Content management systems

Different types of content management systems


When choosing a content management system (CMS) for your business, it helps to understand the differences between the various types, their features and functions, and pricing models.

Types and examples of content management systems

There are three broad types of CMS software: open source, proprietary and Software-as-a-Service CMS, including cloud-based solutions.

Open source CMS

You can download open source CMS software at no initial cost. There are no licence or upgrade fees, or contracts. However, with open source CMS you may have to pay for:

  • technical help during installation and set up
  • customisation to extend the software beyond the core offering
  • compatible templates, add-ons and plugins (although free versions may be available)
  • staff training
  • support, including regularly updating the software

Examples of the most widely used open source CMS platforms include:

  • WordPress
  • Joomla
  • Drupal
  • Magento (e-commerce)
  • PrestaShop (e-commerce)

See a full list of open source CMS.

You can install and manage open source CMS on a web server. While most solutions work out of the box, countless customisations are available to meet the different business needs, such as plugins for e-commerce websites, tools to help you optimise content for search engines or customise your design themes and layouts.

Read more about open source business software.

Proprietary CMS

Proprietary or commercial CMS software is built and managed by a single company. Using such CMS generally involves:

  • buying a licence fee to use the software
  • paying monthly or annual charges for updates or support

You may also need to pay additional costs for customisation and upgrades, as well as for training and ongoing technical or user support.

Examples of popular CMS solutions include:

  • Kentico
  • Microsoft SharePoint
  • IBM Enterprise Content Management
  • Pulse CMS
  • Sitecore
  • Shopify

See a full list of proprietary CMS.

You can usually customise proprietary CMS with built-in functionalities, although this may come at an additional cost. If possible, look for a CMS solution that meets all of your requirements out of the box. If you are implementing a proprietary CMS with an existing website or back-end system, be aware that this may require extensive development work.

If you're looking for a CMS for a brand new website, it is best to choose a solution that has all the important features and functions to meet your current and future business needs.

Software as a Service (SaaS) CMS

SaaS CMS solutions commonly include web content management software, web hosting, and technical support with a single supplier. These are virtual solutions hosted in the cloud and based on a subscription model, usually on a per-user or per-site basis. The pricing usually includes:

  • amount of data transfer (ie bandwidth to and from your site)
  • storage for your content and data
  • ongoing support

There are two types of cloud content management systems:

  • 'Fully cloud' CMS often comes as part of a package or service. Typically, these are proprietary systems under the supplier's control, so it isn't always possible to customise or alter their functionality to suit your needs.
  • 'Partial cloud' CMS is located on your own cloud web server. It provides for greater flexibility since you can modify the functionality, either with add-on modules or by altering the source code.

Cloud CMS offers some significant benefits to small and medium-sized businesses. For example:

  • costs are generally low - a small set-up fee usually covers a basic implementation
  • SaaS supplier deals with upgrades, maintenance and technical issues
  • the software is accessible from any computer, laptop or mobile with an internet connection
  • updates to software and features are available in real-time
  • packages are easily scalable - you can add more sites or users as your needs change

See more on cloud computing and find tips to help you choose the best CMS for your business.