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April 06, 2015
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Which CMS is Right for Me?

April 06, 2015

The backbone of any website project is its content management system (CMS) – it plays such a huge role in how you'll be able to manage your online presence once your website is launched. There are so many platforms to choose from, picking the right one can seem like an overwhelming chore. We’ve built websites on a few different platforms, from template-based to completely custom, and here's what we've found. 

Weighing Options

Most often we build on our own CMS, Boxer. Why create our own CMS when there are already so many available systems out there? We wanted Boxer to be an “owner-friendly” CMS – easy to use and easy to update. When building on it, we start with a fresh install every time, tailoring the back end to our clients’ specific needs as determined in the discovery, planning, and design phases of a project. There are no extra widgets or functions you’ll never need, and there are no templates to choose from. That way, every website is built as a custom web solution.

WFYI needed a custom, robust solution for editing and organizing their massive amount of content. Their CMS includes work flow approval and modules to manage their television and radio programming.

We don’t build exclusively on Boxer, though. There are a number of other powerful content management systems we occasionally use, each with its own merits. Sometimes, those end up being the right solution over a custom build with Boxer.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper post about content management systems without a WordPress mention. WordPress is a widely used platform that can provide plenty of flexibility. Being open source, it has a community of millions of users that have helped produce thousands of plugins with any feature you could imagine, and because it is so widely known and used, there is a large pool of developers who can make ongoing updates to the code (with the proper programming knowledge, of course).

We used WordPress for Compliancedashboard, where we added custom fields to this page template to create a unique layout for their pricing page.

There are a few drawbacks to WordPress, though. The quality of plugins and themes can range from great to awful. There’s no telling how often the developer will update the plugin, and it might not be compatible with every version of WordPress. Not all plugins are free – often times, the great ones will need to be purchased.

When you have that many developers independently writing code, you might find yourself running into compatibility issues that could break your website – or worse. Just last December, it was discovered that a premium (that is, paid) plugin compromised thousands of websites with malware that could target visitors. So while WordPress is a powerful platform aided by its extensive community, it comes with a certain level of risk.

There are also subscription-based systems, like Squarespace, which comes with templates, ecommerce, hosting, and customer service all rolled into one. One major draw is its drag and drop WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. You can create, edit, drag, and drop any of its content blocks to create countless page layouts, all the while being able to see exactly how the page will look on the front end. With its template system, you can get a website up and running as fast as you can drag and drop.

But with ease of use comes limitations. Squarespace isn’t open source, meaning you don't have access to the code that controls your CMS. So, you’re limited to the content blocks and functionality Squarespace provides. There’s no editing or customizing the CMS itself.

The website we built for Project Home Indy uses Squarespace's developer platform. This allows for custom template creation, while still providing access to the inline WYSIWYG editor. 

Every solution will have both pros and cons.

  • With Boxer, we provide a completely custom web solution tailored around our clients’ specific needs. We leave out all the unnecessary clutter, making it easy to use and easy to update. Though going fully custom means you'll need us or a skilled php developer to make future updates to the website’s code.
  • WordPress has been around for a long time and thus has a large community of users and an abundance of plugins. It can provide plenty of flexibility, but getting super custom will require the assistance of a developer. And being an open source platform is a double edged blade – there is both high quality and low quality code out there, and digging through it all to find the right solution can be quite the chore. Not to mention the past and potential security issues.
  • Squarespace is user friendly and great for simple websites. Plus there’s the added bonus of its 24/7 customer support and having system updates managed by the Squarespace team. But it isn't open source, so it has many limitations that won't suit the needs of a robust website.

So, how To decide which CMS is right for you?

You might need a custom or more robust solution if you're storing sensitive customer information in a database connected to your website, you have incredibly complex communications needs, or you need internal work flows integrated into your website. Or, if you have a large website and a dedicated internal team to support the website, it might make sense to go custom to ensure a good user experience, both on the front and back end.

A templated solution like WordPress might be right for you if you need a flexible and powerful platform but don’t have the same robust needs as listed above. Though you might need a reliable developer or some coding knowledge to test (or build) themes and plugins and make the necessary updates.

If you’re a one-man team or have limited resources for managing your website, then a subscription-based system like Squarespace might be right for you. No knowledge of code is necessary (unless you choose to use the developer platform). You can simply choose a template and use the drag and drop editor to get your website up and running. Plus, you can rely on the Squarespace team to make system updates and provide 24/7 customer support.

For enterprise solutions, there are a sea of options out there – SiteFinity and Crown Peak, for example – that come into play when you have large budgets and very specific needs. We've often done technology audits to help align CMS needs with the right solution.

Before investing in an enterprise or custom solution, or in any solution, it’s important to do the proper research to know what you want or need for your website so you don’t get locked into a solution that isn't right for you.

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