Designing and producing a website, not so long ago the realm of the professional webmaster with all the costs that it entailed, can now be carried out by anyone with the minimum of web savvy. Thanks to the wonders of content management systems (CMS),the entire procedure of building a website can be carried out painlessly and with minimal expense. The key to building a successful website using CMS software is to ensure that you put up the best software to do the job. There are many issues that need to be settled before opting for which web software you choose. Here are the five major points that need to be considered before making that fateful decision.
1) Content Categorisation
Not all CMS, for example, allow the owner to manage and organize pages in a tree hierarchy. Instead, individual “posts” are automatically organized by such criteria as date and category. In some cases, this is perfectly adequate. In fact, this limitation in functionality keeps the interface simple and easy to understand. However, in other circumstances, the limitation can be frustrating.
Consider carefully the basic functionality you need. Even if you do not require the ability to structure and organize pages now, you may in future. Be wary of any system that does not allow you to complete these core tasks.
Also ask yourself how easy it is to complete these tasks. There are literally thousands of content management systems on the market, the majority of which offer this core functionality. However, they vary hugely in usability. Always test the system for usability before making a purchase.
2) The editor
The editor is one core feature worth particular attention. The majority of content management systems have a WYSIWYG editor. Strangely, this editor is often ill-conceived, despite the fact that it is the most used feature within the system.
The editor is the interface through which content is added and amended. Traditionally, it has also allowed the content provider to apply basic formatting, such as font and color. However, developers have recently moved away from this type of editor to something that reflects best practice.
The danger of traditional WYSIWYG editors is two-fold. First, content providers are given too much control over the design. They are able to customize the appearance of a page so much that they undermine the consistency of the design and branding. Secondly, in order to achieve this level of design control, the CMS mixes design and content.
The new generation of editors takes a different approach. Content providers use the editor to mark up headings, lists, links and other elements, without specifying how they should appear.
3) Images & Multimedia Files
Management of images and files is badly handled in some CMS’. Badly designed systems can frustrate users with poor accessibility and usability. Images in particular can cause problems. Ensure that the content management system you select forces content providers to add attributes to images. You may also want a CMS that provides basic image editing tools, such as cropping, resizing and rotating. However, finding one that does this can be a challenge.
Also, consider how the content management system deals with uploading and attaching PDFs, Word documents and other files. How are they displayed to end users? Can descriptions be attached to the files, and is the search function capable of indexing them?
Your content’s presentation should not be dictated by technology. It is simply not necessary now that we have techniques to separate design and content. Unfortunately, like some Web designers, many CMS developers have not adopted best practices and have created systems that produce horrendous code. This puts unreasonable constraints on the design and seriously impacts accessibility.
You need a content management system that allows flexibility in the way content is retrieved and presented. For example, can you retrieve news stories in reverse chronological order? Can you display events in a calendar? Is it possible to extract the most recent user comments and display them on the home page? Flexibility makes a CMS stand out.
Speaking of user comments, all forms of user interaction are worth mentioning.
5) Future Development & Support
If you intend to gather user feedback, your CMS must provide that functionality or allow a third-party plug-in to provide it. Equally, if you want to host a community on your website, then you will require functionality such as chat, forums, comments and ratings.
At a minimum, you will need to be able to post forms and collect responses. How easy does the CMS make this process? Can you customize fields or does that require technical expertise? What about the results? Can you specify who they are emailed to? Can they be written to a database or outputted as an Excel document? Consider the kind of functionality you need and look for a CMS that supports it.
Also ask what tools exist for communicating with customers. Can you send email newsletters? Can recipients be organized into groups that receive different mailings? What about news feeds and RSS?
Finally, consider how you want to manage users. Do you need to be able to reset passwords, set permissions or export user information to other systems?
But user permissions are not the only things that need managing. You should also consider permissions for those editing the website.
Richard has over 4 years experience developing CMS based websites including Joomla, Magento and WordPress. Richard currently works for a Magento Sydney specialist, where he leads a team of web developer.