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January 22, 2016

Rule #2: Always Get a CMS (but not a ‘Custom’ CMS)

CMS stands for Content Management System, and it is what it sounds like – a program that allows you to easily manage and update your website on your own.

TIP:  Not a so-called ‘Custom’ CMS (explanation follows)

In the early days of internet browsing, the only way to create and update a website was to manually edit individual pages.  The tools available then did not keep the text and images separate from the layout code.  People who tried to create websites at the time found it a painstaking (some would say painful) process.  That is why there is still a certain mystique surrounding web design that persists today despite the advancement in tools and methods that have greatly eased the process. One of those tools is a CMS.

A CMS allows you to add, update, or delete web pages from your website without touching the layout and design the developer created for you.  You can post pictures, mp3’s, videos and more on your website through your CMS without the need to pay someone to do so for you.  When designed correctly, they are as easy to use as simple word processor.  As part of creating your website, your web developer will install just the features you need for you to control your website.  They are wonderful, easy-to-use tools that will make your life much easier.  Even if you decide you want your web designer to update your site, the time it takes will be much shorter if your website uses a CMS.

Without a CMS you’re basically hand cuffed to a website developer whenever you need to update or change your site.  Not only is this an extra cost, but it can also be a nightmare when you need to quickly change something, only to be unable to reach your website designer to make the updates or put a list to have the work done sometime in the future.

Using a CMS  really has no downside.

Except…

A Cautionary Word About ‘Custom’ CMS’s and Their Hidden Fees

Many people equate custom with something of value.  The word often evokes a sense that the product or service was made precisely to meet your needs.  But that is not its true meaning in this instance.

The fact is, “Custom CMS” is just a euphemism for home brew code, many times written by the web design company or purchased by them.  Their CMS is customized to meet their needs and make them money, not to you.   Not only that but, because it is custom, you must rely on your web designer completely.  Your web designer won’t let you take their custom CMS with you if you later decide to part ways.  Sure the layout and design are yours but the code that makes it function and software that allows you to update your website is their CMS, not yours.  Without their CMS, your website will not function the way you expect.

A custom CMS is like having no CMS at all in that you end up basically handcuffed to your website developer for the lifetime of your website.  You can expect all manner of fees associated with that arrangement that you will end up paying because the alternative is to start over from scratch with another company.

A web design firm that touts their custom CMS knows that;  Their custom CMS is a huge revenue stream for them.

Say ‘no’ to a custom CMS and ‘yes’ to a mainstream CMS.

WordPress, Joomla or Drupal

These are three of the best-known and best-tested systems available.  They are used everywhere for a huge number of websites and web designers.  Several designers in our area use one of these systems and their clients are just as or more pleased with these products than any custom CMS.  The also have the added benefit of being free as in free beer.

If you later learn that your web design agency has embedded hidden fees in your web contract and you want to move away from them, you can do so quite easily with any of these mainstream CMS solutions – often at a moments notice.

We use WordPress at Webeau and we love it.  I could go one for paragraphs listing all the reason why but it would be better if we discussed how it could be used for your website.

The bottom line is that you need a CMS to go along with your new website but you don’t want to be imprisoned in a custom CMS where you at the mercy of your web developer.  There are better alternatives and don’t buy-in to the sales pitch that, somehow, a custom CMS is going to be good for you.

WordPress is the way to go when you a ready for a new or redesign of your website.