Content Management Systems
What is a CMS? (Content Management System)
At its base level, a CMS is a tool that lets users, using their web browser and an Internet connection, login and edit text and images on a page. It doesn't require the end user to know or understand HTML.
Content management systems were once the property of only the biggest and richest companies, with a startup cost that ran tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today you can build your site with a powerful CMS for only the cost of setup and installation.
Why would you want one?
While maintaining your site is an attractive feature and certainly one reason to want a CMS, the number one reason to use a CMS is the power and flexibility of a well-built CMS. A CMS can extend the capabilities of your site far beyond simple HTML pages. It can turn your site in to a dynamic powerhouse, allowing you to add and configure numerous features and tools without having to custom build each one.
For example, add a web form or image gallery. Use internal search on your site content. Create a blog and RSS Feed. By building your site around a CMS "platform", you can start adding to your site as you grow. Even the smallest site can benefit from these features.
How do you choose?
There are hundreds of systems available, from paid versions to free, open-source ones, and that's not including the many custom CMS that developers and various web shops offer. You can get a sense for the sheer number of systems by visiting CMS Matrix and scanning the list. So how do you choose which one to use?
One option is to search around the web, read different articles, talk to different developers and designers, and try dozens of demos to determine which one suits your needs. But you don't have to. I've done the background checks for you. And I have a recommendation (see below). But before I get to that, here's a current list of the biggies.
- Expression Engine
Each of these has its pros and cons. All are capable for most sites. But in terms of support, capabilities, and future use, I recommend Drupal, with WordPress a well-regarded second choice.
Why Not Custom? Or Some Other CMS?
The biggest argument against a custom system and biggest argument FOR the systems listed above is portability. You can take a site built in any of the 4 systems listed above and move to a different developer, and still have work done on your site. You aren't tied to any one person or any one web shop. There are hundreds or thousands of other developers who can work on your site. This is a big advantage and piece of mind.
The other main reason is the future. It's unlikely that all the different content management systems will be around and supported 10 years from now. But the Internet will still be here, and you'll still need a site. By choosing one of the top CMS, you are ensuring that your site, and the time and money you put in to it, will still be supported in years to come.