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What is a content management system?

image of computer keyboard for content management systems article

Content management systems are a key part of a brand's technology stack, yet it can be challenging for buyers to know how to choose the right one. Here's a primer for everything you need to get started when selecting a content management system (commonly abbreviated to CMS).

Content management systems explained: The basics

What does a content management system do?

As the name suggests, a content management system is a resource to manage content. It’s a software application that allows users to create, edit and produce digital content like web pages and blog posts.

What are the benefits of a CMS?

One of the key benefits of a content management system is the ease by which any team member can create and share content. After setting up the system, you will need little to no support from your IT department.

Who needs a content management system?

Content creators use the content management system as a single control panel to complete actions such as writing text or inserting pictures. A content management system can be used to run an entire website. Or it can connect through the back end to an existing web system.

Why is a CMS important for businesses today?

Content management systems are important to most organizations, and the . A modern content management system is the heart of a brand’s digital experience platform. But the wrong technology can be a major impediment to productivity and growth.

How does a content management system work?

A content management system typically features two key components: the content management application and the content delivery application.

The content management component is where contributors write content and add media assets like images and videos. It's also where they organize elements like page templates that impact how the content is displayed on the front end. Typically, the content objects stored in your content management layer are stored in a database.

The content management application is also home to the workflows and templates that power the authoring and publishing experience. And once a content asset is published, it's where contributors make ongoing edits and updates.

The content delivery side is the layer that delivers the content to the presentation layer—often referred to as the front end. Content management systems, like Brightspot CMS, should be flexible enough to connect the CMS to any front end of choice.

screenshot of Brightspot CMS UI

A offers clues to the pain points that organizations experience with their content management system. Only 16% of respondents feel that they have the right technology for content management and are using it to its full potential.

All of this points to a clear gap in understanding the capabilities of different content management systems. What does a modern solution look like? How does it work and what features does it need? How to choose the best content management system based on your unique business needs? Read on for answers to these questions.

The most common types of content management systems include traditional CMS, decoupled or headless CMS, or a hybrid-headless solution to suit each individual business’ needs (more on that below).

screenshot of Brightspot CMS UI

What are the must-have features for a content management system?

There’s a wide variety of content management systems available, but not all of them have adapted to our multi-device world.

Older content management systems lead to many challenges. New technologies arrive but these older systems are unable to adapt. They require ongoing support from the technology and design teams. Over time, more time and money is spent on managing the platform instead of the content it hosts.

Image of Brightspot CMS customer logo

As people spend more time on a variety of screens, brands must deliver content across digital touchpoints including web and mobile. The content also has to reach audiences around the globe in multiple languages.

The best content management systems have the ability to be multisite. Meaning? The system can support as many different sites as you need. You don’t have to recreate the wheel every time a new site or project comes online.

Along with being connected across multiple devices, today’s digital world is multichannel. The places where consumers expect and consume content are proliferating. Content creators need to get their information in front of them regardless of the channel. Think internet, radio, television, streaming services, the car stereo, smart speakers -- it really is a multichannel landscape. Your device doesn't need to have a screen to be a content channel.

A good content management system lets you publish once, distribute everywhere.

Beyond the flexibility to work across an array of front-end interfaces, content management systems must integrate easily with new services as they are introduced. As technology like AI, machine learning and personalization proliferates, digital leads need to connect these capabilities with their content management systems.

Unlike early content management system solutions of even just a decade ago, you don’t have to build everything yourself. Look for a content management system that can easily integrate with third-party solutions to enable future innovation.

In this sense, today's content management systems are more like digital hubs rather than simple content repositories. This hub sits at the heart of the digital experience. It connects the content assets with all the pieces that power the full experience for the end user.

What are some of the other must-have features for a content management system?


  • Editing ToolsA superior content-editing experience in your content management system allows contributors to create, edit, optimize and visualize the asset all from the same view. It should allow for easy collaboration and workflow management to take every piece of content from idea to publish seamlessly.

  • Analytics - If you don’t know how your content is performing, you are driving blind. Look for integrations with analytics providers like Google Analytics or Omniture to make sure you are able to measure performance. 
Image of Brightspot CMS customer logo

  • Personalization - Marketers know the power of personalization to take users from prospects to customers. Personalization through your content management system can tailor everything from what a user sees while browsing a website to what kind of ads they see.

  • SEO tools - If content is king, then SEO is the currency of success. SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the method by which content and web pages are constructed in order to be visible to search engines. And with the majority of web visits starting with a search, you cannot afford to be invisible. You should look for SEO tools to help while authoring content in the CMS and suggest things like the best keywords to use when writing this content.

How to choose the right content management system?

Many websites run on a handful of low-code, low-cost content management system platforms like WordPress and Squarespace. These products offer many out-of-the-box features that can be attractive to companies looking for an easy solution.

But easy is not always better. Many digital, editorial and marketing teams are not getting what they need from their content management system. In a 2019 survey, that they don’t have the right technology to manage their content. What starts as the solution to an immediate need can end up costing more in lost opportunities in the long run.

To address these shortcomings, Brightspot has built a CMS that is designed to move businesses forward without compromise. Brightspot provides the CMS technology for major media organizations and consumer brands including Walmart, National Geographic and Politico.

Its cutting-edge solution contains all the elements that you should look for when choosing a content management system:

  • When switching to Brightspot, you can replatform and launch quickly. This can happen in as little as 90 days. Many content management systems take over a year to implement, and in that time your needs could change. 
  • Brightspot provides strong core functionality with the ability to extend to meet your business needs. If you need a particular new feature at any point, you can easily add it. 
  • Being able to manage and edit assets is a key part of the content process. With Brightspot, much of this can be done within the content management system. Brightspot also has a strong search function that makes it easy to find any content or asset without limitations.
  • Brightspot’s content management system makes it easy to publish to any channel. It includes out-of-the-box support for mobile, OTT video, podcasts, Facebook, Apple News and AMP.
  • Permissions and workflows make defining ownership and status of various tasks more efficient in the content management system. 
  • Brightspot CMS is secure and future-proofed for success. We offer a publisher-informed CMS that’s intuitive and built with you in mind. High-volume content is our specialty.

Content management systems are a key part of brands’ technology stack. However, it can be challenging for buyers to know how to choose the right one that will also evolve with changing customer needs.

Along with the many different features offered through a modern content management system, different implementations are available based on your team and business needs. A traditional CMS tightly links the back end to the front end. It is often called a coupled CMS.

A decoupled CMS separates the back-end and front-end management of a website into two different systems. A popular subset of this architecture is known as headless CMS. Unlike decoupled, the key difference is the presentation layer: a headless CMS does not have a defined front-end system or presentation environment.

True flexibility that allows you to build how you want, integrating with existing systems so you’re not starting from scratch. From there, you must be able to define your own workflows based on your business needs. Brightspot has created a content management system that does just this for publishers, brands and other businesses to succeed in the digital space.

Start building in a free trial environment, see a demo or talk to an expert—select one of these paths and start however you would like to!


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