In 1998 I had an idea to build a piece of web software to allow clients to update their own website. Many others had the same idea and the market was flooded with Content Management Systems to put control of the web in the hands of our clients. Maybe I was driven by the challenge of building something so cool and powerful, or the fact that I had a Utopian idea of what could be.
Always chasing advancing technology, features were created to make things easier for the client or user to update their websites. I advocated for years that the CMS is an amazing tool to allow for quick updates, ease of use, benefit of cost savings — all the features that are used as selling points to companies who wanted to take control of their website (marketing, content, design). Now, 15 years later I realize it’s a scary and complicated issue. Experience teaches us and here’s why I rarely recommend or endorse CMS solution any more.
Please note that we’re talking about SME and corporate business here, so remember that your website is your on-line brand that EVERYONE in the world will experience. It is probably the single most important marketing element of your brand, so why wouldn’t you invest authentic effort and apply the most talented resources available? Maybe this will help you understand why you need a web marketing team in place. Not necessarily employees, but contractors like myself that you can build a relationship with to get your brand and technology ship-shape. The more informed you are, the better decisions you’ll make and hopefully increase your HR relationships, technology and brand resulting in big bottom line gains.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule but in my experience this is true in almost all cases. Here’s why I think Content Management Systems are over-rated and definitely not for everyone who thinks they need them.
What can your CMS do? Everything, right? Is it worth it and does it really deliver? If you want everything then you are paying a premium. How much does that cost? Do you have the right human resources to utilize all those fancy features? Is it more expensive than breaking your brand, your design, your message versus contracting the right marketing/web/content/SEO team? What’s your plan?
Do you have one? Do you have a web and SEO strategy in place? Do you have a Tech plan? Doing research and creating a roadmap is a must for any successful business. You marketing strategy should cover everything here.
Technology changes too fast to think you’ll be safe with your CMS for more than 2 years at most. HTML and CSS versions along with scripting languages are being updated based on technology advancements; browser functionality, server and processor speeds and capabilities. If you choose a CMS there had better be a roadmap for updates and versioning plus amazing support with no downtime. What’s your readiness plan? This means you’re in for a regular investment regardless of the technology you choose. Do a forecast that includes all your resources and budget so you are not surprised later.
Trust me. You’ll find a way to f*ck it up. This may be the biggest problem with CMS. Either your CMS is made to constrain design so that there is no control making it an almost static template or it allows too much control resulting in bad design or causes layout issues. Isn’t the idea of CMS to allow control? Do you want to give control to someone who shouldn’t have it? Would you give a gun to a 4 year old? So, pick one. You want your site to look amazing and utilize responsive design (for now). Does the above sound like it’ll work for you? To me it seems like a bad decision especially if you are a professional business. Trust professionals and value their talent.
Content Marketing is an Art
Is the person updating the site a content marketer? Probably not. So why would you have them updating your site? You’re trying to look professional and get your message across clearly and concisely. Writing and creating relevant content including consistent brand messaging, appropriate and professional photography and video. Where did it come from and is it suitable and properly written? Is it optimal? This is important to your brand and the continuity of your business.
Everyone wants to get found on Google
Is the person updating the site an SEO expert? Probably not. This is also a skill reserved for someone who at least has a grasp of SEO/SEM. Most companies want to get found and it can sometimes be their number one priority. Is your CMS SEO enabled? Is it made to make the most of indexing and SEO? Is it going to increase your site searchability or impact it in a negative way? Even if you’re sold on it being SEO enabled who’s doing the work and are they the right person?
People can be a problem
Roles and responsibilities can cause issues with using a CMS. Even if you give the right tools to someone you still have to ensure their job description is tailored for administrative accountability. Making updates a priority and creating an internal structure for how content gets to the administrator is key to any successful website. Is there an approval process and does your CMS have the hierarchical and privilege features to accommodate? You have to actually change your culture to make it work.
Technical skill level
Do your employees have the technical skill to use your CMS? What if they don’t? Are you going to provide training? How far can you go to train someone that specialists have been educated and have years of practical experience? Again I ask, should they be updating the site? Even if the info is not SEO specific and just events or news posts, will your team have the capabilities?
Open Source vs. Proprietary
Choose Open Source and you are on your own to find support. There are some great solutions but once you have a problem you’re outsourcing anyway. What about web services? Do you have a team in place?
Proprietary means you’re locked in to using someone’s software and paying for it every month. Is your site coded to standards? Is it optimized? Is your domain URL working as it should for indexing? They’d better support and have resources to advance the software usability, design, functionality. Also, unless you qualify it upfront — who owns the content, design and code if you are not happy? What do you get when you want to leave after realizing CMS is not the ideal thing for you?
So instead of choosing between the above, why not assemble a team of professionals to help make your business better?
Summing it up
If you have an internal team of professional marketers, SEO/SEM, Content writers, graphic designers then maybe you can make a CMS work for you BUT you have to choose the right solution which still always have drawbacks. One that has a proven track record, documentation, support, security aware and has a roadmap for future support.
Wordpress — sure you can do it for free but you still have to pay someone to configure, customize, write content etc. so is it really free? And then you have to maintain updates, security patches, plug-ins while wondering when the next DOS attack is coming to your WordPress server host.
Regardless of CMS or not, you have to look at the big picture. You’re not going to SAVE money by using one. In fact, you may even LOSE money by having the unskilled employees posting incorrect info or content resulting in negative perception by your audience, poor search engine results, lack of a plan and no professional support.
Nothing is free and there are no shortcuts. If you accept this then you are half way there. Some people learn the hard way and others learn from experience or take advice from the smart people they surround themselves with. This makes it easy to find the right clients and vendors depending on your view.
Maybe I am a purist and prefer pixel specific design. I like to do things right. I’m not saying there’s not a place for CMS but it is definitely not in the corporate business space or anyone who takes their business seriously. It’s a great tool for quick development and for specific uses like sports teams or hobby sites, enthusiasts and anyone who wants to publish their message on the web without worrying about loss of revenue. It might work well for designers who can’t code or good marketers with some design skill who maintain a relationship in that area. They may be able to tame your CMS and use it in the right way. But realize you are going to pay for good service and talent either way. It’s true you don’t know what you don’t know so hopefully this will help you get in the know!
If you have questions, or want to blab about it let me know!