The idea behind a content management system or CMS is to enable websites to be updated easily without the need to have any knowledge of how to write and update web pages using HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol). Unlike HTML which is a standard as defined by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), content management systems are not, and because of this they vary a lot. Some are open-source and are free to download, install and use, whereas some are bespoke implementations created for especially for specific websites or organisations. None are created the same and all have strengths and weaknesses.
Basic Elements of a CMS
A content management system usually has a log-in area, usually a web interface where you log-in to modify the website content or upload documents/images to the website. When you save your pages they normally get saved into a database, which will store a lot, if not all, of your websites’ content.
The actual web-facing part of your site, that visitors see when they type a domain name into their web browser, “looks” at the database of content, and gets the content for each particular page when it is requested by a visitor.
Most pages on your website will probably use a common CMS template; this template features all the elements of your site that don’t change from page to page. The template also features empty slots for your page text and images etc. These slots are filled from the content in the database depending which page you request.
Content management systems are really good if you want to be able to modify your website content on your own, and you don’t have any web page authoring experience. However the amount of work required building a CMS onto your site is quite substantial and therefore expensive, and as such you should have a good think about how often you will actually make changes to your site and therefore benefit from a content managed web solution.
Downsides of CMS
Because of the complexity of CMS however, you might find that you aren’t able to change absolutely everything on your website through the content management interface. So it’s important to define your requirements prior to CMS development, as such modifications may be costly and time-consuming once the development has begun.
Content management systems can be written in different programming languages and because of this most are restricted to a specific type of web server/web hosting platform, they will probably have been built for one flavour of database too, so if you plan on using your existing web hosting you may find you need to upgrade or change hosting arrangements, or host your website with the company who is building it for you.
Search Engine Marketing and CMS
A lot of content management systems while enabling you to edit your own website weren’t designed to allow search engines to easily index your website. In a competitive market place, where most people use search to find everything, it is paramount that your website, content managed or not, doesn’t hinder search engines like Google, Yahoo and Live from indexing your web pages and getting your products and services found.
There are lots of techniques for helping a search engine to index your site, and these go far beyond meta tags, which are considered obsolete by most modern search engines, so make sure you ask the right questions before you choose a content managed solution.