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Blog: article

In Defence of the Content Management System

Sep
28 2012
In Defence of the Content Management System

Why use a Content Management System with your website, Parish Councils take note!

I was rather provoked into writing this article as I read an article by a local parish council web design company which in my view was completely misleading. You can read that article here: www.parishcouncilwebsite.co.uk/perchcms.html

The article surmises that Content Management Systems are beyond the ownership and control of the website owner and they seem to be confusing this with the concept of Website Builder packages. The fact that their article has a headline of “Bespoke Websites with Perch Editable Regions” seems to be aiming this at the Perch CMS, a product that we know very well and use as part of our web design solutions.

First of all let’s start with some definitions and then I will explain some more about the benefits of a CMS and perhaps allay some concerns

What is a Content Management System or CMS?

According to Wikipedia a CMS is “a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content on a web site as well as maintenance from a central interface.” In practise this tends to be a private Admin page that you would use inside a web browser which you can use to edit some or all of the website content and then save changes.

I think it is important to point out that a CMS is not a design tool, it will typically allow you to add, edit or remove text, you may be able to add images, new pages, change the menu. However this should not be confused with website design where your colours, branding, general page layout, fonts are determined as part of the design. In the interests of consistency it is generally better that way, if you start to add custom headings using different sizes and colours you will most likely degrade the appearance of your site and upset your website designer!

What is a Website Builder Package?

Some hosting companies (1&1, wix.com, 123-reg, moonfruit and others) offer the ability for you to create a simple website according to their own pre-defined templates. These websites are usually limited to a choice of pre-set colours with the ability to add a logo and add images or text. You cannot “design” a website, the format and functionality is very limited. It is often not possible to add new features (such as image galleries and ecommerce) and you will generally pay more for your hosting and the site is non transferable. I am of the opinion that in the long run these sites are not beneficial to business and will not help you stand out from the crowd. Perch, WordPress, Joomla et al are not cloud hosted, locked-in website builder products.

Responding to some assertions about a CMS

At this point I would like to respond to some of the statements in the original article:

* A CMS uses a template which is why all the websites from one supplier look a lot like others from the same company.

No, this is not necessarily the case. It is true that some CMS solutions (WordPress, Joomla) use a particular file structure or framework and you can purchase or download themes but these are not fixed in any way. Perch can use templates for some coding patterns but does not provide any themes and, in any case, this is besides the point. A good web designer will change the appearance of the website (size, colours, layout) using style code (CSS). In a well structured website the style code will be quite distinct from the CMS, you should be able to update the appearance of the website irrespective of the CMS used.

* You never own a website created within a CMS and you’re locked-in for life.

That is not the case. If you use WordPress or Joomla you can download the entire product free of charge. You can’t get better ownership than that. If you purchase a CMS such as Perch, well in that case you pay a one off fee for a perpetual site license. You are not tied in at all. You can easily change your hosting supplier and re-install at any time.

* You have to work within the constraints of the CMS.

I see a CMS as being liberating rather than constraining. If you use a CMS you (the website owner) can update content by yourself. If you don’t then you will usually rely on (and pay for) someone else (a web developer) who can change the HTML and CSS source code

* You pay an annual fee to rent the CMS but still have to find the time/money to build and update it yourself.

No, this is not the case for a CMS such as Joomla, Perch, WordPress, Drupal et al. Website builders (such as 1&1, yell) do offer this hosted build-your-own-website service where you would pay an annual fee for usage and hosting. You may have to pay for a web developers time if you want to change some of the functionality that a CMS offers (such as adding plugins, creating blogs) but I think it is right that new work, outside of the original requirements specification, gets paid for.

* CMS websites are not as secure as ordinary sites because they have a database which can be “hacked”.

Hacking is not due to database activity, it is due to general security issues. The best way to prevent hacking is to use a trusted hosting company that takes security seriously and applies software updates and patches. Hacking occurs when passwords are easy to crack (use a combination of numbers, letters and symbols at least 8 characters long) and when your website developer places sensitive code (such as login) inside publicly accessible website areas. It is true that WordPress is susceptible to attacks (being open source and being so popular). The clients that get caught out are normally those that use free themes and templates that can have malware embedded in them. Perch is certainly as secure as anything out there. I would suggest that you should always hire a professional, reputable web design company to build your website.

Conclusion – Benefits of a CMS

A CMS gives you the ability to take control of your own content and in the long run it is usually cheaper to build a website with a CMS rather than keep going back to a website developer to make changes for you. If you feel that your website content is fairly static and unlikely to change then you may decide that this option is not for you. This is fair enough. However do bear in mind that Google “likes” websites that have changing content and website audiences will tend to revisit websites that have regular content changes (be that news, articles, special offers, discounts, case studies and so on).