The world of the web has changed. Originally websites were static creations that sat there from week to week, month to month with the same carefully written content up there all the time. But with the more recent requirements of social networking, blogging and SEO they are now more about generating and sharing dynamic content, so have the needs of a CMS changed?


What is a Content Management System?

First we should define what is meant by a Content Management System or CMS website. A CMS is a user interface that allows the creation, editing and publishing of web pages, news posts, events entries and more and allows them to be published on a live website with little or no technical knowledge.

Typically the words are typed or pasted into a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor, which works like a very simple document in Word with limited options for formatting, sizing and colouring text. A CMS ensures some consistency in the way your pages are formatted and displayed as it refers to style sheets which set the look and feel of the website. This protects design elements of your brand from being diluted but there is some trade-off between flexibility and consistency with a CMS website. Which leads me on to perhaps the most important point – what do you want it to do?

Requirements are Key!
If you are reading this to try and decide which of the many CMS systems you should choose, then STOP! Before you set your heart on a Content Management System ask yourself; do you have the team in place to make use of it? Do you need a CMS?

Many small companies choose to work with agencies or consultancies to provide them with technical coding requirements and page updates. Often it is cheaper and provides the level of flexibility and frequency of updates needed, without the waste associated with employing someone full time. However if your team has the ability to write content like blogs, tweets and status updates then putting them in the driving seat could be a more cost-effective way of ensuring your website is constantly updated with relevant effective content.

It is also worth discussing which other systems your website needs to communicate with as the most sophisticated ecommerce CMS will not be fit for purpose if it doesn’t talk to your back-office finance system, or your CRM system. Your website cannot work in isolation so build up a list of ‘requirements’ and features that would be ‘nice to have’ – but be realistic – if you don’t have the team in place then you may be better off working with an agency. To begin planning form your requirements like this:

Creation, publishing and editing of pages with no technical knowledge.

Blog area with interactive commenting.

Integration with social networking feeds.

Detailed reporting on pages visited, purchases made, time spent on site etc.

Integrates with SAGE accounting.

Control over page meta tags and H1 elements for SEO purposes.

Some design control over pages and posts.

Media library /management built into Content Management System.

Ability to upload and manage video content and link to You Tube channels.

Management of different levels of access control for my site’s editors.

Approval process for new pages to be approved before publication.

Content Management Systems are not right or wrong – they are either well suited to your requirements or not. You cannot possibly choose the right system for your requirements unless you have clearly identified what those requirements are.

SO which CMS do I choose?

Once you have identified what your organization needs from your website Content Management System then you have to choose one which suits your purposes. There is a lot of information out there about the pros and cons of one system over another, but here is a quick guide to which ones are best suited to various requirements:

An open source blog based system that allows a lot of flexibility and functionality by use of third-party software (called plugins). There is a lot of information from developers and users of WordPress so the learning curve is well documented and easy to adapt to. WordPress is also flexible enough to give you the visual standard your pages need, by careful setting up of page templates, short-codes and post rules.

Interspire / Big Commerce
Based around a similar user interface Interspire was the software edition and BigCommerce is the hosted edition of the well-established e-commerce CMS. Packed with features to enhance product descriptions, encourage interaction with your brand and promote your website and products, BigCommerce is fully scalable to meet your e-commerce needs for years to come as the ongoing costs are based upon the size of your online shop.

Magento is one of the newer shopping carts on the block but has already attracted a large following. It is very well supported by Varian who are active in fixing bugs and updating the code. It is capable of operating multiple stores from one back-end CMS and has some good built-in page templates. On the negative side, the ability to customise it does make for a complicated coding style vs some other carts and the technical documentation is somewhat limited.

If you want a complicated framework that is expensive and unwieldy to manage, and costs lots of extra cash to develop modules to give you the functionality you need with a difficult to use back-end system, then Joomla is for you. If you believe life is too short to give yourself unnecessary headaches then choose another CMS.

There are many CMS systems – Radiant CMS, Joomla, SilverStripe, TYPOlight, Frog, Textpattern, Expression Engine and more, and each of them is better at one thing than another. For instance some of the simpler platforms trade-off flexibility and ability to customise in favour of a simple to use back-end, whilst others allow for a great deal of flexibility and customisation but at the expense of simplicity and usability. If in doubt refer back to your requirements and choose the CMS that most closely matches them. After all there is no point having every feature in the world unless you know how to use them and have the right team in place.

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