The content management system (CMS) has evolved over the years, to the point where it’s now the most obvious platform on which to build a website. The advantages over a standalone website that’s manually updated are so numerous that hardly any website owner outside the development sphere needs to know any HTML or CSS any more – which wasn’t the case before the CMS came to dominance. Now, anyone with a login can post content on their company’s website without fear of breaking it, and they know it will look consistent and professional.
Now, the choice isn’t between whether to use a CMS, but which one to use. Assuming you’re not going to build your own, you’ll probably choose one of the most popular self-hosted platforms – i.e. WordPress.org, HubSpot, Joomla! or Magento – or use an online service like WordPress.com, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify or GoDaddy.
The difference is that with the first group, you have to upload the platform onto your own hosting package, then keep it updated and maintained, and with the second, the hosting and maintenance is handled by the third party company – usually for a fee. So this gives you your first choice: do you want complete control, plus responsibility over hosting, or give away some of that control to take advantage of external hosting, maintenance and expertise?
If you have your own developers or tech-savvy staff, it’s likely that the best way is to partner with a WordPress developer to design, maintain and upgrade your site as and when needed. It’ll be a lot of work at the start, but once it’s up and running, the developer will only need a light hand on the tiller. (By the way, “self hosting” doesn’t mean you need your own servers; it’s more likely that you’ll be in control of your allocated server and bandwidth from a professional hosting company.)
If you’re not interested in anything technical, but just want to get a website online to advertise your services or sell products, then the second group might suit you the best. You’ll probably have to pay more than you would for a hosting package, either as a set fee or as a percentage of sales, but there’s less hassle – and all modifications will need to come with the hosting company’s blessing.
CMS’s are generally split into two types – those for informative and/or interactive websites, and eCommerce (i.e. online retail) websites. WordPress is the most popular of the former type, thanks to its history, its scalability, the number of themes and plugins and the huge community around it. And WooCommerce, which is essentially a WordPress plugin, upgrades a vanilla WordPress site into an eCommerce platform. I’ll cut to the chase – if anyone asks me to recommend a basic CMS I’ll always say WordPress as it’s simply the most versatile and intuitive one going.
If the site is purely eCommerce, and is expecting to make large volumes of sales, then there will usually be a good case for choosing Magento. It’s now on its second iteration, and it’s an absolute powerhouse of a platform that you can use to get selling with confidence pretty quickly – although it’s slightly more of a technical challenge than WordPress.
HubSpot is probably best described as a customer relationship management (CRM) system with a built-in CMS, but that is not to belittle what is actually a very good platform for building a site, and if you have a lot of customer interaction, it’s a very useful integration.
Finally, for simply selling your stuff and not worrying at all about the technical side of things, you probably can’t go wrong with Shopify, although Wix eCommerce is also considered a pretty solid platform.
Ultimately, choosing the CMS should always be influenced mainly by how you plan to use your website, what you’re willing to spend, how much responsibility for maintenance (and opportunity for modification) you want to have, and who will have access. Hopefully this post will highlight the main differences.