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How to choose a Content Management System (CMS) for your website

October 8, 2011

If you’re running your own business website and need to update the contents on a regular basis, chances are you would benefit from having a CMS (content management system).In the “good old days”, site owners would need to manually update HTML code, or use MS Frontpage / Dreamweaver to update their site content, but technology has moved on a great deal since then.

A CMS will allow you and your colleagues to easily update content on your site without the need for technical knowledge. Typically, a user will write an article or page, assign it to a section on the website, and then publish it. Article creation and updates can be made in seconds.

For those familiar with blogging software, content management systems act in a similar way, but typically have a lot more functions. The two main components of a website are the design and the content. With a CMS, you can control both.

A graphic designer or webmaster will typically take care of the style and design functions (or simply choose a style from a selection provided by the CMS software). The content editors can then create and change site content completely independently.

Content Editing

The key benefit of a web-based CMS is the ability to easily upload and and edit site content. Many systems incorporate a WYSIWYG editor to allow non-technical users to apply HTML code and styling to site content (such as adding hyperlinks, or creating bullet points or headlines).

Style Templates

A CMS will typically come with a variety of pre-designed website templates – these provide the structure to your website, including colour-schemes and layouts. You will be able to create your own styles too – ideally with the help of a web designer. All site content is stored separately and simply “fits” into whatever style template has been applied to the website.

User Management

You may have a group of people who will update the CMS. User management allows for separate user identities to be created, and security. Different users can be assigned different levels of access, such as “administrator”, or “editor”. User roles are easy to create and change.

Data Storage

The content created by a CMS will be stored in a database, typically a MySQL database, or a flat-file system

Modules

Most CMS software can be upgraded with a variety of “modules” – such as the ability to add comments, search engines, forums, etc. These modules can usually be installed seamlessly.

Which CMS?

Choosing a Content Management System is an important decision for all small businesses.

For many start-ups, who need just a “brochure site” containing a few pages, a CMS is probably not the right choice.

Similarly, if you’re looking to maintain a simple list of updates or thoughts, blogging software such as WordPress may be more appropriate. It is highly flexible, and in fact is the CMS of choice here at Bytestart!

For companies who have multiple authors, and plan to upload and maintain quite a bit of content, then a more robust CMS could be a real time-saver.

There are dozens of popular “Open Source” applications, which are free. Popular examples include Drupal, Mambo and Joomla. You can try demos of most of the most popular Open Source CMS software here.

Many of these systems have established developer sites and forums to help with any problems you may have installing and running the software.

If you’re not technical or prefer not to use Open Source software, a commercial system is more likely to be the better bet.

Some Open Source systems are so vast in scale that a simpler CMS may appeal to the typical start-up company.