As technical as the term content management system (CMS) sounds, it’s simply the software used to build and manage a website. So no matter what type of website you’re aiming for, you’re going to need a CMS. Which CMS to use will depend on your needs, budget, and experience—whether that’s a code-based CMS, such as WordPress (which requires a learning curve or web design experience), or a user-friendly and code-free CMS, such as Squarespace.
Were you looking for a way to manage contacts and leads, not the appearance or functionality of your website? Then you might be in the market for a customer relationship management (CRM) system, not a CMS. The terms CMS and CRM are often confused. You can learn more about this essential tool by visiting our guide on the best CRM software.
Two Types of Content Management Systems
Every small business needs a website, and therefore needs a CMS, leaving you with the question of which type of CMS you need? You can create a website or online store using WordPress. Knowing some coding (HTML, CSS, and PHP) will help you customize your site. Or, you can choose a website builder with a CMS, such as Squarespace or Wix, without any code.
- Code-based CMS: If you need to create a fully customizable site with unique features or a large ecommerce store with the most advanced selling elements.
- No-code CMS: If you need to quickly and easily create a site or online store with prebuilt themes and elements at an affordable price.
Code vs No-code Content Management Systems
WordPress, Joomla, Drupal
Squarespace, Wix, GoDaddy
~$3 to 25 per month
~$10 to $25 per month
Sell Products and Services Online
Create a Membership Site
Sell Subscriptions and Accept Recurring Payments
Built-in Marketing Tools
Must add plugins
Available via web hosting provider and user forums
Benefits of a Content Management System
Using a CMS is one of the easiest ways to build and manage a website and all the content that goes onto that site. You can access all the content on your website from a CMS, including pages, images, posts, and code. A CMS means not having to rely on a web developer to create a site from scratch.
- Multiple users: You should be able to set user permissions so your team can have appropriate access, such as for admins, editors, and authors.
- Scheduling: With the ability to schedule posts through a CMS, you can create content well in advance and upload it all at one time, but spread out each instance over time.
- Organization: A CMS creates a foundation of databases for your content. Images are kept in a separate place from blogs, for example. A great CMS includes search functions too, so you can easily access your files without having to use other methods, such as FTP.
- No expertise needed: Most CMS’ are easy to learn and use, so you won’t have to rely on a web developer or an IT department to keep your website up and running.
- Maintenance: It would be tedious, to say the least, to maintain a website built from scratch. Because of a CMS’ organization, you’re able to update pages, posts, and content much more easily.
- Affordable: Whether you choose a free open source CMS or a website builder with a proprietary CMS, they are affordable solutions. They are far more affordable than hiring a full-time person to build a custom site publishing system.
There are only two situations in which you might not benefit from a traditional CMS (open source or with a website builder). If you only want static single pages or landing pages that you don’t intend to update, then a landing page builder may be best for your needs. The other situation is if you need an in-house, proprietary CMS for a custom solution, and you have the technical know-how or have hired someone to create and manage it for you.
CMS Features & How to Choose the Right CMS
When you’re ready to choose a CMS for your small business website, you should seriously consider a few things. Who is going to create and maintain your website? What features are most important to you in a CMS? And what’s your budget? Your best bet is to choose a CMS that’s easy for anyone to use and requires no coding.
Here’s what to look for when choosing a CMS:
- Ease of use: Though using any CMS is easier than not using one, some are more intuitive than others. Look for one that has a mix of flexibility and ease of use that suits you best. Some are menu-based (WordPress), while others are drag and drop (Wix).
- Pricing, plans, and inclusions: An open source CMS, like WordPress, is free to use, but you must secure web hosting, and you may want to install a site builder plugin to make it easier to use. Consider the cost of all add-ons versus using an all-in-one site builder that includes everything you need to host and build a website.
- Scalability: Keep in mind all that you plan to do with your website when your business starts to grow, and choose a CMS that makes sense for future updates. You may start with a standard website, but in time, you may want to create an online store.
- Templates or themes: Most CMS offer free themes or templates, but they may not be precisely what you’re looking for. You may need to pay for a premium theme or find a website builder and CMS that offers free designer-made themes or templates.
- Website builder: You’ll typically find any CMS worth its salt has a website builder, and though this counts toward ease of use, it’s still best to point it out separately. If you plan to create a small business website yourself, you’ll have an easier time if you choose a CMS with an intuitive, built-in site builder.
- Plugins: Even the best CMS may not have all the functionality you need, which is why it’s important to consider what apps are compatible with the CMS you choose.
- Content editor and scheduler: You should be able to edit and schedule content with any CMS, but some are better than others. It is possible to use a plugin for some CMS that don’t have great content editors, but it’s a better solution to choose a CMS that makes content management easy.
- Security: Most content management systems password-protect access, but you may also want to install a firewall. Be sure to update your CMS’ software and any plugins you use. Also, be careful about which plugins you use—some free plugins may be used to exploit security holes.
Most small businesses won’t need a custom CMS, so using a traditional CMS is the best choice. Squarespace makes it easy for you to build and update a website, manage content with its proprietary CMS, and upgrade to an online store. You can also create a membership site, accept online ordering for restaurants, or accept payments for a service-based business.
Best Content Management Systems
The best content management system for a small business is one that’s easy for everyone to use. Be sure it includes a website builder and a scheduler for blog posts and plugins, so you can add functionalities without relying on a web developer. When you choose the best CMS, you’ll save money and time.
Here are the best CMS for most small businesses:
- WordPress: To build a WordPress website, you shouldn’t need much more than a WordPress theme, hosting, and your own content. You may need to use plugins to add functionality, such as an ecommerce solution, search engine optimization (SEO) tools, and an easier site builder.
- Squarespace: Design is at the forefront of this website builder. All Squarespace themes are free to use with a plan, and they’re all created by professional designers (so you know your website will look awesome). The CMS is easy to use, and plans are affordable at just $12 per month.
- GoDaddy: GoDaddy was once only a domain registry service and web host, but now it offers a website builder. If you need a website quickly, GoDaddy offers an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered designer that will build a website based on your answers to its questions.
- Wix: If you want one of the most intuitive CMS and website builders on the market, consider Wix. It’s a true drag-and-drop editor, so it’s easy for anyone to use. There are hundreds of free themes to choose from, you get hosting, and it offers affordable plans.
- Webnode: Webnode is more of a website builder than a CMS. It’s a popular website designer for developers, but it’s more limited when it comes to blogging compared to most other builders. Like WordPress, it relies a lot on plugins and integrated solutions, rather than built-in features, like with Squarespace or Wix.
Keep in mind that the best CMS isn’t necessarily the best website builder. For example, WordPress is a fantastic CMS, but it isn’t the easiest to use for building websites. To add elements and drag-and-drop functionality, you need to purchase a plugin. Website builders like Squarespace and Wix include most of the features you need from a CMS.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What’s the difference between a CMS & a CRM?
It’s possible that your business needs both a CMS and a CRM, but they aren’t the same. A CMS is a content management system that’s used to build and manage a website and its content. A CRM is a customer relationship management app used to manage information on clients, customers, and sales leads. Learn more about CMS vs CRM here.
Do I need a content management system?
If you want complete control over your website and content and you don’t have coding skills, then you should use a CMS. Otherwise, if you’d prefer to hire someone to create and manage your business’ website, it will be up to the developer. Some developers prefer to build websites from scratch because the site requires fewer databases compared to when the site is built on a CMS. Learn more about whether you should hire a web designer or build your own website.
What are the most popular content management systems?
The most popular content management system in the world is WordPress. However, it’s not the only CMS, nor is it the most user-friendly. Those without web design experience, or the time to learn, are advised against using WordPress as it often leads to a homemade-looking website. Instead, get a surprisingly affordable website built for you from providers such as Hibu or opt for a website builder, such as Squarespace. Learn more about the best WordPress alternatives.
Every business needs a website, and websites are built using a content management system. The best CMS for those who need a site and are new to web design are the all-in-one site builders. Not only do they make it easy for just about anyone to build their own site, but they’re affordable and easy to manage. The best overall site builder is Squarespace, which is a beginner-friendly, yet design-forward CMS that ensures your site looks like a pro created it.