CCMS and CMS: Similar terms for very different systems

April 13, 2023
image shows one person working in cms and one working in ccms

There is some confusion in the area of content management over the terms Content Management System (CMS) and a Component Content Management System (CCMS). A CMS is often used as an umbrella term for all content management systems, but it’s important to understand that there are many different types of platforms and their uses are actually quite different. So let’s sort out the terminology and discuss the intended use cases for each.

This article is meant to help guide your decisions when it comes to choosing the right fit for the content you produce. If you mainly need to create and manage a commercial website, like a marketing site, blog or online store, then a CMS (without the extra “C”) is the way to go. If your requirements involve producing large volumes of complex documentation, managing multiple versions, translation languages, and output publishing formats, as well as having a significant amount of shared or reused content in your publications, then a CCMS is what you need.

What does “CMS” refer to and how is it different from a CCMS?

A lot of information found online tends to throw around the terms CMS and CCMS as if they are interchangeable. But in reality, these terms refer to fundamentally different systems created for completely different purposes. To understand what each term means, and why the use cases for each of the types of systems they refer to are completely different, let’s begin by describing a CMS, or Content Management System.

What many refer to when using the term “CMS” is really a “Web CMS”. This is a software application that supports the creation, editing, management, and publishing of your content at the document or page level. To put it simply, a CMS is mainly used for commercial sites, such as a marketing website, blog, news site, eCommerce site or similar. It uses HTML as the source for the content with enough functionality to support these use cases

Typical examples of Web CMS applications that you may be familiar with are WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. These are popular for creating websites as they are well suited to creating marketing pages, display product catalogs for eCommerce sites, etc. However, you wouldn’t want to use WordPress to create hundreds of technical manuals or thousands of insurance policies or SOPs, as you would with a CCMS.

In the same way, a CCMS is not the right tool for the job of creating a typical marketing website or eCommerce site for selling products. It would be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

How is a Headless CMS different from a CCMS?

The introduction of the “Headless CMS” platforms is an interesting one. However, these platforms do add to the terminology confusion.

The problem is that some of these platforms sometimes use the term “component” and even “component content management system” as well, even though a Headless CMS has much more in common with the regular Web CMS.

But make no mistake, a Headless CMS is not a CCMS.

And when Headless CMS vendors speak of “components”, the examples provided are typical of what you would find in a regular Web CMS geared toward marketing or eCommerce sites, such as “Hero, Grid, Section, Newsletter Section, Slider”. They are not advanced, granular and semantically rich structured components for technical content or other complex documentation, as with a CCMS.

While a Headless CMS can provide a way to get content to different channels by “pulling” the content from the Headless CMS to those other channels (which is also doable with a CCMS through the API), its use case is fundamentally different. Its ability to work with and produce content is much more similar to a regular Web CMS and is mainly geared toward commercial websites.

When to use a CMS?

There are many uses for a (Web) CMS (including “Headless CMS”), and this list is not exhaustive, but typical uses may be:

  • When you need to create a typical marketing website, managing content at the page level
  • When you need to create an eCommerce site or news site or similar with content like products or news stories served from a database
  • When you need to post and maintain articles for a news site, blog or similar website

So what is a CCMS (Component Content Management System) and when do you need it?

So we’ve discussed what a regular (Web) CMS is, as well as the newer variant of it called Headless CMS, and what their typical use case is. But now it’s time to get to the CCMS, or Component Content Management System, and how it’s different.

The fact is, a CCMS is a completely different beast.

The extra “C” (for “component”) is key, and it signifies that content is managed as small components of content: from images to topics to procedures and tables and down to individual words or phrases.

A CCMS is designed for creating and managing complex documentation and publishing to many different platforms, such as PDF, HTML5, eLearning (e.g SCORM) and more. Because a CCMS breaks down content into components, it is ideal for managing technical documentation or large volumes of policies or procedures, where this granular content can be reused (single-sourced) in hundreds or thousands of different publications.

Another key feature of a CCMS, and why it’s so suitable for technical writers and complex documentation is that it uses XML-based and metadata-rich structured authoring, which guarantees long-term consistency, accuracy, and quality, as well as increases the efficiency of content production, separating the content from the layout with automatic formatting to a multitude of output formats.

The same content can be published to a website, to professional print PDF output, an internal knowledge base, support channels you already use, like Salesforce, Zendesk, ServiceNow, and more. And because it uses XML which is easily machine readable and transformable, it even makes it easy to support future format needs.

There are many more features in a CCMS that make it suitable for the production of complex documentation, such as version management, translation management, etc, but the key is its focus on advanced technical writing requirements and intelligent single-sourcing/content reuse functionality. So while a CCMS is in a way a type of CMS, it should be clear that the use cases and strengths of a CCMS vs a CMS (Web CMS) are fundamentally different.

Who uses a CCMS?

There are so many different reasons why you might need a CCMS, but some typical examples would be:

  • Organizations that need to publish to many different output channels, such as knowledge bases, policies and procedures, eLearning, support help centers.
  • Organizations that have many different products or versions of documentation that share content and want to make this content reusable and increase efficiency.
  • Organizations that have large volumes of policies and procedures (or SOPs) to produce, manage, and maintain efficiently.
  • Organizations that need to achieve consistency, accuracy, quality and longevity of content across teams of writers.
  • Organizations that need to collaborate better on documentation globally.
  • Organizations that need more efficient translation management.
  • Organizations that need to be able to create multiple personalized versions of their content for multiple audiences, markets, regional compliance, and more.

Not all content management systems are created equal

Even though it’s common to see the terms CMS and CCMS (and others) misused and confused, hopefully this article should have helped clarify the fact that what is typically referred to by the term CMS is something very different from an actual CCMS.

There are a variety of considerations when it comes to choosing the right fit for the content you produce. Use the information from this article to guide you through the different options to make the best possible decision for you and your team. And if you’re interested in learning more about the Paligo CCMS, please explore our customer case studies.