A content management system – often shortened to CMS – is a publishing program installed on your web server.
There are hundreds, probably thousands, of Content Management Systems to choose from but they all have the same aim – to make it easy to publish web pages, blog posts and other content without needing to know anything about web design or programming.
Even better, most allow you to install plugins to extend their features. These really open up the possibilities of what you can do on your site. Slick image galleries, user reviews with star ratings, forums and message boards, podcasts, social network sharing links – the list is endless.
With a good content management system and a few good plugins you can add some pretty sophisticated features to your site without needing to hire an expensive web developer.
Here’s the best bit – some of the best web content management systems are free. Many of the plugins are free or low cost too.
How To Choose a CMS
The most important thing to consider is the admin area. A well-designed admin area will make it easy to update your site and will automate tasks like categorizing and adding tags to your content, creating social sharing links and managing images or video content. Conversely, a clunky interface that you can never quite get to grips with will make publishing a time-consuming chore.
One of the most popular platforms is WordPress. It’s easy to use, secure, has a incredible choice of free and paid plugins and it’s free.
You may have heard of other free web publishing platforms like Joomla or Drupal but unless you have some specific reason to use those I’d recommend sticking with WordPress. It’s the simplest.
How To Install WordPress
If you have no idea what FTP is or don’t feel comfortable with doing the installation yourself, try using the one-click install feature of your web host. This will install and setup WordPress without you needing do anything more than click a button. All of the major web hosting companies now have this option so take a look in your admin panel for One-Click Install or something with a similar name.
Tip: The free sample chapter of my beginner’s guide, WordPress Step-by-Step, includes instructions for adding WordPress to MediaTemple, GoDaddy, Bluehost, Hostgator and Dreamhost. You can get it here.
Things are a little bit different if you’re launching an ecommerce site or need to setup an online shopping system. WordPress doesn’t come with a shopping cart out-of-the-box so you’ll need to add an ecommerce plugin.
There are free and premium plugins available but with both there’s usually quite a bit of work involved in getting the plugin configured correctly and then making it match the design of your site.
Because of that, many people prefer to use a specialized hosted ecommerce solution like BigCommerce, which provides combined hosting and ecommerce packages. From $24.95 a month, which is not much more than regular hosting, you can be up and running in a few minutes and be able to take orders through your own web store as well as selling on Facebook, eBay and on the iPhone. You can find out more here.
Other recommended options include Shopify – the team behind the online stores of General Electric, Tesla Motors and Angry Birds – and Yahoo’s Merchant Starter Plan – a long established service which is currently offering a 25% discount for the first year.