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The Guide to Content Management Systems

October 30, 2013 Mojo Media Labs

With the wealth of content management systems (CMS) available, both free and paid, how do you decide which one is the best? It depends on your needs and purposes. Each CMS has strong and weak points that make it a better choice for some types of websites over others.

Below are briefs about 7 free and 3 paid CMS options to help you decide which one may be right for you.

Open Source

WordPress Logo


The best known and most popular of the free content management systems. WordPress offers off-the-shelf themes and formatting. Written in PHP with MySQL database. Runs on Apache application server. Build sites for both desktop and mobile. Offers basic built-in analytics and spam control. Good for small to medium business.


Super fast and easy install. Low learning curve, no programming required. Excellent for blogging. Highly extensible. Many features and options. Filters for different levels of privacy. Huge support community. Has paid premium options available. Great content marketing add-on for an existing site.


Customization can become burdensome due to the large number of widgets and plug-ins available. More prone to being hacked due to popularity. Off-the-shelf themes are pretty limited in capability.

Drupal Logo


Contains pre-built components and provides a framework with tools to build your own CMS. Based on the idea of nodes where different types of pages have a common core. Can be used to build a complex, enterprise-level website.


Extremely flexible especially for those with programming chops. Supports multiple content types with hundreds of attributes available. Great for collaborative sites and user interaction. Tight security.


High learning curve with a need for programming skills. Still working on simplifying the user experience. The need for an administrator can push costs up.

Joomla Logo


Offers useful toolbox of components (banners, polls), modules (login, random image generator, breadcrumbs), and plug-ins (authentication, cache, email cloaking). Good for larger websites.


Flexible and extensible with less need for programming skills. User friendly admin interface. Mobile-ready design components available.


Moderate to high learning curve. Options can be overwhelming. Slower loading, and more expensive hosting. Blogging features less strong than other Content Management Systems.

Textpattern Logo


This CMS uses built-in tags to control the retrieval and display of dynamic content. Plug-ins are used for extensibility. Comes with Textile, a tool for converting plain text to valid XHTML. Written in PHP with MySQL database.


Generally low learning curve. Gives the user control over content and display. User documentation website and resources site are available. Admin interface simple and efficient.


Overall, the interface is not as user friendly as other Content Management Systems. Fewer plug-ins and themes than some other platforms. Coding skills required to achieve higher functionality. Textile tool can be confusing for beginners. Not mobile ready.

Contao Logo


A flexible, extensible CMS with the ability for full text search integration, form generation, and a fine-grained permissions system. Contains a template-based front-end with highly compliant XHTML output. It has a built in CSS framework and file manager. Built with PHP and MySQL; runs on CGI application server.


Wide choice of modules. Front and back end are highly accessible. Easy to install updates. Offers good URL and URL rewriting features.


Moderate learning curve. Web design/development skills needed for more complex sites. Smaller user community resulting in fewer developers and expertise.

Silverstripe Logo


Built on the sapphire framework. Versatile and user friendly admin interface. Uses PHP, Javascript, HTML, and CSS. Runs on open source or Microsoft web servers and databases.


Low learning curve unless you need to program themes and modules. Highly intuitive admin interface. Easy to customize and integrate with other software and platforms. Contains version control. Fast install.


Smaller developer base, so less community support. Fewer modules than other Content Management Systems. Very little documentation. Installing themes can be difficult. Few ready-made themes and extensions available.

Concrete5 Logo


A fairly simple CMS great for content-heavy sites with multiple static pages. Built with PHP, Python, and MySQL. Licensed under MIT. Good for informational websites and basic marketing. Runs on Apache and IIS.


Extremely easy to edit content with great contextual editing tools. Available documentation is of extremely high quality.


Disallows use of database table prefixes so each instance of Concrete5 requires its own database. Makes backup and replication difficult. Not good for shared hosting environment.

Paid Services (SaaS)

HubSpot Logo


More than just a CMS, HubSpot provides robust marketing support. HubSpot’s total focus on inbound marketing are what set it apart from every other Content Management System. Landing pages, calls to action, and many other inbound marketing features are all de rigueur.

$200/month for 100 contacts and up to 3 users.
$800/month for 1,000 contacts. Provides CRM integration.
$2,400/month for 10,000 contacts. Provides advanced reporting and A/B testing.
Additional contacts can be added for a charge.


Low learning curve. Extensible platform, catering to everything from social media and blogging to lead generation. Large data analytics set. Complete documentation with easy to use learning materials. Highly flexible email marketing and social media tools. End-to-end user-facing UX control.


Blogging module very basic looking. Lacks some features of the free blogging platforms. Fewer automation features for Basic users. Can get many of the services, such as analytics, email, and social media integration through free and open-source services, although they are admittedly much less robust than HubSpot’s SAAS offerings--you get what you pay for.

ExpressionEngine Logo

ExpressionEngine by EllisLab

Provides a wide range of web publishing and template building tools and numerous add-ons. It uses human readable tags to render content. Content is organized into channels to allow each section of the website to be customized independently.

Annual license:
Discussion Forum Module Add-on:
Multiple Site Manager Add-on:
Ranges from $49/month to $1,999/month for differing response times and numbers of urgent tickets per month.


Low learning curve for basic use. Highly flexible, easy to use interface. Strong security. Dedicated professional support.


High learning curve if you need much customization. The few discrete modules, and add-ons are mostly commercial. Leans more heavily toward developers.

Alfresco Logo


This CMS is actually open-source, yet designed for the enterprise client who needs to collaborate and share content including strategic plans, customer profiles, invoices, contracts, and more. It integrates with MS Office, Apple iWork, Adobe Creative Suite, Google Docs, and other applications.

Pricing information is not posted on the website. The company suggests calling a sales representative, even for a basic subscription. However, Alfresco partnered with Forrester Research and produced an executive summary showing the costs for a composite company using Alfresco as its ECM.
For a subscription to the enterprise version with 24X7 support, the initial costs were shown to be $578,000 (included integration, hardware, and training). First year subscription came in at $100,000.


Great support, open to developers, and compatible with a variety of other vendor systems. Less expensive than comparable proprietary systems due to avoided licensing fees, lower maintenance fees, and lower developer expenses.


Too expensive for all but enterprise or departmental use. Lacks some enterprise capabilities such as output management.

There You Have It

This has been only a brief description and general breakdown of 10 major content management systems. For full details on each system, please visit their websites. This list offers a CMS solution for everyone, from sole proprietorships to enterprise-level organizations. To find the CMS that’s right for you, continued research is definitely recommended.

Happy Content Marketing, Folks. . .

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