There are hundreds of different content management systems available, all with differing degrees of functionality, support and ease of use. The trick is selecting the option that best suits your needs, your budget, and that can be most easily managed by those who will be relied on to add and edit content.
What is a CMS?
A CMS is basically a form of software that resides on a web server and uses a database to store a large portion of the content that makes up a website. As there is no content stored on your own computer you login and use a web interface to add and edit the content that makes up your website.
The CMS system separates the content from the design of the site so that you can modify the material on your website without the need to worry about breaking the look of the pages. The CMS system will usually manage links between pages and menus for you as part of the template system that it uses.
What do you need?
In order to ensure you make the right selection for your use you need to know the answers to some key questions.
- What is your budget? Prices for CMS’s vary greatly and range from free (usually open source) versions to licensed versions costing thousands of dollars.
- What support is there? Paid versions may not necessarily be easier to use or come with more features but they should provide skilled support. Free versions often have an active user community that can provide an enormous wealth of free support and advice. The better hosting providers may also provide support from skilled staff at low or no cost.
- How hard is it to use? Not all CMS systems are intuitive and some have a steep learning curve. Normally the more feature rich the system the harder it is to get up-to-speed with its use. Again, a well supported user community can help.
- Future growth and needs? Will the CMS you choose provide a level of extensibility and a development path that will match the expected growth and future needs of your business?
- Does it match your current needs? What sort of website do you need? The type of website can vary greatly and include anything from a basic information site to a top end ecommerce solution. Does the CMS provide the flexibility necessary to allow customisation to suit any unique needs you may have? Different CMS systems provide different functionality out-of-the-box and some have plug-ins and widgets included that you may need while others can provide a means to develop these easily or cheaply.
Making a choice
As mentioned earlier the choices available are many and varied so we will cover a few of the most popular “free” versions and some of their advantages and disadvantages below.
Although it started life as a blogging tool WordPress has grown to be a popular CMS template system.
- It is easy to install (although your hosting provider should do this for you)
- It has an active user community
- There are a huge range of plug-ins available (free and paid) to add functionality not included
- It is easy to manage and the learning curve can be shortened with the high availability of learning material and resources
- Customising the core features can be difficult
- Adding custom functionality requires technical skill
- Its popularity makes it a target for hackers
- There are better options for corporate or enterprise grade websites
Originally known as Mambo this CMS has developed into a popular content management system for larger sites, club and membership sites and those wanting more functionality than provided by WordPress.
- Reasonably easy to install (your hosting provider should do this for you though) although more difficult than WordPress and configuration requires some technical knowledge
- Good for higher traffic volume sites
- Extensible for those with the know-how
- Large collection of plug-ins to choose from
- Ongoing development is slow due to reliance on volunteers
- Plug-in quality can be patchy, providing issues that affect the site operation
- A large number of the available plug-ins are for older versions
- Steeper learning curve, although numerous support resources available
A solid and dependable CMS well suited to those with technical skills or prepared to hire those that have. A favourite among educational institutions.
- Built-in access control levels
- Can handle high traffic volumes well
- Good for large sites with a lot of content
- Available plug-ins tend to be higher quality
- Complex setup requirements (best done by the hosting provider)
- Smaller support community
- Big learning curve that may require hired help or dedicated IT staff
- Many versions with differing requirements
Dot Net Nuke
A more specialised CMS that runs on ASP.NET and functions as a web application development framework. Commercial versions are also available.
- Good for custom development needs and a large number of free and commercial plug-ins already exist
- Security implementation quite good and includes access level control
- Strong user community support system and extensive documentation available
- Enterprise grade system that can handle large traffic and data volumes
- Setup needs to be performed by hosting supplier or skilled staff
- Larger learning curve than some of the entry level CMS systems (although access can be restricted to smaller and easier tasks for everyday users)
- Although modules can be developed for virtually any function these usually require a skilled developer
- Can be too complex for smaller business users unless supported by tech staff
Time spent choosing the correct CMS to suit your needs will be well spent as it is not easy (and can be costly) to change to a different platform later. Plan by determining your exact needs and who will be responsible for not only the day-to-day updates to your site but also those that may require expert help. Choose wisely when determining a hosting supplier as they may well be the one who provides the fall back for technical or advanced work required to ensure you achieve the necessary functionality for the life of your website.