Content Management Systems

A content management system (CMS) is a software tool specifically designed to manage a website. Whether changing the copy on existing pages, adding new pages, adding blog articles, or whatever other important tasks you may do on a frequent basis, it bridges the gap between the code and yourself, giving you the ability to update your site with ease.

The alternative is a static site. In order to update a static site you would need to hire someone who knows their way around html, php, css, javascript, or whatever language on which the site was built. A static site is fine for someone who doesn't update often, is on a budget, or would rather have someone else update his or her content.

Why you need a CMS

If you update frequently a CMS is very beneficial. It gives you control over your site. Some clients love this control and feel that they are more involved with their business if they have direct access to their site.

Although building your site with a CMS is more costly, it can save you money in the long run if you update on a regular basis by not having to pay a developer to make updates for you.

Another way a CMS could save you money is there are usually plugins or add-ons that you can integrate on your site to increase functionality. For example, if you needed a calendar on your site, most likely there's a prebuilt solution that will save you time and money.

Why you don't need a CMS

The good thing about a CMS is that it allows you to edit your own content. The bad thing about a CMS is it allows you to edit your own content. This often becomes more of a burden than a benefit for some, as there is much more involved than one might think.

A typical scenario is as follows: a developer provides a CMS for a client, trains them how to use it, and when the work is finished the client updates some initial content, makes a few changes, maybe adds a new article and then nothing. Weeks or months may go by and the site is still the same as it was at launch.

There are several reasons why this happens:

  • The client really didn't need a CMS in the first place because he or she will only update occasionally. While the ability to update your site sounds attractive, you may be better off saving that money and have us make periodic updates for you.
  • The client is busy running their business. Maintaining a site takes time and often time isn't available.
  • The client forgot how. If you don't use your CMS enough and only update a couple times a year, you may forget your login, how to make a post, update copy, etc.
  • It's more work than the client expected. In this day and age an average computer user could learn a CMS fairly quickly, but it does take time, effort, and a bit of work to keep a site maintained.
  • The client hates it. Unfortunately this happens if a CMS isn't properly chosen resulting in an out of date site, unhappy clients, and a waste of money.

If you simply don't have the time, desire, or the need then we'll advise against using a CMS for your project. A CMS doesn't meet every project's requirements.

What's the cost to add a CMS

Generally from our experience a CMS usually increases the development cost of the project by 50 - 80%. We treat a CMS as an addition, or an add-on, to your project. We typically build out your site as a static version first, then convert it into a CMS. Read more about our process here.

The additional cost to integrate a CMS depends on the complexity of the site and the type of content. If a site is mostly text based with one type of content then it may not be too costly to add a CMS, but if you have several types of content such as a gallery, blog, calendar, forms, etc then these features may take additional time to implement.

Perhaps the greatest cost is not measured monetarily when the site is built, but instead in the time that it takes you to maintain the system once it's built.

The responsibilities of a CMS

So you've decided you need a CMS because it allows you to update your site and you are willing to put in the time and effort it will take to maintain and update your site's content on a regular basis. The next step is to learn how to use and maintain the system.

The worst thing you can do is decide upon a CMS and never touch your site again. Not only is it a waste of money on the front end, but some open source systems, such as WordPress, require you to keep plugins and the core up to date for security reasons. These responsibilities fall on you, unless you hire someone to do that for you.

This is a pretty big responsibility, especially in this day and age. Your web presence is often your only impression on your customers, better make it count and make sure your site is in top shape.

Choosing a CMS

Most of the time a CMS is selected because of it's popularity or the developer you chose only uses one kind. A CMS should be chosen based on the needs of the client as well as the needs of the project.

Content strategy, workflow, editorial requirements, technical resources as well as other considerations should be decided upon before choosing a system. A CMS should only be chosen after all project requirements have been considered. How are you to determine what system is to manage your content if you haven't even considered what that content is? After you've done a bit of research based on your content strategy, you can then choose the system that's best for you.

At this time we are building upon three systems. Each of these is different and recommended for different projects.

wordpress cms logo

WordPress is the most popular CMS out there mainly due to it's ability to adapt to so many situations. It controls the market when it comes to content management systems.

perch cms logo

Perch is a small CMS that we use with simple sites or with clients on a budget. It's incredibly fast to implement, easy to learn, and does it's job wonderfully.

sitemason cms logo

Sitemason is a hosted CMS that we recently started building on. It's marketed as an alternative to the popular WordPress system and does it's job well. It's security, tech support, and ability to scale is a major reason why we began using it.

Each of these have their own strengths and application. It's a matter of determining which system is best for your project.

CMS Customization

Whatever CMS is chosen, we typically modify it to suit a project's specific needs. When choosing a CMS you should question the time it will take for these customizations and if you are on a budget then choose the one that requires the least amount of modification.

A CMS out of the box usually has too much or not enough of what the client needs. In order to create a useful, usable product some customization is usually needed.

Let Us Help

Hopefully this has helped determine what a CMS is, if you might need one, and what it takes to maintain a CMS. As with most things in life there are many choices to be made. We'd love the chance to help you determine if a CMS is the right decision for your next project.

Discuss further with us on twitter or by contacting us.