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CMS comparison: the five most popular content management systems

Attracting (and retaining) the maximum number of visitors to your website requires relentless loyalty to one key tenant in particular: content is king. Texts, pictures, videos, and other graphics do not just add value for the reader and user — these features are also duly noted and rewarded by search engines. But maintaining good content is like maintaining the infrastructure of a city or country: the task never ends. Content must always be revised, published, updated, and managed in a thoughtful and engaging way for the visitor; and size matters, too. Managing larger websites is a mammoth task that would hardly be feasible without the aid of a Content Management System. We have compiled a review of the most important requirements to take into account when selecting a CMS. You’ll also find a CMS comparison of the most popular open source solutions in our guide.

Making the right choice

It’s a jungle out there when looking for the perfect CMS, and it is easy to get entwined in the sheer number of choices when on the hunt for the right one. Currently, there are about 250 to 350 different programs available on the market. From simple building tools to expansive enterprise systems, the possibilities for CMSs are as various as they are numerous.

Requirements and expectations for a CMS

Clear goals for the planned website should be defined before taking the final step of choosing which CMS to use. The most important question to bear in mind when making a decision is simple: what kind of content do I want to display? Knowing how many people will be working on a given project and what kind of workflows will be used is essential for this step. Everyone sets their priorities differently: high user-friendliness and a quick and easy connection to different systems is the most important factor for some. Other website operators prefer to focus more on SEO (search engine optimization) and accessibility.

The wide variety of functions for different CMSs makes directly comparing these systems a formidable undertaking. This is due in part to the various requirements users have for the many CMS applications. Ultimately, every user has a different plan for their respective web projects and should consider which CMS suits these needs when making a choice.

Different Applications

There are essentially three different types of applications for content management systems. When choosing between different CMSs, it is important that their respective applications remain the deciding criteria for selection.

Web content management

The main emphasis of classic web content management lies in creating and managing content. This method requires editors to have access to the back end of the website, which necessitates complex methods of sharing user rights. The most important aspect on this front involves preparing content that has been optimized for the reader with the help of multimedia tools. Further factors include the use of news and user management applications, the ability to carry out a full text search, and incorporating different languages into the website.

Blog Publishing/News

As the name suggests, this kind of application puts blogging center stage. Preparing texts, and thoughtfully categorizing and linking content so it can be coupled with social media as well as other web 2.0 functions is especially important. Additional features include: opportunities for interacting with the reader and scheduled publication of entries. The ability to quickly create texts and edit them is a further crucial element to this paradigm.

Social publishing/communities

Developing and rolling out online communities requires a much more complicated host of functions than what is typically needed to manage an ordinary blog. Engaging an active target audience is generally a more intricate task than simply providing content for a passive audience. Under this format, content is not only created by the website operator — it is also developed by the site’s members (user-generated content). The basic system of social publishing solutions often has a modular structure, so it is easily incorporated into web 2.0 functions.

Open source solutions

The text below is a summary of open source solutions for CMSs. Proprietary options, which give software developers complete control over commercial operations and development, are the opposite of this model. Open source solutions, on the other hand, make their source code available for everyone; every user is able to change, improve, and expand CMS features according to their personal demands and preferences. And because there are no licensing fees, open source solutions are especially attractive options for businesses. Open source systems usually reflect the latest industry standards and this high level of expertise is reflected in the exchange with community members. Those competent enough in programming are able to develop extensions, thereby participating in the CMS’s development.



In order to select the best suited CMS and fully benefit from it, have a clear understanding of the content and purpose of your web project.

The five most popular CMSs: a comparison

The most popular open source solutions at the moment are WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, TYPO3, and Contao, . All of the aforementioned systems can be used for both large as well as small-scale solutions. This list could be expanded to include even more systems, but we have decided to compile a list of five of the most highly established systems. Together, these make up approximately 85 percent of the CMS market, with WordPress being the most frequently used CMS system with almost 18 million websites, as the following infographic shows:

Click here to download the infographic on the most popular content management systems’ market shares.


With a US market share hovering at around 68%, WordPress is the most commonly used open source CMS available. Originally conceived of as a basic blogging system, WordPress gradually expanded and began to incorporate new functions and templates. Due to its somewhat excessively expansive range of options, critics of WordPress cite its cumbersome and complex use as the system’s biggest shortcoming. Many users, however, profit from the enormous number of designs, plugins and widgets.


  • 18,000 extensions and over 14,000 free design templates.
  • “five minute installation” possible
  • search engine friendly URLs
  • publishing and management tools for mobile solutions

WordPress’s low maintenance and easy set-up make it especially appealing for websites with simple structures; however, those searching for business solutions should look elsewhere. Setting up features such as multi-domain solutions or multilingual projects, for example, proves less intuitive with WordPress than with other options.


  • minimal installation and setup requirements
  • user-friendly interface
  • plugins are easily integrated as are other extensions


  • considered less secure than other systems
  • limited user and rights administration
  • limited stability and performance during periods of high traffic

The 1-click installation makes it especially easy for WordPress beginners as part of a hosting packet. The provider is in charge of all technical and server-side management, which leaves the site operator free to concentrate on the content.


Joomla! has a market share of about 11%, which makes it the second biggest player on the CMS market. In contrast to WordPress, Joomla! demands a bit more of a techy touch from its users. Potential users should not be discouraged, however; no professional IT background is required to use this CMS. One plus for non-expert level users is the robust community support offered in the form of good documentation in user guides as well as countless forums. 


  • currently over 7,400 extensions available to users.
  • object-based management of content
  • community support through forums

Not all of Joomla!’s functions are entirely intuitive and therefore using it requires somewhat of a change in thinking on the part of its users. Extensions are divided into plugin components and modules. Users are able to integrate these into both the front end and back end, which can be particularly irritating. Problems with approval processes and rights management are also known to occur when working on large scale projects.


  • relatively simple installation and set-up
  • large pool of extensions and designs
  • generating own templates is user friendly


  • incomplete rights management
  • many processes are not intuitive
  • high-quality extensions can be expensive
  • complicated manual updates necessary for some extensions

Due to its complexity, it’s recommended to use Joomla! with a hosting provider. Updates and technical infrastructure are available, which makes this CMS a lot easier to manage.


Due to its original function as a message board site for students, the modularly designed CMS Drupal maintains a different look and feel than more conventional CMSs; this is also due to its framework set-up. Drupal’s reduced basic installation starts with only a few modules, but these can be easily expanded and adapted through its fully developed module system.


•    modular design
•    slimmed-down basic installation
•    installation profile as a comprehensive solution for typical applications
•    no differentiation between front end and back end

Building social publishing and community platforms is the main focus for Drupal users. Flexible modular systems give the CMS the perfect solution for highly dynamic platforms that rely on user- generated content.


•    nuanced role and rights management systems
•    supports multi-domain management
•    strong community identity 


•    laborious configuration
•    bare-bones basic version requires lots installing many upgrades
•    installing modules only possible through FTP

Data security is of great importance especially where Drupal (as a community platform) is concerned. Drupal web hosting from 1&1 has increased security and offers location-independent access to the CMS.


Community character is one of TYPO3’s defining features. This aspect is particularly convenient for inexperienced users looking for quick answers to problems and questions they might encounter. Involved experts also ensure that the system is continually developed and maintains a state-of-the-art level of quality.


•    enterprise-focused CMS
•    virtually unlimited in how it can be adapted and expanded
•    multilingual support with fallback functions
•    wide-ranging capabilities in integrated rights management
•    seamless connection to other systems, like CRM or ERP solutions

Typo3 essentially enables every web function available, which of course can make using this program particularly complicated. Due to its popularity, this system is also often used for smaller projects, although an easier-to-use CMS is often the better option in such cases. On the other hand, for larger, more complicated projects supported by experienced IT specialists, TYPO3 proves to be an excellent tool.


•    widely used and supported by many experts
•    highly flexible
•    able to incorporate virtually all functions
•    always up to date on all the latest industry standards due to  its constant maintenance


•    demanding server requirements
•    set-up and adaptation associated with particularly large effort
•    Back end not intuitive for non-experts

If TYPO3 is used for large and complex projects, the installation should be performed as part of a hosting package. With the Click & Build App from 1&1, the CMS can be installed in just a few clicks.


As its previous name “TypoLight” may suggest, Contao offers a clear and practical CMS solution. Some positive aspects of the system include its intuitive back end, and the administration levels are also very clearly designed.    


•    page-based operation
•    many possible back end language options and themes
•    live update service
•    expansive search and sort options

Contao is a comfortable solution for projects of almost any size, be it small, medium, or large. Those looking for more complex, business-oriented solutions will be disappointed, as Contao is missing a few important features.


•    detailed rights management
•    user-friendly instalation, management, and extension updates
•    powerful and expandable system architecture


•    multilevel workflows are not supported
•    not appropriate for complex business solutions

Contao can be installed quickly and easily with just one click using the CMS hosting from 1&1.

Compact CMS solutions as an alternative

For some websites, a simple structure with a modest amount of content is more than enough to provide their readers with the information they are looking for. Whether it be a company website or a small, private blog, expansive CMS options like TYPO3 or Joomla! are sometimes just too complex for those looking for simple solutions. WordPress is especially an option that bloggers should think about using. But of course there are other, more compact CMS options to consider as alternatives. One of the best independent publishing solutions at the moment is the CMS Craft. Craft is outfitted with responsive design and a clearly laid-out interface. And while it may be lacking in extension and template options at the moment, the community is growing. 

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