Which is the best CMS – Content Management System?

When you want to have control over the contents of your website you need a website built around a Content Management System (a CMS for short). These range from the ubiquitous WordPress which was originally aimed at people writing blogs through to the mighty systems that power websites like the BBC’s. Which system you chose is a difficult decision that isn’t helped by the shear number and complexity of offerings.

As usual with software, computing and websites there is a veritable lexicon of jargon along with the acronyms which only serve to multiply the opacity of what they’re all about. I will do my best to steer clear of these if they can be avoided.

First a word of warning: everyone would like to add bits to their website and tamper with its structure and design, but few of us have the skill, inspiration or – most importantly – the time to do this. How many so called ‘News’ sections of websites have you seen with nothing added for months or, sometimes, years? And what message does this send out? Nothing happens here/we’re not interested in keeping this up to date/everything on this site is out of date. So, before you opt for content management, ask yourself if you – or your staff – have the time and commitment to keep things up to date. If the answer is yes, read on…

The first decision is whether to opt for an ‘empty box’ solution and build the whole thing yourself or whether to engage a website design agency. From where I am sitting in the middle of a busy design and marketing agency it’s a no-brainer. We bring a variety of specialist skills to bear on any website project. This is as true for humble and versatile WordPress sites as for bespoke websites coded from scratch. Some of the latter use content management systems and others don’t. Usually we use CMS for at least part of a website – like news, customer testimonials, latest projects – but we are always careful that the design integrity of a site is left in tact. Otherwise why employ people skilled in user experience, copy writing, graphic design and writing code if all their efforts are going to be wrecked by a well meaning client?

Even ready-coded sites need the input of a skilled team of specialists. There are hundreds of ‘open source’* CMSs out there including Joomla, Drupal, Expression Engine, Concrete 5, Umbraco, Square Space and Magento (the big daddy of e-commerce for small to medium size businesses). The choice is down to needs.

Most CMS’ have a back end – where all the work is done – and an entirely separate front end which is what your visitors see. Editing is consequently tricky and requires going backwards and forwards between the two ends to check what things are really looking like.

If you have complex requirements like booking systems, intricate price list tables or complicated page layouts then you will need the software to do the job. Expression Engine has been used for many of our websites requiring this as it has a lot of functionality and a wide choice of extra modules. It’s down to the skill of our designers and developers to make the back end easy and intuitive to use.

All eCommerce packages are content management systems because they need to allow the owner of the site to upload his own products, descriptions and prices. Where many e-commerce packages fall down is their limitation to apply good design styling particularly to editorial pages. Developers on the WordPress platform are all over this requirement, with plugins such as Woocommerce making the process of setting up as an eCommerce company and adding/editing products comparatively easy.

CMS packages, both proprietary and open source, usually have a wide selection of templates offering different layouts and styles. Today many of these templates are responsive which means they will adjust the way they display according to the device being used to view them (i.e. mobile friendly). With so much traffic coming from smart phones and tablets ‘responsiveness’ is pretty much a necessity for most businesses.

Another basic ‘must have’ on your CMS checklist is SEO. The pages and content you generate must be optimised so that search engines can find their way around and index it to ensure it appears in their listings. I still see page titles in the address bars of browsers comprised of strange characters, % and ~ which is meaningless to a search engine robots and ignored as a consequence.

Finally WordPress powering 26% of the internet. It’s simple to use, it still looks smart and contemporary, it has some really useful plugins like its Yoast SEO pack and… it powers this blog!

*Open Source is software that has been written and made available for anyone to use, usually free of charge. This enables other developers to write their own software modules which work in conjunction with the core source code thereby adding extra functionality.