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Web Content Management Systems

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Do I Need a Content Management System?

A content management system (CMS) is often used to run websites for blogs, news, and/or shopping. CMSs typically aim to avoid the need for hand coding when updating or adding content. CMSs also often provide additional interactive functionality like shopping carts, feedback forms, custom searches, and more.

Many CMSs are dynamic, combining content from a database with HTML/CSS/JS from a template either on the fly, or cached. But even many static sites use a CMS, either via powerful caching or by pre-publishing HTML pages in advance.

Any time you plan on having more than a single web page using a similar layout, you can benefit from a CMS.

Benefits of web CMS

  • Easy content editing. Most web CMSs enable non-technical people to edit page content through a graphical web editor that makes it easy to format text, add images, and create hypertext links, all without needing to know HTML.
  • Separation of content, design, and functionality. At the heart of any web CMS is the concept of separating the page content (the words and content images) from page design and business logic. Templates contain all of the page design, including the layout, navigation, and other common elements. When a new page uses a template, only the page content has to be added. The CMS automatically handles the task of merging the page content into the design template.
  • Design consistency. When a common web page element, such as the site footer, needs a change, it can be applied just once to the template. All pages using that template then reflect that change automatically.
  • Self-management of your website. A web developer sets up a web CMS and builds the web page templates. A good CMS, however, enables non-technical folks to administer the website and make content changes, add new sections and pages, upload images and files, and do other day-to-day tasks.

When is it right to use a web CMS?

Websites always change. They need to change to stay relevant, accurate, and up-to-date. Whether it’s the page content or the common page elements, web CMSs help make those changes easy to manage.

You might think that small sites won’t change, and therefore don’t need a web CMS. Our experience leaves no doubt that all sites require changes from time to time. Web CMSs make those changes possible without having to hire a web developer.

Many think web CMSs cost too much. However, many web CMSs are free and open source. Total cost over the life of the website is significantly less with a web CMS despite the upfront development cost.

Common Features

  • Web-based administration. Once the web CMS is set up, site administrators use a web interface for content editing and administrative tasks, such as adding and removing users, setting up automated publishing, viewing usage reports, and assigning permissions.
  • Permissions management. Depending on the particular CMS, groups of users may be granted permissions for editing, review, approval, or full administration. Typically this can be done on a site, section, folder, or even page-by-page basis.
  • Reusable content. Most web CMSs allow content to be referenced on multiple pages. For example, a site map might show the titles of all pages on a site. If a title changes, the site map automatically reflects it.
  • Reusable page elements. In addition to standalone page templates, common elements like footers or banners can be made into reusable chunks and then included in many templates.
  • Pre-built website features, plug-ins, or modules. Most CMSs have libraries of add-ons or modules, like tag clouds, send-to-a-friend tools, image galleries, and forums.
  • Workflow. Often the person who publishes web page updates isn’t the one who edits the page or reviews the changes. Workflows set rules for who can edit, review, and publish web content. Notifications can be sent when workflow steps are pending and/or completed.
  • Versioning. Many CMS tools allow for previous versions of web pages to be archived and easily restored. Some tools also let you compare versions.
  • Pre-publish or staging environments. A staged site is a duplicate of the live site, but private. It’s handy for previewing changes without affecting the live site.

Important considerations in choosing a web CMS

  • Hosted vs. self-managed. Hosted web CMSs are available usually for a recurring subscription fee. This model is also referred to as “software as a service” (SaaS). With a hosted CMS, all software maintenance is taken care of, and often website hosting is available, letting you concentrate on building your website and entering content. Alternatively, other web CMSs are downloadable at no cost or for a one-time price, but require installation and periodic upgrades.
  • Open source vs. proprietary. Open-source web CMSs are usually free and supported by large developer communities. Documentation, however, is often lacking. Proprietary systems are supported and maintained by a central organization, usually for a price.
  • Dynamic vs. static pages. Most web CMSs store page content and templates in a database, then build the web pages on the fly as web users navigate to them. Other web CMSs merge templates with page content ahead of time, so that static pages are served from the web server. Static pages offer faster page-load times and the ability to serve more simultaneous users, but the publishing process can be time-consuming. A few CMSs can give you the best of both worlds, through customizable, full or partial page caching of their dynamic content.

SilverStripe Professional Partner

Our preferred solution is SilverStripe

SilverStripe is a programming framework and web content management system (CMS), built on the model-view-controller (MVC) design pattern. SilverStripe works best for medium-sized sites requiring complex relationships between data types, custom functionality, or precise control over the visual display. Quinn Interactive, Inc. is an official, certified SilverStripe partner. This strategic alliance means that when QI works on your SilverStripe-based Web CMS or Web application implementation, we do so with the full backing and technical support of SilverStripe's headquarters in New Zealand.

Learn more about SilverStripe