Content Management Systems, or CMS’s have become the defacto tool for building websites. I don’t think we need another blog article to argue that point. Most clients these days, even if they aren’t necessarily familiar with the term “CMS”, they probably know that the ability to manage content is available to them, and they may have even heard of some of the popular solutions out there.
What many people may not understand however is even if they may not be all that interested in updating content on their own on a regular basis, CMS’s provide several other additional capabilities and benefits over a static website, aside from just providing an interface to login and change some photos or add a new page.
1. Repeating & Transforming Content
One major advantage a CMS can bring to your website is the ability to repeat and transform content. The most obvious example is an Events Calendar. If you have a static website, you can always just stick in a Google Calendar and call it done, but aside from the fact that is an ugly solution (not responsive, it has Google branding plastered all over it, and it can’t match the styling of your website), but you have no ability to manipulate the events that are stored in it.
What if you want to pull a feed out of the calendar of events to display a list of highlighted events in a section on your homepage? A simple calendar plugin on a static site can’t do that for you, but a CMS can.
If you want a search bar on your site, the only clean solution is to build your site on CMS.
3. Easier Redesign
A CMS can greatly simplify a redesign of a website rather than having to completely throw the whole thing away and starting fresh.
Today’s modern internet is a dynamic one, however HTML & CSS are primarily intended to format and display static documents, so when you want to do something more than just display a static document, you need to build the website with something more than something designed to display static content.
The problem a static website suffers from, even a well designed one, is that its unable to separate the elements of content inside a website from the components of design & structure. When you can separate content from design & structure, a limitless set of possibilities open up in how to transform, manipulate, and search the content within your website.
A CMS stores the design & structure of the website (in the form of templates), and the content of the website (usually in a database), and then when a user navigates onto the website, it dynamically merges these two components in real time into a static output of the end result – HTML & CSS that the browser then renders into a web page.
However a static coded website is done by simply hand-coding the end result as a single document.
Well Structured Content
While the ideal for a CMS is to open up new possibilities by separating content from design & structure, poorly structured content can undermine this. The biggest mistake I see with clients when they decide to build their website on a CMS is still operating on the assumption that they can insert poorly stuctured content into the CMS.
Static websites don’t have this restriction – you add in content and hack it up with some ad-hoc CSS wherever you want, and as long as you’re happy with how it LOOKS, it works fine. However to get the benefits of a CMS, you need to make sure to follow the patterns that the CMS is expecting for your content.
So what’s well structured content? Check out my next blog post, entitled Avoiding the “Static CMS” Mush: How to best structure website content.
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