The updates can be previewed, reviewed, and approved to be pushed live — across channels, if necessary.
- Content is published. The publication can be performed on-demand or scheduled for a future date.
- Site visitors will see the changes reflected on the live site.
At its core, a content management system is made of two parts.
- The content management application (CMA) is the part of a CMS that allows your team to add in and manage content before going live on your site.
- The content delivery application (CDA) takes uploaded content found in the CMA and stores it on the back end, making it visible to site visitors.
Together, they handle all the tech stuff — like code and database queries — so marketers can handle all the front-facing content an audience sees. Gone are the days of manually filling blank HTML pages with code. With the help of a visual content editor, marketers can easily customize the website's appearance, change text fonts, incorporate illustrations and links, and effortlessly drag and drop content fragments. This intuitive approach empowers marketers to achieve the desired look and feel that aligns perfectly with their brand identity and messaging goals.
Once you're ready to share your content with the world, you don’t have to upload an HTML file to your server. The CDA seamlessly combines the content you've created in the CMA. It takes care of assembling the underlying code and effortlessly presents your creation on the forward-facing parts of your website for visitors to enjoy. With a simple click of the “publish” button, your content shows up exactly as you’d envisioned, without the need for any manual coding or technical intricacies.
The benefits of a content management system extend far beyond marketers and content authors and across business units — including to IT teams. Let’s take a deep dive into the cross-functional benefits of a CMS.
1. Easy content creation and publishing
One of the most significant advantages of a CMS is its user-friendly interface, which simplifies the process of content creation and publishing. You don't need to be a technical expert or have coding knowledge to manage your website content or cross-channel experiences. With a CMS, you can easily create and edit web pages, blog posts, articles, and other types of content using intuitive and familiar tools. This allows you to focus on developing high-quality, creative content without worrying about the technical aspects of web development. And it frees up time for developers to work on higher value work since requests are no longer piling up as a long queue of content updates.
2. Streamlined workflow and collaboration
For businesses and teams authoring content, a CMS provides a centralized platform that streamlines the entire workflow. It allows multiple users to collaborate efficiently from anywhere, work simultaneously on different sections of the website, and manage content approval processes. While marketers are developing content, developers might be simultaneously adding custom code. A CMS also gives content creators, editors, and administrators designated roles and permissions so that everyone can contribute effectively while maintaining content integrity.
3. Built-in search engine optimization (SEO) tools
In today's competitive online landscape, optimizing your website for search engines is crucial to increase visibility and attract organic traffic. A CMS often comes equipped with built-in SEO features or plugins that simplify the process of optimizing your content for search engines. From customizable meta tags and URLs to XML sitemaps and canonicalization, a CMS can help you improve your website's SEO performance, making it more discoverable to potential visitors.
4. Efficient content organization and management
Managing a large volume of content can become challenging as your content needs grow. A CMS provides robust tools for content organization and management. You can categorize content using tags, labels, or metadata, making it easier to search, filter, and retrieve information when needed. A well-structured CMS also offers features such as content scheduling, version control, and archiving, allowing you to effectively manage and update your content over time.
5. Consistent branding and design
Maintaining a consistent brand image and design across your website and other channels is essential for building a recognizable and professional online presence. A CMS offers templates, themes, and design elements that can be easily customized to match your brand guidelines. By using predefined layouts and styles, you can ensure a consistent look and feel throughout your website and on content pushed to associated channels, reinforcing your brand identity and enhancing user experience.
6. Scalability and Flexibility
A CMS allows you to add new pages, sections, and functionalities without significant technical overhead. You can expand your website's capabilities by integrating plugins, extensions, or modules provided by the CMS ecosystem, empowering you to adapt and scale your online presence as your business expands.
Popular CMS platforms
If you’ve used a CMS before, you’ve probably noticed that each platform caters to specific audience needs. Some content management systems position themselves as website builders, while others deliver a full suite of creating, editing, and publishing features. Think marketing-friendly templates, drag-and-drop interfaces, and cloud-based architecture for secure “anywhere” management and scalability. The platform that’s best for your company depends on your team’s needs and content goals.
When evaluating a content management system (CMS), there are several key factors to consider. Here are some important aspects to look for:
- A user-friendly interface and intuitive content editing tools.
- Flexible content creation options, including text, images, videos, and other media types.
- The ability to customize the design and layout of your website or application.
- The capacity to grow with your content needs and website over time.
- Built-in SEO tools, such as customizable metadata, clean URLs, and XML sitemaps.
- Multi-channel publishing if you need to distribute content across various channels like websites, mobile apps, social media platforms, or email newsletters.
- Security practices and measures in place to prevent vulnerabilities and protect against hacking attempts.
- The ability to integrate with the other systems and tools you use.
There are a lot of CMS options out there. Here’s a list of some of the more popular CMS offerings:
- Adobe Experience Manager Sites. Poised for businesses of any size, especially enterprise, Experience Manager Sites enables content scalability, automation, and personalization.
- WordPress. As the world’s largest open-source CMS, this option is most known for its article and blog publishing capabilities.
- Drupal. Considered a more complex open-source option than WordPress, Drupal provides pre-built themes and extensions.
- Joomla. Often cited as the middle ground between Drupal and WordPress, Joomla is better for large companies looking for complex functionality.
- Squarespace. Marketed as a website builder, Squarespace has clean, user-friendly design templates and drag-and-drop functionality but is not open-sourced.
- Wix. Similar to Squarespace, Wix works well for beginners without web development experience.
Getting started with the right CMS
Delivering personalized content at scale can feel overwhelming for teams of any size. Plus, poor collaboration between marketing teams and developers due to technology constraints can come at the expense of company growth. That’s why it’s so essential to future-proof your content strategy with a flexible, agile CMS.
With a content management system like Adobe Experience Management Sites, providing personalized content in the moments that matter to your audiences can be a reality — no matter the size of your team.
With Experience Manager Sites, your team can:
- Deliver omnichannel experiences faster. Meet customer expectations by using marketer-friendly tools like in-context editing, drag-and-drop functionality, and customizable templates. With headless capabilities, IT teams can build frameworks to quickly distribute content to all the right channels so marketers won’t have to recreate the same assets over and over.
- Streamline content and developer workflows. Make siloed operations a thing of the past by bringing your teams together on a centralized platform to eliminate manual processes and enable better collaboration.
- Optimize, personalize, and automate experiences. Built-in features like artificial intelligence (AI)-powered scalability, detailed content insights, and automated tasking can propel your content management to the highest level.
The key to starting your CMS search with clarity is to figure out the features of a CMS that aren’t negotiable. What will your company’s needs be as you continue to grow? How important is scalability powered by AI? Does your organization need an agile, cloud-native solution? What about delivering omnichannel content?
You know what your audience wants—delivering it to them is another story. Finding the right CMS will ensure you can make experiences tailored to each customer.
See Adobe Experience Manager Sites in action.