Website Advisor: CMS selection • Top 5 open source CMS systems • CMS requirements • CMS overview • How to find the best CMS for your project

What is a Content Management System (abbreviated CMS)?



Content Management System – what is it? Taken individually, these three terms are easy to understand. Together, however, they take on a very specific meaning.

When you have a lot of documents, it can be difficult to quickly find the one you need. Therefore, it would be good to have a tool that you can use to sort the documents in a certain way. Then, depending on your needs, you can sort the documents, for example, in alphabetical order or by date. This would make it faster and easier to find documents and manage them more efficiently.

So this tool would be a Management System for Contents. But that is not what we mean when we talk about a Content Management System, or CMS for short.

A Content Management System (CMS) is software for your server or web hosting package that allows you to create, edit and publish the content of your website without any special knowledge. A CMS typically holds the content of the website in a database.

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Very simple websites without technically advanced features or a complex User Interface (UI elements) can also be created with a Website Builder (also called Website Construction Kit). A Website Builder is a tool that allows you to easily create your website from pre-built building blocks via click-and-drop them with your mouse.

However, there are many technical limitations and virtually no room for creative ideas. This mainly concerns the placement of page content elements such as text, images, videos, … as well as the layout and structure of the site navigation. Website Builder offers limited functionality when it comes to customizing your Website.

If you want to have more than a simple online business card, a CMS (Content Management System) is much more suitable, as it offers more possibilities and can be easily adapted to your individual needs.

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Advantages of a CMS

Unlike a Website Builder, a CMS can be easily customized with plug-ins or extensions. This gives you much more room for creative ideas.

There are hundreds of content management systems on the market today. With so many different CMS on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to use. There is simply no single CMS that meets all possible requirements.

A CMS is particularly worthwhile if the website has a lot of content.

  • If you are using a content management system, you can install and activate a pre-made design theme. Or use your own theme after customizing it for the selected CMS. Each CMS has its own set of rules and determines how the theme needs to be customized.

  • With a content management system, you can quickly and easily create, modify, or delete content (text, images, and videos) and webpages.

  • As an author, you donʼt need any HTML knowledge to create or edit pages or content. A good CMS has an intuitive WYSIWYG editor. The acronym WYSIWYG means What You see is what you get

    All the popular CMS usually follow common web standards.

  • Content management systems often have SEO tools on board. Some CMS require the installation of an extension for this function.

Top 5 Open Source Content Management Systems

There is no simple answer to the question of which CMS is best, it depends on individual user preferences and needs. There are hundreds of content management systems out there. Many CMSs are open source software and each of them has its own strengths and weaknesses. The top 5 open source CMS are:

1. WordPress – from a blog system to a CMS

WordPress was originally designed as a blogging system. It combines two areas of application in one piece of software. For the basic installation, various extensions (plug-ins) are available, which expand the system to a full-fledged content management system. With a 65% market share, WordPress is the undisputed market leader among Open Source CMS.

WordPress is suitable for blogs and small to medium-sized websites. However, if there is a lot of traffic on the website, the demands on the database server are high.

Advantages of WordPress

  • Installation and configuration of WordPress is very easy.

  • No programming skills are required to use WordPress.

  • There are currently about 55,000 plugins and more than 10,000 themes for WordPress. There are both free themes and premium themes that you can buy for little money.

  • Lots of support from a large and active community of users.

  • Search engine friendly URLs and custom meta tags for each webpage provided by an SEO plug-in.

Disadvantages of WordPress

  • Heavy load on the database server with many visitors to the website.

  • The back end (admin interface) has limited customization capabilities.

  • Many updates, sometimes with security risks

  • Because the large number of plug-ins that need to be installed, the system has many vulnerabilities that can be exploited by black hat hackers to penetrate the system.

WordPress is open source software and can be installed free of charge and used without restrictions for private and commercial purposes. Free download of WordPress.

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2. Contao – a Mix of Typo3 and Joomla

Contao is a kind of best-of-all CMS for medium to large websites. In practice, however, Contao is mostly used to create small to medium-sized websites. The CMS is very easy to use and requires no prior experience. More than 1800 extensions are available for professionals and interested users.

The Contao CMS is an insider tip and popular especially in Germany.

Even in its basic version, Contao is very lean and offers many features that other CMS need to extend. Contao has an intuitive backend and a clear admin panel. The CMS stands out for its compatibility with web standards and accessibility.

Advantages of Contao

  • Simple installation with easy to follow step-by-step guide.

  • An Online Demo and a comprehensive set of documentation make it easy for you to get started with the Contao CMS.

  • Contao has a built-in Theme-Manager, which can be used to customize of your website. You can use different modules to customize how the website works.

  • Contao is known for its high security standards.

  • The LTS version (long term support) of the CMS is stable and guarantees updates for four years.

  • For Contao there are more than 1,800 extensions and a lot of themes (layout templates). You can use them as a basis for your website.

  • Timing for publishing content. In addition to manual publishing, you can set an automatic publishing date for each article.

  • Search engine friendly URLs and individual meta tags for each webpage.

  • The CMS is fast, even with a lot of access to the database.

Disadvantages of Contao

  • Implementing your own themes and templates requires some experience or a willingness to learn the details of the system.

  • The community is small but active. Since Contao is mainly used in Germany, community support for non-German languages is sub-optimal.

Contao is open source software and can be installed free of charge for private and commercial purposes. It can be used by anyone without restrictions. Free download from Contao.

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3. Joomla – the CMS for fans

The open source CMS Joomla is suitable for small to medium-sized websites that do not require extensive rights management. Joomla is especially popular in the United States. In the early yeaars, Joomla impressed with its clarity. Only in the last few years Joomla has made significant progress again, for example in terms of search engine suitability.

Due to the large community, there are also several thousand extensions for Joomla. Joomla has a modular structure and is characterized by a high degree of flexibility. You can create your own templates by combining ready-made content elements. Joomla provides extensive CMS functionality without the need for extensions.

Advantages of Joomla

  • Installation and configuration of Joomla is very easy due to the good and easy to understand documentation.

  • Joomla can be used without any prior programming knowledge or other technical skills to develop attractive and professional looking websites.

  • More than 5.900 Extensions and countless layout templates are available for this content management system as a basis for your own website layouts.

  • Joomla is easily scalable.

  • Joomlaʼs modular structure allows you to create your own templates in a user-friendly way.

  • Search engine friendly URLs and custom meta tags for each webpage.

Disadvantages of Joomla

  • Incomplete rights management

  • Sophisticated extensions are sometimes only available as paid premium plug-ins.

  • Many attack possibilities for hackers, because the CMS can only be used with a lot of plug-ins.

Joomla is open source software and can be installed free of charge for private and commercial purposes. It can be used by anyone without restrictions. Free download of Joomla.

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4. Drupal – the Building Blocks CMS

Drupal is a modular CMS that can be greatly expanded with countless modules. You can compare Drupal to a Lego construction kit with a lot of building blocks to build the system. The basic installation of the software is extremely lean and can be customized. The modular CMS was originally developed as a community solution, but itʼs now a full-fledged CMS.

Drupal is suitable for medium to large websites and is usually the first choice for user-generated content web-sites. The strengths of the system lie primarily in the community area. Basic installation already includes many Web 2.0 features. These include weblogs, forums and tag clouds.

Drupalʼs sophisticated permissions management is especially suited for extensive community websites.

Advantages of Drupal

  • very lean basic installation

  • The CMS can be individually extended with a large number of modules. This may require additional installations for the required modules.

  • More than 1400 pre-configured distributions of Drupal are available for the most common use cases.

  • The backend can be customized. However, various reports show that this is not an easy task for beginners without prior knowledge.

  • There are more than 49,000 plug-in modules and around 2,500 layout templates for Drupal.

  • Drupal is known for its excellent security and allows multi-domain management.

  • The CMS has sophisticated rights management.

  • Drupal has been on the market for a long time. This CMS therefore has a large community.

  • Search engine friendly URLs and custom meta tags for each webpage are provided by an SEO plug-in.

Disadvantages of Drupal

  • Reports indicate that Drupal is not recommended for beginners due to its complexity. It takes some time to become familiar with the CMS.

  • Drupal was designed primarily to meet the needs of professional web designers who know exactly what they need. As a result, adding new features to the system often requires a significant amount of tweaking.

  • Drupal is a system with an incredible amount of power. Of course, that doesnʼt make it any less complicated.

  • The server settings and loading times must be checked regularly and adjusted if necessary.

Drupal is open source and can be installed free of charge for private and commercial purposes. It can be used without restrictions. Free download of Drupal.

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5. TYPO3 – the CMS for Professionals

TYPO3 is an Enterprise CMS designed for professional use. The CMS is constantly being developed by an experienced team of developers and kept at the cutting edge of technology. Due to regular security updates, TYPO3 is considered to be the CMS with the highest level of security.

However, TYPO3 is also the most misused Content Management System because it is very complex and can do much more than most users need for their website.

In some cases, comparatively small websites are realized with TYPO3. In this case, the user makes much more effort than necessary.

Due to the complexity of the system, professional use of the CMS as a developer requires extensive specialized knowledge and ideally several years of experience in web development. For editors and authors, the system is relatively easy to use thanks to the individually scalable interface.

Using the Enterprise CMS usually means a longer training period for the website operator. If the huge functionality of TYPO3 is not needed for a website, a small, modular CMS is usually the better choice.

In principle, almost any conceivable web project can be realized with TYPO3. Especially for large, complex websites, the system impresses with its clear and user-friendly design. TYPO3 is especially recommended if several authors access the backend and each of them creates many pages, possibly in different languages.

Advantages of TYPO3

  • TYPO3 is under constant development. This guarantees state-of-the-art technology.

  • Regular security updates ensure the highest level of security.

  • The system has excellent performance if the caches are set properly.

  • The CMS has professional user and rights management at the highest level.

  • TYPO3 comes with comprehensive documentation.

  • More than 8,000 Extensions and many themes.

  • Search engine friendly URLs and custom meta tags for each webpage.

  • Intelligent schedule control for publication of content. In addition to manual publishing, you can set a start and stop date for each page and content item. This prevents content that is no longer or not yet valid from being published on the website.

Disadvantages of TYPO3

  • Developers require a high level of know-how for the installation, configuration, and administration of the system.

  • Developers require a relatively long training period to become comfortable with the system. Developers usually have to learn the meta language TypoScript, which is used to configure the website.

  • The hosting requirements are higher than for many other CMS. Proper server configuration is not easy for beginners.

TYPO3 is open source and can be installed free of charge for private and commercial purposes. It can be used without any restriction. Free download of TYPO3.

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CMS market shares of the top 5 CMS in Germany

The comparison only includes the 5 most important CMS in Germany, all other CMS are not included.

CMS Installationen in Deutschland Anteil
WordPress 1.673.000 *) 78,4%
Joomla 188.000 *) 8,8%
TYPO3 CMS 167.000 *) 7,8%
Contao 73.000 *) 3,4%
Drupal 32,000 *) 1,5%

When comparing these 5 CMS worldwide, the ratio of the CMS changes. This is mainly due to the fact that TYPO3 and Contao are predominantly used in German-speaking countries (D-A-CH region).

This comparison only shows the raw numbers for the top 5 CMS. The high market share of WordPress means that this CMS is probably the first choice for the average user. However, the dominance of WordPress doesnʼt mean that it is best suited for average use cases.

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What is the difference between Theme and Template?

If you are new to website building, you may have heard the terms theme and template. To avoid confusion or misunderstanding, I would like to briefly explain these two terms.

A theme is a fully styled layout composition for a website. The theme handles the appearance of the website items. It determines how headings, paragraphs, lists, tables, and other content elements of the website should be displayed.

A template defines the structure for certain page types or content elements. It also defines how the page is filled with content.

Note, however, that the terms theme and template are often used interchangeably in everyday language. In addition, some CMS (e.g. WordPress) refer to the layout as a theme, while other CMS (e.g. Joomla) use the term template for the same thing.