Health IS Technology Blog

What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

Content management system concept art


If you work with IT teams often, you’ve probably heard the term “CMS” floating around. CMS stands for content management system. Content management systems are incredibly important and prevalent within web development, and knowing exactly what they are and why they’re important will help you to better navigate within IT and web development.

What is a CMS?

A content management system, or CMS, is an application on which websites can be comprehensively built/managed. On this application, multiple users have access to the interface with a varying degree of permissions.

Basically, a CMS enables multiple users to manage a website or application. Managing in this sense refers to creating, editing, and publishing content. For instance, think of a website you visit a lot, such as Facebook or Amazon. Neither of those sites would be able to fully function with just one user contributing to the management of its content. Instead, they each have extensive teams of developers working on the same interface to make the sites as optimized as possible. Keep in mind that big websites like Facebook and Amazon have a custom made CMS that they build in-house. Still, the base functions of custom interfaces are largely the same as the ones that can be bought off the shelf.

What Features are Most Important in a CMS?

A common content management system you’ve likely heard of is WordPress. If you are familiar with WordPress, you know that multiple users can have access to the management interface. Of course, the permissions and number of users depends on preference. However, it is this collaborative factor that makes the CMS especially popular within organizations.

Tech Target cites the core functions of content management systems as “often considered to be indexing, search and retrieval, format management, revision control, and publishing.”

Indexing & Search and Retrieval

Internet Search Icon

In order for a CMS to properly index content, it needs to be intelligent in its formatting. So, it must be able to recognize authors, dates, and keywords in order for visitors to accurately search for information within the site. On this blog, you can browse our content in a multitude of ways. You can look by author, date, category, tag, etc. This has a lot to do with the intelligent and comprehensive indexing of our site.

Search and retrieval abilities are also vital in the functionality of a CMS. For example, when you search this blog for things like “SEO tips”, you assume that the system hosting it will know exactly what you’re asking for and exactly where to find it. A lot of that has to do with the CMS’s ability to intelligently index the content on this blog. (And of course the blog’s application of SEO tagging, but that’s for another article.)

Revision Control

The revision control features of a CMS refer to the ability to edit content throughout its presence on a site. So, after we have published an article on this blog we still have full control over its content. Hitting ‘publish’ isn’t the end to our authority – so we can continue to revise, revisit, and possibly remove content long after our visitors are given access to it. This is an especially important feature of a CMS. Imagine having a website for your business that you can never edit. What if your policies change? Or your headquarters moves? It’s not anywhere near realistic to have a CMS that doesn’t allow for revision.

Beyond the ability to revise, a CMS should also be completely transparent in terms of tracking the changes made by individual users. Basically, if you create a page on your interface and another user with permissions logs on and makes changes to that page, the CMS should give you a full list of every change and every user that worked on that page.

CMS Revisions screenshot

The revisions of an article from this blog, on the WordPress CMS.

Is One CMS Better Than Another?

Process of creating site concept art

Why do some organizations create custom CMS’s?

There are a lot of deciding factors that go into the implementation of content management systems. If you don’t work directly with the web developers in your organization, it’s not always going to be immediately clear why a specific CMS was chosen. We briefly discussed, above, the fact that a lot of major organizations choose to build custom CMS’s within their teams. It’s important to understand why an IT department might choose to spend the time and effort on a customized interface rather than rely on the features of a CMS right out of the box.

Customization ensures that the needs of the organization will be met as best as possible.

No one knows the needs of an organization’s websites better than the people who work on them every day. Building custom widgets and features designed specifically for the organization ensures that each site and web page will operate as well and as uniformly as possible for its intended audiences.

Customization could improve the efficiency of internal revisions.

CMS’s should allow for multiple users to edit the correlating websites. So, a custom CMS can be designed to ensure that users who might not be familiar with web development can more easily navigate and use the interface. Not only will this be better for team members, but it will increase the efficiency of the company in the long run by reducing time spent having to learn to use the technology.

Customization makes you unique!

Why do websites like Amazon and Facebook use unique CMS’s? Because they are unique. A great deal of basic, “out of the box” CMS’s are going to behave quite similarly to one another, but they’re also going to build similar websites. Customizing a CMS makes it possible to create unique websites with unique features. This is not to say that you can’t create spectacular websites with an out of the box CMS, though. Customization just makes things much more, well, custom.


So, what’s your definition of a CMS? Have you ever helped to create a custom CMS? Have a favorite? Let us know on our Facebook page!