Choosing the Right CMS
Using a Content Management System (or CMS) to build your website is a great way to take control of your content. CMSs allow users to login to a user-friendly administrative interface and manage web content without any programming knowledge. Entire websites are built every day, without the creator ever touching a line of code. All-in-one platforms such as Squarespace and Wix offer hosting as well as what-you-see-is-what-you-get editors, providing an even easier way to quickly get a site up and running. So which is the right choice for you?
If you want to do the work yourself, have no experience with web design, and seek a quick & dirty solution, all-in-one services like Wix are worth considering. They offer little in the way of customization, but are hard to top in the convenience category. If you are willing to get your hands a little dirty, however, I recommend signing up for web hosting, and using a package installer to get a CMS such as WordPress installed with just a few clicks. It takes a little more work, but opens up a world of flexibility that all-in-one services cannot offer.
If you’re reading this post, you are taking an important step by doing some preliminary research. You probably wouldn’t want to purchase a new car without reading up on a few different models, and choosing a website platform should be no different. It’s a big investment, especially if you are planning to hire a web designer. Things can and do go wrong with all websites, so it’s essential to understand potential pitfalls from the get-go.
First, some good news: CMSs are generally designed to be easy to use. Learning curves vary, but in the end you should expect a site that is relatively easy to manage. If ease of use is important to you, steps can often be taken to make editing and maintenance easier for the novice. Consider what you need to manage – content, design, functionality, or all three. Any site should be built on a stable, well-supported platform, but many are not. Be sure to communicate these needs to your designer, before they consider taking shortcuts!
WordPress vs. Drupal
Two of the most popular open-source (aka. free) CMSs today are WordPress and Drupal. Many excellent blog posts and YouTube videos are available to compare the two, to which I’ll add a few considerations based on my own experience.
Firstly, it is important to note that both WordPress and Drupal are excellent website platforms – there is no bad choice here, but there is often a better fit for any particular use case.
WordPress began as a blogging platform, and it remains structured as such. It has since become incredibly popular to build out entire websites, omitting the blogging & commenting features entirely. For simple sites with a handful of pages, WordPress is a great choice. By installing a few free plugins, common features such as contact forms and SEO management can easily be added. Ecommerce plugin suites such as WooCommerce can handle ecommerce, but beware: extending WordPress’ and Woocommerce’s functionality often necessitates the use of commercial plugins. Another common issue is that multiple plugins can create conflicts, which can make it difficult to add new features to your site. Plugins and commercial themes can quickly add bloat to a WordPress site, slowing it down noticeably. If you are planning a small, simple site, however, WordPress is an excellent choice.
Drupal is a far less popular – though still extremely well-supported open-source platform for enterprise-level websites. When a large amount of content must be managed, Drupal’s scalability and versatility really shine. If your site will require complex permissions/access rules, large amounts of data, and total flexibility in the display of that data, start considering Drupal. It is more difficult to get a Drupal site up and running, but choosing a design firm that specializes in Drupal can mitigate the associated costs. Drupal is also known to be fast, secure and well-optimized for search engines out of the box.
The Bottom Line
WordPress is a great choice for smaller sites without many bells and whistles. As complexity needs increase, free plugins can extend WordPress’ functionality considerably, but beware of potential performance and compatibility issues. For sites with a high level of complexity, Drupal is a wonderful alternative.
If you would like to discuss website platform choice with an experienced web developer, reach out to me any time.