What is a content management system (CMS) and why use one?

As those who read this blog regularly will know, I’ve done a fair bit of website development over the last year. My latest project is a website about spread bettingand it’s almost finished.

However, I’m regularly asked why I insist on using a full Content Management System (CMS) for even the smallest of websites. So here’s my explanation.

Why use a content management system (CMS)?
It’s rare to find a business today that doesn’t want a dynamic and scaleable web presence, especially in light of the increase in multimedia digital content such as blogs, forums, podcasting, news feeds, audio and video. The only way to properly manage all of this is to use a modern CMS.

A content management system enables the easier management of websites and web content.

In short, it’s a database-driven software that sits behind a website that enables the site manager to quickly and easily update the website pages and structure (the content).

With a CMS, a page can be easily added. You simply copy (or type) in the text of the page that you’re adding, tell the CMS where you want the page in the site menu structure and then click on the submit button. The software automatically adds the page according to the settings you’ve specified, in the global design of the site.

Using the more traditional method a website manager (often an external supplier) would have to create the page, create the menu links (along with all the links to the page on the rest of the site) and then submit it to the website.

By doing all the technical work for you, a CMS reduces (and often eliminates) the need for a web programmer to manage website content. Long-term this reduces costs associated with website management and makes the process much quicker, since content goes live when submitted by the site manager.

What kind of CMS should you use?
There are many different CMS’s available today. The majority of the CMS software used on the internet at the moment is what’s known as ‘Open Source’.

An Open Source (OS) software is one that’s been developed by a community of developers around the world, using widely available technologies and is released as a free, fully licensed download. Any changes and improvements you make to the code behind the software are usually released back into the OS community.

The benefits with using OS software are that it’s free and there’s a huge and ready supply of support available through the OS community. The code behind the software is accessible to the developer and, therefore, highly flexible. Also, because of the size and availability of the OS community, it’s always possible to find someone to help, even if your website development provider goes bust.

Many website development companies write their own CMS according to the requirements of clients. The danger with this approach is that if the website company goes bust, the code behind the CMS will be hidden and it can be difficult and expensive to find support. Not only that but many web development companies licence their CMS and if you stop using them as a supplier they may take down the website and/or withdraw all support.

It’s also possible to buy a commercial CMS off the shelf. Again this means that the code will, most likely, remain hidden and most of the time the software will only be provided on a licence basis. Even worse is that many software manufacturers insist that you pay annual licence fees or charge you for upgrades.

So what’s the best CMS option?
Those that know me will likely know that I’m a big fan of open source software. I just don’t like having to pay if I don’t have to. And this saving is passed onto my clients if they ask me to build a website for them.

So, these days I use a CMS called WordPress (this site is built using WordPress). This is an open source CMS package available at www.wordpress.org

However, it’s not the only open source CMS available. Drupal and Joomla are also very popular.

However, I like WordPress because it’s very quick to work with and highly flexible as well as being well supported by the huge WordPress community. It gives all the functionality I require as well as giving me opportunity to add functions as my (or my clients’) requirements change.

Having said that, I’ve built a few websites with Drupal and it’s great if you want a forum or multiple blogs on the website.

So, if you’ve any questions about WordPress or Drupal then by all means let me know.

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