Web Content Management: an Introduction

By Richard Griffiths - Director. 

Director and developer Richard Griffiths introducing the first blog in our new technical series by giving an insight into Web Content Management Systems, with a brief history of their development, an introduction to some popular systems and some advice on choosing the right software for your business.

What is a Web Content Management System?

Web Content Management Systems, picture by Orantec

A web content management system (CMS) is a software system designed to allow users to manage the content of a website, usually without the requirement for specialist technical knowledge.

A CMS will usually separate content from layout allowing users to edit the main content of web pages without affecting the overall layout of the page or site. The software will also often allow users to create and manage different types of content such as news articles and events and will also allow users to upload and insert documents and images along with their text.

Some common features of CMS’s include:

  • Access control
    Most CMS software provides some kind of access control for users or groups, allowing or preventing access to different areas and content.
  • Scalability
    Often a CMS will allow for the addition or installation of modules to implement new features.
  • Collaboration
    CMS software often facilitates collaboration on content editing by multiple users.
  • Document Management
    A CMS will usually provide some kind of document management facility so that files and images can be uploaded to the web server, organised and included within the website.
  • Web Standards
    Web Content Management Systems should be kept up to date with the latest web standards and ensure that the content of the website is standards compliant.

History of CMS

In the early days of the web, content management was a complicated process that required technical knowledge of website development and publishing. Websites in those days would be built by a developer or development team and any subsequent alterations that were required would also have to be carried out and published by developers.

During the 90s many web development agencies would build their own basic version of a content management system that usually consisted of placing the content of web pages in a database and building a login area within a website to allow authorised users to update the database through the use of web forms. Later, What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editing capabilities were introduced to allow users to generate rich text content in a manner similar to using a Word Processor.

These basic systems later developed into powerful content editing tools consisting of non-technical CMS’s such as RedDot and Mambo (now Joomla) and web development type tools such as Macromedia Dreamweaver (now owned by Adobe) and Microsoft FrontPage that were aimed at users who had some technical knowledge. 

In late 90s and early 2000s saw a huge gain in the popularity of open-source development where software was provided on a free license for unlimited use and adaption. This in turn led to collaborative online development of software systems and an explosion in CMS’s. Around the same time came the advent of blogging. The “weblog” or blog was an offshoot of online discussion boards that were extremely popular in the late 90s. A blog is a series of entries (called posts) on a website usually listed in reverse chronological order and sometimes also categorised or tagged. Blog posts are usually an informal view of a person or organisation and are often opened up for commenting by the wider community. The advent of blogging led to the development of online services to allow users to easily create and publish blog content in a similar way to a CMS. The most notable of these systems was WordPress which is now one of the most popular blogging and CMS platforms on the web. WordPress was developed as a blogging platform but its capability of allowing plugins to be installed means that it has since been developed into a full blown Content Management System capable of deploying and managing large websites.

Current Web Content Management Systems

Today there are many different types of CMS, from hosted or Software as a Service (SaaS) systems to royalty free systems that you install on your own server. Some systems can even be automatically installed and configured by your host provider. Some popular Web Content Management Systems include:

  • WordPress
    WordPress is probably the most widely used CMS on the web today, despite being mainly a blogging platform. The popularity of WordPress is down to its simplicity of installation, the flexibility provided by the multitude of plugins and themes available and also the fact that it’s free.
    Platform: PHP 
    Database: MySQL
  • Joomla
    Joomla is similar to WordPress in that it’s free, allows plugins (in the form of extensions) and is simple to install. It is however a fully-fledged CMS rather than an adapted blogging platform.
    Platform: PHP 
    Database: MS SQL, MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite
  • Drupal
    Drupal is another free open-source CMS and is used on range of different types and sizes of website from personal blogs to corporate and government websites.
    Platform: PHP 
    Database: MS SQL, MySQL, Oracle, PostgreSQL, SQLite
  • Umbraco
    Umbraco is a free .NET based open-source CMS that has been around since 2000. Umbraco is easy to use out of the box but is designed to be a platform on which to develop custom solutions.
    Platform: .NET 
    Database: MS SQL, MySQL
  • DotNetNuke
    DotNetNuke is probably the most popular .NET based CMS and is available as an open-source community edition and as 2 commercial editions – professional and enterprise.
    Platform: .NET 
    Database: MS SQL

Ecommerce Systems

There are many Content Management Systems that specialise in ecommerce and allow users to create and manage online shops. These systems provide specialist tools for creating shops and departments, taking online payments and managing orders. Some also provide stock control features and integrate with stock control systems. Some notable ecommerce Content Management Systems include:

  • Magento
    Magento is a specialist ecommerce platform with an enterprise edition and open-source community edition available. Magento was initially released in 2007 and built up a large customer base. It is now wholly owned by eBay.
  • OpenCart
    OpenCart is a free open-source shopping cart management system allowing users to manage products, categories and manufacturers and take payments in multiple currencies.
  • OsCommerce
    OsCommerce (open-source commerce) was developed in Germany in 2000 and provides a complete self-hosted online shop management solution. OsCommerce has a large online community and many Add-ons available.

Do it yourself site builders

Recently there has been a growth in the DIY sector of Web Content Management with several services springing up to allow users to create their own websites from scratch, by using predefined templates and themes. Services such as Moonfruit and Wix target small businesses and individuals, offering them to use online wizards and drag and drop editing to quickly create and publish websites without the need for a web designer or developer. This type of service is also offered by large hosting companies such as GoDaddy and Fasthosts.


WebCharge is Orantec’s proprietary Web Content Management System which is offered to our clients as a hosted solution. WebCharge is a powerful and easy to use CMS that has been developed and refined with our customers over many years.

I started developing websites in 1999 and back then we were using the method of web forms and databases for content management described above. At the time, with the possible exception of RedDot, there were not many options for CMS’s and so we decided that we would build a central CMS that would provide all of the features our clients required for managing their websites, including separation of presentation and content through templates, WYSIWYG content editing and document management amongst other things. And so InfoPort was born.

Since then, and across several companies, InfoPort has been developed and refined, becoming first VariPort and then WebCharge. Each incarnation of the system has added new features and refined existing ones to provide an easy to use but powerful CMS. WebCharge has been developed in a modular format with different modules responsible for managing different specialist content types such as pages, news, events and blogs, amongst others.

WebCharge is also a fully-fledged ecommerce management system that can provide stock and order management capabilities and can integrate with third party stock control systems. It can also be integrated with any Payment Service Provider such as SagePay or PayPal.

Over the years we have worked with many CMS’s including WordPress, Drupal, MODX and Umbraco and we have always found WebCharge to be superior in terms of functionality, flexibility and/or usability and so we have maintained to continue its development and improvement, tailoring it to respond to our clients’ needs.

How to choose a CMS

When choosing a web content management system there are many factors you need to consider and the decision should be based on your own individual circumstances. Some of the main factors in your decision should be:

  • Your own website
    How large is your website, what sort of content does it contain and what sort of content do you need to manage with the CMS?
  • CMS features
    What sort of features are important to you in a CMS?
  • Cost
    How much do you want to spend on a CMS, if anything at all?
  • Development & programming language
    Are you going to be employing a web developer or would you rather build the website yourself? Is the development language of the CMS important to you or your web developer? Is it important to you to use open-source software?
  • Support & training
    Are you happy to run with a CMS and/or use online communities for support and training or would you prefer to have someone on the end of a phone or email to provide personal help or visit your office to provide personalised training?

There is no one size fits all solution and it’s important that you weigh up your own circumstances before making a decision. If in doubt seek some expert advice and the team here at Orantec are always on-hand should you need us, so don’t hesitate to contact us.


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