Is a CMS always necessary?

Published on September 12, 2015 under Technology, Customer Education

Various CMS options

Wordpress, Drupal, Joomla, ExpressionEngine, Concrete5, ModX, PHPNuke, etc. In the world of web design and development, you can’t throw a stone without hitting at least one back-end content management system (CMS) or similar framework. If one didn’t know any better, you would think having a website without some kind of back-end system would be “wrong”.

That’s not entirely true though.

There is no rule out there saying you must use a CMS to have a website.  In some cases, it’s actually counterproductive to have one. They are merely tools for those seeking the means to alter and update content without the traditional means of static pages and FTP.

So how would you know if a CMS is the ideal solution? Here’s a few questions you should ask:

How often will the content change?

This is the primary key in making a decision, and one of the very reasons why websites evolved into using databases and complex back-end systems for maintenance and updates. Imagine this blog running on static web pages, or a bigger news site such as CNN or Huffington Post. Can you imagine a room full of web developers feverously creating and uploading static pages of the content, plus all the linking?  Obviously not practical.

However, now think of a simple brochure website, maybe for a lawyer, plumber, or accountant. A site containing not much more than some business information, list of services, and contact information. How often do you see the content on these sites being updated?

When it’s a site where the content is changing on a regular basis, then a CMS of some sort is handy, almost vital. If anything, it’s mainly an efficient alternative to folders upon folders of static files, plus it allows usage of some dynamic elements. An example would be those suggested links you’ll see all over blogs that the system selects based on criteria.

Who will be maintaining the site?

Another factor in choosing a CMS over an alternative solution would be on who exactly will be performing maintenance duties. While in many cases a client will pay a developer to handle maintenance, you do see those clients who want to take it on by themselves, or hand the duty to an employee. If the site is going to be updated and maintained by someone not fluent in development, then a CMS would be an ideal solution.

Likewise, this could also be a site where content isn’t provided by the client or developer, but the actual users. Look at any recipe website, or social media networks, or even blogs with multiple authors. I can’t imagine any way to make this work without some kind of CMS running the show.

Now on the flip side, how about a weather website?  One that pulls data from the National Weather Service? What about a website like I’m sure that information is merely brought in via an API from Major League Baseball. No humans needed to update either of these do you really need to add a CMS to the mix?

When it comes to the “who” in terms of content creation and/or maintenance, a CMS is ideal either when a developer needs cloud access and/or non-developers will be doing the work. Simpler sites and automated sites often gain no benefit from a CMS.

How important is security?

This might sound like a dumb question to ask, but it is a highly important factor to keep in mind when using any kind of a third-party CMS solution. Probably one of the biggest security risks to any website running on a third-party CMS is neglect. I’m speaking of when a web developer sets up the system and builds the initial website, but then the site is left alone for weeks to months with barely any care from the client.

Open source CMS solutions such as Wordpress are under constant attack from hackers, exploring every facet of the downloadable code and finding any weaknesses to exploit. Of course if you update your CMS core regularly, then you have little to fear, but leave things be for a few update cycles, and you could wake up one morning with your site hijacked.

If your website is one you don’t plan on updating very much, like a small brochure site, then consider going with a static solution over the typical CMS. Sites in my own portfolio like Taxi Insurance Experts and Brightline Remodeling honestly did not need a back-end CMS. The clients requested and paid for them, but I did advise them they didn’t need them since they barely update the content on their sites. I do help them stay up to date though with their security.

When you choose to use a third-party CMS, you are making a commitment to maintaining its core as much as you maintain the site. If you don’t see yourself wanting to pay attention, then consider paying someone to do this task, or seek a static solution with less areas one could exploit.

So do you need a CMS for your site?

The basic answer will always be “it depends on the site being built”, and the answers to those three questions above. I can simply advise anyone to only use a CMS when a static solution simply will not do, and if you’re the client, inquire your hired web expert on all your options, so you get the best website for your money.

Do you think a CMS is essential for a website?

Tags: cms, technology, website

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