So You Need a CMS?

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For those of you who don’t know, a CMS is a content management system that enables website owners to modify web pages and publish new content without needing the skills to modify HTML. The system has design styles and layout structures locked in so users can focus on content creation only.

Having been a part of an interactive agency for the past 5 years, in addition to setting up a few websites for family and friends, I’ve become familiar with many of the CMSs available. From paid to free, simple to complex, open source to proprietary; I’ve test driven many systems and have become a fan for one particular CMS: WordPress! Before I get into why I love WordPress, we should first establish what your needs are as a website owner and if WordPress is the right solution for you.

Why WordPress Isn’t Right for You

Every website owner has to determine what their site needs are before they can set out on the quest for a CMS. Without this knowledge, you could end up with a CMS that you outgrow or never use because it just isn’t meeting your needs. So let’s first start off with some common reasons why you should NOT use WordPress for your CMS.

  • You need a robust eCommerce solution. There are a few WordPress plugins that can handle eCommerce, but none are full featured and can manage a complete online store.
  • Your site requires custom functionality, like an interactive map or complex tagging system; something that requires development. The development community is much more extensive for Drupal than WordPress, so you’re more likely to find a well seasoned developer that can build custom components for your site in Drupal than you are with WordPress.
  • You have multiple content producers, each with specific permission rights to certain content and require an approval system. WordPress does allow some permission setting, but not as complex as Drupal or Joomla would allow.
  • You’re starting off small, but have big plans for your site. If you know your site is only a few pages for now, but have plans to eventually turn it into a full eCommerce or Social Networking site, then I recommend starting with Drupal or Joomla. They are easily scaleable and you won’t have to later migrate your information to a new system as your needs expand.

So we’ve determined that you have very complex requirements for your site and you’ll need something other than WordPress to meet your needs. There is something else you need to consider when choosing a CMS.

Open Source vs Paid Proprietary CMSs

First of, I am an big advocate for open source platforms over paid for, proprietary CMSs. The biggest reason being the shear volume of third party plugins and community support you will find for those systems. This allows you expand your website’s functionality beyond the base CMS, making your website more powerful. That being said, open source systems like Joomla, Drupal and WordPress require you to do your research and read through documentation in order to properly install and setup the plugins. And in some cases, some coding knowledge is necessary to get the plugin to work just as you need it to.

If you have little time to spare, but have lots of data, multiple content producers, and require custom functionality, then I recommend you purchase an out of the box CMS that comes with all the features you need. There are many to choose from like Ektron, and your money will go towards installation, migration of data, and any customization. In addition, you’ll pay a monthly fee to continue using the system and receive customer support.

Now, if you have a tighter budget, then I suggest going with an open source solution like Joomla or Drupal, and hire a third party developer to customize the system to your liking. Depending on your needs, you’ll be able to find ready made plugins that a developer can help install and even customize to work just for your website. The only downside to this is that you won’t receive the same customer support that you would with a proprietary CMS.

The biggest downfall to proprietary CMSs is that many of them have very strict guidelines on where and how you host their databases and how your information can be migrated. So if you decide that later on you want to change your hosting provider or CMS, you may be out of luck and have to start from scratch. With open source platforms, you can easily migrate your website and database to another provider, and sometimes even for free with hosts like GoDaddy.

And Finally, Why WordPress is Awesome!

For the rest of us, who have less complex requirements for our websites, I definitely recommend WordPress. It’s my CMS of choice and here are the reasons why:

Ease of Use and Simple Installation The first thing you’ll noticed with WordPress is its clean, user friendly interface; other systems just don’t compare. In addition to the system being easy to use, the installation is streamlined on most hosting providers. Hosts like GoDaddy will even install WordPress for free when you sign up for their services.

Themes WordPress has many free and paid for themes. Each can be installed with just a click of a button. The themes allow you to change the look and feel of your site without altering the information structure and functionality. If you have some experience with HTML/CSS you can further customize the theme to your liking right within the WordPress interface.

Plugins The most popular feature of WordPress is its rich plugin database, which gives you the ability to extend your websites functionality beyond the features that come as part of the base CMS. There are over 17,000 plugins, ranging from SEO, calendars, photo galleries to adding widgets. If you have a need, you’re likely to find a plugin that’ll do the trick!

Widgets and Custom Menus Widgets give you the ability to add to the layout of your site with a simple drag-and-drop interface. You can add things like Recent Blog Posts to the right column of your site, without ever having to touch a piece of PHP or HTML code. You also have complete control over your navigation menus, with the same drag-and-drop interface.

Mobile WordPress themes are inherently setup with Mobile CSS. So when a visitor is viewing your site from a mobile device, it will be scaled to fit that screen. It’s a great feature to have if you’re unsure how to code for Mobile, but know your site is frequented by Mobile users.

Roles and Capabilities Roles and Capabilities determine what who can and cannot edit/create/view pages within your site. WordPress defines roles such as ‘administrator’ and ‘editor’, each with different levels of capability. You can also define new Roles and limit accessibility to certain areas of the system.This is great for sites where you might want to restrict access to prevent a client or colleague from breaking the site.

SEO Friendly WordPress is set up to be search engine friendly, using permalinks, title and meta tags based on your site’s content, right out of the box. There are also plugins that can help with advanced SEO techniques. But as long as you’re writing great copy, you can be sure WordPress is working hard to index and display your content appropriately in search engines.

 

While I love WordPress and all it’s fantastic features, the right CMS solution is really based on your needs and website requirements. So please, when you set out to pick the perfect CMS, be sure to do your research! Good luck!

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Sheena Rajan Avatar

Author: Sheena Rajan

I'm just a tiny project manager in the BIG world of business; with a concentration in the digital space. I invite you to connect with me on Twitter, Google+ and/or LinkedIn and check out my resume and portfolio.

2 Comments

  1. I heard a lot abt Elgg for social networking. Do I need to install some CMS first and then install Elgg to make a social networking site?

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