One of the most common questions we hear from clients is what is a Content Management System? It’s a good question, as a CMS is often what makes a website work. The simple answer is that a CMS is just software. But that doesn’t really help as lots of things are software too.
Specifically a CMS is software that runs in a browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome). Ok, technically it runs on a server, but what you do not do is download the software and install it on your computer. There is no app or .exe file. Instead you go to a website.
In fact that website is most likely generated by the CMS. This is different from a static website. On static websites what you see is literally a bunch of files. It’s very similar to how you normally access files on a computer. But with a CMS what you access is a script. And unlike the file, the script doesn’t contain any content. Instead it contains instructions on where to get the content from and how to put it together.
What you see as a page is the result of content from a database being put into a template. The advantage is that you can reuse the template over and over with different content. This is how eCommerce websites work. There can be 1000s of products, but there only needs to be one template.
The idea is that the template handles the presentation while the database handles the content.
As it implies a CMS allows you to manage content. By manage we mean change – add, edit and delete. By content we mean anything from a product, article or case study to a blog post, testimonial or video guide.
To manage content the CMS has to provide a User Interface (UI) – typically a control panel or admin area. This interface is generally not publicly facing and requires you to login.
An important thing to note is that not all content needs to be managed. A CMS is most useful when content changes frequently.
For example, we have built a CMS that allowed a client to add testimonials. These would change regularly, but the rest of the service pages they stayed the same. Instead of making the service page editable, we only made the testimonials editable.
There are many options when it comes to a CMS. Many have heard of Wordpress, Drupal or Joomla! but is one of them better than the others? The short answer is no.
Each CMS will work differently, but fundamentally they allow you to do the same thing.
What you tend to find is that an agency or developer will prefer a particular CMS. Is this a bad sign? No. It’s much better to have an agency or developer who are familiar with their CMS of choice.
Something to be aware of is that people target websites powered by an “off-the-shelf” CMS. That’s not to say that an “off-the-shelf” CMS is insecure. But because the software is readily available, it is easier to target. The reality with a modern “off-the-shelf” CMS is that it needs to be updated often. Some agencies will also charge you for this.
By contrast a “bespoke” CMS is harder to exploit. Another benefit is that a bespoke CMS is designed to match your business needs. This means the software has only the features you need
It is always worth asking an agency not only what they use and but also why.