In the past, the website was a mysterious beast – a mass of indecipherable code, tended by a web wizard with magical tech powers. Today, building and maintaining a website can be done by almost anyone, thanks to Content Management Systems (CMS). But what is a CMS exactly? The ever-trusty Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “a piece of software that is used to organise, manage or change the content of a website.” You may well have heard of some of the more prominent brands: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all well-known. We’re going to explain why a CMS is a great idea if you’re building a website and how to choose the right one.
The benefits of using a CMS for your business website
When it comes to building a website, a CMS almost always makes sense. It puts you and your team in control, with the power to upload whatever you want, whenever you want and modify it as necessary. Some systems are simpler than others, but you don’t need to know how to code. And those aren’t the only benefits of a CMS system. Here’s a stack more below.
1. They’re easy to use
Content Management Systems are designed so that anyone can use them. The software is generally easy to navigate and the interface is user-friendly. While no tech or programming skills are required, some CMS platforms may call for a little support or experience. Spoiler: Adobe Experience Manager is not for beginners.
2. You can customise
Today’s Content Management Systems come with a smorgasbord of customisation options. You can give your website a certain look (a ‘theme’) and all kinds of functionality, thanks to ‘plug-ins’ and ‘extensions’. Design, layout, menus, colours, shopping functions, pop-ups, forms, extra security – you can build a site to your specifications with exactly the features you need. Bonus: most plug-ins and extensions can be installed with a simple click.
3. They’re great for SEO
The higher your site ranks on search engines, the better – and a CMS will do the hard work for you. They not only make it easy to add key Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) data, such as keywords, title tags and metadata, they provide tools to boost your ranking. Most CMS offer various plug-ins that are regularly updated to match search engines’ changing algorithms. Take advantage of them: SEO drives traffic to your site – your bottom line will thank you.
4. You can be responsive
With a CMS, you can update your website – fast. There’s no waiting for a web developer to do it for you; you’ve got the power in your hands. You can respond to changes in your industry, upload new products and adopt the latest website trends, all in real time. Publish instantly across tablets, laptops and mobile devices – and stay fresh and relevant.
5. Good security
Keeping on top of cyber threats is a full-time job. A CMS is only in charge of your content of course, not your whole web presence so it’ll never be able to take over from your security guards. However, a good CMS will keep your content secure. Make sure you choose a CMS that ensures the security of your content as well as that of any extensions or plug-ins.
6. There’s one for everyone
Small enterprise, showcasing a service? Growing eCommerce business with an all-singing-all-dancing online store? Whatever your trade or company, there’s a CMS out there that’s perfectly suited to you. There are plenty of Content Management Systems that are ideal for small businesses and small budgets, offering simplicity and convenience. But if you’re looking for something scale-able to support a large and ambitious enterprise, there are bags of providers for you too.
To find out which CMS would suit you best, read on…
The pros and cons of different Content Management Systems
It’s worth noting that 41% of all websites are powered by WordPress, but don’t assume that means it’s the best. Every CMS has its pros and cons – your choice will depend on your business’s particular needs.
Hugely popular and for good reason. WordPress is incredibly adaptable, offering maximum flexibility, with thousands of templates (accessible through the ‘ThemeForest’), all with reasonable pricing. WordPress also gives good SEO and is updated regularly. The WooCommerce plug-in is beloved of e-tailers and has a 25% share of the CMS eCommerce website market. However, using WordPress does involve a learning curve (although there’s plenty of support). If you have no experience in CMS, be prepared for a crash course.
Although Joomla’s market share has shrunk, it’s still the second most popular CMS after WordPress, driving 2.6% of all websites. Users love the squillions of features, simple URLSs and ready-out-of-the-box convenience. The slow loading times and weak SEO components… not so much.
The third biggest player in the CMS market, running 1.7% of all websites. Drupal is highly customisable, offering great flexibility. There’s also a high standard of customer support – which you may well need to call on. Drupal is known for being tricky to install and less scale-able and efficient.
Hosted Content Management Systems are the fastest-growing area of the market thanks to their ease of use. Wix (maybe technically a website builder rather than a true CMS) is cheap, user-friendly and great for simple static websites. It’s not so great for growing businesses that need to scale up. Best reserved for short-term use.
HubSpot gets brownie points for its excellent security, drag-and-drop templates and personalisation options. With smart web content, you can customise exactly what visitors see, according to a range of factors. HubSpot is also famed for its all-in-one publishing tool that lets you manage email and social too. However, HubSpot haters cite the steep learning curve and poor technical support.
Adobe Experience Manager (AEM)
AEM is for the big players – those prepared to pay at least £200k per year. Why is it so expensive? Because it’s the strongman of the CMS field. AEM can boost traffic through customisation options and handle significant amounts of content, including video. You can also manage multiple websites through this one solution, which comes with an ‘intelligent search approach’ and task management feature. But, despite the impressive bells and whistles, AEM does have some downsides (in addition to the cost). It can take weeks for teams to learn the basics – non-tech savvy folk beware. Add to that the need for an IT team to provide constant support, and you’ve got a CMS that’s only suitable for those with serious wonga. Budget-conscious entrepreneur? Best jog on.
Squarespace is known for its beautiful templates and user-friendly nature. Like Wix, it’s a hosted CMS that’s growing quickly. Squarespace is particularly strong when it comes to mobile, but loses points for its buggy image blocks. The plethora of styling features are also confusing rather than useful.
Magento is an open source eCommerce platform that’s mobile-friendly with great out-of-the-box features. It has a large community of Magento users, loads of extensions and plug-ins and the Community version is free. Magento can also support online merchants of all sizes and adapt to their digital growth. Disadvantages? With so many features and goodies, Magento can be difficult to learn (maybe as it’s a specialist framework, instead of a pure-bread CMS). Magento developers do exist, but they are thinner on the ground than their WordPress counterparts. And if you want the Enterprise version of Magento, be prepared to pay.
What are the alternatives to a CMS?
It is possible to build a website without a CMS. However, this requires some technical skills – knowledge of html, CSS or coding. You can employ a web developer to do the job, but this can be an expensive option that takes a lot of control out of your hands. Once the site is live, you will also be relying on a web designer to make changes (and paying them top dollar).
What CMS system should you choose for your business?
If you don’t like the bespoke development option described above, it’s time to choose a, CMS – but which one? The answer will depend on your organisation; there’s no right or wrong. For DHL, the solution was Adobe Experience Manager, as it’s great for content marketing and can support a business operating on a global scale. Here at The Maverick Group, we use WordPress – it’s user-friendly, loaded with plug-ins and lots of people within the business know how to use it. Ready to pick your CMS? Here are some factors to think about.
1. How often your site’s content will change
If your site’s content will change once a year, you probably don’t need a CMS at all. If you’ll be publishing new content every day, an easy to use CMS will repay the effort in no time.
2. Your budget
Is money no object or are you counting the pennies? If you’re on a tight budget, you might want to go with a more simple website builder such as Wix or Squarespace where you won’t be paying for hosting. Drupal and Magento are free but you may need a professional developer to give you a hand with set up. If you’ve got more financial lee-way, fantastic – the world is your CMS oyster.
3. Your website’s purpose
What do you want to do with your website? Publish blogs? Host videos? Sell things? There’s a CMS platform for every type of site, for example, Shopify, Magento and WordPress + WooCommerce are all great for online stores.
4. Your existing technology
5. Your team’s tech skills
Who will be expected to upload and edit your website content? What are their tech skills like? It’s important to select a CMS that’s on your team’s technical level, otherwise updating your site will be stressful and time-consuming. Consider what will happen if your web person leaves. Will there be someone with the ability to quickly take over?
6. Whether you need support
If you’re stuck or have a question, who will you go to? Certain CMS systems – such as Drupal, WordPress and Magento – come with huge open source developer communities. With these CMS platforms, the answer’s never far away; although it can be tricky to understand how to implement the answer sometimes!
They’re varied, customisable, good for SEO and (mostly) user-friendly: a CMS is the right choice in most situations (especially given the cost and technical difficulty of building one from scratch). The key is to find one that fits your business needs. Struggling to make your mind up? Give our experts a shout.