September 19th, 2016 • Steve Forcash

Let's be absolutely clear... Your Content Management System (CMS) Should Not Be a Chore

There are SO many options when it comes to Content Management Systems (CMS's). For the uninitiated, a CMS is a platform within your website that let's you and your team update the site without having to know how to write code. Your options run from the big, open-source options such as WordPress, Drupal and others to fully custom options cooked up by various development teams throughout the world. Each has it's strengths, weaknesses and levels of complexity. Let's talk about WordPress, the 800lb gorilla.

Seriously - What's the point of going with a CMS if it's just as confusing as learning how to write code?

I hate WordPress. There, I said it.

I don't really hate WordPress (I kinda do), but I think it serves a specific purpose. If your site needs that purpose, then great, WordPress is probably one of a few many great options for you. However, if your site doesn't need that purpose, WordPress tends to be a great, big, giant boat anchor that's slowing down and/or complicating an otherwise effective website.

WordPress runs almost 25% of all websites on the interwebs (~60% of websites built on a CMS). That's absolutely crazy to me. 4S Design Studio works with WordPress regularly. It's impossible not to in our field. But make no mistake, we don't push clients into a WordPress site because it's easy to install a predeveloped theme. I can't tell you how many development projects that we taken over that were hacked together themes.

And I think that's the biggest problem with WordPress. The barrier to entry to learning how to install WordPress and then apply a downloaded theme is relatively low - at least in comparrison to learning to code. Developing strong, efficient, scalable WordPress sites requires actual coding. The result of a low barier to entry and a high barrier to mastery is a bunch of really poor installations, sloppy back-ends and content being shoe-horned into a website developed by someone who has never even heard of your business.

When Should You Use WordPress?

WordPress started back in 2003 as a splinter project from b2/cafelog. Simply put, it was a blogging platform that was developed to be an add-on to exisitng websites that needed blog functionality. It has morphed into much more than that, capable of running very complex site structures with an open development community that has done some amazing things. But at it's heart, WordPress still excels as a blogging platform. It simplifies the categorizing and tagging of multiple blog-style posts and gives someone without coding experience, the ability to get content (text, images, etc) onto a "page". It IS really good at this.

If your business objectives require creating (or work with someone like us to create) blog-style content as part of a larger digital marketing initiative, then there's an argument to be made that WordPress is a great option for facilitating that. We don't think it's the best. We don't think it's the most powerful, feature-rich or efficient platform, but it is a good option and often a cost-effective one.

Finally, the shear volume of predeveloped plugins and widgets (functionality add-ons) for WordPress is pretty astounding. You need the ability to add users and passwords with multiple levels of access? It's created already (though there's probably better options than WordPress for this specifically). You want to automatically incorporate all of your social accounts, ConstantContact and the Disqus commenting platform and a highly stylized gallery? It's already created. In other words, there's a lot of functionality that's pre-built that can help save on development costs if a pre-built works for your situation. The caveat is each comes with maintenance, especially as the WordPress engine is updated. We've seen a lot of broken websites because an old widget was no longer compatible with the new version of WordPress.

A Few Reasons Why We Don't Push WordPress by Default

Because I hate it. Just kidding (We have a couple of amazing WordPress developers on staff). In all seriousness though, doing WordPress correctly takes time. In many cases, we find ourselves spending billable hours fixing bugs, fixing compatibility & security issues, updating 'widgets' and generally donating hours towards maintaining WordPress that could be better spent working on pieces that contribute directly to your actual business and marketing objectives.

Next, because WP has morphed into a full CMS and not simply a blogging engine, their back-end admin panel has morphed into something much more convoluted than is necessary for a good percentage of our clients. If you or someone on your team is already familiar with WordPress, great - The transition to a new site should be straight forward. If not, at least a portion of our budget will be teaching you or your staff terms like pages versus posts, widgets, menu hierarchies, etc. And that's fine, so long as the benefits of using WordPress outweight the additional time required to get you comfortable with using it.

What are some other options?

There are literally hundreds of options and chosing a direction depends heavily on how we structure the site based on what your marekting objectives are. If you plan to retain 4S Design Studio to develop a larger content marketing strategy, it may make financial sense for us to skip the client-facing CMS altogether or have us provide a slimmed down version that focuses on the most common content udpates - Think pricing on a restaurant menu as an example.

For static content (much of the core, everyday pieces of your site), we really like Pagelime for it's simplicity. Pagelime has a very visually oriented interface, effectively showing you a live version of your website with edit buttons next to the pieces of content that we've created to be editable. From a site-performance and ease-of-integration perspective, you'd be hard pressed to find a more efficient and cost-effective option.

When working on a inbound marketing program, we have a couple of back-end platforms such as Hubspot that make tracking the metrics required for that type of initiative much easier.

The Take-Away

WordPress is a powerful content management system that's used on an obscenely large percentage of websites on the internet. As a team, we really like WordPress where it makes sense, but think that a significant percentage of WordPress sites don't make sense. There are a lot of developers out there that use WordPress exclusively and some are REALLY good with it. However, there are a lot of folks touting WordPress expertise that are simply going to install a pre-developed theme and then squeeze your content into it, whether it makes sense or not.

WordPress can cut development costs because of the volume of pre-developed components and the platform's native ability to manage and organize large volumes of blog-style content, but it can also create costs via maintenance requirements and the time requirement that comes with the its learning curve. There are security risks that can be fully mitigated, again with a maintenance and time requirement.

Whether you work with us, another developer or go the in-house route, just make sure you understand which direction you're going and why and avoiding going with a platform because it's popular.