What is a CMS? What does it do?

CMS graphic
Picture: india_7/Flickr © SEO Link Building)

People who work on newspapers or on news websites speak often of “the system”. Sometimes they mean it in a general sense (the way in which the world is run, or how their company works) – but mostly they mean the computer program that they use to write or edit their articles. These staffers sometimes don’t know that the system (which is often hated) has another, longer name: it is actually a content management system, or CMS.

The CMSes used to make newspapers or big news websites are complex affairs because they allow many people to work on various pieces of content at the same time. That multi-user setup requires various levels of access to the system, and the ability to move pieces of content to different departments, where people will do different things to each piece of content. An article may be written, then edited, then illustrated by different sets of people.For the lone blogger, however, these levels of complexity are overkill. And yet, a CMS is still needed. There has to be a way to take your article from your own text editor to a wider audience. You need to be able to manage your content, no matter how small your editorial operation is.

What does a CMS do?

This is what a basic CMS should offer:

* a place to write an article, and save it in draft format

* the ability to put a headline on that story which will be the link to the story when it appears in search engine results

* the ability to go back to that draft article and edit it later

* the facility to publish the article to the web

* the ability to add a picture, or pictures

* the ability to do various kinds of formatting, including adding hyperlinks

* the ability to share the article with various social media platforms

* the ability to find an old article and edit it, and then publish that change

* the ability to schedule the article to publish at a later date

* accessibility on a desktop computer and on a mobile phone (so you can post that travel piece while on the beach in Thailand!)

WordPress as a CMS

I have worked in many CMSes over the years, some good, some terrible. For this website, I (along with many other people in the world) use WordPress. I’ve heard people say they find it fiddly, and hard to use – and I understand why! It is sometimes fiddly and hard to use. But it is free, and it offers all the functions I mention in my list, and so it is worth thinking about adopting it as your CMS, and perservering with it.

A word about perseverance: As I am writing this post, I am trying out WordPress’s new text editor, a thing called Gutenberg. And I confess to feelings of helpless rage as I try to figure out how to use it. At the moment, I hate it. At times, I have reverted to what WordPress calls the Classic Editor so as to prevent myself from throwing my computer into the garden.

However, I will go back to it, again and again, until I understand it and can use it without wanting to commit murder. I will watch YouTube videos about it, and I will Google things I don’t understand. Because that’s how to learn something new: persistence and practice.

If you are thinking about using WordPress as your CMS, I recommend the same tactics – just keep at it. WPBeginner is a particularly helpful resource, with lots of videos and tutorials. If doing it yourself is a bridge too far, you could get some training (which is one of the services I offer).

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