We reviewed dozens of CMS platforms and then chose our best picks based on performance, utility and category. Technically speaking, a CMS platform is different from a blogging platform or web hosting service; however, there is considerable crossover in the features of each of these categories. For this reason, our selection of best picks straddles multiple categories and focuses on the features that each solution brings to the table.
For example, our choice for best overall CMS is WordPress, because it offers the most universally useful features for website design, hosting (if you upgrade to WordPress.org), and reporting and analytics. However, we also included a best pick for ecommerce (Magento), easy blog creation (Weebly), web CMS (Preation Eden Platform), and website or blog hosting (A2 Hosting). Magento offers ecommerce features that other services don't, and that might be more important to some users than the advanced analytics Preation Eden Platform offers. On the flip side, Weebly is ideal for basic web design for users who don't care that much about advanced features but want a great-looking, business-ready website, while A2 Hosting offers server-based hosting and advanced security features for custom or CMS-created websites.
Basically, each of our best picks brings some great CMS-style features to the table. Keep reading to find out which content solution is right for your unique business needs.
A2 Hosting Review
Weebly - Content Management Systems & Blogging Platforms Review
DreamHost - Content Management Systems & Blogging Platforms Review
eZ Platform Review
Go Daddy Website Tonight Review
InMotion Hosting Review
Intuit Web Builder Review
Preation Eden Platform Review
Squarespace - CMS Review
Squarespace - Content Management Systems Review
Weebly Pro Review
Wix Premium Review
WP Engine Review
State of the Industry
CMS solutions help businesses of all sizes maintain an online presence through blogs and websites, internally organize and optimize content, and process orders and payments online. A well-deployed content management system can extend the reach of a business online, increase search rankings, unify communications to customers in one place and manage employee contributions to content (through administrative and security settings, as well as accountability within the CMS).
Responsive templates, like those found in many of the CMS platforms we reviewed here, make it easy for SMBs to maintain professional-looking websites without employing a large team of web and graphic designers. It's no wonder, then, that so many businesses use CMS services. WordPress alone is used by over 2.8 million websites to date, and as CMS programs become easier to implement and less expensive to use, it's likely more SMBs will adopt them.
What Is a CMS Used For?
At the most basic level, a CMS lets you upload and manage the content for your website. No matter the size or type of your business, a CMS has become almost indispensable. It operates on the backend of your website, allowing you to manage the content and other facets of your website, including the visual layout.
Another benefit of a CMS is that it makes it easy for users with varying levels of tech savviness. If your tech literacy is low, CMS systems have a variety of premade themes and plug-ins that have already been developed (think phone apps but for your website) and allow you to add tools, like search or appointment calendars, to your website.
If you know how to code, or employ software developers, most CMS software is open source and can be customized to your liking.
Businesses of all types can benefit from using a CMS for their website. Here are some examples of how a CMS can enhance the websites for a variety of different business types:
- Restaurants: CMS software makes it easy for restaurants to add and update their menus, create coupons and offers, and allow customers to make reservations online. There are many premade plug-ins that specifically target restaurant websites.
- eCommerce: A CMS can benefit your online store by allowing you to quickly add and remove products, track sales, and manage other aspects of your business. Plug-ins are available to add a shopping cart to your site. A brick-and-mortar store can easily add a shopping cart using a CMS.
- Small Businesses: No matter what type of business you operate, a website is a necessity in today's business world. A CMS allows you to manage the content yourself and update information quickly. Most CMS applications include SEO plug-ins to help you optimize your website's content. You can also find templates and themes to quickly create an attractive website without having to hire a designer.
- Nonprofits: A CMS allows nonprofits to easily manage their websites for not a lot of money, plus you can accept donations online by adding plug-ins. Many open-source CMS applications have robust communities of developers that can help nonprofits create the best websites. Add-ons and plug-ins are also available to help nonprofits manage their social media and marketing presence.
CMS vs Blogging Platforms
A CMS platform is different from a blogging platform in terms of scale. Some of the services profiled in our buying guide began as blogging platforms and offer that service, but a CMS is much more robust, offering greater control over the look and feel of your site as well as allowing for different administrative levels of control. A CMS also allows you to add plug-ins that expand the look and functionality of your site. You can brand your website, send emails, manage user access and even add a shopping cart.
Another main difference between a blog platform and a CMS is that the blog will be hosted by the platform itself. This means that your website will have the domain name of the blog host, such as Blogger.
If you use a CMS to manage and develop your website, you'll need to pay for the domain and the web hosting. Many CMS platforms include web hosting services, though you'll have to pay for the hosting. You can read our articles about web hosting to learn more.
Open Source vs. Closed Source
Content management systems fall into two major categories: open source and closed source. An open source CMS has lower costs and is created and maintained by a community of developers A closed source CMS is proprietary and is more expensive to use. Here are some other benefits and drawbacks with each type of CMS.
The biggest difference is in the price. Open source CMS software doesn't require you to purchase a license in order to access and change its source code. All code is free to the public and often supported by a large community of users. This gives you solid support since so many others are using the program as well. It's easy to find ideas for incorporating various functions and features on your website. You can also find the required code from these community support groups, so even if you aren't as program savvy as others, you can find enough information to make it work.
However, because the source code is free with so many users, most CRM companies continually update the software. This means you can count on new versions, patches and updates on a fairly regular basis, which could require you to change your website and code in order to keep up.
Because the code of open source programs is license-free, there is a greater risk of a security breach. Everyone using the open source code understands how to get around various protections. However, you can invest in add-ons and other security programs that work hand-in-hand with content management systems to give you an extra layer of security. Closed source CMS software has heavily guarded source code that requires a license in order to access it, or several if you have a team of developers. Because the source is so protected, it costs a lot to get started. Several closed source content management systems require a monthly access fee, so it isn't unheard of to have to pay between $200 and $1,000 to get started.
Since you put so much effort into creating a CMS program, these systems are built to last for a while between version releases. While the occasional update or patch may occur, for the most part, once you purchase a closed source CMS, you can find solace in knowing you won't have to update the program and risk reworking your website code. This also helps keep the program more secure since there is a limited number of people who hold a license to the code.
If you discover you need help with your closed source CMS, you don't have the large community support found with open source software. Instead, these systems tend to come with high-end, personal support including telephone support, which is rare among open source content management systems.
Benefits of Open Source CMS
- Cost: An open source CMS doesn't involve any fees to use the platform. All of the open source CMS applications in our lineup include a free option. You may have to pay for hosting or advanced features, but there are several themes that are free to start with.
- Customization: Open source CMS applications are flexible and can fit the needs of many businesses. Because a broad community of developers works on these systems, there are a wide variety of options, so you can find certain tools or plug-ins to suit your business. For example, if you want to add a feature so your customers can schedule an appointment or make a reservation online, there are several plug-ins available that are easy to integrate with your CMS.
Drawbacks of Open Source CMS
- Vulnerability: Open source CMS software can be vulnerable to security issues, especially if plug-ins and modules are not updated.
- Support: Don't count on personalized support for problems you run into with your particular website.
Benefits of a Closed Source CMS
- Security: Because this type of CMS software is proprietary, these applications undergo a more rigorous testing process, which leaves them less vulnerable to Trojans and other security flaws.
- Customized Support: You can receive ongoing, personalized support to help you troubleshoot any problems with your site. Often this support costs extra.
Disadvantages of Closed Source CMS
- Cost: Costs range from a few thousand dollars to upwards of a hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the scope and scale of the CMS.
- Lack of Flexibility: A closed source solution isn't always one size fits all, but there are fewer options for customization, and if you need something specific for your business, you may have to pay extra for it.
A content management system allows you to quickly and easily add and edit content on your website. You can control who has access to the various functions of the software and can schedule when content goes live on your website. We've assembled a lineup of the 10 best CMS applications in the industry so you can explore your options and find the one best suited for your business.
FAQ - Terminology
Throughout our reviews, we use a lot of internet and programming terms that might sound familiar but you don t quite know the meaning. Below are samples of some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to terminology.
What is access control?
This refers to a hierarchical system of privileges and permissions that secures content and identifies who can read, create, modify, and delete content on a web site.
What are web analytics?
This is the study of the impact of a website on its visitors. E-commerce companies often use web analytics software to measure statistics such as how many visitors, how many unique visitors, how they arrived at the site (i.e., if they followed a link to get to the site or came there directly), what keywords they searched using the site s search engine, how long they stayed on a given page or on the entire site, what links they clicked on and when they left the site. Web analytic software can also be used to monitor whether or not a site s pages are working properly. With this information, site administrators can determine which areas of the site are popular and which areas of the site do not get traffic and can then use this data to create a better/more profitable user experience.
What is asset management?
Asset management is the organization and publication of digital assets such as content and media and including but not limited to images, sounds, animations, movies, music and text.
What is the back end?
A database or program that is accessed by users indirectly through an external application. In a CMS, the admin panel is the back end.
What is CSS?
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet this is the preferred way to add styles (which include fonts, sizes, colors and spacing) to web documents and designs. It s preferred because of the capability to simply tweak a class or identification attribute on the style sheet that will automatically apply to the entire page. Compared with the manual way of editing thousands of individual font tags, CSS is an elegant and efficient design tool.
What is a database server?
In either a client-server model or a master-slave configuration, this is a computer program that stores and performs the database services to other programs or computers.
What is deployment?
In systems this term describes the transforming of a computer system from a packaged form to an operation state. In software, deployment is used to describe all activities that make a software system available for use.
What is document management?
Document management systems (DMS) are similar to content management systems and serve different though complementary roles within an organization. DMS focus is primarily on the storage and retrieval of self-contained electronic resources in their original (native) format.
What is the front end?
As opposed to the back end, the front end is an interface that collects input from a user in various forms and processes it to conform to a specification useable by the back end.
What is load balancing?
This is the practice of dispersing work between two or more computers, network links, CPUs, hard drives, or other resources.
What is a log?
In a database or CMS this is a record of sequential data. In content management system software this could be user logs, content logs, etc.
What does OS stand for?
OS stands for Operating System this is the interface between the hardware and its user. For example, if your computer is a PC your OS is likely Windows-based. If your computer is a Mac, it s OSX, etc.
What is Page Rank?
Page rank is the Google system of ranking web pages determines the value of any individual web page.
What is RSS?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication it is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works such as news headlines, blogs, etc. These feeds benefit content publishers by enabling them to syndicate their content automatically.
What is a sandbox?
In content management system software, this is a secure area where developers can test a software tool or other code modification with full administration privileges, but safely walled off from affecting the stability of the site or CMS.
What is a static page (as opposed to dynamic)?
Static means that the web page always contains the same information in response to all download requests from all users. A dynamic page is regularly updated.
What is validation?
In content management system software, validation refers to security measures that ensure data inserted into an application meets pre-determined formats, complies with length requirements and any other defined input criteria you assign to it.
What is meant by workflow in a CMS?
Workflow is the system for routing documents or pages between users responsible for working on them the management of who is making changes to or creating a content element or template.
Featured Sponsor: Wix - CMS
Wix is a blog platform that makes the aesthetics of your blog or website a priority by featuring the most hands-on design interface among all the platforms we reviewed. Wix’s design tools allow you to drag and drop any element on your site, giving you direct feedback as to how your site will look. Wix pairs this interface with essential tools for managing and promoting your blog.
The Verdict: The drag-and-drop design format is as good as they come, meaning you can control the look of your site, even if you don’t know anything about coding.
Best CMS for ecommerce: Magento: Magento
While many of the CMS platforms we reviewed have plugins available for ecommerce websites, Magento was built top to bottom specifically for ecommerce users. In addition to all the features an ecommerce business owner might want, Magento has an extensive blog with relevant posts about online trends and SEO practices, as well as evergreen information on best ecommerce practices and general user guides. If this is your first foray into ecommerce and you want guidance alongside easy website creation, Magento may serve you well.
One major benefit to using Magento for your ecommerce site is the easy product catalog setup process. Magento makes it simple to showcase configurable products for sale (so your customers can select colors, sizes and styles with ease while you keep track of SKUs), made-to-order products with lots of customization options (like engraving or monogramming), product sets and multi-piece products. Magento also allows users to disable items, so seasonal items don't have to be re-created every year – they can simply be disabled when they're not relevant and then added back to the online store.
Another key ecommerce feature of Magento is the ability to set up multiple stores through one dashboard. This is key for stores that need to operate in different languages as well as ecommerce sites that tailor their offerings based on customer location. Invoicing, billing and shipping are also easy to set up, and Magento's security system is built to meet current laws and payment card industry requirements. Plus, this open-source CMS has dozens of paid and free add-ons available, offers users the ability to program custom widgets, and provides lots of customizable reports on sales, customers, products and performance.
Like other CMS products, Magento offers well-designed templates for simple web design, as well as the ability to custom create a website from the bottom up, but it's the ecommerce-specific features that earned it a spot on our best picks list.
Best CMS Overall: WordPress: WordPress
WordPress is one of the most ubiquitous CMS platforms on the internet, and it is open source, so you don't have to buy a license to use it. Since the open-source community is continually growing, developing new plugins and creating new themes, the functionality of WordPress is always evolving. According to WordPress, nearly 24 percent of websites use its CMS to publish and/or manage content.
Even the free version of the CMS offers users the ability to produce blogs and websites with ease, tag content by category and keyword, manage content and change visual themes, embed media on different pages, and more. WordPress makes SEO hands-off by sending the titles of your posts and the content of your website to Google for ranking. In addition, WordPress offers feature-rich website management by giving users the ability to moderate discussions (something many free blog and website platforms don't offer), ban commenters by their IP addresses, and even block specific terms or phrases.
Users who upgrade to premium business versions of WordPress gain access to CMS tools like advanced analytics, additional templates, more flexibility in menu configuration and access to back-end code for further customization. Companies like The New York Times, Forbes, eBay, Best Buy and IBM use WordPress, but small businesses and individual bloggers also take advantage of its accessible interface and wide variety of features.
The only real downside to WordPress is that the interface takes some time to get used to. Doing things like rearranging menu items and moving a page from one category to another is a bit unwieldly at first. Also, many of the best features are only available at premium subscription levels.
Best Blog Hosting Service: A2 Hosting: A2 Hosting
Previously known as Iniquinet, A2 Hosting is our top choice for blog hosting services. It offers managed WordPress hosting and will transfer any existing WordPress site to its servers for free. This company is also a good fit for WordPress users, because it offers a proprietary plugin called A2 Optimized to not only boost the speed of the hosted site but also prevent hacks through a unique WordPress login URL. Plus, A2 Hosting's security works with WordPress, through a unique admin login, to easily manage and load WordPress security updates and create an additional barrier against hacking.
All clients of A2 Hosting enjoy automatic data backup courtesy of the company's Server Rewind Backups, which make it possible to restore a single file or an entire website in just a few clicks. A2 Hosting offers unlimited SSD storage, so you never need worry about running out of space. A2 Hosting has a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee, and businesses that use A2 Hosting for their web hosting needs receive reimbursements for downtime.
A2 Hosting ranked highest on our list of reviewed hosting services partially because of its compatibility with WordPress and overall blog speed, but also thanks to its excellent customer service. Clients of A2 Hosting enjoy around-the-clock customer service every day of the year, which is ideal for teams with people in different time zones and for businesses that need to keep things running regardless of holidays or weekends.
Additionally, the hosting platform offers users some choices in terms of server location, which not all hosting companies provide. A2 Hosting has three servers to choose from, one in Michigan, one in Amsterdam and one in Singapore. The ability to select a server closer to company headquarters (or large customer populations) makes faster response times possible.
Best for Easy Blog Creation: Weebly : Weebly - Content Management Systems & Blogging Platforms
If learning new technology doesn't come easily to you but you want to create a blog or website for your business, Weebly is our recommended choice. Weebly was built with regular users in mind; there is no coding required, and you don't have to understand the ins and outs of advanced security settings or SEO to use it.
Users who opt for Weebly are guided through the blog design and creation process with helpful text bubbles that offer suggestions and point out basic dashboard navigation, but the interface is so user-friendly you might not even need the guidance. Weebly takes a drag-and-drop approach to website design; you can drag and drop content anywhere on a given page, and that content may include text, photos, videos, forms or audio files. Once assembled, each asset can be rearranged and resized with a few clicks, making it easy to get the look and feel you want.
The web CMS aspect of Weebly is excellent for basic website organization. Pages and subpages can easily be moved and updated, and passwords may be set to protect certain pages from being viewed by unauthorized users. There is a section for SEO analysis in the admin dashboard, but it's not very robust. Weebly is best for companies that require a basic website with up-to-date information or blogs that play a supplementary role to a primary business.
That said, users who opt for the Starter ($8 a month), Pro ($12 a month) or Business ($25 a month) packages, rather than the free service, get a $100 credit toward Google Ads. So, it's not that it's impossible to have good SEO or promote a site built with Weebly; it's just targeted to users who favor a clean, easy-to-use interface over a robust arsenal of features and options. The only downsides to Weebly are the inexplicable lack of a spell-check function and the lack of backup history.
Weebly's design tools are not overly complicated, so you can make unique looking blogs and set up an online storefront for your small business.
Before you take the plunge and choose a CMS provider, it's always best to make sure you're getting the maximum bang for your buck. Here are a few ways to make sure you're not missing out on a deal:
- Find out if there's a monthly rate discount for paying a lump annual sum. Likewise, ask if there are any additional discounts if you purchase more than one year of service at a time.
- Ask if the service can offer you any perks for giving it your business. Many customer service representatives can waive one-time fees and even toss in some extras to land new clients, but if you don't ask, you're unlikely to receive any newbie perks.
- If the price of the CMS you want is higher than those of competitors that offer similar features, ask if the provider can match the price.
In addition to these basic negotiating tips, make sure you're certain about what features are included in your subscription and which ones aren't. If possible, try to think ahead about what your company might need in the future, and find out if the CMS company you're interviewing allows for easy plan upgrades (or if it charges individually for added functionality).
CMS solutions, like other systems, vary broadly in cost. Most major CMS providers offer a free version of their product as well as optional premium features for monthly subscription fees, which are often billed annually. Typically, CMS companies structure their pricing in tiers, with the monthly cost increasing as functionality is added to the package, and many companies offer business-specific subscriptions, which are typically pricier than those intended for individual bloggers.
- Basic monthly fees for individuals typically range from $4 to $15.
- Basic monthly fees for businesses typically range from $12 to $40.
It's important to note that on top of these basic subscription packages, many CMS companies offer customization services that may require an additional payment or a higher subscription rate.
Editor's Note: Looking for website design software? We can help you choose the one that’s right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:
List of 94Best Content Management Systems and Blogging Platforms
Magento's content management system focuses on eCommerce with native features, add-ons and the ability to code your own tools. Learn more.
Composr is a versatile open source CMS software system that can serve a wide variety of website needs. Learn more.
Wix - CMS
Wix offers a drag-and-drop interface for designing the look of your blog or website. It's an easy blog platform to master.
Postach.io is different from most blog platforms in that it uses a separate service, Evernote, for making its posts. Learn more in our review.
SiteGround can fully manage your WordPress blog for you. Read our review to learn more.
WP Engine is dedicated solely to WordPress hosting. Read our review to learn more about this blog host.
Site5 has many different server locations and allows you to choose where you want your blog hosted. Read our review to learn more.
DreamHost - Content Management Systems & Blogging Platforms
DreamHost uses a virtual private server (VPS) to give added reliability for your WordPress blog. Read more to learn about this blog host.
With Max Speed Zones and multiple server locations, InMotion Hosting is a very reliable blog host. Read our review to learn more.
Through a virtual private server setup, Bluehost offers a good solution for bloggers just starting out. Read our review to learn more.
GoDaddy is one of the biggest names in blog hosting. Read our review to learn more about this blog hostin service.
Flywheel can create a custom hosting plan for your WordPress blog. Read our review to learn more.
Arvixe specializes in blog hosting for WordPress blogs. Read our review to learn more about how this hosting service can help your blog.
A2 Hosting offers proprietary plugins like A2 Optimized to help your WordPress blog take off. Read our review to learn more.
WordPress is a user-friendly and popular content management system with thousands of business-oriented apps. Learn more.
WebGUI is a powerful CMS system with a huge range of eCommerce and backend user tools. Learn more.
MODX is a developer-focused content management system able to work in multiple programming languages. Learn more.
Drupal is a powerful open source content management system. It requires programming skill but offers great flexibility. Learn more.
Joomla is an open-source content management system for developers with programming skills. Learn more.
concrete5 is a capable open source CMS platform with pre-designed themes and a WYSIWYG editor to create a website that reflects your brand. Learn more.
Weebly - Content Management Systems & Blogging Platforms
Weebly is a blog website builder with simple design tools and features for running your online storefront. This platform features a drag-and-drop interface.
Tumblr is a microblogging site that focuses more on posts than blog homepages. It is a content-driven blog platform for forming communities around certain interests.
Ghost is a unique platform that uses a specific formatting language to design its posts. The platform is fairly new and lacks many staple blog features.
Squarespace is a basic CMS software system that may be too basic for developers but is easy for non-programmers to use. Learn more.
There isn't much to the PublicSquare site. It's a single page only a few scrolls long with the occasional link to sign up for their service. The actual web content management system is also quite
Web-based CMS is an easy way to create and manage a content-rich website for your company without having to install anything on your computer. liveSTORYBOARD is one of the many services available
Intuit Web Builder
Intuit Web Builder is fairly simple to use: pick a template, add your content and you're ready to go. However, the interface of this web CMS service is a little clumsy and doesn't move as smoothly
Go Daddy Website Tonight
Go Daddy is known as the "world's largest domain name registrar," but it is only average when it comes to web content management systems . Go Daddy Website Tonight gives you an excellent
Squarespace - CMS
Web content management can be intimidating if you've never done it before. Squarespace makes managing content on a website easy. It has a simple interface that gives you almost complete control over the headlines, text, images, videos, links and anything else that appears on your site.
Weebly Pro is a user-friendly web CMS service that will help you add, edit and manage content on your site. This web content management system offers a simple to use interface along with plenty of
Not only is Wix Premium easy to use, but we might even go as far to say that it's fun to use. This web content management service makes creating a website for your business enjoyable.
Preation Eden Platform
The Preation Eden Platform is a web content management service that offers everything that a web-based CMS should. It's easy to use, plus it has a wide variety of SEO tools and features to help you add, edit and manage web content.
eZ Platform offers multisite and multilingual capabilities so you can create several websites on the same platform. Learn more.
LiveJournal is a blogging platform with a dedicated community waiting to be connected. This platform feels more like a social networking site than blog.
Squarespace - Content Management Systems
Squarespace provides a quality blogging experience. Read more about this best paid blog hosting platform at Business.com.
WordPress is a top-tier blog platform for crafting a site to your specifications and helping you manage and promote the site with a bevy of features.
TypePad is a content-driven blog platform with premium management tools. The service gives tips and instruction on important aspects of running a blog.