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Content Management Systems – The options

A previous post was about my fondness for the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) but said little about CMSs in general, so I have made that the focus of this post. I know the majority of people know about content management systems, and many use them, but there are still a lot of people who misunderstand exactly what a CMS can do and when to use them and hopefully this will help (as well as saying what Firecrest can do for you and where we can help of course!).

The first thing to point out is that even now, there are still a lot of people who automatically associate CMSs with blogs. People have said to me when enquiring about Web sites that as they do not want or need to blog, they do not need a CMS. I always explain, and show, to clients that a CMS is a lot more than just a blogging tool (as well as pointing out the benefits of blogging!). A CMS allows you, the client, to maintain almost all of the Web site yourself, without having to know about any of the code of the site. You can update whole web pages as well as blog posts, you can add, delete, and move images as well as text, and you can do it with the ease of a word processor. If you want to update the site yourself in the future and you want to update frequently, or you want to have several different people editing the site content, then you would definitely benefit from a CMS-based Web site. You get so much more than just a content editor with most CMSs too, you get access to a whole range of features and services for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), security, and version control.

Once you have decided that a CMS would be a good option for your site, the next question is: which one? There are many, many CMSs available, both free and paid, and if you have a Web developer on board, they will probably do the deciding (or at least recommending) for you. At Firecrest, I only use free, open source, widely-used CMSs, particularly WordPress and Drupal but also use others and work to what my clients need. The choice of CMS depends mainly on what you want to do with the site, for example, will the blog be the focus of the site or the pages?

Firecrest do not have our own in-house CMS, and this is a very deliberate decision. If you use a Web design company’s own in-house CMS, the issue is that as a client you are then to some extent tied to that particular CMS. CMS technology is constantly changing and by using a widely used, open source CMS, you are helping to future proof your site. There is always the risk that you will lose touch with your web designer/developer, or want to switch designers, and it can make it more difficult to get a new web developer on board if you have used a CMS that was designed, developed and only used by your previous design company. By using a proprietary CMS you are risking being stuck with an outdated, slow system. Using one of the free, open source, standards-based CMSs, you can guarantee that should anything happen with your designer, you will easily be able to find another with experience of the particular CMS. It also keeps costs down, there should always be support available, and the underlying framework of the CMS will be continually updated.

As well as deciding upon the particular CMS, another choice is whether you pay for your own web hosting and have the CMS software installed on the server or whether you go for a hosted option (for example, http://www.wordpress.com). Again, this is something that your designer/developer will go through with you – in many cases, the best option is to host the CMS on your own web hosting, and the developer will go through all of this with you (and will deal with all of it – Firecrest certainly do, we don’t expect you to have to worry about databases or whether a Web host supports PHP (or even what PHP is!), we will deal with all of that). Having your own hosted version provides the developer with much more flexibility to design a completely customised site for you, as well as allowing you to get the most out of the power and services providing by a CMS (Search engine optimisation, links to your social networking sites, interactivity, etc).

A hosted solution however, such as at WordPress.com, is very simple and allows you to choose from a range of design templates and to get up and running very quickly. You can even, for a small fee, have your own domain name (e.g. www.yourname.co.uk instead of yourname.wordpress.com). If you are looking for a cheap, simple, but still very effective way to get a Web site up and running quickly, that you will be able to edit from a web browser and are happy to choose from a ready designed template, then a hosted solution might be the best option. You can create a hosted site yourself, but a web developer can help you to get the site up and running very, very quickly, as well as explaining and training you to use the system. If you are looking for a site with a blog, don’t mind choosing from a standard design template and having your site hosted elsewhere, but don’t want to have to spend the time wrestling with setting up a system, then contact us. We will get you up and running within a day, and can sort out a domain name for you. You will have less flexibility in how the site looks and fewer features, but as a result it costs less than our complete web development packages. This is what we have done for Shaun Hamilton, a horror fiction author, and the hosted site is available at: http://shaunhamilton.wordpress.com

If a CMS sounds like just what you need for your Web site, either a complete solution or a hosted site, then contact Firecrest and we will discuss with you the best option for your particular site. We will also train you to use and edit the site effectively after it is complete and will always be on hand to perform any required updates.

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