Do You Really NEED a Content Management System?

There are web designers who believe in no uncertain terms that every web site developed should use a Content Management System. Some don’t even ask the client if they need or want it, they just do it as one of their own standard operating procedures. I’m not among those designers. I look at things differently and believe the use of a CMS should be based on the needs of a web site, that use of a CMS is as individual as a web site itself and that there are pros and cons to using a CMS. In my mind, a responsible web designer looks at each individual site and it’s needs before just automatically building it in a Content Management System.

I am not a huge fan of any Content Management System. To be very honest with you, I’m torn between liking them and hating them. My own web site is currently built in WordPress, but that’s not because I couldn’t live without it. In a way I felt rather pushed into changing over from a static web site to the use of a CMS. More and more clients are requesting to be able to edit their own content and one way to offer them this option is to build their site in a Content Management System. If I wanted to keep up with today’s web site world, I needed to not only learn how to use them but become proficient at it as well. What better place to start than my own site? I also wanted some features that I knew would be more time consuming and trouble on a static site than through a CMS.

It took me months to make the decision to go with a CMS and it was a real struggle for me to make the move. For every reason I thought it would be good, I could think of at least one that wasn’t. People have the idea that a CMS is right at the top of the list for convenience. I don’t. Does it offer conveniences? Yes, no doubt about that. Are there trade-offs for the conveniences? Yes, in my opinion there are. At this moment there isn’t one single CMS that I feel is perfect, but then again since nothing in this world is perfect, I have to take that into consideration. Let’s face it, reality is that my idea of perfect and yours may be two very different things.

I’ve seen quite a number of beautiful web sites which were originally developed by a professional web designer and then the administration of the site was taken over by the client in order to edit their own content and manage their own site. I have yet to see one single site where the looks haven’t subsequently been destroyed by the client. It’s really heartbreaking for a web designer to put in hours upon hours of work to give the client an attractive site and then a few months later the designer takes a peek at how things are going only to find their hard work has been trashed. On the other hand, I have clients who’s sites are built on a CMS and for one reason or another, they still have me take care of all their site business.

How Does This Happen?

I can’t give you a single “this is why” answer but what comes to mind first is that no matter how much time and work I put into writing explicit instructions for the client on how to work successfully within the system, I find that apparently they either can’t read, they don’t understand the instructions, they don’t care how their site looks after they take it over or perhaps it’s any combination of the above. The truth is that I honestly don’t know and I’m certainly not going to approach a client and tell them that they’re destroying my work. It’s their web site and they can do what they want and although it’s not easy some days, I must always remember that and respect their decision and how the site looks after they get their hands on it.

Not having found a truly good, user-friendly, idiot-proof editor for a Content Management System is at the very top of my list of why I don’t like to use a CMS. My clients are not idiots and when I use the term “idiot-proofed” I’m not referring to their levels of competence. No matter how well I set things up to work as simply as possible, you still need at least some basic coding knowledge in order to properly use the systems and you really need to pay attention to the details. If you’re going along adding and editing content on your web site and you notice that things are not looking right anymore, you need to re-read the instructions on how it should be done and/or ask your web designer what you’re doing wrong. Then you have to take the steps to correct your work and how you do things.

Plug-Ins and Add-Ons

One huge plus to Content Management Systems is that most if not all offer things called plug-ins or add-ons that allow the web site to be easily customized. Rather than hunting down individual scripts to add on to a static site to give it things like classified ads, photo galleries and shopping carts you can install plug-ins and add-ons. Installations are usually fairly simple and they’re supposed to already have been tested and found to be compatible for the CMS they were developed for. Unfortunately, one or more of these little goodies may not be compatible with another and you could be facing anything from a little fix all the way on up to disastrous results and anything in between. Let’s face it, when you have a system where there are thousands of people all thinking they can code add-ons to work with a CMS and you install multiple plug-ins, realistically speaking – you can’t possibly believe it will be 100% trouble free.

Content Management Systems are Maintenance Free

If you believe this statement you’re dead wrong. EVERY site needs ongoing maintenance and updating, whether it’s a static site or built on a CMS.  The cost of having your web designer maintain your site properly is as individual as the site itself. A site built on a CMS is definitely not maintenance free. I’ve had to upgrade all my CMS based sites in some way, shape or form nearly every month since the site was developed.

What if the CMS Developer Closes Up Shop?

Well, that’s another consideration. The chances of a popular CMS closing their doors are slim and next to none in my opinion. That’s not to say it can’t happen, though. If your site uses a CMS that’s not high on the popularity list, the chances of this happening are a bit on the scary side. You’d not have any technical assistance available for one thing. What happens then? Well, you could continue to use the site until it breaks and hope that since it won’t be updated for security reasons, that your site won’t be hacked on down the road. Your best bet should the development team stop development, would be to have the site converted to another CMS or to a static site.

Can I Administer My Site Without a CMS?

In a word, yes. But you have to be willing and able to purchase the necessary software that’s needed in order for this to work, which can be very costly. You also have to learn a lot more about web site design than you would if you chose a CMS. If your site uses a CMS then all you need is a browser, a text editor and a photo or graphics program (and know how to use these programs) to handle things.

You should be aware that many web site designers will set up a CMS so that you will have very limited capabilities. We try to keep the client from being able to update anything but the text content itself. By doing this, we help lessen the chances of breaking your site, your site design and/or other features. Updating the text content is pretty much all that most clients want anyway. If there are special features on the site that you wish to maintain yourself, we’ll do what we can to make this happen for you but there may be some things you will not be able to or really should not do yourself unless you’ve got some good web background knowledge.

Does My Site Need a CMS?

Your web designer can and should review your Wish List and site specifications and help you determine if a CMS is the way to go. For sites that don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, my answer would probably be to develop it as a static site. The down side to this is that then you need to pay your web designer to do any edits and updates. Depending on how often you feel this may be necessary it could cost you a bundle or it can be very inexpensive. On the other hand, start-up costs for initially developing a site in a CMS are generally more. Depending on the site, this can be a toss-up between the two. You may have a small start-up budget but down the road this could change. If  you have the start-up capital and your site needs lend themselves to using a CMS you can save money later on by administering your own site after it’s live.

You also need to consider what features your site will hold. If you want a number of fancy features, a CMS may be your answer over having the site developed as static and having the designer add things on seperately. Individual add-ons to a static site may have compatibility issues with the server or the web site itself that need to be worked out. Research to find the add-ons you want, installation and testing of one or more of these to find out if they’ll work for your needs can also be costly.

As you can see, there are no definitive one-size-fits-all answers, at least not as far as I’m concerned. My stand is that developing a web site does not necessarily require the use of a Content Management System. I just cannot find it in my heart and soul to make the determination that every single site needs a CMS base. My belief is that each site is individual and that the site needs will determine whether or not a CMS is warranted.

3 responses on “Do You Really NEED a Content Management System?

  1. Stoodley says:

    hi there, i just came across your website listed on yahoo, and i would like to say that you compose exceptionally good via your blog. i am very impressed by the way that you compose, and the subject is excellent.

  2. Brian Larson says:

    There’s some in between options out there tgat SUPER easy to implement (essentially no learning curve to integrate or use). THEY’re very basic but pretty slick. Keep in mind that these are hosted CMSs so you have to hand over FTP access. The two I know of are Cushy CMS (my pref) and Surreal CMS. Hope this helps. This is not at all an advert and I have no affiliation with said solutions. :)

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