• March 28, 2023
  • 14 min. read

Complete Guide to CMS; Everything you need to know

content writer

Anush Bichakhchyan

Content Writer

Choosing the right CMS for your business

The content management system has existed for years, but they were never as popular and important as they are now. Digging deep into the world of CMS, we have discovered different types of CMS serving various purposes and empowering business processes. Which one is suitable for your business? What are the benefits of modern content management systems? What to consider when integrating a new system into the business? Those and many more questions are about to be revealed in this ultimate guide to the content management system. 

What is a Content Management System?

A CMS is a software solution used to manage the entire flow or a single direction of digital content distribution at the most basic level. It is such a helpful and high-demand tool, covering a wide array of functionality, so, naturally, there is a marketful of different CMS options. Looking at a simple CMS list can cause a headache, lest speaking of the thousands of options available on the web. The internet is full of not-so-impressive comparative reviews that tend to focus on the few most popular options, neglecting the countless others. So how is it possible to choose the right CMS for your business that would support the business objectives? 

Browsing through the different CMS options on the web without a clear picture in mind will result in too much time wasted signing up for free trials and unsubscribing from the sales emails bombarding your inbox. To make things easier and accessible, this article will cover the following topics to help you develop a good strategy to find the right CMS that is most suitable for your business needs. 


  • CMS classification based on use case: WCMS, ECM, DMS, CCMS, DAM
  • CMS classification based on location: cloud-based vs. on-premise vs. hybrid
  • CMS classification based on ownership: open-source vs. proprietary 
  • CMS classification based on architecture: Coupled vs. headless vs. decoupled
  • 3 steps to choosing the right CMS

CMS classification based on use cases: WCMS, ECM, DMS, CCMS, DAM


CMS classification

Not all CMSs are created equal. The CMS market has rapidly evolved during the past few years, wherein the traditional CMS has been adapted to suit the needs of different users, alongside the core functionality. Below we introduce 5 most common types of CMS based on the user type and the use case.


A WCMS (web content management system), as the name suggests, is only designed to manage web information and is not suitable for print, unlike some of the other CMS types. It is frequently referred to as the basic CMS, although nothing is basic about it. 

A WCMS usually supports multiple users and various formats. It features an intuitive interface and is highly customizable, allowing to manage web content with a little technical background. Due to its versatility and ease of use, this is the most popular CMS, preferred by individual users and organizations alike. 

Despite the relative ease of use, any basic CMS requires some level of tech-savviness and a learning curve to get started. Moreover, the customizability and perceived ease of use come with some limitations. Due to heavy reliance on templates, the design options are scarce and sometimes repetitive. In terms of functionality, customization and plugin integration are usually required, resulting in extra technical work and bumping up the price quite a bit. The overall website security can also be compromised for the sake of ease of access.  


An ECM system (enterprise content management) is best suitable for bigger businesses that deal with big chunks of information daily. It provides a centralized space where enterprises collect, collaboratively manage and distribute critical information internally and externally to all stakeholders - management, staff, customers, and partners. 

This type of CMS features a variety of formats (surveys, customer data, media files, web data, documents, etc.), serving as a repository where large volumes of information are stored. 

Depending on the industry standards, a retention period can be added to the specific types of information to illuminate the maintenance of expired and irrelevant data, automating and simplifying the management of enterprise data. This type of CMS is also characterized by high levels of security. 


A DMS (document management system) is a simplified version of EMS discussed above. A document management system enables assembling, storing, and sharing business-related documentation in a digital format. 

This type of CMS is limited to electronic formats of structured documents (word, pdf, CSV, etc.). Due to its limitations of file formats, a DMS may fall short of meeting the needs of medium to larger organizations processing various data formats. 

A DMS simply acts as a digital repository for internally managed documentation and provides a more secure and convenient means to access, edit, update and delete information. A DMS usually acts as an add-on to the basic CMS, and rarely its use solely can cover the content management needs of modern businesses. 


A CCMS (component content management system) provides a centralized single-source repository that stores content at the level of components. A component unit can be a single word, title, paragraph, image, or any other unit. 

As opposed to the previously described CMS types that store content in a linear manner as highly-contextualized documents, CCMS stores in a granular manner content-less, easily reusable, unique components that can be linked to any instance on any channel by any team member.


A DAM system (digital asset management) is used to mainly store, access, publish and share big visual marketing materials, such as images and videos. The stored digital assets are easily editable, resizable, and reformatted directly within the system.

This type of CMS enables streamlining all marketing processes and facilitating digital and real-life marketing campaigns while making the visual material easily accessible and manageable to more diverse teams.  

A DAM system can serve as a beneficial addition to the basic CMS for businesses with specific needs, yet it does not fully replace one.  

CMS classification based on location: cloud-based vs. on-premise


Cloud-based vs. On-premise

Cloud-based software is the face of digital transformation. Before its introduction, the on-premise delivery model used to be the only norm. On-premise solutions imply that the software is installed on the clients’ in-house servers using their computing infrastructure. In contrast, cloud-based solutions, either stored on private or public cloud, enable data storage on remote servers on the internet, cutting out the hassle associated with the maintenance of in-house servers. 

While the majority have already adopted cloud services, and some businesses are in the process of adopting cloud-based services, others are reluctant to ditch their working on-premise solutions. Moreover, the demand for brand-new on-premise solutions is still rising. Cloud-based or on-premise: there is no single answer. To understand which one is suitable for your business, you’ll need to consider key factors. 


  • Cost - Most cloud-based content management systems follow a SaaS business model that requires monthly or annual subscription fees. Not always the costs are transparent, as hidden costs may pop up every now and then in the form of “add-on” features or required customization. Nonetheless, on-premise CMS usually comes at a much higher cost, including license, hosting, and maintenance fees. 


  • Accessibility - Accessibility from anywhere, anytime, characteristic of all cloud-based solutions,  is one of the most significant advantages of cloud-based CMS over on-premise CMS. In the latter case, users need to be connected to the same network, usually the office building, to access and use the CMS software. On the contrary, cloud-based CMS can be easily accessed by anyone with access and an internet connection. 


  • Security - System vulnerabilities, such as data breaches, are one of the businesses’ main concerns when transitioning to cloud-based CMS solutions. However, there is little evidence that on-premise CMS solutions are essentially more secure. In fact, proper risk management could minimize the security vulnerabilities associated with cloud-based software use.  


  • Compliance - Depending on the industry of the expertise, your business must be compliant with specific industry regulations, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) for any data processor with customers in the EU or HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) for healthcare providers with patients in the USA. The more expensive and best quality cloud-based CMS comply with these general regulations; however, they may not necessarily resonate with the multitude of regulations effective in specific locations. The regulatory challenges faced by SaaS are one of the reasons businesses choose on-premise CMS software that can be modified in compliance with any regulation that your business falls under. 


  • Customization - On-premise CMS can be fully tailored to business needs. Fully cloud-based CMS, hosted on the service provider’s cloud, comes with a set of predefined features that can be altered but very little. On the other hand, partial cloud-based CMS, hosted on the client’s private cloud, is more customizable, naturally coming at a higher overall cost. 

CMS classification based on ownership: open-source vs. proprietary


Open-source vs. proprietary

Open-source and proprietary CMSs differ in two areas: 

  • Open-source CMS is widely accessible without a licensing issue. On the contrary, utilizing a proprietary CMS requires a license. 
  • An open-source CMS does not limit access to its source code, so a large community of developers can work on it. On the contrary, proprietary CMS is accessed only by the company’s development team behind the CMS solution.

Both open-source and proprietary CMS have their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your business needs, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages in favor of either. 

Open Source CMS: Advantages and Disadvantages



Highly collaborative between a development community  No dedicated developer specifically to your project, unless hired
No license or upgrade feesNo dedicated technical support
Open-source plugins for customization Plugins can expose security vulnerabilities
Many free templates  Compromised quality of the templates 

Proprietary CMS: Advantages and Disadvantages



A dedicated team handling hosting, system updates, and technical issues Customization requires a more expensive  “developers license”
Highly secure Hard to migrate to another hosting service 
Unique and exquisite design optionsDiscontinuation of the service may result in loss of content ownership
Suitable to manage various forms of online presence, not only websites Expensive license requiring a long-term commitment to maintain ownership


Still wondering which CMS is best for you? 

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In a nutshell, for large enterprises that have big budgets, manage various forms of online presence, and need high-security risk management; proprietary CMS is the better choice. For medium and smaller businesses mostly concerned with their websites, open-source CMS is more cost-efficient, especially when a developer or service is hired to handle the technicalities of the project. 


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CMS classification based on architecture: Coupled vs. Headless vs. Decoupled

Traditional/Coupled CMS: characteristics, pros, and cons

Traditional or Coupled CMS is a software platform with a frontend and backend connected to power a website and enable practical management of data. The backend includes plugins and databases; the front end is built on templates and CSS that display the content on the website. In the process, the backend pushes the database into a preset layout.

The architecture of the traditional CMS

A database storing content and digital assets (back-end)

A content management back-end

An application for publishers and designers to create and apply design schemas

A front-end displaying published content on HTML pages.


Coupled CMS architecture

Coupled CMS is a practical solution for blogs and corporate websites supporting quick and straightforward management without technical skills. The drawback of the traditional CMS is the lack of custom elements. In the digital environment with accelerated digital transformation powered by smart technologies, traditional CMS may hinder businesses from fully realizing their potential. 



  • A single system is serving a website
  • Easy to manage content
  • The frontend is supported with various templates and themes
  • Strong community for support for famous CMSs like WordPress
  • No technical knowledge and skills required
  • No dependency on engineering forces
  • User-friendly interface



  • Works best for website content. The content distribution and display on other devices are managed by other platforms.
  • Limited flexibility
  • The maintenance and enhancements are time-consuming and non-cost effective
  • Discourages experimenting
  • Limited scalability
  • Issues of the backend causing downtime of the frontend


Headless CMS: characteristics, pros, and cons

Unlike the traditional one, headless CMS is only the backend content management system that delivers the content to devices via APIs or web services. Simply put, headless CMS cares only for storing and providing structured content, while an API acts as a bridge connecting the backend and front end. It enables flexibility in displaying content on various devices like smartphones, wearables, tablets, VR headsets, etc. In the constantly developing digital experience environment, headless architecture has come to replace traditional CMS issues.

The architecture of the headless CMS

A database storing content and digital assets (back-end)

A content management back-end

An API connecting the back end with a device or channel

An ability to connect to content publishing front-end


Headless CMS architecture


  • Well-structured data
  • Frontend agnostic
  • Enables omnichannel customer experience 
  • Great flexibility in terms of publishing content on various platforms simultaneously
  • Publishing dynamic content to IoT device
  • Secure third-party integration
  • Easily integrated with new technology
  • Limitless integrations
  • Fast load, better SEO, and higher conversion



  • No live preview of the content
  • Requires an experienced team of developers
  • High costs for implementation and updates


Decoupled CMS: characteristics, pros, and cons 

Along with these two options, the third option eliminates most concerns about the no-content preview in headless CMS and the limited options of the traditional CMS. The hybrid solution is called Decoupled Content Management, which has all the functions of a headless one, and it gives some handy frontend tools. In other words, with decoupled CMS, we still have a separate backend that is separated from the front end by an API. 

The architecture of the decoupled CMS

A database storing content and digital assets (back-end)

A content management back-end

An API, connecting the back-end with the front-end

A content publishing front-end


Decoupled CMS architecture

In decoupled CMS, the front-end and back-end are housed separately. It delivers content in raw form to any front-end design through web services and APIs. Decoupled CMS gives content managers and developers more flexibility because of its separate nature.


  • Fast and flexible content delivery 
  • Secure third-party integrations
  • Future-proof solution
  • Omnichannel delivery



  • More complex to configure and deploy
  • Front-end development is required for the design
  • Additional points of failure during publishing


How to choose the right CMS? Final words

It’s been a long read, with a lot of information to keep in mind. The article aimed to help you figure out which type of CMS is most suitable for your business and needs. Summing up the whole information, let’s point out several critical factors to keep in mind when choosing a content management system for your business.

  1. Discover business needs and the CMS use cases and go for the right system - establish how CMS will be integrated into business with the following questions:
  2. Define the security level needed based on your business requirements and CMS data specifications to decide on out-of-the-box/open-source solutions vs. on-premise and custom-made ones.
  3. Consider your resources’ availability, whether you have a multi-directional team of designers, marketers, content writers, and software engineers or you have access to a multi-dimensional service provider partner. When partnering with a service provider, you may want to explore the flexibility and benefits of headless or decoupled CMS; otherwise, your options will be limited to traditional/coupled systems.

6 Tips on choosing Content Management System

The three major steps discussed above are critical for making the right choice. Still, there are dozens of criteria that need to be considered for decision-making. 

  • Consider your budget and SEO needs for business.
  • Consider the team’s needs - figure out all the features and business requirements your content management system can impact for positive output.
  • Think about globalization - understand customers’ buying journey and the role of CMS in gaining valuable insights into how the consumers are going through the sales funnel.
  • Determine site goals - a new CMS should meet product/service specifications and business goals.
  • Ensure scalability - keeping scalability on top of your mind, choose a content management system that will grow with you and support new functionalities.
  • Take care of extensions and add-ons - enhance flexibility and add features to use CMS for different purposes.

Digital trends are always evolving; upgrading your content and your CMS is critical, especially as the new year approaches. Keep an eye on and test modifications to your business processes before implementing them, and you'll always be one step closer to your objectives.

Need help choosing the right CMS for your business?


What are the types of CMS?


Modern content management systems have several classifications:

  • CMS classification based on use case: WCMS (web content management system), ECM (enterprise content management), DMS document management system), CCMS (component content management system), DAM (digital asset management)
  • CMS classification based on location: cloud-based vs. on-premise vs. hybrid
  • CMS classification based on ownership: open-source vs. proprietary 
  • CMS classification based on architecture: coupled vs. decoupled vs. headless 

How do companies choose a CMS?

  • Discover business needs and the CMS use cases and go for the right system
  • Define the security level needed based on your business requirements and CMS data specifications.
  • Consider your resources’ availability
  • Consider your budget and SEO needs for business.
  • Consider the team’s needs.
  • Think about globalization - understand customers’ buying journey and the role of CMS.
  • Determine site goals.
  • Ensure scalability.
  • Take care of extensions and add-ons.

What should you look for in a traditional CMS?

  • Intuitive dashboard
  • Pre-made templates
  • Responsive themes
  • Content editor
  • Plugin marketplace
  • Publishing control
  • Built-in SEO tools
  • Detailed analytics
  • Cyber security
  • Migration

What should you look for in headless or decoupled CMS?

  • Limitless integrations
  • Meet speed and performance requirements
  • The ability to choose a programming language
  • No front-end distribution restrictions
  • Content publishing on various platforms and IoT devices