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Perhaps you’re planning to set up a blog. You might have been asked to launch (or revive) your employer’s corporate website. Or, you might just want to announce your presence online.

Heave a sigh of relief as the days of hand-coded HTML pages, and mastering CSS, are long gone. All it takes today is to purchase some hosting and install a content management system (CMS). Within minutes, your new website will be polished, a pleasing theme chosen, and your content on show for the world to see.

What is a Content Management System?

It’s important to note the distinction between a CMS and a customer relationship management tool, or a document management service (such as Microsoft SharePoint). Text editors are not CMS tools, for instance.

Content Management Systems are web-based applications that are designed for the creation and updating of websites. They may have themes or plugins to extend functionality, and make the management of a website simple.

WordPress remains popular for running a website, but other CMS solutions are available. Some of these might replicate WordPress’s “jack-of-all-trades” approach, while others may specialize. For instance, a portfolio-focused CMS might be ideal for artists; an audio-focused solution more suitable for musicians or podcasters.

These solutions all have their own strengths and benefits. Let’s see what’s available.

The following list of content management systems are free to download and use unless otherwise stated.

1. WordPress

It remains the most widely used content management system on the web, so it would be crazy to list the most popular CMS tools without a mention of WordPress. Many of your favorite websites rely on WordPress, not to mention countless blogs.

Several have already been created in the past hour using WordPress.

After all, WordPress offers a quick and simple installation, when done manually. Many web hosts offer automated, one-click installation. The vast developer community has collaborated on creating and offering feedback for an unparalleled collection of plugins, enhancements, and themes. Most of these are free; some are paid.

Fancy getting your hands dirty with some light PHP or CSS? You can edit key theme and plugin files from within the WordPress admin screen. That’s what we call flexible.

James Bruce’s manual, WordPress: Your Ultimate Guide, will help you to get started with this CMS and blogging tool.

2. Google Sites

Let’s get started with perhaps the most user-friendly content management system currently available. Google Sites makes it as easy to create and edit a website as creating a document in Microsoft Word.

The user interface is intuitive, and with a wealth of Google technologies that can be included (Google Drive documents, Google Maps, and more), you’ll be able to create a website that shares the information you want it to. Note that this isn’t the type of tool you can download and install on your own server, however.

Regardless, while it may lack the developed features of some of the other CMS tools in this list, if you’re looking for a quick website solution, and easy-to-use CMS, Google Sites is the place to start.

3. ExpressionEngine

While many of the CMS applications in this list will be available for free, ExpressionEngine is one that offers both free and paid versions. The premium ExpressionEngine CMS is available for $299 per license; for users preferring a free option, ExpressionEngine Core is available.

Mobile friendly and content agnostic (content is retained and can be used in a myriad of ways), ExpressionEngine is a powerful CMS. You can even create your own templates with some easy-to-use, custom tags.

And if you opt for the paid version, ExpressionEngine comes with the full set of features (ExpressionEngine Core offers a limited choice). There’s also a third-party e-commerce add-on, CartThrob, available for $249.

4. SilverStripe

Open source CMS solution SilverStripe doubles up as a standard CMS as well as a framework for web applications. Don’t want to develop a web app? That’s no problem, as the CMS is powerful enough to sit in the background of most websites.

SilverStripe bundles SEO (search engine optimization Demystify SEO: 5 Search Engine Optimization Guides That Help You Begin Demystify SEO: 5 Search Engine Optimization Guides That Help You Begin Search engine mastery takes knowledge, experience, and lots of trial and error. You can begin learning the fundamentals and avoid common SEO mistakes easily with the help of many SEO guides available on the Web. Read More ) and multilingual tools alongside the standard WYSIWYG editor. It features a number of add-ons for introducing additional functionality and a flexible design (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript What is JavaScript, And Can the Internet Exist Without It? What is JavaScript, And Can the Internet Exist Without It? JavaScript is one of those things many take for granted. Everybody uses it. Read More can all be edited). Happily, you’ll see a live representation of how a post or page will look as you update it, too.

5. TextPattern

Designed with both bloggers and designers in mind, TextPattern comes in an incredibly modest 2 MB download. Within minutes, you’ll be blogging. If you want to tweak the design, all aspects of the XHTML and CSS can be manipulated via the admin interface.

Be aware, however, that TextPattern is aimed squarely at bloggers; it can form the heart of a corporate blog, but bloggers will benefit best. TextPattern features an anti-spam comment system and if you need support, there’s friendly and useful support via the forum.

With its minimalist admin interface and flexible design engine, TextPattern a solution that you should consider for producing blogs. If you’re planning to move to this CMS, make sure you employ its import tool to save time.

6. RefineryCMS

A Ruby on Rails Complete Ruby on Rails Super Bundle Will Get You Building Apps in No Time Complete Ruby on Rails Super Bundle Will Get You Building Apps in No Time Read More content management system, RefineryCMS v 3.0.5 has over 500,000 downloads at the time of writing. 100% free and open source, RefineryCMS is also devastatingly simple to use. We’re talking point, click, launch — a simplicity enhanced by the clear, clean user interface.

RefineryCMS is flexible enough for you to use any layout or design for your website. And along with community-contributed extensions, you can also develop your own. Over the years, RefineryCMS has developed into a stable content management system, and a realistic alternative to WordPress.

7. Ghost

Many reasons for browsing a list like this might be to find an alternative to WordPress. One such alternative was developed by a bunch of former WordPress developers. Ghost is the name of the CMS, which marries blogging with subscriber management.

Like many of the tools listed here, Ghost is available to install on your own server. However, it’s also available as a paid service, but the pricing comes in at just $19 a month. Given equivalent WordPress hosting is $49 for the same period, you can see the benefits of switching to Ghost.

Note, however, that Ghost doesn’t offer an ecommerce solution The 5 Best Ways to Create a Web Store The 5 Best Ways to Create a Web Store We'll walk you through some big benefits and pitfalls of creating and running your own web store, and give you a head start on the road to digital entrepreneurship. Read More . They also suggest you stick with WordPress if you want a business website.

8. Jekyll

If you’re trying to migrate away from WordPress and similar CMS tools, and are looking for a new way of managing a website, Jekyll might just be the tool for you. Eschewing databases and comment moderation, Jekyll focusses on your content. Designed to create static websites, Jekyll can be up and running in moments.

But don’t think you can’t blog with this tool. You can! It’s blog-aware, and Jekyll features import tools for a host of different blogging platforms, from WordPress to Blogger.

The result is a CMS that keeps things simple — perfect for modest business websites. Oh, and you don’t need to worry about hosting, either. Free hosting can be enjoyed for your Jekyll installation at Github!

9. Concrete5

There is something slick and impressive about Concrete5. Aiming to put the tools of website or blog creation into the tools of anyone, this CMS is potentially the ultimate time-saving device for web developers, designers, and admins.

We reckon this CMS remains popular because of the way the end user gets the tools they need to edit or restyle their blog. Rather than a standard admin page, blog editing takes place in the blog itself. Don’t want to wait for the page to reload to see how your changes look? With Concrete5, the changes are live.

As alternatives to the mainstream CMS tools go, Concrete5 is one to get excited about.

10. ModX

Launched in 2005, ModX is running over 100,000 websites for business of all sizes. It’s easy to use and enables anyone to create content. It’s even possible to deploy multiple styles to the same web page. Developed to deliver content to search engines without additional SEO plugins, ModX is a CMS that everyone should try out.

Interestingly, ModX has also been developed with a focus on security. Flexible and scalable, the strong security makes it ideal for use on high-end sites. This is achieved in part thanks to the xDPO database layer, which ensures data is cleaned (“sanitized”) before being saved to the database.

As a result, ModX has had just 14 vulnerabilities posted on the US Government’s National Vulnerability Database. In contrast, WordPress had 1217 (one thousand, two hundred and seventeen) vulnerabilities logged in March 2017. That’s 87 times more potential security holes.

If you want to keep your site secure, ModX could be the CMS for you.

Honorable Mentions: Other CMS Tools to Consider

The entire CMS landscape has changed considerably over the past few years. An earlier version of this list included Joomla and Drupal as key entries, but in 2017, they play second fiddle to WordPress and many other of the solutions here. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try them out — they might just be exactly what you’re looking for. You should read our Joomla manual The Beginners Guide To Joomla The Beginners Guide To Joomla This guide will walk you through everything from why to choose Joomla and how to install it on your webserver to how to design and customise your site to your liking. Read More to find out more about that CMS.

Another worth checking out is TinyCMS, a database-free CMS relying instead on just a few PHP files. This makes it ideal for small-scale websites.

Finally, take a few moments to check CMS Made Simple, a system I first used around 10 years ago. It’s great to see that CMSMS is still around; it’s suitable for supporting large, corporate websites and businesses rather than smaller blogs.

Choose the Right CMS and Get to Work!

If you have a good reason to choose one CMS platform over another, then hit each of the links above and either download the software and install it to your server, or find the demo version (these tend to exist on most CMS developer websites).

There are various things you should consider when choosing a content management system. Filter them with your own expectations, your aims, and the purpose of the website. Simply choosing one and using it without being aware of how you will use could waste a lot of time.

Do you have any favorites among this list? Is there a CMS that you felt should be included with these? Let us know, as well as your reasons for suggesting.

Image Credit: garagestock via Shutterstock

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  1. Wes Marsh
    September 1, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Christian,
    I think you've done a really nice job with this article. My only feedback is that these CMS platforms tend to be geared for blogging or small businesses. For mid-market and enterprise level organizations, they may want to check out Solodev (solodev.com). Their platform allows designers to have complete creative freedom without the inherent constraints that WordPress and others have. It's also built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure and is thus one of the most secure and scalable options on the market. Finally, Solodev is built with marketers in mind allowing them to easily make changes to content, landing pages, A/B tests, and more all without having to code or get support from IT. If you'd like to check it out, they also offer free trials.

    Hope this helps and keep up the great work!

  2. dave
    July 31, 2017 at 11:18 am

    interesting article

  3. Cooper
    July 7, 2017 at 5:17 am

    What about maintain content of your small existing website. Nothing more handy then BaferCMS. You must already have html site, it will grab your pages and css files from the web and put it in wysiwyg editor. When you finished, you can compare sources ,before and after editing of any html or css and upload it or download it from there. And it is free :-)

  4. Gary Coryer
    May 5, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Evernote a better option than OneNote? LOL Evernote is a pale shadow of a notebook compared to the power of OneNote!

  5. Jason Kidd
    July 8, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    There are a ton of Content Management Systems to chose from. This can make it very stressful, as we are all looking for the most dynamic CMS to satisfy ourselves. Of the many vendors I have sat in on demos, they are all equally confusing. Part of the issue is the 'label' of what it is in the first place. I mean, yes, it does involve content management, but also document management, and then single sign on, integration, there is just too much. Open Text does a great job calling it a 'Enterprise Information Management' system (EIM), but even that is a little vague. Oxcyon, who makes a product called Centralpoint, calls it an 'ecosystem', or Digital Experience Platform, which seems to be closer to mark because the management of information goes 'both ways' so it is an ecosystem. My experience with centralpoint has been great. I have 5 years experience using the centralpoint platform. I used to use Constant Contact for my email broadcasts, now I use Centralpoint's RSS broadcast. It lets me create multiple feeds, and it knows what posted last week so it's always up to date. I have one scheduled to go to myself only, then if I see anything wrong the day before...i just clean it up and let the robot do it.

  6. Anonymous
    October 24, 2015 at 11:38 am

    There are a few CMS names that were unknown to me even till today. Just got the information from here. Among all the CMS I used wordpress, joomla and dropal before. I would like to recommend for wordpress. Thanks for lovely sharing.

  7. Anonymous
    August 10, 2015 at 5:22 am

    My opinion best cms systems are wordpress and joomla and if you know both of them you can create any website

  8. Anonymous
    August 4, 2015 at 4:57 am

    As a developer with 10 years of experience. I can admit that their are a lot of big names in this list but the world of web design is being invaded by enterprise solutions like SharePoint, Google Apps and CentralPoint by Oxycon. None of these systems should be placed out of a list like this.

    • Christian Cawley
      August 5, 2015 at 10:20 am

      Google Apps was in its infancy when this list was compiled, while SharePoint can never be a recommended CMS for running an efficient website.

  9. Sheryl Roger
    May 19, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Great article. All CMS which you discussed here are very useful. Although i did not have use these personally except drupal and my experience went really well.

  10. Tomasz J DEC
    May 6, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Hi to All,

    We are developing sites for our clients since 2000, but for last 3 years more of them are thinking about "the CMS" as a part of business workflows not only "a news" deliverer. We have just rewrite two big sites from WordPress into our jCMS (http://jcms.torn.com.pl) - not because WordPress is bad - but because client decide to have more business oriented worklows. Nowdays "a news" can be composed onfly and be based on data coming from scanners, detectors, readers, robots, websites, erp systems etc. But a huge and massive types of interfaces and data formats before will be published has to be stored, indexed and then published - my question is does it make sense today e.g. in 2015 only talk about HTML5, CSS3 and how the page looks and how easy I can setup a portal page? May be "the Content" today is no longer "a news written in tinyCMS" - so Chiristian could you make an update to your material - what has changed since 2012 ?

    atb

    Tomasz J DEC
    CEO
    http://www.torn.com.pl

  11. Christian Cawley
    April 23, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Drupal isn't number 1 because, well, it isn't number 1. While still widely used, it isn't as popular as it once was.

  12. Daniel Keith
    April 20, 2015 at 5:56 am

    Nice information. But Drupal should be on number 1. Also, Weebly should be in the list. It is very good CMS.

  13. mohammad
    March 31, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    tiny CMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    tinyMCE

    • rei
      April 27, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      what problem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      yes
      tiny CMS used tinyMCE

  14. Philip Ireland
    February 28, 2015 at 6:14 am

    Hi

    seems like your review was perhaps more contentious than expected! Personally I have little clue about CMS and found this really helpful. It is good to be able to get an honest and direct review of what is on offer.

    Thanks
    Phil

    • Christian Cawley
      March 2, 2015 at 8:17 am

      Glad you found it useful, Philip, thanks!

  15. Rob
    January 22, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    You missed SilverStripe, the best CMS to date.

  16. Sufalam Technologies
    October 19, 2012 at 10:29 am

    A characteristic feature of CMS is its capability to give non-technical users an opportunity to make changes to their websites. CMS greatly facilitates control, editing and auditing processes. Content management systems have automated templates that can be applied to the existing or new content.

  17. PixelPinch | Abhash
    October 14, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Lots of CMS which I didn't even know of. Thanks for the list!

  18. Lebron
    October 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Nice article and some great comments.We have been using Contrexx cms, its quite easy to use and the admin area is great.

  19. Christine
    September 13, 2012 at 2:19 am

    WordPress and Joomla are great CMS.

    I have another website to recommend: http://www.pinabc.com.

    I use it as my homepage, notebook, album and as a to do list as well.

  20. vanila
    September 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    WordPress and Joomla are great CMS.

    I have another website to recommend: http://www.pinabc.com.

    I use it as my homepage, notebook, album and as a to do list as well.

  21. Tom Kisielewski
    September 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Very general list of CMSs, ordered by popularity? Should be WordPress, Joomla , Drupal....Easy of use -> probably Wordpres Drupal Joomla.. How did you measure popularity, would be nice to know source of information. Anyway good list.

  22. monis
    August 21, 2012 at 7:21 am

    I am afraid, where is TYPO3 in this list?

  23. James Brock
    August 20, 2012 at 4:05 am

    This was the best post ever... if I ever have another question about my pokemon site I will email you, thanks man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. uxzeal
    June 27, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I guess WordPress is the most popular CMS and no other CMS can beat it.

  25. SlackNetics
    June 5, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Why do you CamelCase the name of our favorite CMS. It is and has always been spelled Textpattern.

  26. Dan C.
    May 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Interesting article but not entirely accurate - why do you claim Dotnetnuke is not free? DNN started as an open source community project and remains as of today.

    I think you should revise your article with the number of production/public websites built on each platform.

    In God we trust, all others must bring data - W. E. Deming

    • Christian Cawley
      June 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      Hi Dan

      This is an error on my part - of course DNN is free, and I had intended to state something along the lines of (you'll forgive as this article is a few weeks old now): "although DNN is free, support and extended options are not".

      Apologies for the confusion.

      As to your second point, I'm afraid that is out of the question. Other than being completely unreasonable (requiring a level of trust in the claims of platforms that cannot be verified), it is bordering on the insane!

  27. Sithu
    May 21, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Of these listed CMS wordpress can be picked up as favourite by most of them. But i feel some professional functionalities are missed in wordpress. Infact i find joomla as the best CMS for building and maintaining a good, catchy, interactive website.
    http://www.usjoomlaforce.com/psd-to-joomla-conversion.html

  28. Spence Hackney
    May 18, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Just wanted to suggest a correction for you. DotNetNuke Community Edition is absolutely free. They do have a Professional edition that has som additional features targeted at enterprise clients that costs money.

  29. diogo
    May 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I recommend http://processwire.com/
    I've been using it for 2 years now, and couldn't be happier about it. Among other things you will find:
    - low learning curve for the basics
    - flexibility and markup freedom
    - very good user management
    - very helpful community
    - fast development

  30. Offlajn
    May 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    I personally only reccommend WordPress of Joomla. There are thousands of free and commercial plugins/extensions for both cms systems. Also, the support great for both of them.
    In fact I'm a Joomla extension developer myself: http://offlajn.com

  31. brad_j_davis
    April 30, 2012 at 7:15 am

    WordPress wins without doubt as the most popular free CMS and it is exploding in popularity as well. World domination is just around the corner!

    • Jarrod Mosen
      September 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      Which is a massive shame... that lumbering beast is meant for blogs; and countless have smashed plugins and hacks into it to make it a 'CMS'

      • Eric Admati
        September 19, 2012 at 6:29 am

        I agree. I have used WP, and find it that the blogging section is hard to turn off. I use another on this list. I feel it doesn't have the professional, crisp look which I like in WP. They have a marketplace, but the categories are messed up. Hard to search for plug-ins/add-ons.

        So I am looking for a good WYSIWYG CMS alternative. Professional, clean looking, no blogging by default, and good forum support.

      • Eric Admati
        September 19, 2012 at 6:54 am

        Another idea - it would be helpful to know:

        - how many times each of these CMS, and maybe some of the ones in the comments have been downloaded (MODX boasts more than 1,000,000)
        - how many sites are up with each of these CMSs (I don't know how hard that is to find)
        - how they the CMS has been around

        that would help me narrow it down.

  32. Tyler
    April 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    We appreciate you including our CMS, TinyCMS!

  33. indiandigitizer
    April 26, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Hey Christian,

    Great post for the uninitiated, good point to start from researching about CMS.

    I know, how I felt when I started out - which CMS to use???? This could have been helpful then and might be helpful for others just starting out.

    Keep up the good work.

    cheerios,

  34. Carl Vinken
    April 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    YOOMLA FTW!

  35. Dominik Lukes
    April 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    I'm afraid that this is a rather uninformative post. The vague slanderous aside about Drupal and no mention of systems like Typo3 or Plone aside, there is no meaningful basis of comparison. The platform is not always mentioned, nor are distinguishing features, notable downsides and prominent example websites. No mention of hosting support. For instance, it might be useful to compare PHP systems, with .Net, RoR, etc. Level of community support, conferences, paid vs. free support. I understand that this would require more research than a single blog post deserves but how about a series of features?

    • Mike
      April 25, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      I agree. Also it doesn't mention ExpressionEngine which I believe to be fairly popular since it's been around for ages. What measurement is used to consider the mentioned CMS's "most popular?"

      • Christian Cawley
        April 25, 2012 at 8:39 pm

        Well, since this is MakeUseOf, Mike, ExpressionEngine doesn't make the grade since it isn't free :)

        • nutan
          August 18, 2012 at 5:20 am

          hi give me a cms web content management system source code it's aurjent

    • Christian Cawley
      April 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      While I appreciate your comments and agree that a series of articles would be good, there are a couple of points here that I want to address.

      First, Drupal *has* had some issues of late. This doesn't mean that it should be discounted - it's still on the list!
      Second, the list was compiled based on ratings and reputation. There are items on here that you would have a hard time finding genuine reviews for online, so to be on the receiving end of a tough critique is a little galling...
      Third, detailing hosting support for 10 very different CMS' would be akin to spinning plates.
      Fourth, I think your penultimate point about comparisons PHP/.NET/RoR would also be more suitable to a series.

      I'm not promising anything :)

      • Jim Venus
        September 2, 2012 at 8:54 pm

        Chris:

        I would like to ask you to watch this video on Centralpoint, by Oxcyon. We have been called the alternative to Sharepoint, offer source, and have been in business for 12 years, with over 320 clients. The biggest differentiators are: We integrate wtih LDAP/AD (out of the box), and support Audience, Taxonomy and Roles based filtration for each record (which no other CMS can claim), making us the most robust and universal platform out there today...

        Centralpoint in Action
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qFx17dAlTQ&hd=1

        Centralpoint Powerpoint overview
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucwjys47igI

        Thank you
        Jim