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Miscellaneous

How to choose the best CMS for your website

by Matthew Rhodes

As a website owner, you should be able to update content and carry out administration functions without having to go to a developer every single time.

Common tasks might include blog updates, changing staff photos, processing orders, editing products or managing memberships.

A content management system (CMS) promises you an interface for completing these tasks, without ever having to touch code.

But not all content management systems are created equal, so are you better to go with something off-the-shelf or custom-built to your requirements?


Off-the-shelf CMS solutions

There is a plethora of off-the-shelf content management systems available, from blog platforms like Wordpress to systems like Drupal and Joomla. They are widely used, come at a low cost upfront and are packed with features.

Benefits

  • Get up and running quickly by reducing development time.
  • Create a website without in-depth technical knowledge.
  • Widespread editing control over content.
  • Support forums, tutorials and documentation available.

Considerations

  • Interface can be cluttered with more controls than you need.
  • Popular content management systems are frequent targets for security hacks.
  • Add-on software often required to extend functionality.
  • May require tricky work-arounds to do things that don't fit the mould.
  • Control over look and feel can be restricted.

Off-the-shelf content management systems are appealing because they offer so much for so little cost. And they can work when the scope of your site is simple and well understood. However, when they limit what you can do or become daunting to use, the appeal quickly fades.


Content management isn't plug and play

In most cases, the CMS you choose will become inseparably linked to your website and form the foundation on which everything is built.

Just as building materials and methods dictate how easily a house can be altered, your CMS will dictate how easily your website can be extended and adapt to the ever-evolving web.

A common example of how websites are needing to adapt is the ability to work across mobile devices. To achieve this, you might make your site into a responsive website or even create a dedicated mobile site.

With some off-the-shelf content management systems, the inherent limitations can make mobile optimisation a harder task.


When the cookie cutter doesn't cut it

Choosing an off-the-shelf CMS can be a case of compromising – an attempt to fit your specific business requirements into a product that caters to all.

Your CMS shouldn't require you to consult a manual or use work-arounds to get things done. It should be simple, intuitive and match your workflow.

"Truly elegant design incorporates top-notch functionality into a simple, uncluttered form."
— David Lewis

When a system offers to do everything, you can end up with an interface like this:

With a custom CMS, the interface mirrors your unique website structure, making the relationship between content you're editing and how it appears on the website clear and obvious:


Tailored to you

Your website is a living thing that needs to adapt and grow over time. Because it's difficult to envisage all of the ways your site may change in future, it's hard to assess the suitability of different content management systems.

The beauty of custom development is that you build only what you need and it's ready to grow with you when the time comes.

Benefits

  • Simple and easy to use interface.
  • Very focused on your tasks.
  • Development time goes into only what you need.
  • Keeps things fast, flexible and lean 'under the hood'.
  • Total control going forward.

Considerations

  • Usually comes at a higher cost upfront.
  • It helps to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.

"Simple can be harder than complex" — Steve Jobs

Although custom content management comes at a higher cost upfront, it can be more cost effective in the long term to build something right from the start, than to manipulate an existing product into what you want.

Matthew Rhodes is a developer at Digital Fusion. This post first appeared on the Digital Fusion blog


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Comments

One consideration this article doesn't touch on but businesses may want to consider, is that with a popular off-the-shelf CMS such as Wordpress, Drupal etc you can take your website with you if your relationship with the web developer changes for any reason. If a custom system is used you are likely locked in to that particular design company or facing a total rebuild.

I agree with Mark's comment and this flexibility of web developer can also exist with a popular CMS which includes a large amount of custom website development. For example we use the open source Umbraco CMS which uses ASP.NET and SQL server technology which is compatible with many companies and web development organisations. We have taken over the on-going development of maintenance of Umbraco based websites from other web design agencies with little technical difficulty.

So, yes this can be done even with complex sites and it gives customers more flexibility, assurance and helps them “keep their supplier honest”.

Actually you're not locked in with a developer if you get them to build a custom CMS. You just need to make sure that should have a contract to say that you have the right to have any other developer work on the code so aren't locked in to using that particular development company.

As Archer says, it really depends on the company. We use open technologies (PHP & MySQL) to develop our custom solutions and the client owns all code. So they are free to take the site and CMS to another developer or hosting company if they wish.



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