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So far we've covered a lot of ground in regards to choosing a CMS. Of course, not everyone's needs are the same, and so in this movie I want to talk directly to designers and discuss some of their unique needs when considering a CMS. Now as a general rule, designers are great at HTML and CSS but maybe not so great at server-side software such as PHP or Perl. Now I feel pretty safe saying that myself since I'm a designer. As such, one of the key features you'll be looking for in a CMS is a simple installation, and one that's really easy to maintain.
As you're looking around, browse the documentation and forums carefully. If you try out a demo, make sure that you download it and install it yourself. If you're able to install it the first time and the process seems intuitive, you definitely have a candidate. Next, closely examine the code that the CMS uses. Look for CSS that is separated from the structure and easy to access. Explore the structure of the template HTML and the way that the associated CSS controls it. If the code is bloated or contains errors, stay away.
Look for clean, concise code that won't require a ton of work to rewrite for your own designs. The point of using a CMS is to help you speed up development. If you have to work around clunky CSS, you're not helping yourself. Now speaking of templates, explore how the CMS builds pages and handles site structure. Some CMSs use complex themes that are mixture of templates, CSS, server-side scripting, and page fragments to build a page; others use stripped-down HTML and CSS files with placeholder scripts that determine where the content will go.
While you're demoing a CMS, try to customize the template structure and page layout. This is an area that you're to want total control over, so verify that you can handle the visual aspect of the CMS before you make a decision. Another reason that content management systems are attracted to designers is the advanced functionality that they can help you add to your sites. Many CMSs come with a large extension or plug-in base that will allow you to add mapping features, message boards, blogs, event calendars, and more, without really having to build them yourself.
When you're researching a CMS, don't just look at the number of plug-ins and assume that's your needs are going to be met. Read through the forums, find examples of them in use, and see what type of documentation exist on them. Find out how difficult it is to modify or customize the design of the plug-ins to match your sites. Often these plug-ins are built by members of the community, so they do have varying degrees of quality. Look for a CMS community that gives users the ability to rate and give feedback on plug-ins. That way you at least have some idea of the quality of those plug-ins and how easy they are to customize.
If you're a freelance designer, you're probably hoping a CMS can make your life easier by enabling your clients to administer and update their sites after you're finished with the project. Well, that's not an unreasonable expectation, but there are a couple of things that you will need to keep in mind. First, choose a CMS that has a simple and straightforward content editor. Your clients are likely to not be very web savvy and a complicated editing environment will be really frustrating for them. I recommend looking for a WYSIWYG editor that has a similar interface to a word processor.
These usually make clients feel a lot more comfortable and prompt fewer support calls. Now speaking of support, don't make the assumption that you can install it and forget about it. If you use a CMS to build your client's site, you're also responsible for maintaining that installation and then upgrading it to new versions when they're released. At the very least, be prepared to spend an appropriate amount of time, train your client into the basics of how to use the CMS. Now earlier, we discuss multisite capabilities. Keep this in mind if you're going to be handling hosting for your clients. Being able run multiple sites from a single installation makes updating and troubleshooting a lot easier.
Now of course, be aware that if a problem crops up with an install it's going to affect all your client sites, not just one. If you're planning on offering hosting for your clients, you may want to consider using a hosted solution. Now we're going to talk more about those solutions a little bit later, but they offer a wide array of bundled services, including content management, and some even have reseller plans that will pay you based on the number of sites you host through them. I know I've mentioned this before, but make sure that you take the time to carefully consider what services you're going to offer your clients, what degree of control you need over the content management system, and then go out and find the CMS that gives you those solutions in the most efficient way possible.
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