To CMS or Not to CMS

To CMS or Not to CMS

Content management is a hairy beast. Be your website’s purpose a simple portfolio or a full-on blog, you need to consider how intense your own involvement needs to be.

If you are looking at a few pages that won’t change much over time, your content management needs are likely pretty basic. In fact, if this is the case please feel free to look at this picture of a kitten instead.

What are the options and should you even care?

If you think your website’s pages will need to change regularly, or if your website will have a lot of pages or sections, your story is a little more involved.

Add to this the snaggle-toothed issue of code-competency: do you know your way around markup at all? The answer to this question is going to drastically influence your needs. Even if you do know how to walk the walk, you may not have the time (or desire) to do so as your website may require.

And this, my friends, is where content management systems come into play.

What is a content management system?

A content management system (or CMS as they’re known here in acronym-land) is a type of server framework which allows you to organize, update, and assess your content without you first having to earn a masters in computer science.

Most (though not all) are variations on a trio of components:

  • database which holds all the information about your pages, the website’s administrative users, settings, etc;
  • framework to give you easy access to phenomenal cosmic computing powers with a minimum amount of tedious hand coding;
  • an administrative interface to allow for (essentially) code-free management of your website’s general settings, content, media files, etc.

Many of the major players are based on a MySQL/Apache/PHP configuration, with some notable variations tinkering in the XSLT space and similar (more on these below). However, just because I’ve used these fancy terms here does not require you, the website’s owner, to know anything about them.

Groovy. So. What’s in it for me?

There are a lot of benefits to using a CMS. For the most part, a CMS allows people or organizations with limited resources to maintain a website without needing to pull in a vendor (like me) to perform standard updates. The keys are yours and you are free to add and update as you please.

There is also an amount of security in having a CMS in place. I have had calls from many clients over the years who have needed help fixing small bits of code that they have broken for a variety of reasons. With a CMS these elements are locked down and obscured from influence so you don’t have to worry about breaking them.

But what’s the cost?

A simple CMS setup can cost anywhere from peanuts to gold nuggets. As with all web projects, cars, and elaborate dinners, the dollar value is generally proportionate to the amount of configuration and customization required.

Let’s say you’re after a simple blog setup with a pre-fab template and a quick tutorial for the GUI. I can honestly say you’re not looking at a steep price tag. E-commerce options with social media integration and a custom theme featuring all the fancy pants the web has to offer? Amazingly, I’ve always wanted a Lamborghini too.

Okay. So what are my options?

Consider the following: maybe you think you need an all-out blog with bells, whistles and maybe a neon sign or two, but after some consultation you realize that you really only need a small-scale portfolio website with a twitter widget. There are some impressive options out there, folks, so take the time to talk to someone in the know. Otherwise you may end up setting yourself up with a site that is much more than you want or need.

As far as brand names is concerned, WordPress is a framework that gets used a lot (included on this blog), but it isn’t the ideal for all cases. There’s also Drupal and Joomla, each of which have similar setups with different strengths and applications. There’s Symphony, which is a relative newcomer built on a foundation of XSLT. I’ve used Flickr as a CMS for several clients with phenomenal results, and I’m continually surprised by the amount of people admitting they hadn’t thought of doing the same.

The best advise anyone can take is to avoid dwelling on the names. As with that strawberry-sauced sushi pizza I once ordered, everybody’s favorite may not suit you once you have it. Peruse the menu, and ask the locals. You may be surprised at just what other options you may find out there.

Summary

A good CMS is worth the investment. It will save you time and effort when it comes to managing your website. It does take some configuring and you will want to hire a pro for your setup no matter how involved that setup may be. Since asking someone in the know about your website’s needs is an essential part of the process, you’ll probably have a pro on had already, so that’s hardly a sacrifice now is it?

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