With content management systems, you don’t need to be a coding expert to build or manage a website. What is a CMS, what can it do, and which is the best?

Welcome to the modern World Wide Web. It has been around for a long time, but it has never been bigger, faster, more commercial, or more functional than it is now. The sky is the limit when it comes to web design and development, and that is partly because of how advanced content management systems have become.

Content management software started to appear in the 90s, and has since become increasingly popular and open source. It is a tool that allows non-experts to do what used to require professional programming. CMSs are applications and programs used to create, edit, organise, and publish all sorts of content online. Whether you want to write a blog, set up an online store, or inform customers of your offline business, content management systems are your friend.

Let’s talk about how they work and what you can do with them, and five of the most popular CMSs available in 2018.

How Do Content Management Systems Work?

As the name suggests, a content management system allows you to manage content. But how does it work?

CMSs are mostly used to publish content online, though they can also be used by a single company via intranet or on a single computer. Using a CMS, you are in full control of the design, structure, and content on your web pages, often without needing a single line of code. This is thanks to a set of core features that they generally include. Primarily, they help you organise data for easy access, format and revise uploaded content, and use a variety of tools to create, design, and publish pages for public use.

Say for example, you want to publish a post on the blog section of your company’s website. Without a CMS, you would need to write a static HTML file and upload it to your site. Yep, that sounds a little complicated. However, with a CMS, all you need to do is write the blog post in a textbox that provides many of the same features as Microsoft Word, for example. It’s almost as simple as writing a status update on Facebook, where you can also attach images, choose backgrounds, and include links.

In addition to just text, you can publish and format endless images, graphics, and designs, thanks to all of the different open source plugins, wizards, and tools available. There are 56,224 plugins available for WordPress alone, so you can only imagine all the opportunities this creates for web designers.

The Top 5 Content Management Systems in 2018

We’ve covered what content management systems are and how they are useful for all types of web design. Now, let’s talk about the five most popular CMSs out there right now.


Used by more than 60 million websites, WordPress is undoubtedly the most popular example of a content management system. More than one in four websites you visit are powered by WordPress. So why is it so popular?

Firstly, WordPress is entirely open source, which means that anyone can use or modify the software for free. This also means anyone can create plugins, themes, and other tools used within the frame of WordPress, and share these with others for free or commercially.

Thanks to the active community behind WordPress, it is ever-evolving. Most recently, WordPress is working on launching the so-called Gutenberg editor, which is intended to make format and design a challenge of the past. It gives users more control over the web pages they create, as well as more immediate insight into how what they are creating will look once it is published.

wordpress classic editor screenshot

A screenshot of the classic editor on the back end of WordPress.

Ultimately, WordPress makes building and designing complex websites accessible to anyone, even without prior programming knowledge. Back in the day, it used to be a popular blogging platform and little else, but times have changed. Now, you can create any type of website using WordPress, including online stores, portfolios, galleries, company information pages, forums, social networks, booking platforms, membership sites, and anything else you can think of.

All you need to do to start creating your own custom website on WordPress.org is purchase web hosting and a domain name.


Similar to WordPress and its biggest competitor, Joomla is another free, open source CMS. It has been downloaded over 93 million times, and comes with over 8,000 free and paid extensions. The platform has received a number of awards and recognitions for its focus on usability and extensibility.

Like WordPress, Joomla is open source, and supported by a large and active developer community. Developers often choose it for its thousands of extensions and supportive community, which present endless possibilities for building any type of complex website.

joomla content editor
How Joomla looks on the back end.


Another free and open source content management system, Drupal was developed in 2000. Its community includes over 1.3 million users. Like WordPress and Joomla, Drupal is highly customisable, with thousands of open-source features users can add to change its looks and functionality for a specific purpose.

Drupal proudly distinguishes itself as highly modular, meaning it allows users high flexibility in the tools they wish to use to build versatile dynamic websites.

drupal 8 editor screenshot

How posting on Drupal looks on the back end

However, despite its similarity to WordPress and Joomla, and its list of high-profile users,  Drupal has received some criticism from users. It is allegedly challenging to master for less experienced developers, and has some unreliable search features, including its database of modules.


Founded in 2003, Squarespace is a website building and hosting service with over 1 million users. It uses pre-built website templates and drag-and-drop elements (think PowerPoint) to create web pages. The CMS supports many kinds of sites, including portfolios, online stores, and so on.

Squarespace is a paid service, and gives you a 14-day free trial before you have to buy a membership. What does this membership get you? A domain, online marketing tools, and a range of beautiful, professionally-made, mobile-optimised design templates to choose from. It’s fairly easy to use, and doesn’t require any coding. However, users have said that all the customisation options can be overwhelming with too many options to choose from. Additionally, Squarespace is not backed by a huge community of developers, unlike open source CMSs.

squarespace post backend screenshot

How creating a blog looks on Squarespace

Ultimately, Squarespace is for users who want to create a highly attractive website without programming knowledge, and are willing to pay for it. The key idea is that anyone can use it. Compared to CMSs like WordPress, it provides fairly limited functionality in order to remain user-friendly.


Finally, Wix is a cloud-based web-development platform. Like Squarespace, it provides users with drag and drop tools to create desktop and mobile websites. It is free, but offers users a paid premium option to have their own domain, remove ads, add e-commerce features, or buy extra storage and bandwidth.

The site provides customisable templates, but also allows users to begin designing from scratch. It works with Wix App Market, where developers can share or sell web apps for users to incorporate into their sites.

wix cms editor screenshot

Wix backend

Common complaints about Wix include the ads in the free version, having to start from scratch when changing themes, and its inability to handle much higher-traffic sites. Like Squarespace, it is more popular among non-professional users who want something easy to create and maintain, but aren’t too fussed about unlimited functionality.


Whether you’re looking to build your own website or just wanted to know more about how it’s done, you should now have a pretty good idea of what the best options are for content management systems.

WordPress is by far the most-used, and as a result it has the largest community of users and developers. This also means that it has unlimited support for useful features that allow you to achieve any dynamic design you can dream of.

Its main competitors, Joomla and Drupal, offer many of the same open source features, and are used by many reputable companies, but simply aren’t as supported. Squarespace and Wix offer the simplicity of drag and drop features, and can produce beautiful layouts, but don’t have the same functionality as more customisable CMSs.

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