What is a “CMS” and Do I need one?

What is a CMS?“CMS” stands for Content Management System.  With CMS software running on your site, you have the ability to make changes and update content without requiring the technical knowledge of a web designer.

WordIf you know your way around a wordprocessor, then you more than likely already have the skill to use a CMS editor to begin applying updates to a CMS website.

Do I need a CMS?

Well, certainly you can live without one, but there are several benefits you should consider as well as some potential risks to be aware of.

Some benefits

BenefitHave you ever just wanted to change a word or a name or to add a single photo?  Or worse yet, you find a glaring mistake on your website?  With a CMS, you can make minor updates relatively easily and quickly without needing to hire or wait on a web designer.

As you become more familiar with the CMS editor, you should be able to accomplish even more complex updates to your website including adding new pages or articles.  Note that some blogging platforms (WordPress, for example) are  considered to be CMSes as well.  And there are real business benefits to adding a blog to your website that I’ll cover in future posts.

BenefitPlugins” can be installed on a CMS website to add cool new features and functionality.  Some examples include photo or image galleries, information-gathering forms, social media and content sharing buttons, Ecommerce functionality or buttons to accept donations… just to name a few.  There are literally thousands of plugins available from third-party developers.

BenefitDifferent themes or templates can be installed to change the look and style of your website with relative ease.

BenefitCMS software is continually being updated with new features to make it easier to use, to add support for the most current web technologies (think mobile device support, smart phones, tablets, iPhone, iPad, etc.), and to fix any software bugs or security issues.

So a CMS is the solution to all of my problems?

Well, not necessarily.  While there are many benefits, you do need to be aware of some risks.

Some risks

Caution!The power and flexibility offered by a CMS is the result of a very complex software system that needs constant care and attention.  Sometimes there are minor software bugs that need to be fixed and sometimes major security holes are discovered that must be corrected quickly to avoid potential security breaches by malware or hackers.  This could affect hundreds or thousands of websites… including yours.

Unfortunately, many CMS websites are hacked due to poor security practices or because website owners simply are not aware of the hazards.  The web designer should make the website owner aware of the security risks and explain how to avoid them.

CMS security is importantWhen security releases are made available, the CMS software should be updated as soon as possible.  In fact, keeping the CMS software up to date is one of the most important (and easy!) steps to take to insure your website’s security.

Caution!You need to be careful about both the quantity and quality of plugins you choose to use.  Some plugins may conflict with each other.  Adding too many plugins can degrade the speed and performance of your website.  Adding low quality or unsupported plugins could lead to security issues or other undesirable side effects.

Caution!Some commitment to learning the CMS is required.  You may need to spend time with your web designer, join support forums or groups, or view or read through tutorials – readily found on YouTube and other sites.  The obvious benefit from your commitment is you won’t need to be dependent on web designers for every single (minor) change.

Caution!A CMS is not a magic bullet.  They can’t do it all.  They are great for adding, updating or removing content and making minor style changes.  But if you are looking for major style or design changes on your site, you will likely need outside assistance.

A couple popular CMSes

Joomla.orgWordPress.orgTwo very popular “open source“, free content management systems that I have used are Joomla and WordPress.  Both of these CMS systems are well-established, well-respected, have large support communities and are actively maintained by open source developers.  This simply means that they are going to be around for a long time to come and support will be readily available.  Features will continue to be added and updates applied to keep pace with technological advances on the web.

So… is a CMS right for me?

The concept of the CMS is enticing – the ability to maintain your own website with minimal or no assistance.  I think it can be advantageous if you are as diligent about addressing the risks outlined above as you are about reaping the many benefits.

Let me know what you think.  Are you thinking about taking the plunge into this world for the first time?  Or have you had experience with any CMSes?

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