Most small businesses and solo-prenuers are looking for a website that both looks professional and is easy to maintain. Fortunately there are several options out there that can do the job. All of them can yield excellent looking sites, but some are easier to use than others. The choices can be broken down into two catagories: CMS’s and HTML, both of which we will discuss in more detail below.
First – what the heck is a CMS?
According to Wikipaedia:
A content management system (CMS) is the collection of procedures used to manage work flow in a collaborative environment. These procedures can be manual or computer-based. The procedures are designed to do the following:
- Allow for a large number of people to contribute to and share stored data
- Control access to data, based on user roles (defining which information users or user groups can view, edit, publish, etc.)
- Aid in easy storage and retrieval of data
- Reduce repetitive duplicate input
- Improve the ease of report writing
- Improve communication between users
In a CMS, data can be defined as nearly anything: documents, movies, pictures, phone numbers, scientific data, and so forth. CMSs are frequently used for storing, controlling, revising, semantically enriching, and publishing documentation. Serving as a central repository, the CMS increases the version level of new updates to an already existing file. Version control is one of the primary advantages of a CMS.
When most web designers (such as myself) talk about a CMS, we are usually refering to a Web Content Management System, such as Drupal, Joomla! or WordPress. All of these are just a CMS designed to make creating and maintaining a website easier. However, not all Web CMS are created equal. Which one is right for you is going to depend on your needs and your goals for your site. Let’s take a closer look at the Big Three.
Drupal is all about flexibility. It treats all content as a ‘node’, allowing you to pick how it is displayed and when. That means that every section of your website can be coded seperately and then pieced together on-the-fly to create the pages that a user sees. This approach is extremely powerful, but requires a lot of input from the customer and the designer to correctly configure the look and how the site operates. If your website is going to contain many differnt types of data; blog posts, news articles, static pages, videos, etc., then Drupal is an excellent choice for your site, just be prepared to either be heavily involved in the design process or leave it all up to the developer and hope they get it right.
Joomla! is all about the articles. Articles are the way that Joomla! looks at content, in the same way that Drupal calls them nodes. You still code all of the individual parts of your site seperately and then assemble them on demand to create pages, but there aren’t quite as many ways to view them as in Drupal (by default). That’s because Joomla! makes some assumptons about how your page should look before you start. While this means that you have slightly less control over how (and when) your content is displayed, it also means you have to do less design work to create your pages.
WordPress is all about posts – blog posts. WordPress started life as a platform strictly for bloggers. It was designed from the start to be as simple as possible for the non-technical person to use with minimal training. That means that the designers made a lot of assumptions about how your page should look before you have typed your first line. Luckily the developers of WordPress weren’t content to leave it there, and over the last seven years they have extended its capabilities to match those of Joomla! and Drupal. And they have done that while retaining the ease of use so that once a site is up, little to no technical knowledge is needed to make changes or post new content.
Lastly there is HTML (HyperText Markup Language). This is the granddaddy of the web, and in fact it is fair to say that there would not be a web if HTML had not been created. HTML has been updated three times (soon to be four) and has been extended using some thing called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), itself about to be updated to the second time. When thinking of websites, HTML is the framework, and CSS is the skin. In other words, HTML tells your browser what to show on a page and CSS tells the browser how to make the page look. HTML/CSS has the advantage that it is almost completely free-form. You can make your page look pretty much however you want it, but to do so you will need to learn some pretty heavy code. Also, once a page is completed, HTML is not the easiest thing to work with to make changes. HTML is a fine choice for a site with lots of static content, but if you want your site to ‘live’, I recommend going with on of the CMS’s above.
In the end, all of the platforms mentioned here can give you a good looking, effective website. Finding the right one for you (and the right developer) will require some research and asking the right questions. We’ll discuss those questions and how to find the right developer in another article.