Do I need a CMS? (And what the heck *is* a CMS . . . ?)

If you’re looking at getting a new website, you may have heard the phrase “CMS” or “Content Management System. In theory it’s pretty straightforward – a CMS is a system that allows you to manage your website’s content. When deciding whether you need a CMS, however, there are a few things you need to take into account.

What are the advantages of a CMS?

The key advantage of a CMS is that puts you in control of updating your website. This can save you money in the long run, particularly if you are frequently updating your website. It also means that you can update your website in your own time – you don’t have to work around a web developer’s schedule.

Frequently adding fresh, interesting content to your website can be a valuable way for you to promote yourself and improve your rankings in search engines, so the ability for you to do your own updates is obviously essential if this is part of your marketing strategy.

That sounds great, are there any downsides?

Unfortunately – as with everything! – there are. Most of the popular CMS frameworks, while powerful in what they can do, are also pretty sizeable. Even when optimised, they will add to the download time of your website’s pages. As more and more of the traffic on the web comes from people using mobile devices over telecommunications networks, fast page speed loading time is increasingly crucial.

You may also find that with gaining control over your website, you lose control of how it looks, especially if there are a lot of people in your organisation that share the job. A set of content guidelines can help this issue – but if having a consistent, good looking website is important to you, you might need to more plan carefully for your CMS. Knowing exactly what parts of the site your staff will be able to change – and in some cases restricting their access to certain areas – can minimise this issue.

Another issue is with using the CMS itself. In theory the control a CMS gives you is great, in practice I’ve found a lot of clients end up simply not using their CMS because it’s too complicated. Your knowledge and confidence with computers – or that of your staff – needs to be taken into consideration when planning whether you need a CMS, and/or what ongoing training and support you might need to make sure it works for you.

So when would I NOT need a CMS?

Some companies simply don’t update their websites often enough to justify having a CMS. If your website is like an online “brochure” for you, it might turn out to be more cost-effective just to leave the CMS out of your negotiations. You might be able to get a better deal by negotiating a service contract, or even just getting a quote on website updates as and when you need them.

Overall, the decision as to whether you need a CMS is up to you. When getting quotes on your new website just keep in mind these guidelines:

  • Realistically, how often will you be updating your website? If it’s not that often, will it be cheaper not to get a CMS? Ask for two quotes – with and without CMS – to compare.
  • What framework does the web developer use/recommend? Ask for a demonstration of an existing site to see the ease of use.
  • What training can the web developer provide for the system? How much will this cost?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you should have a good idea if a content management system is right for you!

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