Five Things To Know If Considering a CMS
Here at Monkee-Boy, we are known for shooting our clients straight. We receive RFP’s of all shapes and sizes and most, if not all, contain some kind of CMS requirement. Content management tools can be great as they can give non-technical users the never before imagined ability to manipulate complex components of their site. They can also be deceivingly overly complicated and paint a client very quickly into unforeseen, proverbial corners when they thought they could easily control everything.
When I was growing up, I used to watch G.I.Joe — one of the highlights of my childhood. From that, dare I say “awesome”, cartoon I learned two important things. One — Cobra Command = bad. Two — knowing is half the battle.
We are all about empowering our clients to manage their web sites, but there ARE some downsides to content management tools. Hopefully this will help explain some of the lesser discussed issues so that you can make an intelligent decision. “Knowing” helped me not sniff glue. Hopefully it will help you save a couple of bucks and a lot of headaches.
Five Things To Know If Considering A CMS
- You will never be able to do “everything” without knowing some code — There…. I said it. The cat is out of the bag. No matter what a CMS’s say on their web site, you cannot do everything without knowing some code. Each CMS has it’s little gotchas — from image manipulation to version control to SEO to design flexibility. What this means is that it is important to understand what you truly need before you make the leap. Figure out what you really need to do and manage on your site, then research to see if that CMS can indeed handle that functionality.The other thing to note here is that many CMS’s take the checkbox approach to features. For example, most have a some kind of e-commerce plugin. If you are selling a couple of items online it may work fine, but as your business grows will it be able to scale and provide the true end-to-end sales/shopping fulfillment that you and your clients expect? Just because they say they do something does not necessary mean that they do it 1) well, and 2) the way your business really needs it to be done. The last thing you ever want to do is let a CMS force you to change the way you run (or want to run) your business.
- Your design and layout flexibility can be impeded — Managing paragraphs of content and your standard image here and there is pretty straight and handled fairly well by all CMS’s. It is important to know that using a CMS framework can create technical challenges in deploying more advanced layouts and content organizers (like tabs, accordions, and multi-column layouts). Similarly, integration with 3rd party systems and libraries can also be tricky — though very doable if you have the coding skills. It is important to remember that the more walls you put up (i.e. frameworks, templates, etc.) the less design flexibility you will have at the end of the day.
- Your SEO can be impacted — If you are starting a brand new web site, if you pick the best CMS and plugins for your site you can do quite well in search engines because you don’t have pre-existing URL’s you need to worry about. One of the main advantages of the SEO plugins is that they can rewrite your URLs (called “slug URLs) to be more search engine friendly. An example would be rewriting a WordPress URL from www.myblog.com/category/datestamp to www.myblog.com/category/this-is-the-title-of-my-blog/. Rewriting the URL to include keywords separated by dashes increases your sites keyword relevance.This is great for sites that are new, but let’s assume you have had a site for a couple of years. If your site is already indexed by search engines and then you redesign with a CMS, chances are your old URLs are not going to map directly to your new URL’s (even if you have some kind of advanced slug URL feature). This could easily lead to lost search engine rankings, lost visitors (arriving at dead links), lost leads, lost revenue and decrease confidence from your user base.Similarly… if you have decided to adopt a CMS and the URL rewriting that comes with it and then later decide to switch CMS’s or abandon them altogether your will once again run into an issue of having to overcome how the new CMS writes your URL’s as compared to the old. There are ways to minimize the damage, but keep search in mind as you make your decision that anytime you move to or from a CMS your search rankings may take a hit.
- Getting your site into a CMS is one thing. Pulling it out is another — We just talked about how switching CMS’s can impact your SEO. What about deciding to scrap a CMS altogether? At Monkee-Boy we have helped just as many companies pull their sites out of CMSs (that weren’t doing the trick) as we have helped companies install and customize them.At the end of the day, the success of any CMS installation really comes down to 1) who is using it and 2) how often they are making changes. Most require an employee to really LIVE in them to remember how to make the easy day-to-day changes. What most companies don’t see when they look at the costs of putting their site into a CMS is what it will cost them to pull it out if they are not happy. It is a big commitment on both sides in terms of time, money, SEO impact, resources, training, frustration, and of course money, so keep an eye on the future to minimize a potential CMS divorce.
- Plug-ins and upgrades can be dangerous — Many CMS’s out there (like WordPress for example) have amazing power through the ability to bolt on additional functionality through plug ins. What you may not know is that plug-ins are created by 3rd party developers and in many cases do not do what they say OR impact how your system and other plug ins work. Before you selecting plug-ins make sure you read the ratings, reviews and fine print to make sure you minimize potential problems of conflicts, server/site latency, and things breaking in general.
- Who really needs a development site? Uhh…I do! — Most medium to large size companies (and even some smaller ones) have a need to have a development and/or a staging environment to test changes before they go to live on production. The more infrastructure you put into place the harder it is going to keep a mirrored environments in sync (no, not the boy band). Keep this in mind as you plan your CMS installation. Do you have the need to launch big portions of your site at different times? Beyond day-to-day maintenance, are there any types of large site updates that you need to stage prior to deployment for internal resources to approve? Do I really want to have to keep two separate environments (versions of tools, versions of plugins, etc.) all updated across both environments?Having to keep such track of all of the different intricacies of a multiple CMS installs can be cumbersome, though doable. Just make sure you keep this in mind before jumping in.
Hopefully these points help raise a little flag or two about things you may not think of when just trying to get a site up and running. The pain, quite honestly, normally comes after your site gets up and running and you want to start making changes, so the best thing you can do is get as much information up front so you know what to expect.
At Monkee-Boy we are normally involved with our clients’ sites long after they have been migrated to/from a CMS and have a long love/hate relationship with them. If considering a CMS for your company, give us a shout and we can help you make an intelligent, informed decision that can save you time, money and a whole lot of frustration.
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