Contao CMS: A sleek alternative to TYPO3

As an alternative content management system (CMS) to heavyweights like TYPO3 and Joomla is Contao’s sleek open source CMS. Among users, Contao is considered both flexible and easy to expand – and it’s particularly user friendly for beginners. The system is well suited for multilingual, mobile, as well as responsive design needs, and has extensions available for e-commerce use.

The most important facts

While the CMS Contao hasn’t stepped out from behind the shadow of big content management systems yet, it has been gaining a very active community. Currently, more than 150,000 websites have been created with the CMS solution. The open source software first appeared in 2006 as TypoLight, and four years later, developers renamed it Contao. The change was made due the name’s similarity to its competitor, TYPO3. Contao is a classic web content management system; social publishing and blog publishing as well as blogging extensions are the system’s main focus.

Technical facts on Contao:

Planning security for companies

Above all, companies investing in a CMS need one thing: the ability to plan in the long term. At the end of 2011, the developers at Contao aimed to provide more planning security through new organizational featuresand clear control systems. Among the things that were agreed upon are:

  • Clearer control systems for downward compatibility
  • An improvement of publication cycles
  • Fixed release times

With version 2.11, Contao developers introduced a long term support(LTS) feature. Generally, program versions are supported for four years and are also provided with updates (even if newer versions are released). We suggest to have a look at Contao’s release plan.

System requirements for Contao

Contao requires relatively few system requirements. A webserver with PHP and MySQL support is already enough. PHP can be used beginning with version 7.3+ and MySQL at least version 5.7+. In addition, the CMS requires certain PHP extensions. These are usually active as standard with a PHP installation, but can be turned off by a hosting provider, in theory. However, Contao will check whether all required extensions are active. A current list of all required PHP extensions can be found in Contao’s official documentation.

Who is Contao suitable for?

Contao is a very versatile CMS and can be used in many ways. Medium to larger web projects in particular benefit from the high-performance, easily expandable system architecture. Big companies like Siemens and Telekom have already installed projects with the CMS. Thanks to its easy application, beginners can easily obtain convincing results. Many useful features are already installed with the basic version: The accessibility, search engine optimization, and the integrated newsletter tool, for example, make Contao especially interesting for corporate websites.

Tip

If you want to check whether the Contao CMS is the right choice, you can test the online-demo. Here, you’ll have access to the backend of a Contao installation and can get to know the content management system better.

Contao’s central CMS structure

Contao is a page-based CMS and structurally differs from other solutions, like Joomla, which is more based on categories. The hierarchical page structure enables users to manage several different pages with ease, while the system’s tree structure provides a basic framework. Here, basic settings like meta tags and settings for extensions and visibility are determined. And thanks to modules, stylesheets, layouts, templates, insert tags, PHP, and additional extensions, users have a wide range of design possibilities available for tailoring the CMS to their individual goals.

The basic version

Most users will probably notice that Contao’s standard version already contains a large variety of functions. This multitude of integrated modules makes it easy to get work done with this CMS. As a result, creating, managing, and editing texts as well as multimedia content is both easy and intuitive.

The most important features at a glance:

  • Extended editor functions
  • Full text search engine
  • Integrated data manager
  • Form generator
  • Core module for news and event management
  • Newsletter module
  • Capable of operating multiple sites/multiple languages
  • Accessibility

Contao extensions

Contao users have direct access to available extensions via the system’s back end. The back end is where users can manage existing extensions. From e-commerce systems (see below) to managing real estate, Contao’s large community provides users with a wide range of (often free) extensions.

Managing user rights

As a CMS, Contao differentiates between users and members. The latter group is able to set up a password-protected member area, which, in addition to login/logout functions, also features registration forms and user account management options. User rights can be managed in a nuanced way, and different roles can be assigned to different users (e.g. editors, administrators, etc.). Whether full or restricted, access rights can be defined for both individual users and groups as well as different layers.

Contao SEO options

Most on-page SEO measures are easy to carry out using Contao. The requirements for these–a neat source code and options for high-quality internal links–are already fulfilled. Furthermore, the system supports SEO efforts by:

  • Generating search-engine friendly URLs
  • Incorporating dynamic page titles
  • Including completely automated meta data
  • Creating an XML sitemap

E-commerce use

Isotope e-commerce provides users with a premium e-commerce module for Contao. This enables administrators to set up a connection between content management and e-commerce solutions. While the program’s concept, page structure, and layout are from Contao, the basic functions are that of an e-commerce system. Isotope has a flexible, adjustable design, which can be integrated with different payment services like PayPal; it also offers different shipping options, and, like the CMS itself, is available in multiple languages.

Pros and cons of Contao

A CMS comparison is always difficult, as there are many individual factors that need to be considered when finding the right one. This being said, some clear advantages and disadvantages do stand out. Here are some of Contao’s pros and cons:

What they’ve done right:

  • The large range of functions in the basic version
  • The large selection of extension modules
  • Web accessibility and intuitive use
  • Staying up to date through long-term-support
  • Strong support community

For beginners, the program’s basic functions are clear and easy to use; however, implementing Contao’s templates in order to adjust its design does require some experience. The cut-and-dry structure is also somewhat prone to losing complex and, under certain conditions, multilingual content. In such cases, ample support and documentation should be provided for users.

Pros Cons
✔ Large spectrum of functions ✘ Integrating templates is complex
✔ Many extensions ✘ Clearness is lost with bigger projects
✔ Accessibility  
✔ Active community  
✔ Good support and plenty of documentation  

Find out just how Contao stacks up against other content management systems and which solution is best for your web presence in our article on CMS comparison.

Contao vs. TYPO3

Two big open source systems: Contao and TYPO3. Both are hugely popular – for bigger projects, too – but they also have different advantages. Especially in terms of software usability, it’s clear that Contao and TYPO3 are going in different directions. While the latter is very much focused on enterprise-level solutions and requires its users to have prior knowledge, Contao is directed more at beginners, bringing it closer to WordPress in this respect. Working in the back end is easy and intuitive. TYPO3, on the other hand, is more directed at professional users, who can enjoy endless possibilities with this CMS. Contao is not this flexible and finely adjustable.

What differentiates both Contao and TYPO3 from WordPress: Both systems are not slowed down by unnecessary features. Both Contao and TYPO3 impress with their high speed, which both CMS achieve when accessing the server. Apart from this, Contao and TYPO3 offer everything you could ask for in a CMS: Content can be easily created, planned, and organized. And like other CMS solutions, you can assign different roles, so that you can enjoy an efficient workflow if you’re working in the CMS in a team.

Conclusion

  • Contao is especially appealing for beginners that don’t want to opt for WordPress
  • TYPO3 is more difficult to use, but offers highly complexconfiguration options
  • Both Contao and TYPO3 are suited for bigger projects
  • Both solutions let you test the editorial benefits of a CMS
  • Both CMS are very popular and are supported by active communities, who continuously work on extensions and support

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