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When is a CMS right for you?

From: CMS Fundamentals

Video: When is a CMS right for you?

Before we get much further, I want to make the point that a CMS is not right for every project. Later on we'll talk about how to evaluate a CMS for your specific needs, but I think it's also just as important to discuss whether a CMS is the right solution for your needs. Once you begin researching content management systems, you're going to hear the same marketing points over and over again: first, that a CMS allows you to create a web site without having to know HTML, CSS, and server-side programming; second, that using a CMS reduces costs by eliminating outside technical work; and third, that a CMS will dramatically speed up development and deployment time.

When is a CMS right for you?

Before we get much further, I want to make the point that a CMS is not right for every project. Later on we'll talk about how to evaluate a CMS for your specific needs, but I think it's also just as important to discuss whether a CMS is the right solution for your needs. Once you begin researching content management systems, you're going to hear the same marketing points over and over again: first, that a CMS allows you to create a web site without having to know HTML, CSS, and server-side programming; second, that using a CMS reduces costs by eliminating outside technical work; and third, that a CMS will dramatically speed up development and deployment time.

Well, like most marketing pitches, there is a degree of truth to all these points, but it's important to have the proper expectations about how a CMS will fit into your organization or your projects. If you're a designer or part of a design team and you're looking at using a CMS to speed up site development, there are some things you should know. First, regardless of the CMS you choose, get ready for a pretty steep learning curve. Many systems have their own templating language and you need to understand the inner workings of how the CMS will assemble pages before you can really start gaining control over your sites.

If the only reason you want to learn a CMS is to avoid learning a language like PHP, I recommend just going ahead and learning PHP. In most cases, you're going to end up needing to be somewhat proficient in whatever codes base your CMS uses anyway. A good role of thumb is to check out the documentation forums and the codex of the CMS are looking at to see what's required for the level of control that you want. Once you're comfortable with the CMS, you should expect to see significant gains in development time, but be sure to give yourself a cushion as you go through the learning process.

If you're not a web designer and you're hoping to use a CMS to avoid learning HTML and CSS, now you're in for a similar experience. While most of the time you'll be able to build a site based on the system's default templating structure, customizing or taking a high degree of control over your site requires a working knowledge of various technologies, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP. Unless you're committed to taking the time required to master these areas of the CMS, you might be better off contracting somebody to do it for you. And if you're part of the large organization, a CMS is often seen as a way to control costs and streamline workflow.

Although it will typically speed up the process of publishing content to your site, you'll still need individuals to set up the CMS, maintain it, and update it, as new versions are published. Often this updating process requires changes to templates and the business logic of your site. If you don't have the technical resources in house to handle this, you'll still be paying for an outside consultant. Also, just because a particular CMS is free an open source don't assume that they aren't significant costs involved in setting up and maintaining the CMS.

Often the cost savings just aren't there once everything is taken into consideration. So when does it make sense to use a CMS? Well, if you are a freelance web designer and you need to rapidly develop complex sites for clients, finding a CMS you're comfortable with makes sense. You also need to be sensitive to whether your client base actually needs a CMS- managed site, and whether you have the time to devote to training clients in how to use the CMS to create and update content once the site is finished. You should also be prepared to spend a great deal of time researching which CMS fits your skill sets and than taking additional time to learn how to properly manage and build sites efficiently with it.

Just approach it the same way you would approach learning any new skill or technology and you'll be fine. And if you're part of the larger organization, you need to take some time to perform a high-level evaluation of your organization's needs and current problems. Often the problems with larger sites have more to do with internal workflows, inefficient processes, and poorly constructed site architecture than they do with publishing platforms. Too often a CMS is seen as a cure-all when the real problem lies within the organizational structure itself. Keep in mind that many CMSs don't offer flexible workflows, and forcing you're organization into a specific workflow without properly evaluating it first is often a recipe for disaster.

In those cases, reevaluating site architecture and internal processes is usually a better path to success. In the end, my advice would be to take a moment and carefully consider your goals and site needs before making the decision to choose a CMS. Having realistic expectations about their capabilities and what's required to implement a content management system will help you make a better decision about when it's appropriate to use them.

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This video is part of

Image for CMS Fundamentals
CMS Fundamentals

44 video lessons · 23964 viewers

James Williamson
Author

 
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  1. 2m 44s
    1. Welcome
      1m 0s
    2. What CMS means for this course
      1m 44s
  2. 22m 52s
    1. What is a CMS?
      2m 47s
    2. The evolution of CMSs
      4m 4s
    3. CMS types
      6m 7s
    4. Basic CMS capabilities
      5m 4s
    5. When is a CMS right for you?
      4m 50s
  3. 1h 23m
    1. Comparing CMSs
      4m 28s
    2. Core features to research
      4m 41s
    3. Commonly overlooked issues
      4m 12s
    4. Properly assessing needs
      4m 39s
    5. Knowing when to seek assistance
      4m 15s
    6. Choosing a CMS for designers
      4m 45s
    7. Choosing a CMS for organizations
      4m 12s
    8. The pros and cons of hosted solutions
      2m 58s
    9. Hosted solution examples
      5m 51s
    10. The pros and cons of open source solutions
      4m 36s
    11. Open source CMS examples
      7m 6s
    12. Proprietary CMSs
      7m 48s
    13. A closer look at Drupal
      5m 7s
    14. A closer look at Joomla!
      4m 0s
    15. A closer look at WordPress
      5m 33s
    16. Resources for comparing CMSs
      9m 2s
  4. 43m 58s
    1. What is an open source CMS?
      3m 4s
    2. What is a LAMP stack?
      2m 53s
    3. What are WebDAV and FTP?
      2m 39s
    4. What is MySQL?
      2m 24s
    5. WYSIWYG editors
      3m 56s
    6. Understanding users, groups, and permissions
      4m 12s
    7. What is metadata?
      5m 19s
    8. Understanding taxonomy
      3m 35s
    9. What is version control?
      4m 23s
    10. What are themes and templates?
      3m 30s
    11. What is SEO?
      4m 42s
    12. What are web analytics?
      3m 21s
  5. 36m 31s
    1. Content management as a process
      4m 38s
    2. Properly defining roles
      5m 3s
    3. Planning a content strategy
      4m 1s
    4. The importance of taxonomy
      5m 7s
    5. Controlling content lifecycle
      6m 22s
    6. Challenges for CMS migrations
      3m 45s
    7. Steps for migrating content
      4m 16s
    8. Avoiding distractions
      3m 19s
  6. 2m 24s
    1. Additional resources
      2m 24s

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