Understanding Content Management Systems

Web site design is not a one-size-fits-all practice. As web sites can serve a number of different purposes - supply information, attract new sales, create a community, etc - it only makes sense that web design possibilities be just as varied. One of the first considerations in creating a web design is whether a custom content management system, or CMS, makes sense. There are some situations when a CMS is clearly the best choice, while it may be an unnecessary collection of bells and whistles at other times.

What is an online content management system?

In a nutshell, a CMS is software that organizes, powers and monitors a web site. It includes a "front end" viewable by any web user and a password-protected "back end" the general public does not see. Management of the site is centralized from this back end. Depending upon how the site is built, a custom content management system could include features for archiving older content, entering new content, accessing traffic metrics, managing navigation, banner rotation, polls, streaming media uploads and shopping carts, for example. The possibilities are limited only by the content management system's configuration and capabilities.

How are traditional web designs and content management systems different?

Unlike a CMS, "traditional" or basic HTML-based web design does not include a front and back end. Effective management of these sites requires knowledge of good coding practice, the ability to create new or integrate pre-written scripts to add functionality as needed and the creation of an efficient file/directory structure to accommodate growth.

A custom content management system, on the other hand, does not require specialized technical skill to use. Managing or expanding the web site is a centralized process. More advanced coding knowledge would only be required should installation of additional functionality be desired.

Major benefits of a custom content management system

  • Coding skills are not required
    A good CMS back end will be as complex to use as basic word processing software. Adding content is a simple matter of entering and formatting the text. Accessing features should be no more complicated than using a pulldown menu.
  • Convenience
    A content management system provides a centralized administration area from where a wide range of features from archiving to metrics may be accessed. Consequently, multiple users can manage their respective areas of the site or a single user can run the site in its entirety.
  • Scalability
    A properly configured CMS can accommodate the management needs of a growing website as well as accept "add-on" components to power new features as necessary.

When is a CMS unnecessary?

Despite its convenience and options, a custom content management system is not always the best choice. Web sites created to act only as a point of contact for a brick and mortar business, for example, may have no need for CMS functionality. Similarly, small informational web sites with no plans for future growth would not benefit from a content management system's scalability. If the benefits of using a CMS do not speak to the purpose or scope of a site, it really can be an unnecessary choice.

Choosing the best web design

Whether or not a web design should be CMS-based or not depends entirely upon the site's purpose, plans for growth, functionality, and the availability of a webmaster or technically-savvy personnel to manage the site. A CMS would be the ideal web design choice for a business seeking to offer its customers the convenience of Internet orders, but not for a business only wishing to inform it customers of its location and hours of operation.

For help in deciding between traditional and custom content managment system design or finding the best content management system, Boston-based Advanced Digital Replication, Inc may be contacted for an evaluation.

About the Author : R. Harvey Bravman is president of Advanced Digital Websites, Inc, a Boston search engine optimization and web design firm specializing in custom solutions for business.