7 Essential Features a CMS for Beginners Must Have

When you are looking for a CMS, there are many factors to consider. Obviously, the feature it has is one of them. However, you also need to consider your skill level because when you are a beginner, you can’t take advantage of all the advanced features a CMS can offer. If you are a beginner looking for a CMS, or if you are an expert who needs to recommend a CMS to beginners, here are 7 essential features to consider when choosing a CMS for beginners:

1. Intuitive Interface

When you are a beginner, every piece of software is challenging but a complex system as a CMS might be too much of a hurdle. This is why it is even more important that your CMS has an intuitive interface. Otherwise, it will take you hours or even days to complete simple tasks, and in many cases you will be completely helpless. It is true that the more features a CMS has, the more difficult for a beginner it is. In this case, you can safely sacrifice a rich feature set for an intuitive interface because you will hardly be able to take advantage of all the features but when there are so many features you may become easily confused, this makes no sense.

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2. Reliability, Reliability, Reliability

Reliability is a feature you must never sacrifice because if the software you are using is unreliable and crashes frequently, this will make your life a nightmare. When you are a pro, you have more ways to deal with a crash (though it is still unpleasant and leads to downtime) but when you are a beginner, a single crash could easily turn into the end of the world for you. Downtime is bad but data loss is even worse, so never trade reliability for anything else.

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3. Easy Administration

If you hire somebody for the initial configuration of your CMS, you might save yourself a lot of trouble. However, later on, when you need to update your CMS, you will have to deal with the CMSes administration personally (unless you have somebody else to do it for you, of course, if this is the case, you will hardly be reading this article). This is why easy administration is vital for you.

Again, the abundance of features matters less for you than the ease to use them, so if you are wondering which way to go, you definitely need to pick the ease of use one. For instance, Drupal, which is one of the leading CMS, is everything but easy to administer but this is no surprise because Drupal isn’t targeted at beginners.

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4. Easy Customization

No matter how great a CMS out of the box is, you will always need to make customizations. You need to change colors, upload your logo, make minor adjustments to the template, etc. With the right CMS, all of these basic requirements aren’t rocket science but with many CMS, including some of the leading ones (i.e. Joomla and WordPress), for a beginner, they are more than painful.

For instance, how would you feel if you have to deal with code to make the simplest changes? A beginner is usually not comfortable with that because he or she might have absolutely no coding/design knowledge. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) or visual tools for customization are much easier to use, so look for them.

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5. A Rich Selection of Templates and Extensions

When you are a beginner, you will hardly even think of creating your own templates and extensions. Well, even if you are a pro and know how to create your own templates and extensions, you will prefer to have a rich selection of ready made ones because creating your own template/extension takes time, but when you are a beginner, a rich selection of templates and extensions simply has no alternatives.

The good news is that almost any reputable CMS comes with lots of free templates and extensions. WordPress does, Joomla does, even many of the less popular ones also do.

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6. Good and Easy to Understand Tutorials

Programmers hate to read the docs even when they can’t make it without them. But when you are a beginner and have no knowledge about the technologies that power a given CMS, there is no way you can make it without tutorials. The interface might be intuitive and administration might be easy but you still need to learn how to do things.

It is very subjective what an easy to understand tutorial is but if they aren’t easy to understand, or if they don’t explain well what you need to do, they are useless for you. This is why you might want to read some of the publicly available tutorials (if any) for the CMS you are about to pick just to see if they are written in a easy to understand manner. Yet, don’t expect that a good tutorial will tell you absolutely everything – there will always be some brain work left for you.

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7. Good Backup and Restore

Even the most reliable CMS can crash or get hacked and in such cases a recent backup is your lifebelt. This is why you must look for a CMS that offers an easy and reliable way to backup your data and to restore from a backup. Look for in-built functionality or for available backup plugins. In some cases you might use third-party tools and services (i.e. your hosting provider) to backup your data but never go without a backup – this is too risky to do.

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These features are a must for a CMS for beginners. Well, even advanced users won’t object against having them but when you are a beginner, you simply can’t go without an easy to use, administer, and customize CMS. Spend more time researching if the CMS you have shortlisted have these features or not and this will save you lots of problems in the future.

(26 Posts)

Ada is a fulltime freelancer and enjoys every second of it. She is also the Blogger Relations Manager at WinkPress.com, which is a web resource about leveraging WordPress, its themes, and plugins to create versatile and unusual websites.


  • Nice article Ada. What would be your CMS recommendations that meet these criteria?

  • I highly recommend testing different CMS out before selecting one for your business.  Beware of paying for fancy bells and whistles in a CMS that you will never use.  Also don’t fall into the trap of getting the most popular CMS or choosing one just because you know someone else who uses it.  Not all CMS are the same and what works for someone else won’t necessarily be best for your company.

  • Kelsey Trabue

    Great article! I will definitely keep these tips in mind when I start my capstone project for grad school!

  • Ada

    Definitely, if one’s technical level allows testing multiple CMS before committing to one only is the best approach. Also, the fact that everybody or a particular somebody uses a given CMS isn’t evidence that this is the best CMS for YOU. Generally for a blog I would recommend WordPress (no surprises here, I have seen many newbies with an IQ under the average to handle it pretty well) and to some extent Blogger because it is really easy to use and you can go without any coding/design knowledge, though it won’t hurt if you have it, of course. Well, I myself won’t use Blogger because for me it is very inconvenient – I am used to more power than what Blogger has to offer but when I look at it with the eyes of a beginner, I see it has a point. For a small static static site I would even consider a good plain ol’ website builder than a CMS but it all depends on what the site is. If you want a Flash site, Moto CMS is also an option to consider.

  • jahmaicherry

    Thanks for the post! One of the most important discussions I have with my clients is on the value of a comfortable and intuitive CMS. I have found that few people recognize that they will be spending more time on the back-end than they will looking at the front end and so usually I have to use the analogy of driving a sports car (moving van, pickup truck, etc.) with a comfortable interior.
    Now I will simply send them a link to your post so they know I am not just trying to upsell. 

  • TheNiyi

    I am new to using CMS, been able to work well with CMSMS; but am presently having challenges working with WordPress.

  • Maneetpuri76

    A very good post and I
    agree with your view point @Ada! These seven features or parameters
    are well-suited for a beginner and to certain extent even a professional. I also
    agree that WordPress is a very user friendly CMS but I would
    recommend testing the CMS before adapting the same for your
    respective business. Moreover, the trend of customized CMSs based on
    business needs of the clients is highly in demand. In the end I have
    a similar conclusion that well researched approach is the key to a
    successful CMS for your business!