What is it?
In the past, to make and maintain a website you had to be literate in binary code and a whizz at HTML programming. Nowadays, it is a lot easier for lay-users to add content. Web Content Management Systems (WCMS; CMS) are basically maintenance tools for creating, editing, searching and publishing HTML content on your business website. Even if you have no knowledge of programming or mark up languages, these web applications should allow you to create and manage online content – everything from images and audio files to video and electronic documents – with relative ease.
A good CMS will allow you to edit content easily; manage your workflow; and extend your site’s functionality to scale as you grow.
What’s out there?
There are three main types: you can use a free Open Source system (like Mambo, Joomla! or Drupal); go for a mid-range, off-the-shelf system; or splash out on a top-end, bespoke system that a web designer will make to your specifications. The system can be hosted or it can be launched from your own server. It can either be processed online or offline, or even be a hybrid.
Crudely speaking, offerings are differentiated by price. There’s a huge range of systems available: some are a lot cheaper, some extremely expensive. But the important thing is to find the system that can provide the right solutions for you, because the functionality of each system varies.
Visitors to your site will not be able to tell which system you’re running on, but your CMS will show itself through how easy it is to navigate from page to page, and how long people stay on your site exploring its features. In other words, the front-end of your site -- the design and content -- are separate considerations, but their effectiveness rests upon a well-oiled CMS.
When choosing your CMS, your main considerations should be the kind of navigation your system will offer, as well as ease of use and upkeep. What you need to consider is how flexible do you need the sytem to be: do you need it to integrate third party plug-ins or customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, for example. Do you want customers to fill in forms and for their information to be absorbed into your system? Do you want Google gadgets on your website -- even if you don’t have HTML people in house?
You should know who your target market is and how you want to engage with them; from that you can work out what features you need from your CMS.
If you have a number of CMS systems in mind, but are unable to make a decision regarding which one you should settle with, comparison sites such as http://www.cmsmatrix.org/ are worth a look.