Do You Need a CMS? Part 2: CMS Basics

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In my post we talked about why using a content management system to keep your site updated is the way to go in the age of content marketing, now let’s take a look at how they work; and don’t worry I’ll try to keep the techie talk to minimum.

Let start off with the basics, on a traditional, static HTML website content coded page by page, usually by a webmaster, using a template provided by a web designer. This is fine for the most part, you need some basic coding skills and understanding of how website call up images and other media. Pages are stored individually on the site, along any files called up when the page loads in user’s browsers. If you have a large website this can hundreds even thousands of pages, with each one having markup (code) that is pretty much the same between pages.

I think you can see where this going, need to add more pages to the menu, or add a footer link, on a static site you would have update every page one by one to make changes appear site-wide. To get around this some sites use global templates make this easier, or run server side code like PHP to this code to each page instead relying on webmasters to edit duplicate code across the site.
CMS’s take this one step further, instead of having individual pages of content sitting on a server; it keeps the content as an entry in its database, and serves it up piping hot, with all the mark-up determined by a template. Since this all happens on the server side, users just see a fairly standard HTML page.
Since this content sits on database, a CMS can do all sorts of things with it, like sorted it (by author, date, etc…) or restrict access to it by password, and even track changes. This is where the real power of a CMS comes into play, since each page is just one row in a database; it’s easier for website owners to make changes across the entire site with a few simple edits

So Which CMS is the Best Then?

The most politically correct answer for this is this one that suits the client’s needs the best, but I do have my preferences. The top CMS (and by a wide margin) for the last few years has been WordPress; but the top three systems share some common traits. They’re all free, open-source with an active support community; they all use PHP to generate the final page the user sees, and the all SQL databases to store content. But there are some pros and cons with each.

WordPress

WordPress was originally built mainly as a blogging platform, but its ease of use and intuitive interface made it quite popular amongst developers, and now it’s evolved to run almost any kind of site. Of its main features is the separation posts (blogs) and pages, which allows developers to customize post types to suit different applications. Its popularity however comes with a downside that it can make it target for hackers, but the WordPress.org community is very vigilant.
This is the platform I prefer to work with, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to get a CMS based site off the ground quickly, there’s plenty of themes to customize the look and feel of site and and plugins to get functionality you need.

Joomla

Joomla mostly works with articles (basically posts) and also has a very active community, it has more out of the box functionality to it, but can be hard to navigate for most users.

Drupal

I haven’t logged much time in Drupal myself, though from what I’ve read it uses the same kind of modular functionality as Joomla, but needs to extended from Drupal Core to do things like adding new themes. The interface is a little easier on the eyes compared to Joomla, but sometimes the online documentation made it hard to find solutions to common issues.
If you’re interested in trying out some CMS before settling in on one, Bitnami is a good resource to check out. Bitnami builds downloadable stacks of popular CMS’s that you can install locally, play around with, and get a feel for how the system would run live, since it’s just hosted on your machine it’s safe to use and doesn’t get crawl by search engines.

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