Definition

web content management system (WCMS)

A web content management system (WCMS) is a type of content management system (CMS) that provides an organization with a way to manage digital information on a website through creating and maintaining content without prior knowledge of web programming or markup languages.

Managing web content effectively can have useful business applications in the enterprise, producing insights for decision-making and delivering results, as well as value.

How does a WCMS work?

A WCMS helps users maintain, control, change and reassemble content on a webpage. Users store content within a database and can assemble the content using a flexible language such as XML or .NET. Users can access the WCMS through a web browser, then edit the content and maintain control of the layout from that browser-based interface.

There are two parts of a WCMS:

  • The content management application (CMA) is a user interface that enables users -- such as marketers and content creators -- to design, create, modify and remove content from the website without needing help from the IT department.
  • The content delivery application (CDA) provides back-end services that take the content that users create in the CMA and turn it into the website that visitors can access.

An organization can run a WCMS in its own data center or in the cloud.

Why use a WCMS?

A WCMS helps businesses create, manage and publish content on websites -- which are essential marketing channels. Typically, digital marketing tactics such as email, social media, print and other advertisements direct the customer to the company website, so it is important for the business to have and maintain a web presence. A WCMS is the technology that powers websites that focus on content creation and sharing -- such as blogs and portfolios. However, organizations can also use a WCMS for other purposes, such as online stores or online forums.

A WCMS provides businesses with tools that enable brand consistency across mobile and web channels by separating content and presentation. These systems enable businesses to have editorial control, automate marketing efforts and publish content quickly and easily while maintaining version control.

Features of web content management systems

Capabilities and features

The three key features of any WCMS are as follows:

  1. The ability to design, create and maintain personalized content for a website.
  2. The ability for editors to review and approve content prior to publication.
  3. An automated publishing process.

Additional features that a WCMS might include are:

  • Automated, standard templates. Provides users with templates that they can easily add new or existing content to, rather than designing their own templates
  • Access control. Gives administrators the ability to control who has access to a page on a site
  • Scalable expansion. Enables organizations to expand an implementation across multiple domains
  • Editing tools. Enables users to create and customize content, such as adding titles and headers to improve content structure, or designing webpages with drag-and-drop tools
  • Easily installs plugins. Gives users the ability to extend a site's functionality with plugins or modules
  • Software updates. Keeps the WCMS up to current web standards by updating software
  • Workflow management. Ensures that authorized users review and approve content before publishing
  • Collaboration tools. Enables multiple users to modify content
  • Document management. Enables businesses to manage the document lifecycle, including creation, revisions, publication, archive and removal
  • Multilingual. Enables the display of content in various languages
  • Versioning. Enables editors to retrieve previous versions of content

Advantages of using a WCMS

A WCMS benefits businesses in the following ways:

  • Low cost. A WCMS is typically inexpensive, often being free or offering subscriptions that outweigh overall costs.
  • Easy to use. Most WCMS options are user-friendly for people who do not have a technical coding background to create or maintain content.
  • Easily customizable. A WCMS creates a universal layout that enables beginner users to create and customize front ends easily.
  • Workflow management. Administrators can control and personalize workflow management in a WCMS. Some WCMS options enable administrators to set up their own workflow management rules and provide them with a series of steps to set up each task.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO). A WCMS provides businesses with the editing tools required to improve search engine ranking. The WCMS should enable users to easily create content with the correct keywords, provide meta information -- such as description, keywords and alternative text for images -- and link content within the text.

Disadvantages of using a WCMS

On the other hand, a WCMS is not the best fit for all organizations. The disadvantages of a WCMS include:

  • High cost for larger implementations. A WCMS for larger companies can be expensive because it may require extensive training and certifications. WCMS maintenance can also be expensive because the software may require upgrades and licensing updates.
  • Latency issues. Larger systems can become slower with time if the business does not keep the hardware up to date or if the cache files grow too large.
  • Security risks. If an administrator does not regularly patch the WCMS for security threats, it remains vulnerable to hackers. To minimize security risks, administrators must monitor and maintain the many moving parts of a WCMS -- such as the web server software, MySQL and any plugins or add-ons.

Types of WCMSes

  • Offline processing. This type of WCMS processes content before publishing it to the live server. Offline processing systems enable users to work on content when they are not connected to the internet. Using this system, content that a user uploads to a CMS does not go live until the content author agrees to publishing it. Some examples of offline processing systems include Vignette or Adobe Contribute.
  • Online processing. Online processing systems employ templates on demand and whenever the user adds content to a webpage for publication. Whenever a user is logged into their CMS via a web browser and accesses a webpage, HTML is generated. Unlike an offline processing system where it preprocesses content and applies templates beforehand, an online processing system processes templates only when the user requests it. Online processing systems include Joomla and Drupal.
  • Hybrid processing. Hybrid processing systems use a combination of offline and online processing. These systems can produce executable code, such as JSP, ASP or PHP instead of HTML, meaning that the system doesn't need to be installed on every web server.

Traditional CMS vs. WCMS

There are many similarities between traditional CMS and WCMS which cause people to use the two terms interchangeably, but there are differences between the two systems. A traditional CMS is a software that businesses use to create, edit, manage and publish content -- typically structured content -- such as documents or records, as well as video and audio files.

A WCMS, on the other hand, is a type of CMS that focuses primarily on managing webpage content, which includes graphics, video, audio and images.

ECM vs. WCM comparison chart

Web content management systems and vendors

  1. WordPress.org

WordPress.org is a web software platform that creates and manages websites, blogs and apps with a variety of themes. WordPress.org is a free open source CMS, while WordPress.com is a blog hosting platform.

Pros

  • Enables users to build any kind of website, such as an online store or membership site.
  • Offers many themes and plugins -- paid and unpaid -- which enable users to add more to their site, including contact forms and photo galleries.
  • Well-designed for SEO and enables users to create categories and tags for posts.
  • Enables users to download content in XML format, which makes it easier to move to a new system, if necessary.

Cons

  • Requires users to host their own site, so they must handle security and backups on their own.
  • Provides many options and a lot of flexibility, which may feel daunting for users at first.
  1. Adobe Experience Manager

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is an option that benefits large organizations and enables businesses to build websites, mobile apps and forms.

Pros

  • Offers digital asset management, analytics and targeting features.
  • Integrates completely with other Adobe products. It can also integrate with Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics.
  • Provides users with their own workspace for uploaded projects, which declutters user dashboards for each team and increases productivity.

Cons

  • Can be difficult to learn due to the highly flexible platform. If users are nontechnical, the learning curve may be high and may require lengthy training sessions.
  • Requires heavy involvement from the IT department in installation and daily operations.
  • Higher cost than other WCMS options.
  1. Drupal

Drupal is an open source CMS platform that is highly customizable and can handle large amounts of data.

Pros

  • Offers many options for flexible custom content types.
  • Enables users to add modules to sites, similar to plugins on WordPress.
  • Offers a built-in user management system, where users can create new roles and specify permissions.
  • Enables integration with marketing automation tools to send abandoned cart emails or assign visitors to a particular list.

Cons

  • Not as beginner friendly as other options.
  • Many Drupal websites have customized themes created by developers, which makes it a more expensive option.

See also:enterprise content management (ECM), content analytics, web application (web app).

This was last updated in January 2021

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