By Thecodeintellects (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
No, this post isn’t about another license, credential, or degree to put after your name. CMS stands for content management system
, and in this case I’m referring to any of the applications that allow for publishing, editing, and organizing of content on web pages. Content management systems are powerful tools that make it easy to create, manage, and update websites and web content.
But do you really need a content management system for your website? Due to their wide range of capabilities, these systems can be very large and slow, which might not be a suitable trade-off if you’re trying to build a very simple website. Below, I outline some* considerations you should make before deciding whether to use a CMS.
How much content will be posted, and how often? If you only have a fixed amount of content to post — maybe you just need the basics, like library hours, location, contact information, etc. — then you can get away with coding the pages yourself. However, if you’re planning on a lot of publishing activity, a CMS can be a time-saver in several ways. For one, most content management systems will provide you with a way to view a list of all the content you created, and let you perform batch actions such as publishing/unpublishing and deleting content. Furthermore, a CMS will provide a simple, familiar interface to input your content — whether it’s text, images, PDFs, video, etc. — which means your users won’t need any HTML expertise in order to make contributions to the website.
There are other benefits of a CMS’s graphical user interface (GUI). It allows greater control over content by enabling you to make certain fields mandatory, like a title and author name. Additionally, the CMS will automagically tag those fields in the rendered HTML, so you can customize the look of each field through the CSS stylesheet.
Another content consideration to ask is, Will you embed dynamic content from other sources, such as social media? Most popular content management systems have extensions (a.k.a. modules or plugins) that will display the content from your social media accounts directly on your website. However, if you will you do little more than post the occasional Flickr photo and YouTube video, then a CMS will be overkill if you already know how to embed externally-hosted photos and videos in HTML pages.
How many users will post content? A CMS does more than content management — it also does user management. This is especially useful if you have several types of content and you need to assign user permissions based on content type. For example, you may want to give your reference librarians permission to publish blog posts, but you might not want them editing the page on computer use policy.
What are the web development and design skill levels of you/your staff? The benefit of using a CMS is that a relatively simple installation process lets you skip the development phase, and the theme marketplace lets you skip the design phase. You can have an attractive, functioning (if only basic) website up and running in less than a day’s work.
If you and your staff lack the technical skills, but have sufficient monetary resources to hire someone to develop and design a website, then you’ll also have to factor in the cost of maintaining the site once it’s live.
Another consideration is your users’ technical abilities. You may have some users who are very comfortable with embedding images, and you may have other users who have a difficult time even with a simple web form. If you care at all about accessibility — and you do, right?! — then you should also consider technical/web ability as an accessibility concern. Whether you decide to go with a CMS or not, cater to your users.
If you decide to use a content management system, there is no shortage of options, and the most popular today are Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. But I wanted to close this post with some alternative options.
The intrepid web developer may want to roll her own CMS, perhaps with the help of a web application framework such as Yii or Zend. For organizations that lack the technical skills or time and money, there are website builder services such as Weebly and Squarespace that will help you get a slick-looking website up with minimal time and effort.
If you really don’t have much content to post, and your discovery vendor allows access, why not piggy-back on your online catalog and add your custom pages there?
*This isn’t a complete list of considerations. Let us know in the comments what I’ve missed!