In this post I will look at the different types of content management system (CMS), helping you to find the right one for your project.
Before you can start building a website, you need to decide on the system that it is going to be built in and given the value of content marketing, usually you will want a content management system for your site. There are so many content management systems on the market; some are open source and free to use, others charge a subscription fee. You can also build a customised system too. With so many on the market, choosing the right one for your project can often be difficult so in this series of posts, I will take you through what a content management system is, the difference between an open source and a propriety CMS and I will compare platforms, looking at the pros and cons of various popular content management systems.
So What is a Content Management System?
A content management system is a tool that helps you to manage content. It allows people with limited to no technical knowledge to manage the content on their site; adding new content and editing existing content. Whilst some CMSs make adjusting the design straight forward, to get a professional look and feel and functioning well, you will probably require a website developer to build the site for you.
The CMS is integral to the site and can’t easily be changed at a later date without rebuilding much of the site and therefore it is important to make the right decision at the beginning. When choosing a CMS, it is a good idea to ask around and get advise from experts but when you do so, make sure you are asking the right questions. If you just ask a general question of what is best, you will get a general answer and normally it will be based on what that person knows best and not necessarily best for your project – most companies have a site built in a particular system because the developer who built the site knows that system best, not because the system suits their needs best.
So what CMS is Best?
In short, there isn’t a best and a worst CMS, simply which one is suited best to your project needs. In order to find the system that is most suited to your project, you first need to understand the different options that are out there. There are 3 main categories; open source, propriety/enterprise and a custom built CMS. Open source and propriety content management systems are out of the box solutions that you then customise to your requirements, a custom CMS is one that you build from scratch. An out of the box solution tends to be much quicker to build as a lot of the coding is already done and it usually has been tried and tested by thousands of people, removing bugs and security issues. The downside is that it has been built for a variety of purposes and therefore the dashboard layout and coding is a compromise. A custom built CMS is purpose built but far more labour intensive and won’t have been tested to the same extent as out of the box solutions. The quality is also completely dependant on the person who built it and the time they spent on it.
Most web development agencies use out of the box solutions these days because usually there isn’t the need to design a custom CMS and they can provide customers with better value for money.
What is the difference between an Propriety/Enterprise CMS and an Open Source CMS?
An enterprise or propriety CMS is one that you have to pay for; either an upfront amount or a subscription, or a combination of both. An open source CMS is a free to use out of the box solution. This doesn’t mean that propriety systems are better though or that an open source system is cheap and cheerful. There are some very good propriety systems out therefore and there are some less good ones. They also range massively in price. Likewise there are some very good open source solutions out there as well as some not very good ones. Some have lots of free plugins helping to keep the development costs low, others you have to build yourself.
By paying for a CMS, you are getting some form of accountability should something go wrong. Having said that, most web development agencies provide a certain level of support and can resolve most issues. The support offered by propriety and open source solution tends to differ, mainly the their approach. With a propriety solution you tend to contact the company directly whereas most open source platforms are forum lead and solutions can be found online and questions posted to support forums.
I tend to use open source solutions unless the requirements are such that it requires propriety software or if the client specifies that they want it as it helps to keep the cost down. Usually it tends to be down to the size of the company and their budget. Most propriety systems lend themselves better to larger sites, especially sites with intranets. E-commerce systems I will deal with separately in a later post, looking at open source platforms like Magento and WordPress and proprety systems Magento Enterprise, Zencart, Shopify etc.
If you are looking at propriety systems, make sure you understand what you are paying for and what is extra. I have come across propriety systems where certain features are locked, preventing you from modifying certain aspects of the site and thus forcing you use their developers. My advise would be to stick with the popular systems that are well-known and to avoid buying a companies own CMS as you want to have the facility to move your site elsewhere and to use other developers should you wish. Buying a company’s own CMS can result in you being tied to them when you don’t want to be. You also need to understand what comes in the standard package and what are ‘bolt ons’.
If Open Source is Free, Why Do Web Development Agencies Charge for Them?
Open source platforms are free and offer an out of the box solution, significantly reducing the development costs however they do not provide a finished website. Whilst they are ready to use, you still have to do a lot of development work in order to customise the site to a clients liking and it is this development work that web development agencies charge for. You can download WordPress, use a free theme and in minutes you have a website but the look and feel would not be very good. You will probably need a developer to build a professional looking, customised site.
Finding the Right CMS for Your Project
There are so many different systems out there, each with certain pros and cons. In order to find the right CMS for your project, you need to be asking the right questions. While a web development agency can guide you, they need to have an understanding of your budget and your requirements. Here is a list of things to consider that will help you:
What Price Bracket are You In?
There are content management systems on the market for all price points. To allow the agency to advise you best, it is important that they know your budget. The assumption tends to be for big companies to have enterprise solutions and small companies to have open source CMSs as budgets tend to be higher and the website larger. With this said though, there is little point having a propriety solution if the specification doesn’t warrant it and a the specifications can be met with an open source solution at a dramatically reduced cost. For example; there is no point on building a WordPress site for a company if they are going to require an intranet in the near future as development costs will be wasted. Likewise there is no point on a company having a Microsoft SharePoint site if they have no actual need for it and the same site can be built in WordPress for a tenth of the cost.
Does it need to Be Easy to Use?
As a general rule, the more complex the system is, the harder it is to use. Large sites have lots of folders making it harder to find things and more complex sites have increased functionality and tend to result in a more complex dashboard. Some sites warrant a complex system as they need it to do a lot of things, other companies don’t and the site would be far easier to use if it was built in something simple, not to mention the development costs lower.
WordPress tends to be the easiest to use and the most simple, Joomla is harder and Drupal is harder still. Enterprise solutions vary a lot but do tend to be more complex and harder to use, however most companies using them tend to have their own IT department and so this is less of an issue.
What Technology Do You prefer?
This tends to only be a question for larger companies with their own IT departments. If you have your own IT department and they will be maintaining the website for you, you need to choose a technology that they are familiar with and know well. For many smaller companies, this is not a consideration as they won’t be maintaining the site themselves and so it doesn’t really matter what technology the website is built in, and rather they will mainly be concerned with how easy it is to use.
What Do You Require it To Do?
A website can vary massively. It can be a simple site with only a handful of pages and with a relatively low number of users or it can be a large site with an intranet, document management system etc. There maybe a need for it to be very secure or the security need may be relatively low as the likelihood and associated costs should someone hack in be relatively low. Some companies may require a system with a support service, others may not. You also need to consider future projects too. The best sites have evolved over time. Changing technology and systems typically increases development costs and opens the door to certain teething problems and it is much better if you can stick to the same system.
What programs Do Your Want To Integrate With?
Most programs can be integrated into any website however the associated cost can vary hugely. Do you have a CRM system that you want integrating in, do you have marketing automation software, email marketing software etc.?
A lot of the larger back-office software companies will have experience with popular CMS platforms and may even offer integration at no added cost. Information on how to integrate a particular back-office software will greatly reduce the development costs and make the process much easier.
How Big is the Site?
With regards to open source content management systems, WordPress is great for sites with simple frameworks, Joomla is better for more complicated frameworks and for large complicated frameworks, Drupal is more suited. Enterprise solutions naturally lend themselves much better to more complicated frameworks as larger companies tend to buy them.
How Much Traffic Will Your Site Receive?
Systems like WordPress are great as they have lots of plugins available making development relatively straight forward and helps to keep the costs low. The drawback though is the site will slow down the more plugins that you have. This is a low consideration if the load on the site is low and you don’t have the need for data intensive files on your site as the associated speed will be negligible.
What Level of Security Do You Require?
All websites should have a good level of security and there are things that you can do to improve that security – have a look at my post on WordPress Security. That being said, a Microsoft SharePoint site will tend to have a higher level of security than a WordPress site because of the way it has been coded. For most small to medium sized businesses, a WordPress site will be a good, cost-effective platform to use and while you will want the site to be secure, it probably doesn’t need to be Fort Knox as there probably isn’t any information of value to steal, nor would it be big news if the site was hacked into. A large multi-national on the other hand will probably have an intranet linked into it and so it probably will have important information in it and it probably would make the news if it was hacked into and therefore you have a need for it to be that much more secure and have the budget to pay for it.
There are lots of CMSs on the market, the best one for you will depend on your requirements. I personally like to keep things simple and use open source for most projects and only use enterprise solutions when the project warrants it and the budget allows. I try to choose a platform that allows growth and doesn’t require a system change in the near future and one that is easy to use.
If you have any questions, please drop a comment below and I will answer it as quickly as I can. If you have a web development project, get in touch with us today to see how we can help. For more free digital marketing advise, subscribe to our newsletter below: