Is WordPress a CMS?

So, here’s a question…is WordPress a CMS?

And be careful how you respond.

The debate hit Twitter tonight triggered by a relatively harmless Tweet from Dirk Shaw:

I’ve been a part of similar discussions on how WordPress can or can’t scale to support larger sites. It wasn’t until another vendor and a CMS evangelist piled on in unanimous agreement that I felt the need to offer a brief reply in disagreement:

I’m not one to defend any one vendor, but it’s a silly argument.

Of course WordPress is a content management system. It’s technology that manages website content. And it manages quite a few websites I may add. I know plenty of fairly robust sites that get along just fine with WordPress. There’s of course a legitimate debate on what types of sites are best suited for WordPress.

But apparently I hit a third rail in the CMS world, because the comments kept flowing.

A number of other folks weighed in, including several that agreed that WordPress should be considered a CMS.

In the grand scheme, this is a relatively trivial debate. Even the folks siding against WordPress as a CMS were for the most part arguing for a different label or pointing out that it wasn’t “enterprise” enough to be considered a true CMS. Toss in a few open source fans and the debate can get religious in a hurry.

This is where the CMS world goes sideways. It’s insider baseball at the expense of the end user trying to make heads and tails of their web publishing strategy.

It still remains a vendor and consultant dominated landscape of folks trying to frame the space based on the tools and put up artificial walls based on product price points or analyst quadrants/waves. And yes, I lump myself into that bucket, although I try my hardest to stay on the outside.

Don’t even get us started on what to call our space (ECM, WCM, CMS, CM).

So, should WordPress be called a content management system? Absolutely.

Does it matter? Not really.

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

More articles from Jeff Cram


13 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. Erin Kissane says:

    Yes. WordPress is a lightweight CMS. And speaking of acronyms, here’s why: POSIWID. You can tell it’s a CMS because it’s a system used—relatively widely—to manage content.* Calling it a CMS won’t confuse people looking for large-scale “enterprise” systems.

    * And “system,” in CMS essentially means “application,” so no, I don’t think Notepad + an FTP client + a list on a post-it qualifies.

  2. John Coonen says:

    The scary thing for the “ECM” folks is, what was once $250k to produce less than a decade ago is now available as a free download.

    With Pods CMS and a few other choice plug-ins, using WordPress out-of-the-box is pretty damn powerful. Toss in a month or two of customization to make it right for your organization, and whoa-nellie, you’ve got yourself a fine-tuned Indy CMS with all the fixins once reserved for the big boys.

    - Versioning
    - Nested Categoes
    - Multi-mapping
    - Document / asset management
    - Strong security measures
    - Synchronized, Multi-site, multi-user, multi-URL capabilities
    - Documentation

    Oh yeah, plus it takes like 10 minutes to figure out the basics, and a day or two of training to get WP mastered.

    The more enterprise-minded folks point out shortcomings of WP and other mighty-mouse CMSes, the more they spit into the wind, because 3PDs(and core developers) take those legitimate complaints, and in a matter of months, weeks, or hours, innovate solutions.

    SEVEN years it took for Vignette to debut a new version. Seven years from now, where will WordPress be?

    You’re right, it’s a rather link-baitey, silly argument. Then again, every time it’s brought up, there’s usually one or two new feature shortcomings pointed out that a very robust developer community can solve in a few days (as opposed to seven years).

    My money’s on WordPress. ;)

  3. Robert Rose says:

    As always, good stuff. And, as you know – I agree.

    WordPress is as much a CMS as MS Works, iWorks, Zoho, OpenOffice and Google Docs are all Word Processing Software. Each is a tool that is leveraged best for a specific process. Certainly WP is most often associated with managing blog Web content – but certainly drives many other types of Web sites. In fact, the reason that many of us are (or have been) in the business we are in – is because clients of all shapes and sizes discover that the tool they have is inappropriate for the type of Web content they manage.

    Just as I wouldn’t use Vignette to drive my blog, I’m unlikely to be successful using WP to manage a global, complex workflow driven multi-site deployment. And, sometimes this discovery comes a skosh late.

    Ironically, I have a guest post coming out later this week on Fierce Content Management that, while on a different topic altogether, touches on this exact point.

    All of that notwithstanding, it was a fun, albeit brief discussion on Twitter – and I’m sure the fodder for some fun cocktail discussion at the upcoming Gilbane conference.

  4. Yes it is absolutely a CMS. I agree that it’s not the best fit in a full blown enterprise scenario for sites with a lot of static content – it does get a little unruly. However, it should be considered for companies with a decentralized publishing model where the bulk of the content is news or blog content. As always, the client requirements and objectives of the CMS project are step one…if WP meets all the requirements, then WP is the CMS for that project.

  5. dirk shaw says:

    Hey there. Who knew my venting tweet could cause such an uproar.. Perhaps i should have said WP does not meet my requirements.

    I agree it is a cms in the same way a VW golf is a car. But when you add requirements like it must haul around a family of 5 it quickly does not fit the bill. Perhaps i should have rephrased my tweet to WP is not meeting my requirements and i would assume the dialog would have taken a different path.

    To comment on Johns point about the high priced solutions versus things that are low to no cost. I spent many years advocating for larger (Vignette to be exact) knowing that these solutions are not right for many environments. For anyone who has worked on all size solutions i would hope they are not “Scared” rather relieved they don’t have to try and fit a round peg into a square hole.

    Interesting conversation.. Glad to be part of it..


  6. John Coonen says:

    WordPress is the perfect CMS for most small business applications. Not all. Most.

  7. Ian Truscott says:

    I’ve pitched in with this – basically agreeing with what you guys have said here. Even as a CMS vendor WordPress needs to be respected as a lightweight alternative.



  8. Will says:

    WordPress is a mighty capable CMS. I’m trying to understand how that’s not obvious to everyone. Sure, it lacks certain features but so does every other CMS I’ve ever implemented. All of them.

    One of the features wordpress has long lacked is custom content types, as a system feature (though long psuedo supported via custom fields). WP 3.0, due out next month, speaks directly to it.

  9. Chris Murphy says:

    To be clear, I love WordPress–it’s a great example of a system that retained a clear focus as to who its market is, and more importantly, the task for which it was built in the first place. The fact that the community saw greater potential in the system and explored the possibilities of applying it elsewhere is a testament to its potential as a ubiquitous tool.

    But it is just that: a tool. To glorify it as anything more than one possible means to an end is just asking for trouble; after all, isn’t it about the right tool for the job?

    …wasn’t “enterprise” enough to be considered a true CMS…

    Sadly, most “Enterprise” solutions are woefully lacking and fail to deliver on their value proposition. That’s marketing for you. “Enterprise Solution” has become more of an oxymoron of late, and with so many vendors entering the market and slapping and “Enterprise” label on their products, there’s little value (or point) in using the term, “Enterprise”, as a measure of quality.

  10. WordPress is a great CMS for small and medium sites.
    Developer that knows deeply the wordpress platform and its API, can develop robust and beautiful websites with a lot of functionality.
    Best thing is that the admin backend side is very easy for the end user to handle.
    All other that try to say that stupid claim that wordpress is not a cms, they just afraid from WP to take over their systems.

  11. I’m a little late to this conversation but thought i’d add my opinion!

    My non academic, simple definition of a CMS is pretty simple – it’s a system designed for managing content in a simple manner by the end user, without having to delve into code.

    WordPress fits that definition perfectly. Was it originally designed as this – no. Has it grown and adapted to suit user requirements – absolutely. Not everyone uses WordPress as a blog, it can be many things. You can build a whole site based on pages, and in fact that’s what all the templates over at are based on, and they definitely take WordPress in some interesting directions.

    WordPress can manage text pages, manage images via gallaries etc, include other media/forms of content such as video etc. Content can be stored within the system and then put together and published as required. This can be done without coding if required.

    So, in my very humble opinion, is it a CMS – definitely – it can be used effectively to publish and manage content and has features built in for this purpose. Is it the most advanced tool for this task – absolutely not. But do many small businesses who only have small amounts of content to manage in simple ways need something more advanced? I would suggest in a lot of cases they don’t.

    Thanks for the article, it was a great read.

  12. Bob says:

    WordPress is NOT A CMS, it’s a glorified blogger tool that has extensive plugin capabilities. If you look at its database the majority of its content is a post with some kinda medatata tacked on to make the “post” act otherwise. Pages, media, and other content are just posts with the type set to match what they are. To get any form of CMS capabilities outside of pages and posts, a “page builder” plugin like SiteOrigins PageBuilder, OptimizePress, BeverBuider, ThriveThemes, MotoPress and others. People are attempting to use it as a CMS but only because developers mask it’s true purpose, being a blogging platform.
    If you want true CMS where you can configure an extensive custom site without needing to pay for rediculous plugins that provide functional crutches go use something else like, Concrete5, DringoEdgeCMS,LightCMS, Magento,Drupal.
    At my last job we wasted countless hours trying to make WordPress act as a page builder by modifying the admin blog UI, making custom post types, dealing with tons of plugins, creating new shortcodea and it’s just not worth it. In the end we dropped OptimizePress and WordPress for Concrete5.

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