What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A Content Management System, or CMS, is a type of program that allows you to easily publish, edit and modify the content of your website. Content management systems are graphical interfaces that make tasks that normally require coding knowledge quick and easy for less-technical users, with no HTML or PHP required.

How do you set up a CMS?

Getting a CMS onto your site must be complicated, right? Nope!

If your hosting provider uses the standard cPanel, all you need to do is find a script installer called: Softaculous, Fantastico de Luxe, or QuickInstall. With most cPanels, Softaculous comes standard.

Then, simply open the script installer and follow the directions, selecting your CMS platform of choice. It takes around 1-3 minutes before your site is ready.


Most people associated CMSs with blogs because the vast majority of blogs are  built using  popular CMS systems like WordPress or Joomla.

The truth is that a CMS can be used to build diverse websites, from small business websites to online stores. CMS systems have grown increasingly more powerful and capable of handling diverse requirements.

With the help of plug-ins (programs that can be added in to your CMS platform), you can accomplish a myriad of tasks without ever learning to code or program.

Why should I use a CMS instead of HTML?

Creating a blog site with only HTML pages is a time-consuming, outdated strategy. If you want to manage content with HTML, you need to do a lot of work- from learning the language to marking up every paragraph or header with the proper script.

You’ll also have to manually create new HTML pages, code them to the CSS (cascading style sheets – documents that apply a uniform design to the pages of your website) and manually update your website’s navigation so that people can read the new pages with ease.

It’s a real hassle.

A CMS does most of this work for you by applying the proper coding and structure at the push of a button. If you can use Microsoft Word, you already know most of what you need to get going on a CMS in little time at all.

Choosing a Content Management System

What are the different types of CMS platforms?

There are two primary types of content management systems: open source, and custom solutions.

“Open source” means that the source code of the CMS system has been made available to the public to play with, add to and refine. Open source platforms usually have strong support communities who work together to help make those platforms better for users. Best of all, open source platforms are free!

Custom solutions are built by companies to accommodate a specific purpose or functionality. They’re usually more expensive and tend to come with a licensing fee – but they’re also specifically built to accommodate the functionality you need. Unless your site is quite complex, chances are you don’t need a custom solution and can get what you need from an open source platform.

It’s also important to note that there are certain CMS systems (both open source and custom) that are built for Ecommerce. These solutions are perfect for those who want to run an online store and come with functionality you won’t find baked in to more general CMS platforms.

How do I Choose a CMS?

The CMS you choose will depend on your requirements and technical ability. To choose a CMS, you need to ask yourself:

  • What learning curve can I handle?
    The more complex the system, the more you’ll have to invest yourself in learning to use it.
  • What functionality do I need?
    Are you starting a blog, small business site or online store? Do you need special features, like users-only areas or a checkout system? Your CMS system will need to support the functionality you require.
  • Who else will use the system? What is their understanding level?
    Even if you’re highly technical, your staff may not be. You may need to choose a CMS that’s easier to learn and manage if you’re not the only primary user.

What are the most important CMS systems to know about?

There are dozens of great CMS systems, but there are three that are the most widely used by non-Ecommerce websites (we’ll get to Ecommerce in a minute).

They are: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal.


WordPress is, in this author’s opinion, by far the best for blogs and anyone that wants to quickly build a website in a few minutes. It’s incredibly easy to set up and use, with an intuitive layout that significantly cuts down on the learning curve.

WordPress Admin Interface (click to enlarge)
WordPress Screenshot

It’s an incredibly powerful platform that can be easily upgraded to accommodate functionality that doesn’t come standard. In fact, HostingRookie is actually built on a WordPress! Pretty impressive, huh?  Plus, WordPress is free!

There’s really no downside for beginners, perfect for those who aren’t technically inclined – and the platform is powerful enough to grow and scale as you do. If you’re starting your first website, give WordPress a try.


Like WordPress, Joomla has a graphic interface reminiscent of Microsoft Word that helps make it easier for users – but it’s not quite as simple or friendly. It was originally built for enterprise-level websites (not blogs), and can handle larger, more complex websites with ease, and it’s a much better platform for eCommerce than WordPress. Unlike WordPress, however, it is much tougher to make SEO-friendly.

Joomla Admin Interface (click to enlarge)
Joomla Screenshot


Drupal, on the other hand, is extremely flexible and powerful but much less user-friendly.   You can create amazing blogs, ecommerce websites and interactive experiences – but without time and expertise it’s much tougher to learn.

Drupal Admin Interface (click to enlarge)
Drupal Screenshot

Drupal is very SEO-friendly, stable and secure – but much more complicated. There are a lot fewer free plugins, and few templates or themes to choose from if you don’t want to design it yourself. If power and scalability are priorty #1 and you have technical know-how, it’s a good option – otherwise, steer clear.

Ecommerce CMS Platforms

While I love WordPress, I would never recommend it for an ecommerce shop. I tried that, and it was a disaster. Ecommerce websites need special functionality like inventory control, invoicing, reviews and so on – and they also need a different layout than a blog or standard website.

PrestaShop, Magento and OpenCart are three of the most popular ecommerce CMSs out there.

If you’re keen to learn the differences between them, I really recommend checking out this helpful infographic. It’s the best, most comprehensive resource I’ve come across on the topic!

Of the above three, the only one I’ve tried is Magento, and it’s truly fantastic. For that reason, it has my recommendation – but I encourage you to do more research before making a decision.

Do I Need a Custom CMS?

You may have been approached by someone that’s looking to create you a custom CMS. While custom CMS systems are required in highly specific situations, most custom CMS platforms are a complete rip-off for business owners.

  • A custom CMS normally costs a great deal of money, while open source CMSs are 100% free.
  • Open source CMS platforms can handle all the requirements of a basic business website, with suites of plug-ins that can add functionality without paying an expensive developer.
  • WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are all battletested products with huge, loyal communities that constantly work out the bugs. With a custom CMS system, you’re at the mercy of the developing company to solve bugs, add functionality or fix problems – which can backfire in a big way.
  • Speaking generally, the SEO-friendliness of custom CMS systems is rarely up to par. Developers don’t always think about SEO when building their platforms.
  • Ugly URL structures, duplicate content issues and un-editable page elements are all common problems faced by custom CMS systems.

So when should you consider a custom CMS? When you need hyper-specific functionality that you can’t get with an open source platform. In other words, rarely, if ever.

Most HostingRookie readers will not be at a point where a custom CMS system makes sense for their business, especially if you’re primarily a blogger.

Once you’ve chosen a CMS, you’ll need to install it onto your hosting so that you can launch your website. Our next section will walk you through the process.