In the internet dark ages, most websites were created using HTML files. You’d have one file for every page and in order to change the content on a page, each one was edited directly.
The painstaking process was slow as each file had to be changed in every location. For instance, updating the footer on your website would mean making the change, then repeating the edit until you updated every page individually. Obviously, this process was less than ideal.
Nowadays, most websites use a back-end database to hold content, commonly known as a content management system (CMS).
A CMS provides a safe, secure and user-friendly interface to manage the contents of your website’s database while reducing the risk of user error that may affect layout and structure.
Why Use a CMS?
CMSs provide a streamlined digital experience that allows for more control for those who aren’t HTML-proficient or who can’t afford to hire a website designer to post every new blog, image update or content change.
Additional benefits of a CMS include:
- Rapid edits. A CMS lets you edit the contents of a database over the web (and, in some cases, via an app). Usually, you’ll use a form, although some CMS software lets you directly edit the page contents in a live preview. This allows you to make changes across multiple pages with a single edit or just change content on a single page with the same functionality.
- User-friendly content design. CMSs offer easy-to-use content composition and media upload tools, along with simple formatting controls to build attractive layouts.
- Accessible content management. You don’t need knowledge of HTML coding to edit your website on a CMS. Some CMSs include advanced layout editors that provide drag-and-drop composition tools or let you edit page content in a live view.
- The CMS can automate certain aspects of content delivery, such as the creation of an RSS feed from content that you create. It can also schedule posts for a future date so you can bulk up your content calendar in advance and maintain a balanced publishing schedule.
- Many CMSs have well-established user communities that extend their reach and usefulness with extensions or plugins. And because the layout and design are separate, it’s relatively easy to change the site’s look and feel by plugging in a new theme — without disrupting your content.
Often, small businesses without internal developers will elect to have a marketing agency build their website using a CMS and handover the materials when it’s complete. That way, professionals do all the in-depth build and the business is given a fully functional site that’s easy to own and operate.
Choosing a CMS
So, you’re convinced about the benefits of a CMS and you’re ready to look at the options. There are three things to bear in mind as you research:
What do you already know? If you’ve worked with WordPress before, staying with the same system for your next site may boost your productivity. Likewise, if you’re a skilled developer, choosing a basic CMS may limit your creativity.
Which database and scripting languages do you plan to use? All CMSs add onto your website’s existing code. There are a lot of coding languages out there that are universally established and practical and each of them has its own merits. If you have experience with a specific language, it may make sense to stick to your strengths.
If you’re interested in learning about a new scripting language, you can hire a web developer to build the structure of your website and fill in the rest with your CMS. Likewise, if you have a developer you’ve been working with, it makes sense to pick a CMS that aligns with their language proficiencies so they can do their best work.
What features does your website need? Many CMSs can be enhanced with plugins that can turn a simple blog into an ecommerce site, a forum or even a full-blown web application. Your plans for the new site could steer you towards one or two CMSs that offer the plugin modules that you’ll need — or a simple way to develop a new one.
CMSs to Consider
There are hundreds of CMSs to choose from, with a range of price points and unique tools between them. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite CMSs that are well-known or serve a highly specialized purpose that may be right for your small business:
WordPress powers millions of websites and is currently the world’s favorite CMS. WordPress users benefit from simple configuration, ease of administration and code that is generally pretty secure. Its is a good choice for blogs and corporate websites and offers good extensibility beyond blogging with pages and plugins.
- Free site development
- Extensive library of plug-ins and templates
- Wide familiarity among developers and designers
- Designed to be a blog-hosting site, limited scalability
- Responsible for your own security, data backups and site updates
- No native drag-and-drop design/build
HubSpot offers a full stack of software for marketing, sales and customer service, with a free customer relationship manager at its core. An all-in-one option for growth-minded businesses, HubSpot helps align your materials and target customers with your web content. If you’re already using one of HubSpot’s other tools, such as the Marketing Platform, Sales Professional or Growth Suite it may make sense to consider exploring their CMS. Here’s what to know if you’re considering HubSpot for your small business.
- Full stack of software, marketing, sales and customer service tools
- Free CRM to track CMS performance
- No customization limits
- Personalize content for visitor segments
- The CMS is relatively new so they’re still building out features
- Limited plug-in and theme options
- Learning curve for design manager tool
You’ll make the most of Drupal if you have coding experience, but the paybacks are huge. Drupal drives The White House website and benefits from almost as many free themes and plugins as WordPress.
- Free open source code for sharing ideas
- Scales well for growing companies
- Strong security features
- Requires basic coding skills to start
- Somewhat intense learning curve for new users
- Third-party modules impact site speed
Thousands of ecommerce sites are built on the Magento platform, which is available in both free and paid-for editions. It’s aimed squarely at the ecommerce market and can be extended with plug-ins to add different payment gateways. However, extending the system beyond its core functions gets expensive fast.
- Strong scalability for ecommerce
- Allows you to own multiple stores
- Huge user-community sharing plug-ins
- Higher cost than competitors
- You have to pay for a faster site
- Poor product support and unauthenticated plug-in library
Shopify is arguably among the world’s best-known ecommerce site builders and its CMS functionality makes management simple. It creates SEO-friendly listings, has drag-and-drop management and provides statistics about your store right on the dashboard.
- Fast and secure platform
- Built-in marketing tools
- Ample plug-ins for customization
- Monthly cost does not include transaction costs or credit card fees for ecommerce
- Built-in marketing tools lack depth
- Platform-specific jargon creates a learning curve for new users
CMS and Beyond
If you aren’t using a CMS to manage your website content, making the switch will save you time and money. The key is to choose the right tool for the job.
For many small business owners, a website is a major undertaking that requires significant investments of time and energy. If you don’t have someone on your team with the time and skillset to set up a CMS, working with an agency partner may be the right route for you. With a little strategy, planning and development, setting up your CMS can be a simple, transparent and time-bound project that sets your business up for long-term success.
For help planning and building your website, contact us.