When Do Content Management Systems (CMS) Help? When Do They Hurt?

It’s becoming more and more common for web design and programming professionals to advertise a CMS with site creation.  These usually state a wonderful site that you can update yourself.  Sounds good on the surface but there are some key questions to ask before jumping on board.

The first is how the site is set up.  Many companies have stock templates that they put in place.  These are built on top of packaged CMS systems.  Sometimes that’s not a problem and is usually cheaper (though watch out for companies that try to hide their template use). Many times it is a problem.  Imagine if a client or prospect sees half a dozen sites just like yours but with the words changed.  It leaves a bad impression, the company looks canned.  So the first question: Is the site a template or original layout?

Another issue is how the site is put together.  Many times the web professional builds the site on a technology they don’t really understand.  This becomes a problem because there are often glitches in the layout.  As things change the website will start breaking down.  Unfortunately, many times the site creator is unwilling or unable to repair the damage.  Second question: Will ongoing support be provided?

The next problems have nothing to do with who puts the site together.  They are internal decisions.  Is someone available to make updates to the site?  Paying extra for the ability to change a site is a waste of money if no one has time to do it.  The person responsible needs to work with the web creator to fully understand the CMS, what it can do, what it can’t do, and effective ways of using it.  If there isn’t someone available with at least moderate computer skills, the CMS will be left unused.  This happens to at least half the sites I’ve seen using CMS.  So who will be responsible for the updates?

The final question is whether the person updating the content is comfortable and qualified.  Some basic copy-writing and proofreading skills are essential.  If the person updating the site can’t put a well structured sentence and paragraph together, the site will be confusing and unprofessional.  So does your site updater have some content skills?

If you have someone internally that will update the CMS and a good site creator, this is a great solution.  It’s typically more of an up-front cost but it saves money over time.  If you lack either a good creator or good updater it will be a wasted up front cost and only a matter of time before more money and time is spent repairing problems.  So as a review here are two questions to ask yourself and two for the site creator:

  • Do I or someone internally have time and computer skills to dedicate to keeping the site updated?
  • Does this person have basic copy-writing skills that they can be trusted to keep the site updated with current and relevant information?
  • Is the site creator making an original layout (not a template)?
  • Is the site creator available for troubleshooting if their original creation has technical flaws after using the CMS for a while?

If the answer is yes to all four, a CMS is probably perfect.  If even one is lacking there is a potential for disaster.  Weigh your options before assuming a CMS will “let you update your own content.”  In a good scenario that can be a great blessing, in a flawed scenario it will be a terrible curse of wasted time and money.

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