So you want to build, or perhaps re-launch a website. You have copy, images, tips from your friends and colleagues, probably a good idea about what your competition is doing. You have a domain name, possibly a hosting company, you have a navigation list and maybe a design idea mapped out in pen. This you bring with you to your first meeting with the agency you have chosen to realise your website. You think you’ve covered all the bases. Then they ask the question, “Have you given any thought as to the CMS?” You sit there for a moment and then reply, “CMS? Content management system?” “Yes” they nod.
The Answer: That depends...
Wikipedia defines a CMS as ... “a content management system (CMS) software, usually implemented as a Web application, for creating and managing HTML content. It is used to manage and control a large, dynamic collection of Web material (HTML documents and their associated images). A CMS facilitates content creation, content control, editing, and many essential Web maintenance functions.”
Much has been written about content management systems, and we’re not going to retread those waters; but we think clients should have an overview of what is out there, what they may or may not need, and what it might cost them. In fact, the question might not be which CMS but rather do you even need a CMS? At the end of the day, you don’t want to be sold a hydraulic excavator when all you really needed was a shovel.
Moz put out a great flow chart (way back in 2008 - https://moz.com/blog/choosing-the-right-cms-platform-for-your-website-from-an-seo-perspective) to help decide whether a website should be developed in a CMS or as a static site. While there are many free CMS with moderate learning curves, such as wordpress or a php build it yourself CMS, there are probably still examples of websites which do not require a CMS or the learning time at all; and in the end, when developing a website, time is money.
Many clients re-launch websites with us that are presently in a CMS which they either do not manage themselves, or they do not use to the full extent of their capacity. Neither is a very good state of affairs. Drupal, joomla, typo3, bitrix, wordpress, concrete 5 ... whether licensed or open source, there is a CMS for every taste, but do you really need a CMS goes back to the original question, “What do you want your website to do for you?”
Shovel or Hydraulic Excavator?
If you are thinking about using a CMS but are still undecided, we offer a short CMS Q&A to assist you in making the right choice for your project. REMEMBER: Your website development should involve something you don’t understand, nor are uncomfortable with asking questions about.
Tell me why I should have a CMS. You should be thinking three years down the line here. If your website is going to be updated on a more than daily basis, by someone who is not technically savvy or uncomfortable with changing code in an html or php document, if the website is going to grow in size and structure over a short and regular time period, and if you are finding that updating your existing website requires too many of the same actions that could be streamlined into functions, then you are probably in need of a CMS. The size and complexity of the CMS should be commensurate with the size and complexity of your website. You should also consider that a CMS will involve either your time (which is money) or the time of a freelancer or agency (whose time is also money but who might make a trade for a service you are able to offer); so you will need to have one or the other.
Tell me why I shouldn’t. You probably don’t need a remote control if you watch television once a week and are capable of walking to the set and tuning to the right channel. A static website, for all intents and purposes, looks the same to the visitor as one done in a CMS. Sometimes even the source code will not make it immediately clear that the website was produced in a CMS. If you are able to moderately code html and php, are comfortable with an ftp, creating web safe images and content, and this state of affairs will likely remain for the next 3 years you probably don’t need a CMS. Whether you WANT to try out a CMS however is another matter. Learning a CMS is an interesting way to gain knowledge about the backend of a website. However if you already have enough on your plate, or you don’t have either the ready cash flow or a barter able skill you can probably use the time better reading a good book.
Okay. Imagining I go with a CMS, What is an open source CMS versus a licensed CMS? An open source system is readily downloadable from the internet and is completely free. It’s only your time or that of a developer which will be required to setup the system. Wordpress is probably the best example of an accessible, easily learnt CMS, while typo3, joomla and drupal are good examples of CMS aimed at more complicated websites requiring more developmental skills. Open source systems do not offer a “1-800 support number”. You are pretty much on your own. A licensed CMS, such as imperia and bitrix, are those websites where an annual license is purchased and with that support and updates are included. The drawback to a licensed CMS is it is less open to being developed than an open source. Open source CMS communities regularly develop modules and plugins that are freely available to anyone.
And what is a hosted CMS? Aren’t all CMS hosted? Some hosting companies offer, along with the domain name and hosting of your website, their own CMS. It is often included in the price and includes various templates for setting up a website. If you are using another CMS for example wordpress, it is hosted on your web server as well. The difference being that the wordpress is set up by you or a developer – a database is created and the CMS is configured on your web server prior to development of the website.
Will a CMS always cost me money to purchase or develop? Considering time is money then the answer is yes. However should you choose an open source CMS then the costs should be simply the development time for setting up the system. NEVER pay for an open source CMS as a product item.
Will I need to pay someone to manage the CMS? Should you decide to have someone else manage your content, then you would probably need to reimburse their services. However understanding the basic functionality of a CMS is the same as understanding the basics of any tool. They say a good chef can be ruined by a bad accountant. If your company is larger than yourself, an employee can be charged with the task of updating the website on a daily or weekly basis. When updates are made frequently they both add to the value of your website in terms of SEO and relevance for visitors, as well as making the updating task manageable. If you leave updates to your website to the end of the month you may be faced with both a daunting task or missed opportunities.
What about training? A visit to the gym once a week, or taking the stairs is not only a good way to stay fit but also a good way to clear your head during the web development process. Seriously, any agency or person charged with setting up a CMS MUST include in their costs a training session for you and your team, as well as a step by step handbook tailored to your website in the CMS. Should you be doing this yourself, keep notes and screen shots of each step so that they are easy reference. You might find that you master the editing function of a page, and then not be asked to edit again for some time, after which you have forgotten how you did it.
I have a document management system; can’t that manage my web content? No. A document management system is an internal file system aimed at managing files, but not websites. There are many management systems – digital, asset, document, component and enterprise management systems for example.
Can anyone manage my content? What about privacy? And could I edit content that someone else couldn’t? The idea of a CMS is to make the editing of your website easy and fast, from anywhere in the world, at any time of the day or night. The system should be intuitive. Most CMS have a word module for editing content in the same way you would edit a word document, so ENSURE YOUR CMS HAS THIS rich text feature. A CMS contains a use section where roles can be defined (usually Admin, Publisher, Editor etc) and where access to pages, and levels of editing can be set. Usually but not always, a CMS allows for only one person at a time to work on a given page. If you will be editing together with others ASK ABOUT THIS FEATURE. It will ensure that you don`t overwrite a page someone else has open or is slow in editing. In a CMS only people who log in and have role access to edit a given page will be able to do so.