A web content management system (WCMS) is a software system that provides website authoring, collaboration, and administration tools designed to allow users with little knowledge of web programming languages or markup languages to create and manage website content with relative ease. A robust Web Content Management System provides the foundation for collaboration, offering users the ability to manage documents and output for multiple author editing and participation.
Most systems use a content repository or a database to store page content, metadata, and other information assets that might be needed by the system.
A presentation layer (template engine) displays the content to website visitors based on a set of templates, which are sometimes XSLT files.
Most systems use server side caching to improve performance. This works best when the WCMS is not changed often but visits happen regularly.
Administration is also typically done through browser-based interfaces, but some systems require the use of a fat client.
A WCMS allows non-technical users to make changes to a website with little training. A WCMS typically requires a systems administrator and/or a web developer to set up and add features, but it is primarily a website maintenance tool for non-technical staff.
A web content management system is used to control a dynamic collection of web material, including HTML documents, images, and other forms of media. A CMS facilitates document control, auditing, editing, and timeline management. A WCMS typically has the following features:
- Automated templates
- Create standard templates (usually HTML and XML) that can be automatically applied to new and existing content, allowing the appearance of all content to be changed from one central place.
- Access control
- Some WCMS systems support user groups. User groups allow you to control how registered users interact with the site. A page on the site can be restricted to one or more groups. This means an anonymous user (someone not logged on), or a logged on user who is not a member of the group a page is restricted to, will be denied access to the page.
- Scalable expansion
- Available in most modern WCMSs is the ability to expand a single implementation (one installation on one server) across multiple domains, depending on the server's settings. WCMS sites may be able to create microsites/web portals within a main site as well.
- Easily editable content
- Once content is separated from the visual presentation of a site, it usually becomes much easier and quicker to edit and manipulate. Most WCMS software includes WYSIWYG editing tools allowing non-technical users to create and edit content.
- Scalable feature sets
- Most WCMS software includes plug-ins or modules that can be easily installed to extend an existing site's functionality.
- Web standards upgrades
- Active WCMS software usually receives regular updates that include new feature sets and keep the system up to current web standards.
- Workflow management
- workflow is the process of creating cycles of sequential and parallel tasks that must be accomplished in the CMS. For example, one or many content creators can submit a story, but it is not published until the copy editor cleans it up and the editor-in-chief approves it.
- CMS software may act as a collaboration platform allowing content to be retrieved and worked on by one or many authorized users. Changes can be tracked and authorized for publication or ignored reverting to old versions. Other advanced forms of collaboration allow multiple users to modify (or comment) a page at the same time in a collaboration session.
- Some CMS software allows for various user groups to have limited privileges over specific content on the website, spreading out the responsibility of content management.
- Document management
- CMS software may provide a means of collaboratively managing the life cycle of a document from initial creation time, through revisions, publication, archive, and document destruction.
- Content virtualization
- CMS software may provide a means of allowing each user to work within a virtual copy of the entire web site, document set, and/or code base. This enables changes to multiple interdependent resources to be viewed and/or executed in-context prior to submission.
- Content syndication
- CMS software often assists in content distribution by generating RSS and Atom data feeds to other systems. They may also e-mail users when updates are available as part of the workflow process.
- Ability to display content in multiple languages.
- Like document management systems, CMS software may allow the process of versioning by which pages are checked in or out of the WCMS, allowing authorized editors to retrieve previous versions and to continue work from a selected point. Versioning is useful for content that changes over time and requires updating, but it may be necessary to go back to or reference a previous copy.
There are three major types of WCMS: offline processing, online processing, and hybrid systems. These terms describe the deployment pattern for the WCMS in terms of when presentation templates are applied to render web pages from structured content.
These systems, sometimes referred to as "static site generators", pre-process all content, applying templates before publication to generate web pages. Since pre-processing systems do not require a server to apply the templates at request time, they may also exist purely as design-time tools.
These systems apply templates on-demand. HTML may be generated when a user visits the page or it is pulled from a web cache.
Most open source WCMSs have the capability to support add-ons, which provide extended capabilities including forums, blog, wiki, web stores, photo galleries, contact management, etc. These are often called modules, nodes, widgets, add-ons, or extensions.
Some systems combine the offline and online approaches. Some systems write out executable code (e.g., JSP, ASP, PHP, ColdFusion, or Perl pages) rather than just static HTML, so that the CMS itself does not need to be deployed on every web server. Other hybrids operate in either an online or offline mode.
- Low cost
- Some content management systems are free, such as Drupal, eZ Publish, TYPO3, Joomla, Zesty.io, and WordPress. Others may be affordable based on size subscriptions. Although subscriptions can be expensive, overall the cost of not having to hire full-time developers can lower the total costs. Plus software can be bought based on need for many CMSs.
- Easy customization
- A universal layout is created, making pages have a similar theme and design without much code. Many CMS tools use a drag and drop AJAX system for their design modes. It makes it easy for beginner users to create custom front-ends.
- Easy to use
- CMSs are designed with non-technical people in mind. Simplicity in design of the admin UI allows website content managers and other users to update content without much training in coding or technical aspects of system maintenance.
- Workflow management
- CMSs provide the facility to control how content is published, when it is published, and who publishes it. Some WCMSs allow administrators to set up rules for workflow management, guiding content managers through a series of steps required for each of their tasks.
- Good For SEO
- CMS websites are also good for search engine optimization (SEO). Freshness of content is one factor that helps, as it is believed that some search engines give preference to website with new and updated content than websites with stale and outdated content. Usage of social media plugins help in weaving a community around your blog. RSS feeds which are automatically generated by blogs or CMS websites can increase the number of subscribers and readers to your site. Url rewriting can be implemented easily which produces clean urls without parameters which further help in seo. There are plugins available that specifically help with website SEO.
- Cost of implementations
- Larger scale implementations may require training, planning, and certifications. Certain CMSs may require hardware installations. Commitment to the software is required on bigger investments. Commitment to training, developing, and upkeep are all costs that will be incurred for enterprise systems.
- Cost of maintenance
- Maintaining CMSs may require license updates, upgrades, and hardware maintenance.
- Latency issues
- Larger CMSs can experience latency if hardware infrastructure is not up to date, if databases are not being utilized correctly, and if web cache files that have to be reloaded every time data is updated grow large. Load balancing issues may also impair caching files.
- Tool mixing
- Because the URLs of many CMSs are dynamically generated with internal parameters and reference information, they are often not stable enough for static pages and other web tools, particularly search engines, to rely on them.
- CMS's are often forgotten about when hardware, software, and operating systems are patched for security threats. Due to lack of patching by the user, a hacker can use unpatched CMS software to exploit vulnerabilities to enter an otherwise secure environment. CMS's should be part of an overall, holistic security patch management program to maintain the highest possible security standards.