Most commercial websites use content management systems to enable site owners to add and maintain website content -- copy, images, promotions, offers, and landing pages. These tools are similar to those found in a word processor, require no advanced HTML or programming skills, and help organize the extensive amount of content found in a typical website. The open-source movement has led to the development of many CMS solutions that rival their commercial counterparts in terms of features and functionality, while providing easier, faster deployment and significant cost savings.
Proprietary, commercial CMS solutions, such as Autonomy's Interwoven and Microsoft's CMS, are expensive, difficult to maintain without paid support from their vendors, and limited in terms of their customizability. As a result, companies both large and small are increasingly migrating to free open-source CMS platforms. The cost savings might be obvious, but what is less obvious is the potential increase in maintainability and extensibility. These systems allow for daily content changes, instant copy corrections, easy link management, landing page creation and optimization, access from any location with an internet connection, and different levels of user access.
Imagine a world in which a marketer -- without filing a ticket or service request with IT -- could create new landing pages for a display advertising campaign, or new entry pages for an SEO campaign. Setting up landing page optimization tests would be a snap. Testing new copy and calls-to-action would become routine. Updating product images and specifications for a product launch would take a few moments. Product managers could update product copy as a content contributor, but a web marketing manager would approve it before publishing the copy on the live site. Open-source CMS solutions simplify all these scenarios and put marketers in control.
The more popular open-source content management systems have a large community of vendors and expert service providers, a wide array of freely available plug-ins, and extensive online documentation and discussion that can help answer technical questions. Of course, the range of features and functionality among the many open-source CMS solutions varies widely. Small, simple websites can get by with a minimal feature set, while larger, more complex websites require an enterprise-grade CMS solution. We discuss three of our favorite open-source CMS solutions, listed in order of feature and functionality richness.
WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms in existence. It is a simple but effective blogging and content management system, and while many developers use WordPress primarily for blogs, it is highly customizable, including an abundance of available plug-ins, making it suitable for most small websites. While somewhat more limited than more-complex content management systems, its simplicity and ease of setup makes it a good option for many websites. Built on PHP, WordPress can be installed in virtually any web environment.
Drupal is a powerful open-source CMS with extensive customization options, such as multiple websites and advanced user account management. It is built from the ground up to be extensible and customizable, and plug-ins and upgrades are stable and reliable. Drupal also has many freely available add-on modules, providing features such as blogs, collaborative authoring environments, forums, peer-to-peer networking, newsletters, podcasting, picture galleries, and file uploads. Drupal runs on PHP, so it can be installed easily on most hosting providers.
OpenCMS is an enterprise-class open-source content management system for deploying complex websites, and it supports full staging of content revisions before publishing. While OpenCMS lacks the universe of community add-ons available for WordPress or Drupal, there are free add-ons for features like comments, newsletters, surveys, and calendars, and commercial upgrades enabling replication, clustering, publishing workflows, transaction management, and other enterprise-class enhancements. OpenCMS is built with Java and can be deployed in a wide range of technical environments.
We won't lie and tell you that marketers can install an open-source CMS on their own -- you will need help from your IT or web development team. You will find, however, that the installation of an open-source CMS is far more direct and simple than deploying a proprietary CMS. Once the application is up and running, a marketer will be empowered to directly manage the website marketing to-do list -- deploy new calls-to-action, change product imagery, run landing page tests and optimizations -- all without completing a ticket or request for the web development team.
Our experience with open-source CMS solutions has proven that marketers looking to gain control over their website content -- without spending a bundle or always calling on the IT department -- can make good use of an open-source CMS. If there is one area of technology that web marketers should explore and understand, it is certainly open-source CMS solutions.
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