We’re living in a digital world, so it is fair to say that we’re quite dependent on the internet and technology in general. That’s pretty obvious. Whenever we need information on any topic, we go online. When we want to know where a restaurant is located, how much does a room cost in a particular hotel, or basically the price of any product or service, the answer can be found online. We probably don’t need to explain to you why having a website is a must nowadays. You have two options - digitize or die. 

And how much does a website cost?

If you pose a question like that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The price depends on multiple factors - the type of website, its size and, most importantly. the purpose, the CMS that you use (Content Management System), etc.

Several people sitting at a table with laptops, working together on a project.

What is a Content Management System?

Not many years ago, the process of creating a simple website was quite complex and long. That is, if you wanted a website with at least some level of visual quality, navigation structure, and content variety. 

First, you had to be familiar with several technologies, mainly HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, for a static website. Building a dynamic website was even more complex and it required knowledge of ASP, JSP or PHP.

Updating website content was no easy task either, particularly when websites became larger and had to include new pages, or you needed to update their structure or hierarchy.
Essential utilities, such as modifying existing content, searching and locating pages and managing pages, images and other resources on the server, required custom tools or development, which made websites and website maintenance a lot more expensive.

Based on all of the above, it was evident that some sort of a simpler tool or solution was needed. Ideally, a tool that would be easy to use and one that would allow users to create a website without having to use advanced technology and resources. Or to put it in different terms, website creation and development had to be simplified. And it wasn’t just the creation and development, users need a tool that will also enable them to handle management, administration, and maintenance in an integrated environment so that the site owners and administrators wouldn’t have to use additional, external tools. 

The best way to understand what a CMS is and what we can do with it is to see its three main functions:

- Website creation.
- Website management and maintenance.
- Website administration, as well as administration of the CMS itself. 

These are not the only functions that a CMS can perform, but if a system doesn’t perform them, it’s not a CMS. 

More advanced CMSs or those that are specialized for a specific activity (for example, e-commerce websites) have additional functions that serve the needs that are integral for that type of site (for example, a catalog of products in e-commerce).

Three women standing and using an iPad.

When do you need to use a CMS to create your website?

If you need a large and complicated site with many pages, it is best to use a content management system instead of a website builder or free template.

First, you may have to learn how the chosen CMS works, but a good and reliable CMS provides flexibility and functionality.

If you want to hire a web developer, consider using an open-source CMS like Drupal, WordPress or Joomla. Most developers are already familiar with these platforms. These Open Source options will give you access to thousands of plugins and themes created by the community to change the appearance of your website in a simple way.

What is an Open Source CMS?

It is clearly explained by the Open Source Initiative what criteria a software has to satisfy to be considered Open Source. Here we go through some of the most important aspects:

1. Free redistribution
This provision states that the license should not restrict any party from giving away the software as a part of an aggregate software distribution system that contains other programs from different sources. It is even possible for third parties to sell it and the license cannot include provisions on loyalties and other fees regarding sales of the software.

2. Source Code
The source code needs to be included in the program and its distribution has to be permitted, either as source code or in a compiled form.

3. Derived Works
The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow their distribution under the same terms as the original software. An Open Source license has to permit users to make modifications as well as other solutions that are practically derived works of the original software and these should be distributed under the exact same terms as the original software.

This means that WordPress, Drupal or Joomla are free to use: the software is not proprietary. You go to their respective site, download it and install it on your web server. Very simple! 

Woman working on her laptop.

Which are the best Open Source content management systems?

If these CMSs have something in common is that they are all based on PHP and MySQL,  so you will need a hosting provider that has these options already installed (shared server or VPS "managed") or choose a hosting and install them yourself (VPS or dedicated "unmanaged").

WordPress - The simplest and most popular CMS - is the most used content manager, mainly due to its extreme ease of use, which makes it the best choice for beginner users.

Drupal - The CMS for those who want something more complex - You can use Drupal to create anything from a personal blog to a business blog. But its main advantage is its support for the optimization of organic positioning (SEO) via integrated solutions and tools.

Joomla - A classic CMS solution - Joomla is a content management system that allows you to build websites and blogs. Maybe it's a good option for companies that want a high level of customization for their portal.

Magento - A perfect CMS for e-commerce -  You will be able to create several stores from a single dashboard, which is very convenient. Placing products in the catalog is really simple, just like activating shopping carts and payment gateways.

Although most CMSs provide access to many web solutions, for specific sites, such as e-commerce platforms or online courses, there are CMSs that are better than the rest. There are systems whose basic installation packages include everything that’s necessary to build a website based on your needs, without even having to install add-ons.