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What is a Content Management System?

Put simply, a Content Management System (CMS) should separate the design of a website (theme, template)  from the content – articles, pages, media etc. that you create.
Find out why you may need one for your website.

You will probably have heard of them even if you don’t know exactly what they do or what they are used for.  Some popular Content Management Systems are WordPress (this site runs on it), Joomla!, Silver Stripe and Expression Engine.  There are many, many, many more.

Unfortunately separating content from design is not quite that clear-cut but it’s pretty darn close.  Close enough to save you money in the long-term if you need to update your website regularly.

Static Websites

The term ‘static website’ is generally used by web designers to mean a web site consisting of web pages that do not change often and if they do need updated can usually only be done by a developer.

Sounds awful from your perspective right.  So why do it?

It’s all about development time and ultimately cost really.

For a web designer, it is generally (we use that word a lot here!) quicker to mix in the web page content at the design phase, making sure everything is nice and neat.  They will code it up in whatever language they are most comfortable with and hence the quickest to implement.

Once the developer is happy, they will put it up to the hosting site.  As the content doesn’t change, there’s not really much that can break the web page so it’s all done and dusted.

If the page needs updated however, because the content is all mixed up with the design, the developer has to make this change and that of course means time and money.

Updating Your Own Website Content

This is where a CMS comes in handy and where you can recoup money over the long-term.

Although most of the popular CMS’s are free to download and install, they will require a web designer to set-up and create a working template that will reflect your website’s brand image; logo, style, colours and functionality etc.  More on that in a mo.

A CMS simply splits the website in to two parts; the “Front-End” and the “Back-End”.

The Front-End

This is the part of the website that your visitors will see, the pages.  It looks the same as a static web page would (if the designer has done a good job!).

Nothing new here so let’s move on.

The Back-End

This part of the website is where it all happens.  Loosely speaking the back-end can be split into a further two sections; the “Admin Dashboard” and the “Template”.

The Admin Dashboard

Sometimes called the “Control Panel”, this is the part of the website where you as the website owner or editor will login to with a username and password.

A whole host of options will be presented to you from the dashboard allowing you to control the content of the website and to a certain extent, the way it looks.

Some common examples of what you can do from the dashboard are:

  • Create articles or “posts”
  • Create, edit and update menus and menu items
  • Change the content on web pages
  • Upload and manage media i.e. pictures, video and audio
  • Add third-party plug-ins or modules to a web page to extend flexibility i.e. twitter feed, Flikr slide show
  • Manage users, subscriptions and comments

Pretty powerful control over your website I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Template

This is the whizz-bang part that a web designer is needed for.  It’s what makes the “Font-End” look like a proper site with your logo, branding and functionality.  Without it, your site would look and act like any other default installation of whatever CMS you had chosen.

The template sets out the design of the pages of a website where all this content you’ve created using the dashboard, can be displayed through and the format it is displayed in.

The cost of developing a website with an integrated CMS may sound high initially and the cost will depend on the complexity of the template design, but it may say you some pennies in a year or two.

Template design is usually a one-off cost, so if it’s done properly you are able to update your website for free thereafter.  If you were to go back to a developer for every web page update, that would be costly.

Bespoke Websites

Not all websites can fit into this model of separating content from design and living happily every after with your CMS of choice.

Content Management Systems are generally good at common and “popular” things but not brilliant at specific or new “things” and of course customers sometimes don’t like the way a part of the CMS generates the Front-End look.  Or you may need something that hasn’t been thought of before.  These types of scenarios will likely lead you back to a web designer to help you achieve your goal and rightly so.

Bespoke development is needed to keep the Internet full of fresh new ideas and innovations.

In Summary

Static websites are a great low-cost way of getting a simple website up and running as long as you don’t need to update it often.

A Content Management System (CMS) is generally more costly to initially develop but will give you the freedom to update the website for free thereafter.

A CMS doesn’t do everything and some of the things it does will drive you just nuts, but nothings perfect.  Sometimes you will have to go back to a web designer for a bespoke solution.

It’s all about getting the right amount of bang for your bucks.

If you have a website idea and not sure what to do or how much it will cost, fill out our contact form and well help you get that website up and running in no time.

Keep In Touch

Wil

Wil is a dad, consultant, developer, conference organiser, speaker and business mentor. He co-organizes the WordPress Sydney meetup group and has been on the orgnising committee for WordCamp Sydney since 2014. He speaks at many technical events and contributes to the WordPress open source project. His likes are chillies, craft beer and electrogravitics.
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