Content Management Systems Done Right

Only a few short years ago, we built as many sites using static HTML and occasionally (gasp!) Flash as we did using a Content Management System (CMS). This was due to several factors. In 2002, there were a lot more sites that were simple brochure-ware, and most companies still weren’t using their web properties as dynamic platforms for selling, conversing with and informing their customers and community.

A decade later, however, and the vast majority of organizations have come around to the web as a primary marketing medium. As such, most sites on the web today use a CMS. There’s plenty of choices when it comes to picking a system, and this post isn’t about the benefits of one CMS over another. No matter which CMS you choose though, it’s important to understand what you’re buying and what it will do for you.

Again and again, we see clients coming to us with half-baked implementations of a CMS. Sometimes these clients are looking for a new site as the current one is out-of-date, doesn’t reflect their new position or brand but sometimes, they simply aren’t able to perform the functions they need in order to effectively market their business. The CMSes are almost invariably good quality applications like Drupal, WordPress, ModX or Expression Engine. But, they way they’re implemented makes no sense at all.

Oftentimes, we see a CMS that’s poorly or only partially implemented. Just this week, a prospective client came to us looking to be able to add a few pages to their CMS-powered website. The previous developer had set the site up so that the client could only modify the content on existing pages, but they were completely unable to add new content.

This is asinine. This is like web design firms that price their sites based on the number of pages in the site, and the number of images permitted on a page. Hint: if you see this pricing scheme on a web company’s site, run away. Fast.

When I expressed surprise at this on Twitter, some suggested that it only makes sense to implement exactly what a client needs and to hide the rest of the features of the CMS. Any firm that doesn’t recognize that someone might need to add a page to their site in the future, even if they didn’t need more than the existing content pages at launch is offering incredibly bad counsel to their clients.

While it’s true that content management systems can be quite robust and it’s rare for anyone to need all of the features in a CMS, making it impossible for the user to create new content, and instead insisting that the user need to contact the developer to update the site, is not using the technology properly. There is very little value in this kind of maintenance work, both for the agency and the client. So now, instead of expanding their marketing focus, creating new content or exploring marketing that will expand their reach, these clients are having to reinvest in their web platform to gain access to ‘features’ they should have had from the beginning.

As we’re fond of saying, handcuffs have a place, but that place isn’t the boardroom.

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