Choosing The Right CMS (Content Management System)
At first sight, it may seem as if the choice of a CMS is a purely technical decision that should be left up to your web developer. However, picking a CMS is a top-level strategic decision and website owners should be wary of development firms which do not discuss this matter with their clients. After all, this choice will affect how much your website will cost and how you will be managing it in the future.
There are a variety of CMSs available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages and each with their own constellations of specialized web developers. In the following paragraphs, we will give some definitions and attempt to educate you on your options, focusing on ‘the big three’: Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal.
What’s A CMS?
In short, a CMS or Content Management System is a piece of software that enables you to publish, modify and maintain content on a website without having to write any code.
Your visitors see the front end of your website. The CMS is the back end, the administrative section through which you or your employees add content, modify the interface, update the underlying software and perform many more essential tasks relating to running a website.
Do You Need A CMS?
If you are reading this article, then the answer to the above question is most likely ‘yes’. Running a website can be a very messy business without the help of a CMS and will require intimate knowledge of not one but several programming and markup languages. The very reason this kind of software exists is to help people out who are less technologically inclined and have little or no programming experience.
The Big Three
There are many dozens of CMSs available, but here we’ll focus only on the ‘big three’, which are Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal. Any of these is a good choice and many of the world’s highest-profile websites run on them, including About (Wordpress), Linux (Joomla), The Economist (Drupal) and the White House (Drupal).
Other solutions are possible, including a variety of highly specialized CMSs and the option to have a custom CMS built especially for you. However, these three CMSs are by far the most popular, the most feature-rich and, crucially, relatively cheap to hire developers for (note that all three are free to download, but setting up the site you want with them can be difficult and time-consuming).
Wordpress is by the most popular CMS in the world, thanks to its ease of use and the relative cheapness of its developers and designers. It is perfect for relatively straightforward websites and blogs. However, in spite of the many thousands of plugins that can expand the features of this CMS, you may want to opt for one of the other two if you want your website to have a highly customized design or if you need it to perform very complex tasks.
Joomla is the middle-of-the-road choice and excels at providing a sleek, beautiful website interface for both your visitors and your content creators and administrators. Joomla sites can look good, but where they fall short somewhat is in the extensions department. Plenty are available, but it does feel as if this CMS is more difficult to expand beyond its core functionality than the two others.
Drupal is the most complex CMS of the big three, however it is extremely flexable and robust. A Drupal site can be customized in every way and can have as many features as you could possibly want. Although the learning curve is high from a development aspect, once built, adding content and maintaining it is usually very straightforward. With Drupal you can build anything.
Making Your Choice
Choosing between these three is partly a matter of personal preference, but overwhelmingly a function of what you want your website to do. For example, if your site revolves around a blog, you should consider Wordpress. A relatively simple website with high-quality picture galleries and other eye candy is prime Joomla-material. And if you need several minutes to explain what you want your site to do, that may be a sign that you’d be best off with Drupal.
In the end, we recommend that you take a look at the pros and cons of each of the CMSs above and discuss your options with your web development firm in order to make the best decision possible. Remember that a CMS is an indispensible tool to run the website you want. As the primary future user of this tool, you should inform yourself of your options.