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What is CMS?

Has it been several years – or maybe more – since your company website was updated? Maybe you've heard the term "CMS" tossed around and are wondering what it's all about. Today, many sites are being programmed using a CMS platform, and yours probably should be, too.

A CMS is a Content Management System. It's a centralized interface that easily allows changes, additions and maintenance to a website's content. The first CMS platform appeared in the late 1990s, as a way to make sites more flexible and to simplify coding. Most are free systems that any programmer can access.

These CMS platforms are being continually updated with new versions, so they have to be monitored for updates, plugins or modules to get the most out of their functions.
CMS logos
Which CMS is Right for Your Site?
It's important to find out exactly what functions you need on your site before deciding which CMS would be the best fit. Currently, the three most popular are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. Here, we rate the three:

WordPress is probably the best-known CMS platform, given its origin as blogging software, and is our top choice for CMS. It has an easy interface, with themes and plugins that even non-programmers can install. Because it's popular, there's a better chance that plugins won't become outdated or unsupported. Drawbacks to WordPress include a vulnerability to spam, and frequent fixes and patches that require a lot of updating.

When we choose WordPress for a client's site, we don't use pre-made WordPress themes or 'skins', because most clients want a custom design and have specific needs. Plus, WordPress themes often have functional limitations, and aren't easy to change. In other words, with a theme you're stuck with many extra functions and plugins you do not need and that will potentially slow down your website. Our experience with themes has been one big headache. Instead, we design a "custom WordPress" site with a unique look, layout and functions you do need, implemented with the WordPress interface.

Drupal. Drupal offers the ultimate control in programming functionality, including custom content types  and the ability to create user profiles (for community- and membership-based sites). It's open-source and very flexible, a favorite of programmers. Drupal used to be the choice for sites that needed a more robust backend for multiple functions, but WordPress has gained on them and is now equally capable of handling those functions.

Drupal is more complex and time-consuming to implement, and therefore more costly. It's a trade-off between flexibility and cost. Our company site, Young Design, is a Drupal site. But we're switching to WordPress for the new redesign of our site.

Joomla. Joomla (the name means "all together" in Swahili) wants to appeal to everyone, and is sort of a hybrid between WordPress and Drupal. It's flexible, not too technical, and thus is a good choice for user-generated content sites. However, it does not have a stellar reputation: It is crash-prone when a site gets hit with a lot of traffic, is vulnerable to security breaches, and is not easy to upgrade. Therefore, we rarely recommend Joomla.

Training
Once we've developed a CMS site, we train our clients on how to use the backend interface to make content changes. Their changes are usually limited to certain sections of the site, leaving the site's structure and design off-limits to maintain its integrity.

Clients find the training to be fairly easy – easier if the they have some coding or blogging experience, but it's not absolutely necessary. We're on standby to help if they run into glitches or make mistakes in uploading files and can't find their way back. Enter web maintenance! (Find out why you need web maintenance.)

The Takeaway
If you haven't done so already, your site will definitely benefit from implementing a CMS. In our view, WordPress is the winner in the CMS wars. We routinely develop successful custom WordPress sites (no themes!) and encourage clients to update regularly. They're happy clients.