May 16, 2024 Written by Tamar Barlev

Content Management: How to Choose a CMS (the right one)

Alright, imagine you’re trying to build a sandcastle without knowing anything about sand or castles. Sounds fun but messy and chaotic, right? And, also, kind of like diving into web development without understanding Content Management Systems (CMS). So, let’s get you on your way by breaking down what you need to know about how to choose a CMS (the right way).

What is Content Management?

Content management is all about organizing, storing, and managing your digital content. Think of it as your digital filing cabinet where everything from blog posts to images is neatly stored and easily retrievable. It’s the backbone of your website, ensuring that your content is accessible and manageable.

What is a CMS?

A Content Management System (or, CMS), is a software app that allows you to create, edit, manage, and publish web content without writing code. And because of that technical accessibility, CMSs are the most popular platforms for web development: 68% of all websites use some sort of CMS. It’s basically like having a virtual assistant who knows your filing system inside out.

But with so many options out there, how do you pick the right one? Let’s dive into the types of CMS.

How to Choose a CMS: The Types

Open Source CMS

Simply put, open-source CMS has source code that is available freely for anyone to use/modify/distribute. All you do is download the software, install it on your web server, and customize it with themes, plugins, and extensions. This one’s ideal for those with some technical knowledge or access to developers, you can manage and update the site via an admin panel, often using a variety of available plugins to extend functionality. This type of CMS is best for bloggers, small business owners, community forums, and anyone looking for a flexible, cost-effective solution with a large support community.

  • Examples: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal
  • Ideal Use Case: Blogs, small business websites, community forums
  • Pros:
    • Cost-effective (usually free)
    • Large community support
    • Flexible with plugins and themes
  • Cons:
    • Requires some technical knowledge for setup and maintenance
    • Security can be an issue without proper handling and management

Proprietary CMS

A proprietary CMS is developed and maintained by a company, with licensing fees required for use. The company provides the software and often hosts it as well, ensuring robust support and regular updates. Customizations are usually done by certified developers. 

Typically, using a proprietary CMS involves working with the company’s support team or certified partners to implement and customize the system. It offers integrated tools for marketing, analytics, and customer management. This type of CMS is best suited for large enterprises, e-commerce websites, and organizations needing advanced features, personalized support, and high security.

  • Examples: Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore, HubSpot CMS
  • Ideal Use Case: Large enterprises, e-commerce websites, personalized marketing
  • Pros:
    • Robust support and security
    • Customizable with advanced features
    • Integrated marketing tools
  • Cons:
    • Expensive licensing fees
    • Can be complex to implement and use

Cloud-Based CMS

A cloud-based CMS operates entirely on the cloud. You access it through a web browser without needing to install software on your server. The CMS provider handles hosting, maintenance, and updates. Users create and manage content through a web interface with drag-and-drop functionality. This type of CMS is perfect for users with minimal technical skills. You can build, manage, and publish your site with an intuitive interface, focusing more on content than on technical details. Cloud-based CMSs are best for small to medium businesses, personal blogs, e-commerce sites, and anyone looking for a hassle-free, user-friendly platform.

  • Examples: Wix, Squarespace, Shopify
  • Ideal Use Case: Small to medium businesses, e-commerce sites, personal blogs
  • Pros:
    • Easy to set up and use
    • Hosting and maintenance are handled by the provider
    • Regular updates and support
  • Cons:
    • Limited customization compared to open-source options
    • Ongoing subscription costs

Headless CMS

A headless CMS manages content without a built-in front end. Content is stored and delivered via APIs to any front-end or device. The back end handles content management, and APIs are used to deliver content to various front-ends, whether they are websites, mobile apps, or IoT devices. 

Or, in English—a headless CMS is a content management system that works behind the scenes. It stores and organizes content, like articles and images, but it doesn’t have its own way to show this content to users. Instead, it uses a special system to deliver the content to different places where people can see it, like websites, apps, or other devices.

This setup requires a developer to build the front end and integrate it with the back end, making it ideal for projects in which you’d need to deliver content across multiple channels and devices. Headless CMSs are best for developers, large projects with complex content delivery needs, and organizations focusing on omnichannel strategies.

  • Examples: Contentful, Strapi, Sanity
  • Ideal Use Case: Websites and apps needing multi-channel content delivery (web, mobile, IoT)
  • Pros:
    • Highly flexible and scalable
    • Decouples content management from front-end presentation
    • Great for developers who prefer a customized front-end
  • Cons:
    • Requires significant technical expertise
    • Can be more costly due to separate front-end development needs

How to Choose a CMS: Key Considerations

  1. Ease of Use: If you’re not a tech wizard, go for a user-friendly CMS. Cloud-based CMS platforms like Wix and Squarespace offer drag-and-drop interfaces that are easy to learn.
  2. Customization: Need something unique? Open-source CMS like WordPress offers extensive customization with plugins and themes, but be ready to get your hands a bit dirty with some coding.
  3. Scalability: Planning to grow your website? Proprietary CMS and headless CMS are scalable solutions that can handle increasing traffic and complex functionalities.
  4. Budget: On a tight budget? Open-source CMS might be your best bet. But if you have more to spend and need robust support, proprietary CMS could be worth the investment.
  5. Support and Security: Look for CMS options that offer strong security features and reliable customer support. Proprietary CMS platforms typically provide excellent support, whereas open-source CMS relies more on community support.

How to Choose a CMS: Custom Development

When you manually build a website without using a CMS, it’s commonly referred to as hand-coding or custom web development. This approach involves writing the website’s code from scratch using languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and possibly server-side languages like PHP, Ruby, Python, or Node.js, depending on the functionality required. So, custom development is really ideal for highly specialized websites, unique project requirements, and when high control over features is necessary.

Ideal Use Case: Highly specialized websites, unique project requirements, high control over features


  • Complete Customization: Every aspect of the website can be tailored to meet specific needs and preferences.
  • High Control: Full control over security, performance, and functionality.
  • No Bloat: Avoid unnecessary features that come with pre-built CMSs, potentially improving performance.


  • Technical Expertise Required: Significant coding knowledge is necessary.
  • Time-Consuming: Building from scratch takes longer than using a pre-built CMS.
  • Maintenance: Ongoing maintenance and updates are more involved without the support of a CMS community.

CMS vs. Custom Development: Key Considerations

1. Project Complexity:

When considering project complexity, it’s important to note that content management systems (CMS) are suitable for standard websites with common features. They offer a convenient solution for projects with straightforward requirements. On the other hand, custom development is best suited for complex projects with unique and specific needs. It provides the flexibility to tailor the project to exact specifications, making it ideal for more intricate requirements.

2. Budget:

In terms of budget and website cost, CMS options are generally more cost-effective, particularly when utilizing open-source platforms. These solutions can offer significant savings compared to custom development due to the availability of free or low-cost options. Conversely, custom development typically incurs higher initial costs due to the need for skilled developers who can create a tailored solution from the ground up.

3. Development Time:

When it comes to development time, CMS solutions offer a faster setup and deployment process. This is because they come with pre-built features and functionalities, streamlining the development timeline. On the other hand, custom development involves a longer development cycle as everything needs to be built from scratch to meet the unique project requirements, resulting in a more time-intensive process.

4. Flexibility:

In considering flexibility, CMS solutions provide a degree of flexibility within the constraints of the chosen platform. While they offer customization options, they are limited by the capabilities of the selected CMS. Custom development, on the other hand, offers ultimate flexibility, allowing any feature or functionality to be implemented precisely as required without the limitations of pre-existing platforms.

Final Thoughts: How to Choose a CMS

Choosing the right CMS is like choosing the right foundation for your sandcastle. Get it right, and you’ll have a sturdy, impressive structure. Get it wrong, and things might get a bit wobbly. Consider your specific needs, technical skills, and budget. And remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Take your time, do your research, and you’ll find the CMS that fits your vision perfectly. 

And, if you need help getting it right—reach out to your friendly neighborhood developers. We’d love to help 🙂