- So you’re planning a website for your small business and wondering “Should I use a CMS?” Having a website with a Content Management System (CMS) means that you can update webpage content yourself, without needing to constantly employ the services of a web designer. A CMS simplifies the process of adding and changing content so that you don’t need to understand the underlying code (HTML, CSS and all that techo stuff). Sounds good right? Well, as I find myself so often saying in this business…
There are plenty of traps in doing it yourself.
Your lovely, new, fully-functional website can, over time, turn into a bloated, messy, hard-to-navigate site that could turn visitors away rather than keep them coming back for your updated content. How is this so? Don’t forget why you employed a (hopefully good) web designer in the first place. Just as you’re not likely to employ the services of an accountant for one year and then say “hey, think I can do it myself from now on”, you use a web designer for their expertise in an area where you don’t have the time, or the inclination, to develop that expertise yourself. So just because you CAN update your website, doesn’t mean you can do it well.
When I build a website with a CMS, I always charge quite a bit more for the privilege. Not because I’ll get less revenue from ongoing changes, but because it takes that much more thought and effort to create a good CMS website for you. If I need to make changes myself to a website at a later date, it’s easy to modify things along the way if they no longer look right. But when I have to think ahead about all the types of changes that a non-technical client might want to make, and safeguard against it stuffing up the layout, there’s a lot more planning and effort (not to mention documentation, and training, and support).
So before I will recommend that you pay for a CMS-based website, I like to establish what you envisage you will want to change, and whether you will have the level of comfort to do so yourself.
Do you really need a CMS?
Firstly, consider how dynamic your site’s content will be. If all you desire is to add blog posts for new content (and for good SEO), you can have a blog page as part of your non-CMS site and still be able to write and publish blog posts yourself. It’s simple enough to add a WordPress blog page to a standard HTML site. Or if you just want the ability to add new photos – say for a builder or landscaper’s website — you can get an add-on DIY photo gallery as part of a standard website.
Secondly, decide whether you really feel comfortable in writing your own copy. Do you struggle with spelling and grammar? If you can never remember the difference between affect and effect, compliment and complement, your and you’re, might your website lose its professional sheen? If you don’t know how to find and use the correct keywords for search engine optimisation (SEO) – or don’t have the time and inclination to do so – your new content might not be indexed correctly or attract the right customers. Unfortunately, amateurish copy can turn visitors away or, even worse, damage your brand.
Thirdly, weigh up the costs. It might be better to negotiate a maintenance package with your web designer – a monthly fee (with accumulative credits) or an hourly rate for updates as needed. Consider this occasional cost against the upfront payment for the CMS itself, the additional coding that the designer may need to do, the cost of training and documentation. You might find it’s cheaper to skip the CMS.
Pitfalls of using a CMS:
1. There are a lot of different content management systems available, and your web designer may use their own favourite, or even an in-house one. Beware of lock-in, especially with the latter. If you want to transfer your site to another hosting service and/or designer, you might need the whole site rewritten.
2. Be clear on what you will be able to do with your CMS.
- Can you only update text? Are parts of the site “locked down” to prevent you changing the format? Someone I know paid a large sum for a CMS-based site, only to find that they were unable to add their own blog posts!
- Can you add/change images? Will you need to create images in a certain size, and do you have the skills to do that yourself? Will images of the wrong size break the layout of the site?
- Will you be able to add new pages? How difficult will this be? Will they be indexed automatically – will they appear on the navigation menus?
- Can you unpublish pages yourself if they become out-of-date or unnecessary?
3. Be realistic about your available time and skills – and patience levels – for keeping your site updated. When I build a CMS-based site, I provide my clients with hands-on training and thorough step-by-step documentation (these are a must, so make sure your website quote includes these items!)
- There is definitely still a learning curve and it can take a while for you to grasp the concepts of any CMS.
- If you designate the work of updating the site to one staff member, and they leave, you might find you need to pay to train up their replacement.
- Even if you do it yourself, if you only make an update every 6 months, you might find yourself having to relearn each time. (If you do only make updates every 6 months, I’d suggest pay your designer an hourly rate to do the changes for you.)
4. Other questions to ask your web designer about their proposed CMS:
- Does it include a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor? Ask to see an update in action, so you know whether you’ll be comfortable using it on your own.
- Will it present friendly URLs? These are the easy-to-read-plain-english page names (like the one on this blog), instead of an internal-code style page name such as “index.php?id=10”. They look better, are user-friendly, and also SEO-friendly. Most CMSes will provide this as an option, so make sure up-front that you will get friendly URLs included in your website.
- When the CMS software needs updating, will there be a cost for the update process? And will the upgrade require some downtime of your site?
- Will you need to write all your content directly within the CMS, or can you copy and paste into it (e.g. from Microsoft Word)? Some CMSes will mangle the formatting from Word, and you might need some coding skill to correct it.
- Will you be able to change the formatting of text – colour, size, font, etc? Or are those elements of the design fixed in place?
A CMS is a really useful tool when used correctly and where it fulfils your business’ needs. But they’re not the be-all and end-all, so don’t feel you’ve been short-changed if you don’t get one with your website.
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