What is the best content management system

Website-CMS comparison: the top systems in check

1. Website CMS with an attached database

Conventional CMS, which also include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and TYPO3, work with connected databases. This means that all content is stored in a specially set up database. By far the best known and most used of these open source systems is WordPress, which still has its charm. But in addition to WordPress, there are also a number of other alternatives on the market, which we would like to introduce to you below:

WordPress: The pioneer among the CMS

WordPress came onto the market in 2005 and began its triumphal march against the various content management systems in the internet world. In the meantime, the CMS has almost a monopoly on the network. Features such as the "5-minute installation", the many free themes and the easy integration of plugins have certainly contributed to the success of WordPress. WordPress is not only the most used system worldwide with bloggers and private users with 38% of all websites. Larger companies and online shops also use the free content management system. The WordPress SEO plugin from Yoast, which allows the configuration of SEO-relevant settings, offers a particular advantage. This plugin allows you, for example, to align posts thematically to specific keywords or to simulate the display of your Google snippets in the SERPs. In general, technical, content and structural optimizations are possible with the plugin.

But the initially uncomplicated and compact CMS has been continuously developed over the years, so that although it has gained features, it has sometimes lost a bit of user-friendliness. WordPress also harbors certain risks when it comes to security, especially for users who have no programming knowledge and who trust the CMS's given procedure.

Illustration 1: Over a third of all websites are operated with WordPress

Joomla: Award-winning open source CMS

The also widespread CMS Joomla has been around for 15 years and enables users to maintain the content of a website without any programming knowledge. The CMS is a particularly popular system in the USA. But also in Germany, Joomla was crowned best Free CMS for the fifth time in a row in 2019. Like WordPress and TYPO3, Joomla is based on the PHP programming language, which visually converts the contents of a MySQL database. The installation of Joomla works on almost every web hosting offer and only takes 30 seconds. Developers can program a large number of individual extensions for the system. Almost any desired function can be added to the CMS. Compared to other CMS, Joomla only offers an editor-supported input field for texts for creating and formatting content. Even if this looks very simple at first glance, difficulties can arise with more complex formatting.

Even if the usability is as intuitive as WordPress and the system is easy to understand even for beginners, the open source system has some security gaps, similar to WordPress, because Joomla can only be used with a few extensions. In general, Joomla is a structured website CMS that is easy to understand for users and is therefore suitable for the implementation of almost all web projects.

Figure 2: The Joomla Control Center

Drupal: Popular CMS with an active developer community

Once intended as a social platform for exchanging information, Drupal has developed into a frequently used open source content management system after WordPress and Joomla. In addition to the basic functions, Drupal focuses on building social publishing and community portals so that members can create their own content and interact with other participants. In Drupal, as in WordPress and Joomla, the administration of the contributions is completely object-based. The modular structure of the CMS allows the implementation of individual and complex page structures. The initially rather lean system can be adapted to your own wishes through various add-ons that can be installed later.

In general, however, Drupal is more suitable for experienced web developers, since the desired configuration, unlike WordPress, has to be put together first. Then the CMS is also suitable for the implementation of demanding web projects.

Figure 3: The Drupal website.

TYPO3: Large range of functions with long training

With over eleven million downloads, TYPO3 is also one of the most important CMS in German companies. The CMS is now available in over 51 languages ​​and with over 10,000 extensions and features. The large community is constantly and actively involved in the further development of the system. Even in the basic installation, the powerful CMS includes many functions such as multi-domain support and extensive rights management for multiple administrators and users.

In order to implement complex page structures with multilingual content, however, the extensive website CMS requires specialist knowledge. Overall, TYPO3 is an incredibly complex CMS and can usually do more than the users actually need on their side. Compared to other systems, the system therefore requires a long training period and a comparatively high administrative effort.

Figure 4: Screenshot from TYPO3

Craft: Minimalistic, but powerful

If you are looking for a powerful, expandable CMS that is also inexpensive, you could be happy with Craft. Craft is based on PHP and, like WordPress, requires an SQL database. The CMS is not the first of its makers. The predecessor ExpressionEngine was already quite successful. You can test the CMS online to see for yourself the clear structure and responsive options. The strong developer activities also offer a great advantage, as new updates are released almost every week to further improve Craft.

In addition, the community around the CMS continues to grow, so that numerous tutorials, templates and plugins can now be found on the straightupcraft site. In contrast to some other CMS, Craft requires appropriate knowledge of HTML and CSS to design the front end.

Figure 5: The Craft Control Panel

Bolt: Light as a feather heavyweight

The makers of Bolt describe their CMS as easy for editors and a dream CMS for developers. What is it about the statement? In any case, Bolt is a well thought out and well developed content management system. It is a bit reminiscent of WordPress. As an open source system, Bolt can also be used free of charge. Thanks to the very detailed system documentation, it is quite easy to familiarize yourself with the topic.

With the large range of functions and the possibility of creating numerous accesses for employees, Bolt is not only suitable for blogs, but also for larger websites and is also interesting for professional use in companies.

Figure 6: Screenshot of the Bolt website

Fork: The young at heart senior among the CMS

Fork has been around for many years, but thanks to continuous development it still looks young. The CMS offers a very user-friendly interface and also has a lot of nice themes and functions that are particularly interesting for SEOs.

Fork can be installed via the composer or the conventional way and can also be tested in advance. The Multivariate Testing extension should be very interesting for people from the marketing sector. This makes it easy to carry out A / B tests. Another advantage of Fork is its templates. Content blocks can be easily positioned in the backend using drag & drop.

Figure 7: Fork demo backend

2. Website CMS without a database: Flate-File CMS

As an alternative to the conventional CMS that work with connected databases, there are so-called flat file systems. These store the content of the website as simple files so that they can do without their own database on the server. This means that backups, live visits or relocations can also be carried out quickly.

Kirby: Inexpensive and easy

Kirby was brought onto the market by the German web developer Bastian Allgeier from Mannheim and is steadily developing into a popular alternative among flat file CMS. The system even manages without an administrator backend. Instead, there is the so-called Kirby Panel, with which pages, posts, templates, etc. are managed.

Basically, Kirby gets by with an FTP client (or Dropbox) and a text editor. In this way, the entire page structure can be implemented by adding subfolders with the names of the corresponding pages in the content folder. The individual pages are written in text files in Markdown, the page layout can be modified with the template engine. Kirby can be tested as a demo for free. The price for the more extensive version of the CMS is € 99 / month.

Figure 8: Screenshot from the Kirby website

Pico: Free, but fewer features

The originator of the system, Pico Gilbert Pellegrom, describes it as “stupidly simple”. In principle, this only applies to developers. Basically, Pico works in a very similar way to Kirby. However, it is also PHP-based, works with a conventional text editor and here, too, the content is written in Markdown. The big difference is that this is an open source system. Therefore, Pico is absolutely free. On the other hand, the CMS doesn't offer as many features and the community hasn't existed for that long either, i.e. it still has to grow in the future.

Figure 9: Themes at Pico

Grav: Mature open source CMS alternative

Another content management system that is based on PHP and is extremely lightweight. Grav also runs on the web server without a database. The system has received numerous praise and is often compared to Kirby. In contrast to Kirby, Grav, like Pico, is an open source CMS and therefore free of charge. The requirements for the installation are very low, so that a very cheap web hosting package is already sufficient to start with Grav. The big advantage compared to Pico is the community, which has grown significantly in the meantime, from which help, themes and plugins can be easily obtained. However, external dependencies such as the Twig template engine used by Grav or the Symfony framework should be mentioned as disadvantageous.

Figure 10: The Grav Community

3. Static website generators

In addition to content management systems with or without a database, there are more and more static website generators on the market. These are not filled with content like conventional CMS. Every time a change is made, the system creates static HTML files and regenerates the page. As the name suggests, the pages are static.

For smaller websites these are definitely an alternative, as long as the content doesn't change constantly. There are many advantages over dynamic websites based on a conventional CMS. The static HTML pages load faster and have a higher performance, many possible security gaps, as they occur again and again in Joomla, WordPress and Co., do not even occur here. This means that there is no longer any need for constant updates and maintenance. What speaks against the website generators is that you should be at least a little familiar with web development, the workflow is usually more complicated than with a CMS like WordPress. In addition, static websites do not offer the possibility of interactive use, for example with user logins, forms or discussion forums.

Forestry.io: CMS as a web service

While most generators can be operated via the command line, Forestry.io offers a nicely designed web interface. Forestry.io is not a CMS in the strict sense of the word, but rather a web service that users can log in to and then edit their page. Forestry then generates the new static page and can optionally distribute it via FTP, GitHub Pages or S3. Forestry is free for single use, a small team of up to five users pays 29 US dollars per month, for a large team with up to ten users the costs are very high at 749 US dollars / month.

Figure 11: Detailed documentation at Forestry

Editor: Self-hosting website generator

Lektor is a standalone website generator like Jekyll or Hugo. However, Lektor offers a decisive advantage: In addition to the usual command line interface, the tool offers a graphical admin interface. When editing, you hardly notice any difference to a conventional content management system. Another advantage of Lektor is the good documentation, which makes working with the tool easier.

Figure 12: Websites made with a reader

DatoCMS: Numerous generators in one

The cloud-based DatoCMS also has a graphical interface for static website generators. In addition to the usual Jekyll and Hugo generators, you can also choose from four more: Metalsmith, Middleman, Gatsby or Hexo. Like Forestry, DatoCMS can basically be described as SaaS or CMS as a service. Specifically, this means that the content cannot be hosted itself, but is on a DatoCMS server. Simple FTP uploads are not possible with DatoCMS.

The website is deployed via Github, Bitbucket or Gitlab. In general, this is easy to work with, but DatoCMS could be a bit too complex for beginners.

Figure 13: A wide variety of web projects can be implemented with DatoCMS

Which website CMS is the most recommended right now?

Basically, that cannot be said in general terms. The use of content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla, TYPO 3, but also Craft, Bolt and Fork makes sense in many cases. Of course, it is also convenient to use the predefined user roles that are common with most CMS, the simple extensions through plugins, e.g. for search engine optimization, or WYSIWYG editors. However, such CMS also require a certain amount of effort to operate them securely over the long term. And not every website actually needs an extensive, dynamic CMS including a database. It is therefore worthwhile to look at website generators in addition to the "light versions" in the form of the flat file CMS.

Which CMS is the best always depends on one thing: your own requirements for the website.