When I first started diving into website development and content creation, it was very daunting. Lots of code, languages I didn’t understand and it felt impossible to really understand how to approach building a website. Having been in this industry for 7+ years, I’ve found out that there are many, many ways to build a site and research and learning is the name of the game. One area that you should definitely research is choosing the right content management system for your website.
Digital is always evolving and advancing. Taking some time to dig a little bit to find what’s best for you and your needs will payoff big in the end. The most powerful and expensive system out there isn’t necessarily right for you.
Choosing the right Content Management System
It’s important to choose a CMS that is flexible, can be easily updated and that your whole team can understand how to use. We always look for CMS’ that:
- Are user-friendly
- Provide regular updates that upgrade their system as technology advances
- Have options (usually in the form of a long list of plugins, themes and templates that can be downloaded and used on the site)
- Think about SEO (things like URLS and metadata are easily editable across all pages)
- Are secure and scalable
- Allow integration across multiple platforms
Even with that list of criteria, there are still many Content Management Systems that fit the bill. Our experience and client demand has led us to use the following four most often.
When we think about the different CMS offerings out there, there is no doubt that WordPress is No.1 on our favorites list. While we definitely spend a lot of time developing custom-built WordPress sites, you actually do not have to have technical skills to build a WordPress site. It offers a huge amount of flexibility and by using a theme, you can build nearly any kind of website to meet a variety of needs. It also has many plugins to choose from to enhance your site, and sync-up across the different databases and programs you might be using for other purposes (i.e. MailChimp or SalesForce). For example, we used a number of different plugins, including integrating with WooCommerce, on this e-commerce site.
WordPress also has great support and a lot of resources if you hit any bumps in the road. Check out this CMS’ many features here.
While we love WordPress, we also see great value in Drupal, especially for larger sites that have a lot of different departments and sections that need to live within one another because it can hold a massive amount of data. We used Drupal for the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center to help sort through all the different cancer types and departments. This is a good option for developers or someone who is planning on hiring a developer. You really need to be able to code to operate this website builder. If you do have a developer on your team, they’ll enjoy how customizable it is, especially for each of those different departments.
While you may need a developer to build a Drupal site, once it’s built, the maintenance and updates operate like a dream. If you have a big team or will need lots of users in the backend, Drupal is definitely the tool for you! When it comes to users, you can specify roles and permissions and content is super easy to add with plenty of options based on content type. You can find a breakdown of features by industry on Drupal’s website.
Squarespace is a great starter site, especially if you don’t yet have quite the budget to build and operate a WordPress or Drupal site. There are many themes to choose from, each with quite a few templates that can be used to meet the immediate needs of your site. It’s important to note that many of their templates and themes rely heavily on beautiful imagery, so you need to have a strong photo library to really bring those themes to life, but be warned that all those large images might affect your page speed so be sure to optimize the images for web.
We also love Squarespace for its focus on great content. Their blogging interface provides great options, including categories, scheduling posts to be published, and multi-author functionality. Learn more about this CMS here.
When starting a website on a Squarespace site, we recommend having your sitemap figured out first, then diving in to pick out a theme. That sitemap will help guide you in determining which theme has the best templates for your content needs. Not sure where to start to create a site map? Check out our Website Assessment Worksheet.
If you’re looking for a simple and quick-to-implement site that allows you to showcase and sell your goods (maybe you’re a boutique apparel store or a gym with a few membership options), we recommend starting your digital experience with Shopify. This platform provides a simple DIY website experience with its drag-and-drop platform that doesn’t require you to buy hosting or install any software. Shopify also has many themes to choose from and integrates with third-party applications. You can also accept credit cards through their payment system, which is especially convenient if you haven’t yet determined your own point-of-sale system.
You may find that as your business grows or you continue to add additional goods or services to your menu of items, that you quickly outgrow your Shopify site. The more add-ons you put on the site can become costly and you may find that the site has limited functionality for your evolving needs. You’ll find pricing and themes here.
So where do you start?
Doing your research and figuring out your needs first can make it a lot less painful. From there, you can start checking out your content management system options. If you aren’t sure where to start, or even what exactly your needs for your site are, start with our Website Assessment Worksheet and watch those answers start to emerge!