Content Management Systems 101.1

10 October 2008, by A. Cedilla

Part 1 of 2

OK, everything’s been set up for your new website, your Big Idea is solid, you had your content pre-prepared and you’re raring to start — then you ask yourself, “What software to I get to make sure my site’s easy to use, easy to read and looks good?”

You use a content management system. Also known as CMS, this is a particular type of software that makes it easier for users to create and manage websites.

To get, and keep, your readers and visitors coming back, you can keep your appeal fresh by making sure your site is updated frequently.

A CMS automates this process to make it easier to manage your data (which includes your content — articles/posts, your links and images, as well as any embedded audio and video media you would care to add ) and customize the layout of your website, to fit your brand and personality.

Many content management systems are open source — meaning you can use them for free. Whether you’re just starting out or a pro, open source CMS is a great way to go.

Some of the most popular open source content management systems include Drupal, Joomla, Mambo, Xoops, Typo3,PHP-Nuke, and Siteframe. Many new ones are becoming available each year, and there are so many open source CMS products to choose from that there’s sure to be one to suit your needs.


Some of these open source systems are built to support complex portal websites with lots of dynamic functionality, while others are much more basic. It’s important for you to establish what your website is meant for before settling on the CMS.

Most people use their websites just to publish basic content. For sites like these, a fancy portal CMS is not required. In any case, mastering a portal CMS would be a demanding task because of the time and effort required. For most simple websites you won’t need to study in-depth. Instead, pick a simpler CMS that will need less time and technical know-how to use.

Simple CMS alternatives include most of the blogging software packages (e.g. WordPress, Nucleus, Typo –not to be confused with Typo3 — etc.). Although these are called ‘blogs’ they are actually content management systems. By default, they have been configured to run blog sites, but by simply changing the templates they can be made to run many other types of website.

How exactly does a CMS work?

With a content management system, there is no need to create new HTML pages the long way – the CMS does it for you. You simply enter your content into a form, click a button and the CMS makes a new web page. The software separates the content (e.g. images, text, links, files, etc.) from the layout.

For example, when a webmaster sets up a new website he creates a set of templates for the pages. Whenever he adds new content, the pages are automatically laid out based on these pre-defined templates.

This may sound complicated, but in most modern content management systems, setting up the templates is simple. The webmaster will probably use an HTML editor like Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expression Web to create templates for the CMS.

They contain all the page elements that are common across the whole site like header, footer, logo, and navigation. Spaces are left in the templates for the CMS to insert content when a new page is generated. These are the basic principles upon which all content management systems are based.

Users who aren’t at ease with HTML don’t need to worry – most content management systems offer some ready-made templates that can be used ‘out of the box’.

Many open source content management systems offer free templates, which have been submitted by their community of users. It is also possible to buy CMS templates from online template stores. Another alternative is to find a designer to build custom templates.


The next part of this series will cover how to choose the best CMS for you.

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