Your website is one of the main ways your organization and your brand presents itself to the world. It should draw users in, guide them to the information they need and help them understand your brand. What many people don’t realize is that at the core of a website — behind the design and attached to the code — is a Content Management System that plays a huge role in defining what your website can do or look like.
What is a CMS?
A Content Management System (CMS) is a platform that connects your content to your website. It’s a go-between: it allows you to make changes to your website’s design and content without needing a developer to change the code.
The CMS landscape is broad, giving you lots of options to choose from. For example, you could pick a proprietary CMS that may have licensing fees or an Open Source CMS that’s maintained by a community of developers and doesn’t cost anything to use.
We’re partial to Open Source CMSes — we believe that Open Source product development allows for higher quality, greater reliability, more flexibility and lower costs. Open Source development allows you to use thousands of themes and add-ons for free thanks to a community of developers who contribute their work back to be reused by anyone. Read more about our point of view on Open Source.
Some CMSes (Open Source and proprietary) also have the ability to be “decoupled,” meaning that the front-end (what it looks like) can be built on a different platform than the back-end (where the information lives). This gives you more flexibility with the site’s design and features. The front-end can be designed using whatever language your developers prefer, and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), which allow information from different systems to make contact with one another, are used to connect the front-end design code to the back-end CMS.
What to Consider in a CMS
It may seem easy to pick a CMS based solely on how many developers you have access to. In reality, you should weigh other factors beyond developer resources, whether you’re selecting a CMS for a new site or switching to a new CMS on an existing site. The CMS you choose should be able to function and scale as your organization needs it to and be the right fit for your unique goals and supporting team.
Your organization may not have easy access to development resources after your initial site is built. In these situations, a CMS — especially one with an easy authoring experience — is crucial for continued improvement. Your CMS allows your entire team to collaborate and move fast to make website updates, instead of waiting on a development team to translate your instructions into code, that then needs to be tested and made live. When everyone can add or edit content, it’s also harder to lose important information when handing off changes to development. Depending on how your organization is structured, your CMS may need more complex moderation options or more flexibility in user permissions. Not all CMSes can support this.
Your CMS also influences the technical strength of your website. You want a website that loads quickly, is easy to use and isn’t plagued by downtime. You need it to be secure, protect users’ data, be accessible, show up well in search engines and handle different amounts of traffic.
The amount and type of content your website hosts should be a primary factor when deciding what CMS is the best technical option. Not every CMS is equipped to handle large volumes of content. A website builder like Wix might be great for a small business’ landing page, but it will likely fail if forced to handle large amounts of content like a company’s intranet. Your website could look beautiful, but the way your CMS works technically will ultimately determine how well your website works for users and internal teams managing your web presence.
Your website needs to do what you need it to do today, but also have enough flexibility to adapt when your organization’s needs change in the future. Your CMS determines how scalable your website can be. It affects the cost of making changes, the speed at which your team is able to innovate and your website’s ability to handle more content or traffic. You need your CMS to easily handle adjustments your organization might make, such as adding content authors, collecting new data or simply changing page design to match a rebrand. The workflow dictated by your CMS shouldn’t hold you back from meeting users’ needs and evolving your organization.
Partner With Us
With so many nuances to consider, choosing a CMS (or moving to a new one) can be complicated. If you need an extra opinion, or even a partner to help you define and build your new site on an Open Source CMS, we’re here to help. Send us a note and we’ll get something on the calendar.
Tessa Kohler is a senior creative strategist at Mediacurrent. Her dream is to one day open a DMV that functions smoothly and people actually won’t mind visiting.