Content Management Systems

June 04, 2014

Roi Agneta

Anyone who has a website is familiar with its two defining moments: the thrill of launching a new site and the agony of keeping it up to date. Some are lucky enough to have a skilled webmaster on staff, but many others struggle with the quite complex issue of keeping a website fresh and up to date.

Websites are built upon some very sophisticated software technologies and complicated frameworks. New features and demands for increased sophistication are making it even more complex. In fact, it has already reached a point where casual users can do little more than update a few text areas and upload new images.

Some Practical Solutions

If you want to keep your site up to date - and in many cases this is not optional - you have three basic choices: learn to use a WYSIWYG editor, such as Dreamweaver; hire a skilled webmaster; build or convert your site to a Content Management System (CMS).

Learning to use an editor is far more difficult than it may appear. If you keep it simple, and if your web developer did a good job of constructing the underlying code, you can get by just fine. But websites are very fragile constructs - misplace one quote mark or backslash and it instantly turns into a mess that usually requires expert help. There is also the issue of your time - if you are busy running a business you probably do not have lots of spare time to squander on HTML

Hiring a webmaster is a better choice, but, unless you have a large, very dynamic site, it probably does not make sense as a full-time position. So, you could hire a contractor, but that opens up a whole new set of issues, the most significant of which is reliability.

One excellent approach that is gaining in popularity is to use a CMS.

Content Management System Primer

OK, so what is this magic bullet and, if it is so great, why didn’t my web developer use one to start with? A simple answer to the first part of that question: a CMS is a software-based system for managing web content and web features (more on that later) without requiring any technical knowledge on part of the user, other than basic computer skills. The second part of that question can have any number of answers.

Although CMSs are easy to administer, they are not easy to implement and often involve skills and knowledge that go well beyond the basics of web site development. As a result, not all web developers have experience using them. Another reason is that up until recent times commercially available CMSs came in two flavors: very expensive or very specialized, so their use was somewhat limited. This is no longer true - there are literally dozens of very affordable (some are even free) and very powerful systems now available, and they can be used to effectively address almost any kind of website.

One very useful feature in most CMSs is the ability to set “publish by” and “unpublish” dates. This addresses one of the biggest problems many site owners have, which is removing outdated material. For example, you announce, in late June, that you will be having a 4th of July sale. Using manual methods, you would have to go into the site on July 5th and remove the notice; if you forget, future site visitors will not be impressed. Using a CMS, you can set the unpublish, or expiry date when the notice is originally published, and the matter will be dealt with automatically. It is as simple as picking the date - no coding or secret decoder rings necessary!

Conclusions

If you have never considered a CMS I would encourage you to do so. Keep in mind that there are quite a few out there - some better than others, of course - but wading through the choices is a fairly daunting task, so consider consulting with an expert and, if possible, make contact with a business owner running the one you are interested in. Of course, I would be more than happy to hear from you on this subject!

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