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Benefits & Disadvantages of CMS


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#1 RisaBB

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 02:43 PM

Hello,

I am redesigning a 300 page website and a few programmers have recommended that I use CMS. I've never used this before. Is this the way to go? I'm told that the benefits are that you can easily change the template, but if I use include files, that's easy, too.

Do I lose control of individualizing pages with CMS? Am I free to put graphics, or charts, or photos anywhere I want on individual pages?

Thanks.

Risa

#2 JohnMu

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 03:05 PM

Hi Risa
300 pages without a CMS? You're kidding, right? :)

Seriously, I don't know how I would do it without a CMS, perhaps I've just gotten lazy over time. I know many people who even use a CMS for very small (<10 URLs) or even single page sites.

Keep in mind that CMS is not CMS - there are so many systems out there. It takes quite a bit to find the CMS "that fits you". I would recommend taking a look into lots of different ones, asking for tips and ideas and then perhaps concentrating on 1-3 different tools (see the CMS Matrix for some ideas / help finding the right CMS). For my personal site I have decided to make my own CMS (but I like to learn by doing) because I wasn't satisfied with any I checked.

By concentrating on a few (or one) CMS you'll learn how to do the things you want, how to make templates that work and are adaptable for your sites. Making a template for a CMS can sometimes be a bit terrifying, it's just not the same as making a template for a normal "static" site.

By the way, a blog also (usually) runs on a CMS, many people use WordPress for full ("normal") sites. Perhaps that would be a place to start? To get a feel for CMS..

In general, on most systems, you can still design pages so that they work for you. You'll certainly have some restrictions, but there are almost always ways to work around them.

One giant advantage of a CMS is that your client will be able to make small (to large) changes in the site themselves. If you're on vacation, you might be glad to know that they can put news items into the page, modify text, change prices / times, etc. Of course you don't have to let them or show them the way in (if yuo want to keep this under control), but it is possible. Depending on your setup, they could even add more pages themselves, based on your templates (meaning the value of your templates would be higher :)).

What have you tried out so far?

John

#3 send2paul

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 03:10 PM

Risa - hi :)

I'm not sure if you're refering to one particular Content Management System when you say

...a few programmers have recommended that I use CMS. I've never used this before. Is this the way to go?...

, but I did find a couple of links to some CMS review websites if that helps....
http://www.cre8asite.../ju...ww//:ptth
http://www.cre8asite.../ju...ww//:ptth

Earlier in the year there was a brief discussion here at Cre8asite on Database/Content Management Recommendations

In fact, I even started a trhead of my own way back in June 2005 called Content Management Software for Building/Controlling Website - it didn't get very far B) - but there might be a bit id useful info in there.

Hope that helps a bit.

Paul

p.s. thanks John :) Any more CMS experts in the house?

#4 Adrian

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 03:10 PM

A CMS is a content management system. repeat that first word, 'content'.

Usually the main aspect of CMS' are some kind of UI to allow you to add and edit content. A forum is a kind of CMS, all the blog software out there would be, so would a wiki, and apps like Flickr are CMS' too.

In the same way we use templates here, and blogs have templates etc... a CMS would have a template for the page wrap around. The thing to put the content in.

As to how much flexibility you have over the content you can put on individual pages, well that's down to the CMS. Take a nice CMS app like Drupal. You set up you're own template to use for the site, or use a pre-built on if you want, and you then add content in the form of stories and things.

You effectively have a box area on the page to insert content into. At a most basic level that could just be formatted text, but with something like Drupal you can add images and HTML and even PHP.

http://www.sportinwellington.co.uk/ is a site I set up last year with Drupal. In most cases it just about people adding formatted text as new stories. But for the parts I maintain, I also like to use a bit of PHP. The cricket fixture list for example has content from a database table I populated from a spreadsheet. I wrote some PHP, directly into Drupal (after testing seperately) to extract that content and display it in a table.

How far you can go with that kind of thing depends on the CMS. Wordpress, which would also be classed as a type of CMS, doesn't allow you to insert PHP code into posts without a plugin for example.

The main difference, is that whereas you may have created new HTML files in the past for each new page of content, with all it's custom HTML as appropriate for that page, you stick that inside a CMS user interface instead. The more flexible CMS' allow a greater level of detail of what appears where and how.

#5 kavr

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 03:26 PM

300 pages without a CMS? You're kidding, right?


I manage the 10K+ web site without CMS :)

Last 3 years I fight with the management to avoid CMS. And it's not because I don't like it. It's because I understand exactly what CMS is. Managers usually see CMS as a magic to solve all the problems.

The question is - what does your company need?

If you have 300 page, but with the same design - 2 include files and that's it! Why bother with CMS? Redesigning process will take half a day may be?

If you have about 100 people submitting you the content, but none of them understands anything in Marketing and in web publishing, you will have not only to spend a lot of money for the CMS and implementation of it, but then to spend a lot of time to teach these people how to use it, and then - every time they publish something, you will need to check every page to be sure that your company's brand and the message are still OK. Does it make your life easier?

If you have 10 people updating your site who are professional writers and you can 100% trust them to publish the right message at the right place on the right time, and you just need to approve it/add keywords - then go ahead and use CMS.

Katrina

#6 JohnMu

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 03:51 PM

I manage the 10K+ web site without CMS

How? (always curious)

#7 A.N.Onym

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 06:43 PM

I managed a 500 page site without a CMS, it went pretty well, really.
The thing is that not every page of 500 needs to be updated every day.
I was updating only about 10-20 pages a month (links, some content tweaks, etc).

Adding content with includes is a breeze, if you make it right.

It really depends on whether you want to mess with installing and handling CMS and letting others use it without your supervision.

Drupal is free, btw, at least. And its on CSS.

Btw, does every CMS has a template that can be edited? I thought not every CMS allows that?

#8 RisaBB

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 07:08 PM

Thanks everyone. A.N.Onym, I still see it the way you do and I wonder if it's because I never designed a site using CMS. Have you ever used CMS?

I'll only be updating a handful of pages regularly and maybe adding one or two pages a month with articles. With includes files for the nav bar and footer, and CSS, site-wide changes are easy.

Is there a steep learning curve for CMS? If a programmer sets it up for me, would I be losing some control of the design?

Another argument for CMS, I think, is that I'd like a dynamic breadcrumb trail, although doing it manually isn't that bad. I'd also like the page that a user is on to be marked on the nav bar in some way, either a different color or background. I don't think that can be done with a nav bar in an include file.

Thanks for the advice.

Risa

#9 A.N.Onym

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 09:46 PM

I haven't used a CMS.
In my mind, that'd limit the page layout somewhat. Maybe this point of view is old fashioned, though.

Whether you learn fast or not depends on your general programming knowledge. If you know how CMS works and what you need to do exactly, then there shouldn't be much problems with this.

As a matter of fact, I am working on a site on PHP right now.
We are using breadcrumbs and that was really easy to set up.
Also, we are using variables for URLs, which makes it easy to move or rename a page.
To me, using PHP is more versatile than using a CMS. But I am an 'absolute non-programmer' type. I even count knowledge of making includes as basic PHP knowledge =)

To mark the site section the user is on, you only need a couple of classes and some CSS - no CMS is required.
Check it out at AListApart (their site uses that) and see if you need more advice.

Basically, the section is highlighted if the code works:
.topnav #active {text-decoration:underlined;}
I am not sure if this is the way to go, but you can investigate the matter further.

Edited by A.N.Onym, 15 May 2006 - 09:56 PM.


#10 JohnMu

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 02:36 AM

Hi Risa

If I were you I would really look into different CMS systems. This is something that you will be able to use in lots of places, sooner or later.

However, it might be a good idea to do this step-by-step, perhaps on the side. If your current client is pressed for time, then just do it they way you know how it will work. There's nothing worse than trying a new technology for educational purposes when a client just wants something that "works" and is ready on-time. It makes you nervous and you end up fighting the system instead of learning how it really works (since you "just" want to get this one job done).

That said, I would pick a hobby project to start with, something that you can do on your own time, the way you want, something you can mess up completely and re-do sometime later :D.

A CMS separates design and content - it's something that you will have to get used to at first.

I would pick one of the free CMS systems out there, perhaps one which people here can help you with. Installation is generally not much of a problem, they usually do that more or less automatically. Just don't forget the passwords :). You don't need to be a programmer to get a CMS running nowadays.

Keep the CMS "plain-vanilla", keep the default design, and just work with it for a while to see how it works, to understand the possibilities regarding the management of your content. How can you put it together? What structures does it create?

Then you automatically end up playing with the special features of the CMS. 2 clicks and you have a forum integrated. 2 clicks and you have an event-calendar. (just exaggerating, but you get the picture) Most CMS systems have so many possibilities... In the end you'll want to go back to something clean and simple, but it's fun to play with those things and it can bring you new ideas for the future.

Once you know how the system works, how you can put together a site, you can start working on templates. CMS templates can be very different from "normal" HTML templates because they are generally very multi-purpose. That makes it a bit hard to work with, because you will not be able to design a full page and just "split it up" into parts (at least in the CMSs I have seen). Personally, I have thrown it all out the window when trying to set up a personal template for some CMSs -- more than once... <grrrr!! it still makes me mad!!> HTML validation (if that is a goal) is also a problem, because of the many different elements you can place on the same page. It's sometimes hard to figure out which element is causing the validation to break, which template you need to change. Additionally, some CMS systems are html + table based. If you want pure CSS sites (or xhtml) then you might want to check that from the start. Many can be pushed into xhtml+css, but if you have to force the system with tricks then it is often more work than you'll want to do (especially if you do not have a long experience for a CMS, just choose a different one).

Hope it helps!

John

#11 Adrian

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 06:18 AM

The main difference between most CMS' and a well templated site where you are just including files for content is the way that content is entered and stored.

With a site built on tempaltes and includes, you are going to elave yourself with an area to 'include' the content into. It's exactly the same with many CMS'. If the CMS allows you to enter your own HTML, you can do anything I that area you can do with HTML. If it allows you to include PHP, or another programming language, you can do anything that programming language can do. There is absolutely no reason a CMS needs to be inflexible in the way in which a pages content is displayed and customised.
Some are better for it than others, but the good ones allow you a fair amount of flexibility.

There's the removal of the building of the abckend for sites. If you already have a CMS powering it, you aren't going to need to write all the includes and dynamics yourself. All you need to do is design the template (and no, not quite all CMS do allow you to alter the template, but all good ones do, again, look at wordpress or drupal sites).

With a CMS your content is most likely to be stored in a database, in a non-CMS templated site, it'll be stord in actual files. Database versions of the content may be more useful and more flexible in some respects.... Dependning what you need to do.

Also, I like using a CMS and not having to wrap everything in <p> tags and stuff, it really annoys me writing documentation and worrying about HTML tags. It's one of the reason I soooooo much prefer a wiki for that kind of thing, it takes some of the pain out of writing content.

#12 RisaBB

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 07:01 AM

Thanks Softplus and Adrian for your detailed posts.

If I work with a programmer who sets up the CMS for me, am I missing out on something? Will I have trouble changing/updating the design myself if I didn't set it up? Sounds like setting it up myself would make me very familiar with the whole thing, and not doing it would frustrate me with future changes.

Well, CMS sounds very cool and I like the idea of setting up a play site to try it out with.

Thanks, guys.

Risa

#13 Adrian

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 08:26 AM

If I work with a programmer who sets up the CMS for me, am I missing out on something?


If you get someone to set up one of the many CMS apps out there for you, then you can do as much to the template as the CMS lets you. That might be a lot...

One thing you'll find, and it's not unique to CMS', but something a bit out of the scope of simple templates using includes, is that you'll have things like keywords to generate dynamic data. For example, in Wordpress there's something like <? blog_info(title); ?> that you can insert anywhere in the template to display the title of the blog as set in the admin panel. The same idea is prevelant across many templating systems that CMS' use. They might vary a bit, and be called slightly different things, but essentially they do the same kind of job.

If you can understand and use those keywords, then often you can do as much to the tempaltes as you want to do. No real requirement for programming skills.

If you got a programmer to actually write a CMS for you, it's going to depend on how they build it, as to how much control you have over changing the look and feel of the site.

If you want something to play around with, I can set up a wordpress blog as a subdomain on my site and set it so you can go in and have a poke around the templates. The wordpress codex is fairly good ont he documentation it gives if you have some basic understanding of how it all works and is good as a reference for making template changes.

#14 kavr

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 11:08 AM

A little late, but felt I need to answer.


I manage the 10K+ web site without CMS


How? (always curious)


Include files in .NET + I don't touch the design :blink: - Just the content.

#15 RisaBB

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 08:35 PM

Adrian, Thanks so much for your nice offer. I worked with a programmer who set up a WordPress blog on another client's site. I've played around with it a little; maybe I'll check it out a little more. I found it super-frustrating to figure out how to insert a photo into a blog. I couldn't find it in the manual and I had to search their data bank and read dozens of posts to figure it out. I probably spent 3 hours on it. I guess that's the way it goes with any new program.

I think I have to spend my limited time most wisely and learn CMS another time. Maybe it would be best learning how to create a site solely in CSS... and link building...and keyword research...

Risa

#16 Adrian

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Posted 17 May 2006 - 04:44 AM

Images can be a little trickier in CMS', it always seems to be a longer, more drawn out process than you'd like. The usual quick way round it, is if you can enter HTML, upload the image using FTP as you might otherwise, and just stick in your own <img> tag.

In my experience of trying to set up CMS' for people with little or no technical ability, inserting images seems to be the bigger problem. I'm still trying to find a decent module to plugin into Drupal to make it a painless process!

#17 VanessaH

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Posted 19 May 2006 - 06:19 PM

Hello, I'm new to the site but thought I could lend something to the discussion. I've been using/developing CMSs for the past four years. I can't imagine building a large site without one. Everyone has had some good points but I think the most important reason to use a CMS is because it allows for a wider array of collaboration. If you have a built in work flow system it also gives you some nice features to handle content.

It is true that most GPL systems are not very user friendly but I know the project I'm working on is really focusing on this as we move forward. :lol:

You can also take a test drive of most of the CMSs here: http://www.opensourceCMS.com

With respect to design, there are some systems that are easier than most -- if you want the most flexibility in design a good indication is if they've adopted standards like SMARTY templating etc.

I hope this helps and I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Regards,

Vanessa

#18 RisaBB

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Posted 22 May 2006 - 08:13 AM

Thanks, Vanessa. You are making a compelling argument for CMS. Does CMS negatively impact how the search engines crawl the site? A nice design and ease of use is important, but SEO is the most important thing of all.

Risa

#19 A.N.Onym

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Posted 22 May 2006 - 08:29 AM

If you can control the template, you can create a CSS template.
I have seen Drupal and WordPress use CSS.
Drupal also has keyword-rich URLs as far as I recall, too.

I am sure there are other CSS CMSs too (like Sitelite, for instance).

However, that's just standards compliance.
The most stuff you need about SEO is in title tags and content, and that should be manually tweaked.

#20 Adrian

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Posted 22 May 2006 - 09:00 AM

Again, good CMS' are fine as far as search engines are concerned. You want one that allows for 'friendly' urls, that is, urls with few, or no, parameters after a ?.

Customizable title tags etc per page are also prefered. For instance we tweaked the title tags for the forums, not sure about with IPB, but the old phpBB we tweaked programatically to display nicer wording.

Sites built on apps like Wordpress and Drupal can be very SE friendly, it's more down to how you set them up.

#21 eron19

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Posted 22 May 2006 - 09:06 AM

please use a cms, or atleast xml files...

im begging......HEHE.



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