As a website owner, you should be able to update content and carry out administration functions, without always having to go to a developer.
For example, common tasks might include: blog updates, changing staff photos, processing orders, editing products or managing memberships.
A content management system (CMS) promises you an interface for completing these tasks, without ever having to touch code.
But not all content management systems are created equal, so are you better to go with something off-the-shelf or custom-built to your requirements?
Off-the-Shelf CMS Solutions
There is now a plethora of off-the-shelf content management systems available, from blog platforms like Wordpress to systems like Drupal and Joomla. They are widely used, often come at a low cost upfront and are packed with features.
- Get up and running quickly by reducing development time.
- Create a website without in-depth technical knowledge.
- Widespread editing control over content.
- Support forums, tutorials and documentation available.
- Interface can be cluttered with more controls than you need.
- Popular CMS's are frequent targets for security hacks.
- Add-on software often required to extend functionality.
- May require tricky work-arounds to do things that don't fit the mould.
- Control over look and feel can be restricted.
Off-the-shelf CMS's are appealing because they offer so much for so little cost. And they can work when the scope of your site is simple and well understood. However, when they limit what you can do or become daunting to use, the appeal quickly fades.
Content Management isn't Plug & Play
In most cases, the CMS you choose will become inseparably linked to your website and form the foundation on which everything is built.
Just as building materials and methods dictate how easily a house can be altered, your CMS will dictate how easily your website can be extended and adapt to the ever-evolving web.
A common example of how websites are needing to adapt is the ability to work across mobile devices. To achieve this, you might make your site responsive or even create a dedicated mobile site.
With some off-the-shelf CMS's, the inherent limitations can make mobile optimisation a harder task.
When the Cookie Cutter Doesn't Cut it
If you're like any of our clients here at Custom D, you will have tasks that are unique to your business, or at least a unique approach to common tasks.
Choosing an off-the-shelf CMS can be a case of compromises, an attempt to fit your specific business requirements into a product that caters to all.
Your CMS shouldn't need you to consult a manual or use work-arounds to get things done. It should be simple, intuitive and match your workflow.
"Truly elegant design incorporates top-notch functionality into a simple, uncluttered form."
- David Lewis
When a system offers to do everything, you can end up with an interface like this:
With a custom CMS, the interface mirrors your unique website structure, making the relationship between content you're editing and how it appears on the website clear and obvious:
Tailored to You
Your website is a living thing that needs to adapt and grow over time. Because it's difficult to envisage all of the ways your site may change in future, it's hard to assess the suitability of different content management systems.
The beauty of custom development is that you build only what you need and it's ready to grow with you, when the time comes.
- Simple and easy to use interface.
- Very focused on your tasks.
- Development time goes into only what you need.
- Keeps things fast, flexible and lean 'under the hood'.
- Total control going forward.
- Usually comes at a higher cost upfront.
- It helps to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.
"Simple can be harder than complex" - Steve Jobs
Although custom content management comes at a higher cost upfront, it can be more cost effective in the long term to build something right from the start, than to manipulate an existing product into what you want.
We have worked with a variety of off-the-shelf CMS's and in some situations, it's the right solution. However, after 14 years experience, we believe that custom usually gives a better, more user-friendly result for complex websites.
'Custom' doesn't mean reinventing the wheel. We start with a flexible framework and often leverage components that we've previously built.
That allows our time to be spent on what's really important: how your website and business is different from the rest.