Breaking Down the CMS and Why Your Site Should Use One
Content Management Systems, also commonly known as CMS, are becoming more rapidly deployed and in higher demand for both small scale and large scale businesses and organizations worldwide. Despite the more rapid development and implementation of these systems on the web-space many people continue to know nothing about them.
Enter the CMS
WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the three hottest open source content management systems on available on the market today. While they mainly operate in similar ways, they also differ greatly depending on how and what you want to implement on your site.
Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal all use the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) development package. These technologies are entirely free for use and open development on the internet which make them the most rapidly developing software packages available today. One huge benefit of these CMS using the LAMP package is that due to its open source nature many issues can be solved through a simple google search and hunting on the web.
Being that I do much of my work using WordPress I will be using it as an example throughout the remainder of this article.
Unlike Joomla and Drupal, WordPress was first designed to be a blogging platform for use by personal & professional bloggers. It allowed for a quick and easy way to get a simple blogging site up and hosted quickly and with little to no help.
However, with the increased development of plugins and the core structure WordPress has evolved into one of the most popular and powerful open-source systems on the market. Currently about 13.3% of the web is running on WordPress with a marketshare of 54.7% of all CMS usage across the web.
So How Does a CMS Work?
Before the rapid development of current CMS most web pages were built and maintained by hand using HTML, CSS and in larger more advanced websites a server-side language such as PHP or ASP with an accompanying database system to store certain information to display to the user. The amount of time and skill needed to perform the necessary updates and maintenance to a website was often too expensive for smaller companies to compete on the web space with larger companies.
A CMS essentially:
- Stores the content for each page in a database
- Provides a user interface for updating the sites content
- Allows customization through the use of widgets and plugins
- Allows the ability to switch designs (Also known as themes in WordPress and skins elsewhere) at the click of a button.
Database database database!
A CMS stores each piece of page or post content into a record in a database. When a user requests a page the database is queried (requested) to retrieve the content and other data associated with that particular page of the site. That data is then sent into a specific page template within the theme of your WordPress installation. Which is styled using standard methods of HTML/CSS.
Being that sites using WordPress are dynamically driven by a MySQL database and PHP, making changes to many pages at once is very easy and painless. Unlike a static web-site of 100 pages an identical WordPress site would use many less individual page files.
These databases can be very complicated for an idea of how complicated a CMS database structure can be check out this WordPress database diagram.
Wordpress enables a quick and user-friendly solution to deploy dynamic sites that would have cost thousands of dollars to deploy a few short years ago. In short, a CMS can save your company big money and produce a professional web-presence while organizing your sites information in a safe and secure way.
Easy to Learn & Cheap to Maintain
Before the time of the CMS many websites were developed, operated and maintained by a highly trained and educated web professional called a webmaster or something similar. Often times the updates needed to the site was not something that someone untrained in HTML or web technologies would be able to do. While customizing a CMS installation can be a large development job, the beauty of it is that general content updates are very easy to do with little training.
A CMS can cut costs but it also allows for easy updates by an untrained employee or client. WordPress provides users with a text-editor like interface for writing page content for those who are less fluent with the HTML tag structures and practices. This is perhaps the most underrated aspect of many systems because of the little amount of training needed to familiarize a client or employee with the interface. Before the time of content management systems the chance that a client or employee would be able to maintain an entire website on their own with little training was very small. Again we see a cut in cost for businesses.
Complete Flexibility via Plugins
The third and final aspect of a Content Management System is their use of plugins and or widgets to customize your site for your individual needs. Plugins are essentially programs that are written to attach to the core of WordPress to extend and enhance the abilities of the site. Plugins add features to your site that you would typically need to pay a developer for.
These plugins can range from simple URL management to implementation of an online forum and much more. Many WordPress plugins are free and can be installed with just a click of a button in the WordPress interface.
Some of the WordPress plugins I suggest are:
- All In One SEO Pack – Adds great tools for search engine optimization
- WP Supercache – Great for speeding up a media rich site.
- Custom Permalinks – Allows the user to rewrite the pages permalink or set a specific structure to be used sitewide.
- Exclude Pages – Pretty Simple but extremely useful for pages that you do not want in your menu such as form thank you pages or google adwords campaign landing pages.
- Gravity Forms – A great paid plugin this makes form implementation a 5 minute job. Read our post about Integrating Gravity Forms with Saleforce CRM Systems.
- BM Custom Login – Want a custom login for your WordPress installation? Now you can have it.
- Dagon Design Sitemap Generator – Great tool for building and customizing an HTML sitemap.
- Google XML Sitemaps – Quick and easy XML sitemap generator to submit to google/yahoo/bing
- Exec-PHP – Allows use of <?php ?> tags inside the WordPress posts/page content
- Lightbox 2 – Great for viewing pictures full size from a gallery.
The great thing about plugins for WordPress is that they are developed by people all over the country and finding a custom plugin developer provides you with many choices for often good prices.
So Why Use a CMS?
We have already discussed how a CMS can reduce your costs for your business but what other reasons are there for using one?
WordPress = Great for SEO
I wouldn’t be able to complete this article without mentioning how important a CMS can be to a sites SEO or Search Engine Optimization. As mentioned briefly above WordPress provides many plugins to give users complete control over their sites SEO points such as title tags, meta tags, geo tags, xml/html sitemaps, URL’s and much more. Using the WordPress interface also provides a way to keep track of the SEO of your site without having to look at the sites source code. We use WordPress and love it, and so do our clients check out some examples in our SEO Case Studies. Joomla and Drupal are also good at keeping your sites SEO tight and effective and use many of the same strategies as WordPress.
A CMS can grow with your company
Due to the fact that they are database driven a CMS can grow with your company instead of against it. If your site increased by 100 pages in a given year a CMS will still only be using a set number of templates to display that information, meaning less file by file edits. A static site would begin to feel overwhelming after about 40 pages.
It is the future of the Web
The time of static sites for the most part have passed us by. A CMS does everything a static site can do 1000 times better. If you are paying for a static site now you are paying for an outdated product!
To summarize, using a CMS can save your company a lot of time, money and trouble. It is a good practice to keep up with these technologies as they grow very rapidly and are controlling more websites by the minute.