Got more than 100 web pages? A content management system should be in your future

Content management systems save lives

Content management systems save livesA content management system can be the solution to the single largest problem with most web sites — keeping content current. Updates take time, cost money and require logistical support. And a few years ago, the digital equivalent of elbow grease was the only solution. Organizations brought on staff or contracted to freelancers the task of marking up text – either by hand or using a visual page editor – to do routine updates to their web sites.

But this sort of coding work is repetitive and predictable. If it sounds to you like a perfect task for a computer you’re right. It is.

Enter the “content management system.” A content management system (CMS) is a generic term for a collection of web pages or web-connected programs that maintain the information on a web site. A CMS does this by storing the information in a database, and then retrieving it and displaying it as a web page when someone visits the site. There is a private and hidden set of pages that authorized individuals use to add, edit or delete the site’s content.

Advantages of a content management system

Your maintenance costs will decrease
If you pay someone to post each page, your costs will decrease if posting a page is a 30 second task involving copy and paste. If your staff already do this, they will have more time for other tasks.

Updates will take less time
Contractors have other clients, staff have other tasks. Delays are inevitable. But you can minimize the lag time between content creation and publishing by making the process as easy as possible.

Publish anytime from anywhere
You use a series of web pages to publish your content, so if you have a web browser and an internet connection, you can publish to your web site. No specialized software required.

Separate content from structure
With your content in a database, you can, by making a relatively trivial change, decide to list your stories by topic, rather than by date because the database does the sorting. With a static page, someone has to rearrange the stories themselves. This is not a complicated task, but it is time consuming and does require some relatively specialized knowledge.

Now anyone can be a web publisher
Most content management systems perform the basic HTML markup tasks themselves, including adding images and links. If you can copy and paste text between your word processor and your web browser, you can be a web publisher.

Your librarian will love you
A web site is a collection of text files with obscure names. Once you’ve been running your site for a few years, you will accumulate hundreds if not thousands of these things. Trying to figure out where all your stories are can be challenging, to say the least. Using a CMS can bring the power of a database to bear on this, including full text search, metadata, content summaries.

Disadvantages of a content management system

If there weren’t any, everyone would be using one of these things.

They cost more to set up
Getting a database to interact with a web server and in turn a visitor’s web browser is a significantly more complicated task than just marking up a bunch of text files to turn them into HTML. So the setup costs are higher. As a general rule, if you have fewer than a hundred pages on your site, a CMS could well be overkill.

They can cost more to host
Depending on your service provider, it may cost you slightly more every month to host your website. But you may already entitled to host some content management systems.

Publishing outside the box can be a bit tricky
Databases like information well-structured and of similar shape. Sometimes that means your pages have less variety than you’d like.

CMS options

There are lots of content management systems out there. Some of them are commercial software packages that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of them are open-source or freely available collections of scripts. Or, you can pay someone to write the thing from scratch.

I have had good experiences with two open source CMS packages: