10 Best Content Management Systems (2021)

Global online content consumption doubled in 2020 amid global lockdowns and other measures during the pandemic.

Website content is now a critical part of the marketing strategies of most businesses. Even local chains and single-location brick-and-mortar businesses are competing for attention online. As more content is consumed, businesses are pushed to produce more of it. This requires more efficiency and skill, as producing high volumes of meaningful content is not a simple task. After that, there’s the issue of managing it all as well.

For those who are new to online content marketing, it’s important to start with the fundamentals and expand from there. For any business getting ready to start producing online content properly, it’s important to be familiarized with the CMS space.

What is a CMS?

A Content Management System (CMS) is, as the name suggests, a comprehensive system enabling the management of vast quantities of content on a site (or sites). More specifically, it’s a kind of software that helps anyone trying to create content:

  • Create new content
  • Modify existing content
  • Have a simple overview of all existing content on different websites
  • Use plugins for more advanced features

With the exception of that last point, it doesn’t take any specialized technical knowledge to use a CMS. Most modern versions of most CMSs on the market require no coding knowledge whatsoever. Even the older versions of WordPress (the most commonly used CMS) had minimal HTML knowledge requirements to become fairly proficient.

So, anyone can use a CMS to build a website with little or no technical knowledge or skills. A good CMS can be used to quickly build a whole website from scratch. That is part of the point, after all.

You could also build your own website from scratch without a CMS, but that would require proficiency in coding and creating your own system for every aspect of your site including:

  • Creating new pages
  • Storing text, images, and all other functions
  • The most basic infrastructure

The above list is short, but the details that go into each aspect of a site are highly complex and are very time-consuming unless built by a well-practiced professional. Hiring that kind of professional to help with your site can also be prohibitively expensive for many small businesses.

The advent of the CMS addresses each of these concerns with a complete package. There is no need to build a site, with all its functions, from scratch. The CMS provides the foundation and infrastructure for most basic website needs.

Despite providing the foundation of any site, most CMS platforms aren’t restrictive or stifling. You can still have more unique functions and other aspects built into your site on top of the CMS infrastructure. In this way, a CMS is a win-win for the vast majority of businesses with an online presence. For any marketing website, a CMS is an absolute must for remaining competitive over time.

Knowing all this, it’s no surprise that about half of all websites use a CMS. While they aren’t needed for every kind of website, if your goal is to gain more online traffic, a CMS is a must. The only challenge is choosing the right CMS for your needs.

How to choose a CMS

There are several factors to look for when choosing a CMS. You will likely end up using your chosen CMS continuously over a long period of time. So, taking the time to consider the following factors carefully can help you avoid a serious headache.

Ease of use

The CMS you choose should end up making your life easier, not harder. That may sound obvious, but people often overlook simplicity in favor of what looks better or seems more advanced. But non-essential features and all other factors should take a back seat to how easy a CMS is to use day-to-day.

It will always take you some time to become accustomed to a CMS. If you run a larger organization or are looking for scalable solutions, you must also consider how easy it is to teach others how to use your CMS.

Beyond the learning stages, you will need to perform many daily tasks ranging from the fairly complex to the completely mundane. Repetitive tasks don’t need to feel burdensome or take much time. This is where User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design come into play. Modern UX and UI standards make most software solutions easy enough that a 12-year-old could be taught to use them. When it comes to the interfaces of your CMS, it should be just that easy.

Drag-and-drop interfaces and smooth, clear drop-down menus are some of the design aspects you should expect. These factors also play an important part in the publishing and editing processes. Adding elements and editing drafts should be easy.

Reviews for ease of use (we will provide a few) should play a part in your search. Where possible, free trials and video reviews, and demonstrations can help you make sure you’re making the right decision.

Customer support

Every kind of software can experience technical difficulties. There are sometimes issues with even the best CMS options. But the way they are managed will make a huge difference during day-to-day operations.

Vetting for customer service is key for a few reasons.

First, CMS will likely become an important part of day-to-day business tasks. Once you come to rely on a CMS, service interruptions quickly become stressful and damaging. While bad things inevitably happen every so often, it’s easier to handle when the support you need is easy to reach and professional in delivery.

Most CMS platforms go through pains to make their product technically sound and easy to use. But you will likely still have questions for them. At this point, you will want a reasonably quick solution. In many cases, even a detailed FAQs section will be more than enough to handle your concerns.

Good customer support normally includes:

  • A FAQs section covering all common, trivial concerns
  • A community forum
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Live chat
  • Social media channels

In the best cases, you will have at least one 24/7 option for handling concerns. However, that’s not necessary so long as their customer support has at least one fast contact option during your business’s operating hours.

Comparing the availability of customer service is easy. Most CMS platforms include contact details and business hours on their websites.

Comparing the quality of CMS platforms takes some more time. You can refer to online reviews from customers on impartial platforms like TrustPilot and the Better Business Bureau. Looking at a BBB also reveals part of how a business handles complaints and even refund requests.

Data mobility

You will end up needing to import and export data at some point. CMS platforms can differ greatly in the tools they offer to help you move your data. If you decide to change the platform you use or use a different hosting company, this factor becomes even more important.

Data mobility is a factor that isn’t very important until it is suddenly crucial. For that reason, it’s worth considering before you make a choice.

Third-party integrations

You can only be so picky with your CMS. There are common functionalities and features that you can expect across the CMS market. But in the end, one CMS can’t solve every single content management problem across millions of different companies.

Third-party integrations, extensions, and add-ons can help fill in the remaining gaps. Software from other companies should extend the functionality of your CMS.

Cost

Features and functionality are great, but you have a bottom line to worry about. In the end, a CMS should be a net benefit to your bottom line through the increased efficiency it provides. Time is money when you have elaborate content management needs.

It’s hard to state an “industry standard” cost for CMS. Some platforms are completely free to use. Some are free to use but charge you for third-party extensions or some built-in features. Often “free” means the base cost is free, but to get real functionality out of it, you need to pay. Then, there are of course simple all-inclusive monthly subscriptions.

You can’t judge a CMS by its price tag. Price tags can be deceiving, so you need to remember to look into the cost structure of a CMS in its entirety. Doing this will help you avoid unpleasant surprises.

Once you know the total costs of all CMS platforms you are considering, it’s better to judge not just by total cost, but by the value you get for each dollar paid. If an extra $10 will save you hours of work per month through better interfaces and more intuitive features, isn’t it worth it to pay the extra $10?

With all the factors above considered, here are the 10 best CMS platforms.

1. WordPress.org

WordPress is by far the largest CMS in the world. It’s a ubiquitous platform that powers 455 million websites. This represents just less than half of all sites. Given that about half of all websites use any CMS, you can see just how popular WordPress is.

In this case, we are discussing WordPress.org. WordPress.com is a platform for hosting blogs. WordPress.org is a CMS that was intended for blogging, but since its launch has developed into a more diverse platform offering the full range of CMS services.

Pros

  • Familiarity: This might not matter to you right now. But if you plan on scaling your operations and/or outsourcing content management work, it will matter. The popularity of WordPress extends to the sheer number of people who are proficient in using it. It will be much easier to find employees who understand WordPress than it would be for any other CMS.
  • Simplicity: Older versions of WordPress required a fair bit of coding knowledge. But now, WordPress doesn’t require any coding or other technical knowledge to become proficient with. There are many built-in features and third-party integrations that can be easily applied to create an attractive and highly functional website.
  • Add-ons: Speaking of integrations, WordPress is incredibly rich in themes, plugins, third-party integrations, and all kinds of extras. You can choose from a selection of thousands of additional software and tools, many of which are completely free. With even a small budget, you can further enhance the productivity of your activities on WordPress.
  • SEO-friendly: Search engine optimization is one of the main focuses of WordPress. The interfaces on WordPress are, by default, very SEO-oriented. This makes it easy to categorize entries, prioritize keywords, enter SEO-friendly URLs, and more. Plugins like YoastSEO make it simple to get started with basic SEO practices if you haven’t already. If you have SEO experience, you can take advantage of the many more comprehensive SEO plugins available.
  • Broad permissions: You can monetize your content on WordPress in any legal manner. You don’t need to pay more for specific licenses or anything of that sort.
  • Easy migration: You can download the content you have on WordPress in XML format. This makes moving to a different system very simple.

Cons

  • Not all-inclusive: You will need to handle your own hosting needs and set up your own domain. You are also responsible for your site’s security. This makes WordPress less convenient than some alternatives in these two regards.
  • Learning curve: While many people can use WordPress, it’s not the easiest CMS to learn to work with. It offers many options, plugins, and customization. But this massive array of features can be overwhelming at first. It’s also why even beginners often opt for the plugins that make building pages easier.

Pricing

WordPress is free to use, but you must acquire your own domain and pay for the associated costs. Therefore, the exact cost of using WordPress is determined by:

  • Your domain
  • Your chosen web host
  • The costs of any plugins or third-party products

2. Contentful

Contentful is a comprehensive CMS designed for the needs of medium-to-large-sized businesses. It markets itself as the “easiest, fastest way to manage content.”

With a focus on integrations, Contentful is a common choice among omnichannel platforms. Omnichannel digital experiences are a large part of Contentful’s service. Contentful’s specialty is bringing all that content together in a centralized hub that enables seamless use across digital channels. Contentful integrates with a wide array of tools through open APIs.

It should be noted that Contentful isn’t a traditional CMS. It’s a content platform that can do everything a traditional CMS can’t, but it goes well beyond the scope of most CMS alternatives.

Pros

  • Comprehensive solutions: For companies with over 2,000 employees and multiple digital channels, Contentful offers a feature-rich API that integrates with existing company systems.
  • Good for eCommerce: Contentful boasts a 60% increase in eCommerce conversion.
  • API-based: Contentful is centered around APIs and the needs of developers. For storing and delivering content, Contentful is simple and fast. But data fetched back from Contentful is personalized and apps for fetching that data are created by developers. This provides businesses with the freedom to build their own applications.

Cons

  • Expensive: Read more below. Contentful isn’t relatively expensive for what it offers, but its price aligns with its intended customer base.

Pricing

  • Contentful offers a free version for up to 5 users. This simple offer includes their most basic CMS features.
  • The paid version of Contentful starts at $489 per month.
  • Lastly, if you run a large business, you will need to contact them for a quote for the Enterprise Custom subscription.

3. HubSpot CMS Hub

HubSpot is an inbound marketing and sales software company. Their CMS Hub is their integrated CMS system designed for the needs of small businesses and marketing departments of various sizes.

HubSpot’s CMS solution is a part of HubSpot CRM, which offers many marketing tools. It’s an all-in-one offer for website and content management.

Pros

  • Website builder: The HubSpot website builder is a simple tool that doesn’t require technical skills. It makes building pages easy with simple drag and drop editors and built-in SEO.
  • Integrated marketing: The HubSpot CMS integrates with HubSpot’s email marketing and sales tools. If you need broader resources, HubSpot offers a one-stop shop for those needs.
  • Security: Unlike many alternatives, HubSpot comes with a global CDN and Web Application Firewall. They also have a security team dedicated to keeping sites on the platform safe from attackers.

Cons

  • No free version: However, you can try their free trial.

Pricing

HubSpot pricing is based on a simple three-tier system. All plans support a full-fledged website and CMS, but each tier is for different business sizes. You will need to contact them and discuss your needs to get a quote.

  • Starter: Starts at $45 per month.
  • Professional: Starts at $800 per month.
  • Enterprise: Starts at $3,200 per month.

4. Wix

Wix is a popular website builder and CMS company. It’s known for its simple drag-and-drop features which enable anyone to build a basic site. Wix is meant for beginners overall, as it makes every task easier and comes with a relatively low price tag. However, it’s also a very limited CMS platform.

Pros

  • Easy to use: You can do anything with a drag and a drop. You can make a page look exactly how you want it to quickly. It’s surprisingly easy and fun to use.
  • Templates: Sticking with the theme of ease, there are many templates to choose from. With a click, a drag, and a drop, you can have an elaborate theme and a good-looking webpage.
  • Apps: The Wix App Market offers more features that you may want to use.

Cons

  • Limited: This is easily the biggest drawback to using Wix. Once you choose a template, you can’t change it. If you decide you want to move to another platform, you can’t easily download the data and move on. If you want to use Wix for an eCommerce store, they only offer PayPal and Authorize.net as payment options. The list goes on. If you have anything beyond the most basic content needs, you should consider alternatives.

Pricing

Wix Pricing is built on a tier-based subscription model.

  • Connect domain: $4.50 per month
  • Combo: $8.50 per month
  • Unlimited: $ 12.50 per month
  • VIP: $24.50 per month

5. Shopify

Shopify is the largest eCommerce platform on the web. It should be no surprise that their CMS platform is designed to address the needs of eCommerce businesses.

Pros

  • All-in-one: You don’t need to pay for a separate host. You also don’t need to install any software or deal with backing up your data. Shopify handles all these needs.
  • Payment options: Shopify enables your customers to use a diverse range of debit and credit cards, as well as PayPal.
  • Extras: You can buy a wide range of third-party extensions
  • 24/7 support: If you have any issues, Shopify has staff ready to help you.

Cons

  • Costs: If you want to use a lot of their third-party apps, Shopify can become quite pricy.
  • Less comprehensive than other options: Shopify offers a reasonably comprehensive CMS for small-to-medium-sized eCommerce businesses. But if you don’t run an eCommerce business, but run a larger enterprise of any other kind, Shopify will likely fall short of your expectations.

Pricing

Shopify uses a simple 3-tier pricing model.

  • Basic: $29.00 per month
  • Normal: $79.00 per month
  • Advanced: $299.00 per month

6. Ghost

Ghost is another CMS designed with the needs of bloggers in mind. It offers basic CMS services at a low cost. Where Ghost stands out is in how it doesn’t limit where customers deliver their content. If you are a developer, it offers more flexibility. However, you don’t need any serious technical skills to use Ghost’s core CMS features.

Pros

  • Intuitive building blocks: Ghost includes a content editor with “cards” that resemble WordPress blocks. This makes editing simple.
  • Built-in SEO: You don’t need any plugins or any kind of third-party integrations. Ghost offers great SEO functionality as a part of its regular service.
  • Blogging business functionality: Ghost was built with bloggers in mind. This becomes quickly apparent when you use it. If you want to build a subscription-based business, Ghost makes it easy.

Cons

  • Less comprehensive than WordPress. This may not be the worst con, but seeing as the two CMS platforms are similar enough, it’s worth pointing out.
  • Not all-inclusive. You need to find and pay for your own domain and hosting. This is made slightly worse because not all web hosts support Ghost.

Pricing

Ghost has a tier-based subscription model. Plans start at $9 per month and are based on how many people sign up for your site. Rates top off at $2,500 if you have less than 400,000 members. If you have more, you must contact Ghost for a quote.

7. Joomla

Joomla is an open-source CMS platform that is known for quality templates and a decent selection of extensions. What’s best is that it’s free to use.

Compared to popular alternatives like WordPress, Joomla isn’t as beginner-friendly. However, it’s an ideal CMS for users with some web development knowledge.

Pros

  • Extensions: You can find the extensions you need with just a few clicks. They offer a wide range of extensions for marketing and content management purposes.
  • Open-source: You can also reach out to the active Joomla community if you want advice
  • Diverse: Joomla offers decent CMS functionality for blogging, SEO marketing, and even eCommerce. They offer plugins that make each of those much easier.

Cons

  • Complex: This is by far the biggest challenge to adopting Joomla. Even fans of the CMS platform understand that it has a steeper learning curve and demands more from its customers.

Pricing

  • Joomla is free to use, but some of their extensions will cost you.
  • If you don’t have your own domain with hosting already accounted for, make sure you pick one that supports Joomla. Some hosting platforms offer plans that they specify include Joomla.

8. Magento (Adobe)

Magento is another open-source CMS. It’s a product of Adobe, and it has a free version that you can try out. Its main features are a high level of customization and the capacity to manage a vast library of content and customers.

Pros

  • Trusted platform. Magento is used by Nike, Coca-Cola, and Ford.
  • Diverse payment options. Customers can pay you via PayPal, cash on delivery, and Magento connects to many payment gateways. These options are built-in.
  • Range of features. You can use one of Magento’s many extensions and other third-party features to meet your unique needs.

Cons

  • Learning curve. Compared to almost all the other options on this list, Magento is not beginner-friendly.
  • Talent is rare. Compared to other options, there is a much smaller talent pool of developers proficient in Magento.
  • Not meant for small businesses. Both the scope of what Magento offers and its pricing reflect this.

Pricing

  • Magento doesn’t offer pricing plans and you must contact them for a quote. The cheapest commercial licensing agreement for a website starts at $22,000. Extensions cost between $60 and $600 each.

9. Webflow

Webflow is a CMS platform and website-builder much like WordPress. The company places more of an emphasis on customer support but offers features anyone familiar with the CMS market will recognize.

Pros

  • Excellent customer service: The “Webflow University” is a very good resource as well. The platform also comes with excellent video tutorials.

Cons

  • Complex: Compared to similar CMS platforms, it takes time to get used to Webflow.

Pricing

  • Webflow pricing plans are inexpensive: Their CMS subscription includes all the essential web development features and the entire CMS suite. Rates start at $16 per month. If you get a lot of traffic you should consider their Business and Enterprise plans.

10. Drupal

Drupal is a less commonly-used open-source CMS. However, it’s a good blog and article-focused platform trusted by some universities and long-form publications like The Economist. Its main selling point is its ability to handle higher quantities of data while offering high customization.

Pros

  • Custom content: This is a feature commonly offered by CMS platforms. However, Drupal excels by offering greater flexibility in content types than other industry leaders.
  • Multilingual: WordPress can be multilingual with the help of plugins, but with Drupal, the languages are built-in.
  • User management: Drupal offers extensive customization for user roles and permissions. You can create many new roles, all with specific permissions laid out.

Cons

  • Slight learning curve: It’s not the most complicated CMS platform on this list, but it’s harder to use than WordPress and some other popular alternatives.

Pricing

  • Drupal’s software is free to use: They make money from website development.
  • Drupal charges for web development on a per-project basis: You must contact them for a quote. Rates start around $30,000 but may exceed $100,000 if you have significant customization or workflow needs.

The bottom line

Getting good at using a CMS makes content management both easier and more scalable. Many do cost quite a bit and take some time to learn how to use. But they can become an essential component of a high-level content marketing system. The potential return on investment makes them more than worth considering.

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