I remember telling a web designer friend about WordPress years ago:
“What’s WordPress?” he asked.
“It’s a content management system”
My how times have changed. Now content management systems (CMS) are the new driving force on the web.
In the early days, some developers were even a little coy about revealing what CMS they were using to build their sites. Now however, the cat is out of the proverbial bag. Everybody uses them, and pretty much everybody wants one.
But is a CMS really the best option for you?
Probably. But it’s a good idea to consider the alternatives before you dive in.
Before the rise of the CMS, most web sites were ‘static‘ or ‘html‘. These sites were pretty straight forward – each page you looked at on your browser was made from a single file.
When you looked at the home page of that web site, you were probably looking at a file called ‘index.htm’. And if you wanted to add a page to your site, you or your web developer coded up a new file like ‘about.htm’, uploaded it to your web server and presto, your ‘About’ page was born.
These sites were called ‘static‘ because the files sat quietly on the web server and were delivered unchanged to your browser. A bit like turning the pages of a book. They were called ‘html‘ because that was the type of file they were.
On the other hand, a CMS powered website is more like a car. It has moving parts. The core program of the CMS (eg WordPress) is the engine. Then you add a theme which is like the chassis. You can also add plugins which are like options on your car – retracting mirrors, 4WD, turbo or a GPS nav system.
These sites are called ‘dynamic‘ because unlike the ‘static’ sites, the page you see on your web browser is created on the fly, compiled from a database and components stored elsewhere.
What’s more, you the owner can log into the administration part of your CMS and add content, pictures, pages and more. That’s what I’m doing right now. I have a cup of coffee, I’m seated comfortably at my computer, writing this article in my Firefox web browser. But I could be in a café using my tablet or I could even publish this post from the top of a mountain using my mobile phone and the WordPress app.
Cool. What’s not to like about that?
OK, but do you actually need a CMS?
If you have a really simple site that you don’t plan to update much (often called a ‘brochure’ site) a ‘static’ site may be a good option.
Yes, people are still making and using static sites. Sometimes these sites point to where the owner does most of their updating, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.
“Can’t I just use a CMS anyway? Your car analogy made them sound more exciting and I like the sound of those plugins. I think I may need 4WD.”
Yes you can, but think ‘car’ verses ‘book’. A CMS is good because it is flexible, future proof (if you use the right system) and you can update content yourself. But like a car, a CMS needs regular maintenance or it will break down.
A book on the other hand needs less attention. It’s pretty much set and forget… until you want to update it.
The analogy has its limits of course. The cost to set up a content management system may not be that much greater than a static site. But the ongoing running costs and requirements are a significant consideration.
Similarly, there may be parts of your static site that need updating depending what technologies it uses, but generally, it will be cheaper to run.
So, static site or content management system? Usually, content management system will win hands down these days. And WordPress wins the contest for most popular CMS.
But be prepared for the extra work required to maintain and update it regularly in order to keep it secure and operating properly.
Need some more information about what type of site is best for you?