With dozens of CMS platforms on the market, selecting the right one for your website build can be a daunting decision. Most business owners want a website they can update on their own, without having to pay a developer each time they add new products, images or articles.
Thankfully, the choice can be made much easier after assessing the capabilities of the most popular Content Management Systems available.
Today we’ll review the top CMS systems for both general purpose and ecommerce websites. While there are pros and cons to each option, there are several front runners who lead the pack when it comes differentiating factors like ease of use, scalability, flexibility and out-of-the-box features.
The first step in finding the perfect Content Management System for your business, is to determine whether an open or closed source platform is best. Open source means the original source code is freely available to be downloaded and manipulated. Creators of open source CMSs have facilitated the evolution of large communities of users, who contribute to its documentation and enhancement. Community forums serve as the primary tool for troubleshooting and general how-to’s and advice.
Closed source CMSs adopt the opposite philosophy. The source code is not available for download, and is not able to be modified. Instead, providers charge a monthly or yearly fee to build and maintain a website on their platform. They typically have support teams that work with customers to troubleshoot and assist with updates and maintenance. Additionally, most closed source CMSs are “hosted solutions”, meaning the customer is forced to host their website with the provider. MagentoGo is an example of this setup. Magento has partnered with the hosting company Rackspace, where all Go customers must host their sites.
For businesses with internal or 3rd party development teams, open source is the way to go. Any capable developer can maintain an open source CMS with a fair level of ease. Most are built on the most widely used coding languages and offer many helpful resources to assist with management and updates. Conversely, companies who lack development resources will benefit from the support offered by closed source CMS providers.
WordPress is by far the most popular CMS on the planet. As of April 2013 it had been downloaded over 18 million times and powers approximately 14.7% of the top 1 million websites. The Wall Street Journal, CNN and NY Times Blog, to name a few, are powered by WordPress. The wide-spread popularity of WordPress stems from the size of it’s community, which avidly contributes to the creation of cutting edge themes, plugins and support resources. Additionally, WordPress is famous for its ease of use and it’s ability to be customized for virtually any application. The administration panel is incredibly user-friendly, and offers a small learning curve for users with even basic computer skills.
Joomla, while newer than both WordPress and Drupal, has rapidly grown to be the second most used open source CMS. The system offers a middle ground between WordPress and Drupal, as it simultaneously delivers an ease of use closer to WordPress, and technical capabilities reminiscent of Drupal. The Guggenheim, Peugeot and Barnes & Noble have used Joomla for website development.
Drupal is the most powerful CMS for creating complex enterprise-level websites. It is designed and maintained by a community of developers who use the platform for feature-rich sites with proprietary functionality. The Louvre Museum, The White House and Zynga (creator of Angry Birds) websites are all built on Drupal.
CushyCMS is perhaps the most dummy proof CMS on the market, and also the most limiting. The profoundly simple platforms lets users modify pre-built templates, and gives them the ability to make updates to elements such as headlines, images, logo and color pallette. The major disadvantages of this system are a lack of customizable design options and out-of-the-box features. For those seeking a proprietary design aesthetic or even mildly sophisticated functionality, there are much better solutions for consideration.
Sharepoint, while incredibly robust, typically serves a very specific purpose: to be an internal content engine (e.g. corporate intranet). Sharepoint is built on ASP.NET and has the ability to manage massive amounts of content, whether from a single site, or multiple sites tied together, but is not intended for building public-facing websites. The latest version released in 2013 does offer some nice updates that make it a bit easier for those dead set on using it as a public-facing CMS. However, significant financial and development resources are needed to optimize the platform for a consumer website.
Magento offers the most comprehensive and robust out-of-the-box ecommerce features of any CMS. Magento offers site owners the ability to completely manage a web store without any prior coding know-how. The site’s product catalogue, along with coupons, sales and promotions are manageable via a user-friendly administration panel, and updates can be made on the fly.
There are three versions of Magento available to consumers. Magento Community Edition is a free open source system, and like WordPress is maintained by a helpful community of contributers. MagentoGo is an affordable template-based, hosted solution for small shops with limited inventory. Magento Enterprise offers full 24/7 support for corporate clients with extensive catalogues and robust sites requiring continual maintenance and updates. Some of the biggest brands, including Nike, Ford and Samsung, use Magento.
Zen Cart and osCommerce are product management CMSs with much smaller communities and limited capabilities. These platforms fit ecommerce websites with small inventories and simple feature sets. If your products require configurable options and have multiple variations, you’ll need to consider a more robust CMS such as Magento.
Shopify is the closest you can get to WordPress when it comes to closed source ecommerce solutions. Users can purchase basic or premium templates and make simple updates through a user-friendly admin panel. The system supports multiple payment methods, including PayPal and is fine and dandy for a store with 10 or 20 products. However, if you want scalability or need a more enhanced platform out of the gate, Shopify is not for you. The cons of Shopify include poor file organization, absence of shortcodes, limited SEO options, subpar visual editor and lack of useful 3rd party plugins.
Volusion was founded in 1999 and boasts that over 40,000 web stores have been built on it’s platform. Due to the company having limited development resources, far fewer versions are released when compared to Magento. This means less updates and infrequent opportunity to enhance your website with much needed features. While it does offer an impressive set of out-of-the-box templates, as well as outstanding support, it’s shortcomings are glaring enough to make many developers weary. Shakey stability and performance, a limited feature set and lack of integration with ERPs are some of Volusion’s downfalls.