top of page

The web designer's ultimate guide to CMS

Choosing a content management system isn't the most exciting part of building a website, but it is essential. Here's what you need to know.

Illustration by Anita Goldstein.

Profile picture of Nick Babich


7 min read

Building a new website requires a lot of creative work—you have to choose the right imagery, color system, type, and organize your website’s content in a way that communicates your message to site visitors as quickly and clearly as possible.

With so many things to do, it's relatively easy to forget to choose a content management system (CMS) that will organize and manage the content available on the website—but an effective CMS website builder can actually make the whole process of content management as painless as possible.

So in this article, we’ll answer a few popular questions website designers and creators have about CMS, like, "what is content management?" and "what is a CMS?", and explore different types of CMS and steps you need to follow to design a website with a CMS.

What we'll cover

What is a CMS?

A content management system (CMS) is an application web producers use to create and manage content for a website without using code. The elements of a CMS may vary depending on the specific platform, but usually include a content database and a user-friendly interface the website administrator can use to add, delete, and edit content on a website. Many CMS’s offer intuitive content editors that allow site administrators to create a page layout and drag and drop content in specific parts of the page.

Some CMS’s also include tools for analyzing website traffic and visitor behavior, which can help site owners understand how their content is being used and identify opportunities for improvement. (Learn more about the Wix content manager.)

what is  a cms website

A CMS website, quite simply, utilizes a visual, easily navigable back-end content management system as opposed to a website that relies on code. It has five key benefits, as highlighted above.

Why use a CMS?

The primary reason to use a CMS website design is to make the web design and site maintenance processes easier and more efficient. Here are some advantages of using the CMS:

1. It saves time and doesn’t require technical expertise

The number one reason to use a CMS is to simplify backend content production processes. With a CMS, anyone, including non-technical users, can manage website information, because they don't have to dive into code to add or edit content. Instead, they complete all operations via the CMS’s user interface, allowing organizations to focus on creating good content rather than finding someone who understands how to code.

2. It improves search engine optimization (SEO)

Many CMS’s include features that can improve SEO. For example, they allow users to easily specify meta titles and descriptions for each page and create human-readable URLs for individual pages that help both site visitors and search engines understand what the page is about.

3. It optimizes performance

An efficient CMS can set your site up for growth because it makes websites more scalable. It’s designed to handle large volumes of content and large traffic, making a CMS a good choice for organizations that have a large content output, like an editorial or news site; or that expect their website to grow over time, like a corporate website with many different sections.

What are the different types of CMS?

There are several different types of content management systems (not to be confused with a design system), depending on the architecture they use and the use cases that they cover:

1. Web content management system

A web content management system (WCMS) is the most commonly used CMS, and typically use to manage the day-to-day functions of a website. When people mention the term 'CMS,' they usually mean web content management system. We will provide a few popular examples of WCMSs later in this article.

2. Enterprise content management (ECM)

An enterprise content management system is a system that is used to manage a wide range of content related to an organization's business processes (corporate documents such as internal documents, corporate policies, specifications, etc.). ECM systems allow organizations to control the entire lifecycle of their content, from creation and distribution to disposal (when content is no longer relevant).

ECMs are typically used as an internal system—an organization uses an EMC to create internal web portals where departments like HR can share documents with employees.

3. Headless content management system (Headless CMS)

As the name suggests, headless CMS is a type of CMS that separates where content is stored (the “body”) from where it is presented (the “head“). A headless CMS provides APIs that allow website administrators to manage the content in the system.

Using a headless CMS typically requires a higher level of technical proficiency, but they usually provide more control over content (it's possible to build different “heads” that will use the same content) and generally have better performance than WCMS (since web developers can choose a front-end stack that demonstrates the best results).

different types of CMS (Content management systems)

There are several kinds of content management systems, but the most common are WCMS, ECM, and headless CMS.

What are some examples of CMS?

There are many different CMSs available, ranging from simple platforms to sophisticated systems. In this section, I want to share the top three popular open-source WCMSs—Wix Studio, Joomla, and Drupal.

1. Wix Studio

For website size: small/medium websites

For website type: blog, company website, landing page

Wix Studio can be used for creating and managing websites and blogs. The platform has a built-in data content manager that helps to create and store dynamic content that will be used on individual pages.

This feature is especially useful when you need to create a few pages that will have the same structure (such as when you have multiple products that you want to showcase on your website and each product will have its own web page). The system can help you generate multiple dynamic pages and each with the same layout but different content.

A site build out and content management system, both on Editor X.

A site build out and content management system, both on Wix Studio.

2. Joomla

For website size: small/medium websites

For website type: company website, online shop,

Joomla is another popular open-source CMS, known for its flexibility and range of features. Joomla also has a lot of useful plugins that can extend the functionality of the system. Using plugins, it's possible to turn Joomla into a fully-functioning online store.

3. Drupal

For website size: medium/large websites

For website type: corporate website, online shop.

Drupal is an open-source CMS known for its powerful and customizable features. Web developers favor Drupal for its modular design and extensive API. It gives more freedom for customization but also requires more technical skills to manage the system.

There are several different types of content management systems, depending on the architecture they use and the use cases that they coverages and then fill them with content. For CMS with graphical user interfaces, this operation is done using a content editor.

How can I design a website using CMS?

Here’s how to use a CMS to design and build a site in 5 steps:

1. Choose the CMS that meets your needs

The first step is understanding your needs and selecting the CMS that meets your needs. Think about:

  • Platform's features: What features does the CMS offer out of the box?

  • Ease of use: What level of technical expertise the system requires?

  • Scalability: How well the system scales for different web traffic?

  • Cost: Do you want to buy a CMS? Some CMS are open-sourced and offered for free, while others are proprietary and offered as commercial products.

  • Security: How frequently is the CMS updated? You might want to choose CMS that is regularly updated and has a good track record when it comes to security. It will help to protect your website and your users' data.

  • Specific requirements you may have: What specific needs do you have? For example, you might need integration with other systems, such as your corporate customer relationship management system (CRM). In this case, you will try to choose a CMS with built-in interaction with the CRM.

2. Install CMS on your hosting platform

First, you’ll need a hosting platform. Most people use a virtual private server (VPS), a type of hosting service that allows a user to have their own virtual server, as compared to a shared server, in which multiple websites are hosted on the same server.

Second, your new CMS will likely require a database to store your site’s data. After that, you will need to upload the CMS software (CMS typically comes as a ZIP archive) and run the CMS installation script.

3. Set up the CMS

You’ll first need to configure the administrator account and choose the basic visual theme that will be used on your website. Think of your CMS? as a template you’ll fill with content.

You might also install additional modules or plugins that will give you more features. For example, if your website is available in different languages, you might install a content localization module that will allow you to create and manage content in multiple languages.

4. Add content

Once the CMS is configured, you can start adding content like text, images, and videos to your website.You need to create individual web pages and then fill them with content. For CMS with graphical user interfaces, this operation is done using a content editor.

During this step, you’ll also create a navigation system that will include menus and links between individual pages.

5. Test your design

Before making your website public, it must be tested to ensure everything is working as intended. You must ensure that your website looks and works equally well on any screen size and resolution, so check the website on mobile, tablet, and desktop. Once you are satisfied with the result, you can publish your website and make it available to the public.

Make web design more efficient with the right CMS

So what is CMS? It's a tool that makes content management much easier and less time-consuming than managing headache-inducing individual HTML files. Think of your CMS as a platform to help streamline how you work with site content and accelerate your site creation—made easier by choosing a CMS that has great user experience, offers all required features, and keeps personal information secure.

Find new ways FWD

Thanks for submitting!

By subscribing, you agree to receive the Wix Studio newsletter and other related content and acknowledge that Wix will treat your personal information in accordance with Wix's Privacy Policy.

Do brilliant work—together

Collaborate and share inspiration with other pros in the Wix Studio community.

Image showing a photo of a young group of professionals on the left and a photo highlighting one professional in a conference setting on the right
bottom of page