Guide to CMS (Content Management Systems)

I shall tell you the story of how CMS (Content Management Systems) came to be. Once upon a time, in the mid 90’s. There was a guy who worked as a “webmaster” for a large corporation. His responsibility was to upload every bit of written and photographic marketing content they had online. As he wrote lines upon lines of HTML code by hand. His mind pondered. “There has to be a better and easier way to do this…”

His imagination ran wild with thoughts of a system that could manage online content more efficiently. So with idea planted in his mind and his basic scripting skills. He began to lay out the framework that would become the first Content Management System.

Now 10 years later we have more CMS solutions than I care to count. While researching website creation or web design you cannot avoid them. They are everywhere and do just about everything. So how do you pick the right one for you? A lot of people are overwhelmed with the amount of information. How do you pick a CMS that is right for you?

I have put together a guide. The objective is to assist you with understanding what CMS does and what king of CMS you’ll require for different kinds of websites?

What is a CMS?

According to Wikipedia – A content management system (CMS) is a computer application that supports the creation and modification of digital content. It is often used to support multiple users working in a collaborative environment.

CMS features vary widely. Most CMSs include Web-based publishing, format management, history editing and version control, indexing, search, and retrieval. By their nature, content management systems support the separation of content and presentation.

A web content management system (WCM or WCMS) is a CMS designed to support the management of the content of Web pages. Most popular CMSs are also WCMSs. Web content includes text and embedded graphics, photos, video, audio, maps, and code (e.g., for applications) that displays content or interacts with the user.

So with lets break this down a bit further. What does a website consist of? Words, images, videos, contact forms, surveys, maps, products and more. All these items which we call “content” need to be organised and structured on the page.

This content needs to be easy-to-find and intuitive for (a) users that run the website and (b) uses who browse it (your customers!). It also needs to provide you with the ability to make changes on the fly. For example, add more content, delete content, restructure your page content and rename elements.

Most CMS solutions allow only a select few users to manage content. Community CMS platforms such as forums and social media sites allow every user to manage their own content, and decide what content other users can browse.

Who is this for?

This article is for web design clients, business owners. Designers and developers can look these things up for themselves, and will usually know what the buzzwords mean.

Have you ever researched CMS Solutions and gotten confused with the terminology and amount products on the market? If so, this article is for you. Have a read and narrow down your options. Bring your ideas to us and we would be happy to assist.

Types of CMS Solutions

As we all know. Everyone has different needs when it comes to building a website. You could hire a developer to build a CMS that can meet every single one of these needs. Plenty of people have tried and spent ten’s of thousands of dollars in the process. The best option… choose a CMS that meets your specific needs as closely as possible.

From a user perspective many CMS Platforms require the user to have some basic to intermediate knowledge of CSS, HTML and PHP coding. And in case your wondering I am not talking about WordPress. But we will get into this deeper later.

Firstly, we need to discuss the types of content management systems that you’ll find out there. I have come up with the below list of the most common type’s of CMS Solutions. As there are more CMS Solutions out there that i can actually list. I have condensed the most popular types and solutions:

Managed vs Hosted

The hardest decision when selecting a CMS Solution is without a doubt weather to go Hosted or Managed.

So before we move onto blogging and e-commerce types. We will discuss both and the pro’s and con’s with each.

Managed CMS

There are literally thousands of “managed” CMS solutions out there. They are for the most part provided as a “service” and all aspects of technical is handled by a third party company. Managed CMS Solution are also know as “Managed Platforms” or “SAAS Solutions” (Software as a Service).

Examples of these services include: Squarespace, Shopify and Wix.

Pros:

  • Active Support – Usually 24/7 from a external call center and via a job ticketing system.
  • Application Developement – Constant development of CMS Framework to provide new features and updates
  • Software Updates – Hosting and CMS Updates to improve stability and functionality
  • Security – High level SSL protection and firewall protection

The above sounds fantastic. However, it’s important to note that all the above is handled by a third party provider which may not be contactable as easily as your local web guru.

Cons:

  • Design Framework Restrictions – You may not be able to get something just how you like it due to pre-existing page styling hard coded into the CMS Platform.
  • Transition Elements and Styles – contact forms, sliders, icons, tabbed and accordion displays all come pre-configured. Only specific attributes to these elements can be changed.
  • Data Ownership – As your website is hosted with a 3rd party provider and on a Managed CMS. You don’t technically own it. You run the risk of a feature you like being ditched which forces you to alter your design or if they shutdown operations for any reason your on your own with many provider not offering data export.

Hosted CMS

On the other hand you have “Hosted Platforms”. These kind of CMS platforms can be installed anywhere. Weather that be your own server or a server you rent from someone else or a domain provider. These platforms include: WordPress, Magento, Drupal, Concrete5 or MotoCMS.

Pros:

  • Control – Most Hosted CMS Platforms are open source. This allows you to make everything work exactly how you want it too. You can either create themes, plugins and widgets yourself depending on the commercial licensing agreement relevant to each solution.
  • Price -The vast majority of most open source Hosted CMS Platforms are completely free otherwise there is a small subscription or one time payment that is required
  • Developer and Support Community – Many of the most popular Hosted CMS Platforms (WordPress/Magento) have vast amounts of custom plugins, themes and widgets supplied by third part developers. Some are even completely free.
  • Support – As above many Hosted CMS Platforms rely heavily on their Community as a form of support for their customers. Forums and ticketing systems can be used to troubleshoot any problems that may arise through from design to operation.

Cons:

  • Setup and Support – It will be you or your employee’s responsibility to purchase the domain and hosting. Install the software, keep it updated, setup security, on top of designing and launching the website. Even with the relevant support from the community and CMS Developers it is a daunting task. Commercial support may still be required.
  • Web Developer / Coding Knowledge – Increased functionality and design customization comes hand in hand with the users requiring even a basic level of coding. Basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, PHP and JAVA are critical to designing and launching a well designed functional website.

Conclusion

To sum it all up. Hosted CMS Platforms are great for basic designs and functionality. However with this come the risks of your data being hosted on a third party system to which you have no control over. On the other hand for those people or companies that want to retain full control over their experience, specifically with the software, hosting, data, underlying technology and the sites functionality and aesthetics, you can’t go wrong with a Hosted CMS Solution.