‘Content management’ is all the rage these days in website development circles. But what exactly is content management, and why might your organisation benefit from it?
Unlike a traditional ‘static’ website, in which every page is created in HTML using a web design application, a website built around a content management system (CMS) organises your website’s content – text, images and other files – within a back-end database. The front-end of the website is made up of a number of custom design templates through which this content is presented. Changes to the content can thus be made through a database interface without affecting the overall site design.
No special software is required for visitors to a content-managed website because when the web server sends your web pages to the visitor they are sent as plain HTML, so it looks and works just like a static site.
A content-managed website offers organisations a number of significant advantages over a traditional website:
- a CMS-based website doesn’t require a trained web developer, as it can be updated by regular users through a simple browser-based interface;
- multiple people can contribute to the content of the website, they can be given different levels of access (eg author, editor, publisher) and the website can be updated with a secure login from any location;
- ease of maintenance means that your website will be fresher and richer in content, and ultimately deliver better results;
- database-stored content can be more easily indexed and searched; and
- with design separated from content, the ‘look and feel’ of the website (graphics, colours, fonts, etc) can be consistently maintained across the entire site.
It wasn’t that long ago that a CMS website cost a small fortune and it was only large businesses that invested in them, so it’s not hard to find web development companies that still try to get away with charging a lot to provide one.
What has put the power of content management into the reach of not-for-profit organisations, however, is the recent proliferation of open source CMS tools. Popular systems such as Joomla or Drupal, which are free for anyone to download, offer ‘right out of the box’ all the standard CMS features listed above, including the separation of design and content, secure user registration and content workflow. What’s more, they provide access to a vast array of other features, such as discussion forums, emailing lists, web logs (‘blogs’), document management, image galleries, and e-commerce tools, all of which can be used to enhance your website and entice users to return.
With the availability of these open source CMS packages, a content-managed website does not have to be any more expensive than a traditional static website, and may in fact be cheaper and easier to develop – something which is worth keeping in mind the next time you come to redevelop your organisation’s site.