When it comes to creating a new website or updating your old site to a new one, content management systems (CMS) make it easy for you to manage the content and appearance of your website.  CMS’s can be thought of as the "core" or "framework" of your website, serving as the backbone architecture that glues together a web page’s text, images, URL path, links, etc. in a way that lets non-technical people manage the site without touching any code.

Content management and SEO

What’s really great about content management systems is that

  • they can be built in a search engine friendly manner (they can be also be built in non-search friendly ways, just depending on which one you go with).
  • content management systems let you publish information very easily, which means you get to put more pages into the search index, more chances as free organic search engine traffic

Types of content management systems

There are many different content management systems out on the market today.  Some are proprietary systems that come with a cost (licensing fees) and some are totally free to download and install (open source).  And there are different types of CMS that serve particular goals, for example, there are CMS’s used specifically for shopping carts, forums, blogs, customer relationship management, sales contacts management or CMS’s that can cover all of a website’s features.

Some of the more popular open source content management systems include

Benefits of an Open Source CMS

  • No licensing fees – yep, you don’t have to shell out any cash to own your own copy of some of the more elegant and advanced content management systems in the world.
  • Can contract any open source developer – anyone on the planet who works in a LAMP environment will be able to help develop your site.  Some developers have more knowledge in one CMS framework than others, so if you have a CMS in mind that you’re looking to use it really pays to simply ask your potential contractors if they have prior experience.
  • Flexibility – because of the open source paradigm you get to do anything you want with your code, add a feature here or there, modify and re-sell it, eat your code for breakfast, etc. (just kidding on that last one).
  • Wisdom of the crowd – the wider the distribution of an open source CMS means a larger user base and user community: more people work on the software, patch bugs, create contributed modules, create new and better versions, etc. and you get all that benefit for free!

Drawbacks of an Open Source CMS

  • Implementation Costs – While true open source is free to download and use in any way you desire, if you desire a feature that is outside the existing capability of the CMS then good developers generally start at around seventy five dollars an hour and can range even up to a few hundred dollars an hour, could get costly if your planned features/extensions are complicated.
  • No direct support – unless you have a developer who knows your CMS system, there is no 800 number to call when something breaks on your site.
  • Security Risks – if everyone knows the code to your website or even what version of the CMS software you have installed then it opens your site up to potential security risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Documentation – there are open source projects out on the web that have really great documentation and some that have non at all, so documentation is really hit and miss with open source.

Benefits of a Proprietary CMS

  • Support – this is what you pay for, you generally will have access to a team of people who know the CMS code inside and out.
  • Setup – you can probably have the third party company offering the CMS setup your website, no need to go searching for talent else where.

Drawbacks of a Proprietary CMS

  • Licensing Fees – A lot of proprietary content management systems require that you pay a licensing fee or at least a setup fee vs an open source cms that is free to use.
  • Tied to proprietary developer – if you have a proprietary CMS then chances are that the company who licenses the product to your company will require that they work on the system – and since they’d have their hooks into you it might not be very easy to find a developer who is going to have the learning curve on managing the code behind the CM. What’s worse is that you have to depend on that company to create upgrades and new features vs harnessing the bug fixing and new feature contributing power from a sea of open source developers.
  • Developer feeds – Don’t be fooled by the fact that support is readily available – it will come at a price and they’ll most likely charge you just about anything they want.

Other factors in choosing a CMS

  • Modularity – A lot of companies like working with a CMS that is modular in nature, that allows you to simply install a file (or set of files) via FTP that enhance the functionality of the site without any coding on your part.  There are many plugins and modules available for open source content management systems.
  • Search engine friendliness – Just because somebody offers you a content management system does not mean that it will be search engine friendly right out of the box.  A lot of proprietary as well as open source CMS’s out there require extra work (sometimes a lot of work) to become search friendly. Thankfully some open source CMS’s systems like drupal and wordpress come pretty search friendly right out of the box.  We use these platforms quite a bit here at Best Rank and can (and will continue to) vouch for them till time and time again.
  • Paid and open source – note that some providers have taken open source projects, slapped their label on it, made a few additions to then and turned around and sold the product for good money.  My point being there are great licensed applications that are also open source, which usually means you get upgrades and support for the fee but you can still hire someone else to do the open source development on your cms.  One example, not a true CMS but rather a project management system, called Activcollab was actually an open source project to begin with then converted to a licensed product (but the code is still open source).


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Nyx Marketing • 10 years ago

Thanks for the concise and useful post. It seems that in these highly budgeted times (and depending on one's needs and experience) the Open Source CMS is as good a bet as the Proprietary CMS.

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Charles Lauller • 10 years ago

Nice post. There are many technical points that can be argued either way. In many ways it boils down to the company/organization and how they're staffed and budgeted. Do you have programmers/IT professionals on staff that can manage hosting and updating the open source software? Have you considered initial implementation time/cost and ongoing support/cost? I've all seen open source projects that ran over on time and budget and failed to meet expectations. Conversely, I've seen people try to "fit into" a proprietary product and wish they would have built custom from scratch when it was all said and done. You have to clearly define the current and future scope and plans for the project, and carefully weigh the options as every situation is different. I've worked for organizations that provide both types of solutions successfully. Great clients by and large make the best decisions because they gather the best information. Great companies set and manage expectations to implement solutions on time and on budget!

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Claude Gelinas • 10 years ago

Proprietary CMS solutions are costly because they only let the "owner" to install the script once.

Now, in real life, it doesn't work that way.

Most of the time, the script is tested on a production server, then brought online for a soft-test on a secondary domain and then, announced and launched on the main domain. This straightforward process could be problematic, in a licensed script context.

Open source is just so much more natural.

An open sourced script can be deployed as often as necessary and that's just wonderful. Not that everybody needs that but knowing that it's possible make a world of a difference.

Then, in the open source community, when you like a script, you just send PayPal donations. It's that simple. You can contribute new features too but money, in my experience, has always been very much appreciated.

I do the math this way. I used to spend around 5k$ on software, a few years back. I scaled that down to 2k$ so now, I spend between 2k$ and 3k$ a year on donations to open source scripts (in PHP and MySQL, my areas of interest). It's not a fortune but I'm being well served by these scripts and I intend for others to share part of my success.

Licenses feel like a prison.

And I believe I'm not the only one...

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Lisa • 10 years ago

I would hardly downgrade Wordpress to only being suitable for blogging- it has just as much capabilities as Joomla and is so much easier to use- wordpress is just FINE for a static site, even if there is no blog. Another feature of proprietary CMS that you didn't mention is the security- with Open Source, there's the possibility of hackers out there looking for ways to infiltrate your system via rogue plugins or widgets.

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Mike Shannon • 10 years ago

We've actually inherited clients that run their sites on a wordpress install, so yes it's a viable way to manage a full website and not just a blog, however in general wordpress is known for being a blogging platform and as I understand requires extra work to setup as a full site CMS.

In the "Drawbacks of an Open Source CMS" heading I have the "Security Risks" line that addresses what you're referring to

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c-g • 10 years ago

As a developer, another major factor to select a CMS is the programming language in which it is developed, as this may increase your costs when you need to modify the core.

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james • 10 years ago

Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this short article together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!
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james • 10 years ago

Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It will always be exciting to read through articles from other writers and use something from their web sites.
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