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What is a CMS, and Which One is Best for my Site?

A content management system, or ‘CMS’, is a bundle of tools that allows the website owner to create, manage, and edit content for their site efficiently, and (ideally) with a minimum of technical know-how. So, how do you pick the one (there are many out there) that’s right for your business? Here, we’ll try to point you in the right direction.

Do I really need a CMS?

In the early days of your business, the idea of paying for a multi-featured CMS may seem like overkill – especially if your inventory consists of a handful of products that you don’t think are going to change any time soon, or if you’re offering a single service.

So, what happens if you don’t have a CMS and you want to make changes to your site? In simple terms, with a fixed site, you have to update the pages you want to change yourself or, if you don’t have the necessary coding skills, pay someone to do it for you.

CMS positives

  • You intend to make frequent changes to your website and don’t want to have to contact your website developer every time.
  • If you’re buying your site from a web development company, though you don’t mind the idea of paying more upfront for the ability to take control over updating and editing the site. Be sure to get a quote for how much it would cost to get the company to change an existing page or add a new one, however, and then make your judgement call.

CMS negatives

  • Yours is a micro-site consisting of no more than a few pages.
  • You don’t intend to update the core content (including product or service pages) frequently.
  • You want a custom-designed, visually distinctive website where the creation of new pages is going to take more than adding text and simple image files, such as: photography or artwork websites.
  • Your current website is ‘version 1.0’ and you intend to redesign it in the near future. In these circumstances, it may be worth waiting to make your CMS investment until you are certain what shape you want your new site to take.
  • Even for a simple site that only requires a few pages, search engines like to see evidence of regularly updated and unique content. Therefore, rather than opting for a fully-fledged CMS, it may be worth considering integrating a dynamic (information that constantly changes) blog page that you can manage yourself (such as WordPress) into an otherwise static (information that never changes) site.

What to look for from a CMS

Ease of use

A simple interface and WYSIWYG editor (a program which allows you to preview the page) will allow you to create or change content, without having to do any programming.

Customisation

Are there plenty of theme templates available, so you can get the look and feel you want for the front end of your site? Consider the amount of plugins that are available for the CMS as well, as these will play a valuable role in optimising your site for your needs.

Security

Look out for a CMS with a solid reputation, and that enables you to install security plugins to protect your site and its visitors.

Support

Opt for a CMS with a large community of users and developers. This is a sign that it’s trusted, popular, and likely to continue to evolve and improve. The community may also help you with any problems you may encounter.

4 CMS’ to consider

A general Google search for a CMS will bring up thousands of results. Here’s a handful of some of the more popular options for up-and-coming e-businesses:

WordPress

Originally set up as a blogging tool, it has now evolved into a powerful CMS and website-building platform. It’s great for micro-sites and with various plugins available and can be used for more complex e-commerce sites too.

Drupal

Like WordPress, Drupal has a strong community of users and more than 6,000 plugins to help you customise your site. On the downside, it doesn’t have quite the same number of off-the-shelf templates available for it.

Joomla

Possibly not a platform you would choose for a very simple site, Joomla boasts Citibank and MTV among its users – along with an active community of 200,000 contributors.

Shopify

This is a dedicated e-commerce solution. The 3 examples listed above are all ‘open source’ platforms, i.e. free resources giving you the option of using them to build your own site, or to get a developer to build one for you. Shopify, and similar sites such as 3d Cart and Volusion, offer an alternative: a paid-for service where you can customise your own site and manage your content, but you get everything you need to manage orders and inventory all in one place. It means not having to hunt around for the right add-ons, and being able to contact dedicated customer support rather than relying on an online community (or your web developer) for technical aid. If saving time, rather than saving money, is your priority, then this could be the way to go.

Looking for more tips on how to build a site and make it visible? Check out our help centre for lots of helpful guides.

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