Searching for the best CMS software to build your website? At a high level, a CMS, or content management system, helps you create a functional website without needing to build every page from scratch using code.
However, different CMS software has different pros and cons, so you’ll want to choose the tool that’s best for your specific needs and budget.
To help, we’ve collected the 21 best CMS options for everything from blogs to ecommerce stores, marketing websites, and lots more.
What Is a CMS?
Before we get to the list, let’s start at the beginning: what is a CMS?
A content management system does what the name says: it helps you “manage” your website’s content in a “systemized” way.
Instead of needing to work with code whenever you want to add content to your website, a CMS lets you work in an easy-to-use editor that might look something like this:
Then, when you “publish” that content, the CMS will properly display that piece of content to visitors according to your preferences.
A CMS also handles organizing everything on the frontend of your site. For example, if you publish a blog post, the CMS will automatically display it at the top of your blog page and add a timestamp.
A CMS is more flexible than just a blogging platform, though. You can think of a blogging platform as a CMS for one specific type of content (blog posts), while a CMS can help you manage virtually any type of content.
For example, the “content” in your CMS could be:
Or, it could be multiple types of content at the same time! A good CMS platform can help you manage as many different types of content as you need.
What Is a Headless CMS?
In the list below, you’ll see another term: headless CMS. With a headless CMS, you’ll use your CMS to manage all of your content on the backend. Then, you can build your own frontend by querying data via an API.
The upside of this “headless” approach is that you can use your content pretty much anywhere, from a website to a mobile app and more.
A headless CMS requires a lot more technical knowledge to implement but gives you more flexibility for how and where you use your content.
What to Consider When Choosing a CMS?
When choosing a CMS, here are some of the most important features to consider:
- Pricing – every CMS has costs associated with it. Some are free and open source, but you’ll need to pay to host them. With others, you might need to purchase the software from the company that creates the CMS.
- Support & customer experience – some tools are open source with no central support options, while others come with 24/7 support – make sure you understand what you’re getting.
- SEO – it’s important that your chosen software gives you the tools to rank in Google and other search engines.
- Personalization – for business use cases, choosing a CMS that lets you create personalized visitor experiences can help you improve your marketing and conversion rates.
- Ease of use – if you’re not a developer, you’ll want to pick a tool that’s easy to use without development knowledge.
- Security – with some CMS tools, you’ll be responsible for your site’s security, while other tools handle it for you.
21 Best CMS Software Solutions in 2021
It’s now time to get the list of CMS options, let’s dig deeper:
1. WordPress — Price: Free
WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS by far – it powers over 37% of all websites on the Internet. It started as a blogging platform but has long-since morphed into a full CMS that you can use to build any type of website, from ecommerce stores to membership sites, forums, and more.
In fact, WordPress, through the WooCommerce extension, is also one of the most popular ways to make an ecommerce store. Some of the reasons that explain WordPress‘s popularity are:
- It’s free and open source.
- You can find thousands of WordPress themes to control your site’s appearance.
- You can access 55,000+ free plugins to extend your site’s features (here are some of the best).
Advanced users can also use WordPress as a headless CMS with something like Gatsby.
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2. Drupal — Price: Free
With its flexible taxonomy system, Drupal excels when it comes to managing sites with large amounts of content. It also has a built-in user access system that gives you plenty of control over what registered users can do inside the CMS.
Like WordPress, you can control how your site looks using themes and extend Drupal’s functionality with modules.
3. Joomla — Price: Free
Along with WordPress and Drupal, Joomla is the third entrant in the trio of popular open source CMS software.
Like WordPress and Drupal, Joomla comes with large marketplaces for templates and extensions, which helps you create a website that matches your needs.
In terms of the technical knowledge that’s required, Joomla offers a nice middle-ground between WordPress and Drupal.
4. Magento — Free, From $2,000/Month
Magento is an open source CMS for ecommerce stores. It’s flexible with robust security, but it’s also not very accessible for non-technical users. You’ll almost certainly need some technical knowledge to set it up (or the willingness to hire someone who has that knowledge).
You can either use the open source software for free (called Magento OpenSource). Or, you can pay Magento to set up and maintain your store for you (Magento Commerce), which can get pricey with plans starting at $2,000+ per month.
5. HubSpot CMS — From $300/month
HubSpot CMS is an excellent CMS for businesses and marketers looking to connect with customers.
HubSpot CMS has a built-in integration with the free HubSpot CRM (check out these WordPress CRM plugins). This lets you not only add leads directly to your CRM, but it also lets you personalize your website to individual visitors, which can help you convert them into customers.
Developers can dig into the code to customize the site, while non-technical users can build pages using a drag-and-drop editor.
Other notable features include:
- Built-in A/B/n testing to optimize your content
- SEO recommendations to rank in Google search results
- Contact attribution to analyze where your leads and sales come from
- 24/7 security monitoring
- 24/7 support if you need any help
6. Kentico — Starts free, From $7,999/year
Kentico is an enterprise-focused CMS that offers two different CMS products:
- Kontent – a headless cloud-based CMS that helps you manage your content and deliver it anywhere via API.
- Xperience – an on-premises or cloud-based platform that wraps a CMS and digital marketing tools into one.
Kentico has a limited free tier for its Kontent platform, but it can get pricey if you need the paid options.
Because Kentico Kontent is a headless CMS, you’ll also need some technical knowledge to create the front-end of your website.
7. Squarespace — From $16/month
Squarespace is a hosted website builder tool that makes it easy for non-technical users to create a website. You can also use it to create a lightweight ecommerce store.
Squarespace is not as flexible as all of these other tools but that’s actually its selling point. By simplifying things, Squarespace makes it easy for non-technical users to create basic websites.
However, if you’re building something beyond a basic blog, portfolio, or brochure website, you’ll probably want to choose more flexible CMS software. For more info, check out this Squarespace vs WordPress in-depth comparison.
8. dotCMS — Free, Premium for the Enterprise Option
dotCMS is an open source headless CMS with an API-first approach. You can use a drag-and-drop UI to model different types of content. For example, a blog post or an ecommerce product.
Then, you can use the API to deliver your content to any destination, such as a website or app.
On the backend, you’ll still get traditional authorship features, as well as the ability to create different roles and permissions to control access to your content.
9. Contentful — From $39/Month for individuals / From $879/Month for Businesses
Whereas most of these other tools are focused on helping you create web pages, Contentful is built for what it calls “omnichannel digital experiences”. In a nutshell, this means that you can organize all of your content in a central hub and then use it in any digital channel as needed.
Contentful is a headless CMS, so you’ll need some technical knowledge to implement it.
10. Zephyr — Contact Sales
Zephyr is a cloud-hosted CMS that exclusively markets itself towards agencies building client websites. In fact, Zephyr only licenses itself to agencies, so individuals can’t use Zephyr unless you’re willing to work with an agency partner.
Because it’s cloud-hosted, Zephyr’s main pitch to agencies is that it’s able to offer a maintenance-free alternative to other agency solutions such as WordPress or Drupal.
11. Canvas CMS — Contact Sales
For more advanced users, Canvas lets you build dynamic database structures from inside the CMS and also includes APIs to integrate data from other sources into your site.
12. Grav — Free
Grav is an open source flat-file CMS. The “flat-file” designation means that Grav doesn’t require a database to operate. Instead, it queries content from text files. This makes Grav very lightweight and easy to deploy anywhere as all you need to do is upload your site’s files.
You can still create dynamic content types and filter content, however, and you’ll also be able to use a Markdown editor to create content.
13. Craft CMS — Free
Craft CMS is an open source CMS that puts its focus on a user-friendly content creation process. It also makes it easy to work with custom content types, with a built-in tool to design a custom field layout for different types of content.
To control the frontend, you can build it yourself using Twig templates or use Craft CMS in a headless setup with Craft CMS‘s self-generating GraphQL API.
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14. Sitefinity — Contact Sales
Sitefinity is a CMS that focuses on helping marketers deliver optimized, personalized content.
You can use insights to learn about your customers and deliver personalized content. Then, you can also quickly set up new A/B tests to optimize your content.
You can also use Sitefinity as a headless CMS to deliver content anywhere and everything is hosted in the Microsoft Azure cloud for reliability and scalability.
15. Shopify — From $29/month
You still get a good deal of flexibility thanks to the Shopify App market, but you won’t have full access to your store’s underlying source code.
Enterprises that need more flexibility can go with Shopify Plus.
(Suggested reading: 11 Best Shopify Alternatives in 2021).
16. BigCommerce — From $30/month
BigCommerce is another well-known hosted CMS platform for ecommerce stores. One of BigCommerce’s standout features is its multi-channel approach to selling. You can sell via your own hosted store, Amazon, eBay, and more.
You can even harness some of the other CMS options on this list. For example, you can pair BigCommerce with WordPress to get the best of both worlds.
BigCommerce offers an accessible Essentials plan starting at $30 per month, as well as enterprise-focused plans for larger organizations.
17. Umbraco CMS — Free (Open Source), From $39/month (Hosted Version)
Umbraco is open source CMS software that you can host yourself. Or, you can use Umbraco’s paid hosting service.
You can add content using a simple editor, along with useful features such as a built-in form editor. If needed, you can also extend the core CMS with Umbraco apps.
For more technical users, Umbraco also has a headless CMS offering called Umbraco Heartcore.
18. Agility CMS — From $47/month
Agility CMS is another headless CMS that lets you manage content from one spot and deliver it anywhere via RESTful APIs, GraphQL, and JAMstack.
You still get plenty of options for managing your content, including features for content modeling, SEO, scheduling, content relationships, and more.
Then, Agility CMS can make sure your content loads quickly by deploying content via CDNs.
19. Adobe Experience Manager — Contact sales (Avg. $250,000+/Year)
Adobe Experience Manager is an enterprise-focused tool that melds a CMS with a Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution.
You can use Adobe Experience Manager Sites to create personalized web experiences for visitors across different channels, while also using Adobe Experience Manager Assets to manage all of your brand’s digital assets from one central spot.
20. Oracle WebCenter Content — From $3,450
Oracle WebCenter Content is an enterprise content management tool (ECM). It’s not focused on creating websites per se. Instead, it gives you a place to house unstructured content which you can then deliver to any application (including a website).
It’s also more focused on managing documents, images, rich media files, and records, rather than giving you a text editor to upload content like many of these other tools.
21. Ghost — Free, From $29/Month (Hosted Version)
Ghost is a speedy CMS written with Node.js that’s primarily focused on blogging and publishing.
To simplify things, Ghost has also built in some of the most important features that bloggers and media publishers need to monetize their sites. For example, you can create email opt-in forms and charge visitors for access to your content with monthly subscription fees.
However, Ghost is not a great option if you want a CMS that can go beyond blogging/publishing.
As we saw, a CMS helps you manage your content and turn it into a website without needing to edit code every time you want to add/change content.
Some of these tools are focused almost exclusively on helping you launch a website, while others are more focused on just managing your content and letting you deploy it anywhere via APIs (the headless CMS approach).
If you aren’t a technical user (or don’t have a tech team at your back), you’ll likely want to choose tools such as WordPress, Drupal, HubSpot CMS, or Squarespace and stay away from the headless CMS options.
However, if you need to deploy your content to multiple locations, you might prefer the flexibility of a headless CMS…if you have the technical knowledge to use one.
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