Do I Really Need a CMS?

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Even though the web industry is fairly young, we’ve already seen an innumerable number of trends come and go. Obviously, some elements of web design will naturally follow trends, but there is one long-standing trend in particular that could be hurting your web presence and your bottom line.

The past decade arguably has been defined by the rise of the Content Management System (CMS). The benefit of a CMS is in the ability for non-developers (marketers, site owners) to control the website content. It’s putting the control into the right hands – after all, developers don’t typically think in terms of messaging and content. I am a developer that specializes in the Drupal CMS, so I have spent the majority of my career creating projects in this way. But I think in too many cases, we’re missing the forest for the trees. So, I want to take a step back and encourage you to ask an important question at the outset of your next website engagement. Do I really need a CMS?

Let’s look at the ramifications of this decision. First, a CMS costs more. It costs more up front and it costs more in the long run. It involves heavier needs/support in terms of a web server. So, you’re making a conscious decision to devote a large chunk of your budget to this need. Budget that could be put towards higher design, user testing, or better-defined paths of success on your website – things that all can have a very measurable return on investment. Second, a CMS nearly always will be less performant. And despite network speeds increasing regularly, performance matters more than ever because of the rise of mobile usage. Now, any CMS worth it’s salt will offer ways to optimize for performance but this is typically not estimated into a project and is only done if the developer cares about his/her work enough to go above and beyond to provide it. In short, the decision to use a CMS is one that needs to be made wisely.

So how do you make an informed decision here? Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

1. Do I have content on my website that needs to be updated daily/weekly?

These are likely the dynamic sections that you will want control over in a CMS-like fashion. If you will only need changes made every few months, weigh the cost difference here. If you are using an agency that can respond quickly to your needs or you have an internal development team in-house, it will likely be more cost-effective to forego a CMS build in this case. That said, if you answered this with a “Yes,” move on..

2. Does this content fit into the news/blog post type (title, body, post metadata)?

If these sections fall into the post/article category, there are a slew of options to give you control over these without encasing your entire website in a CMS. There are hosted blogging engines like Ghost, Medium and Tumblr and also some lightweight static options such as Jekyll and Statamic (and many more). These will all allow you to control this content easily, but without the overhead of a CMS wrapping your entire website. Also, these hosted options often have the best content editing experiences on the market. If you answered “No” to this, move on..

3. Do you have the ability to support the regularity of these changes in-house?

This one requires some thought and honesty. Most clients have unrealistic expectations about their ability to update their website content regularly. Knowing that a blog is a good idea in terms of long-term SEO success is one thing, but being able to support this feature is another. Not only does it take time/energy regularly to actually create the posts, any CMS involves some level of training/familiarity that must be supported internally on your end. An untended blog is worse than no blog at all.

Even if you answer the above questions and it appears to come out in favor of a CMS, talk to your agency about options to meet your distinct needs. The overhead of a CMS in terms of budget/performance is a very real thing, and should be avoided if possible. There are definitely cases where a CMS is perfect, but there is a distinct cost/benefit ratio to be weighed. Make sure you’re spending that money wisely.

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1313 4th Ave North Nashville, TN 37208 (615) 313-7679

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