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How we build website content management systems that are easy to use

The content management system (CMS) is the most important behind-the-scenes aspect of a business website. They need to be easy to use on a day-to-day basis.

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Posted by Jon
10 September 2018

A content management system is a type of software that a website can run on. It's what allows you to add pages to your site without having to manually code them from scratch.

As with any software, there's lots of different types of CMS. Some of them are good, some of them are bad. Some of them are pretty much unusable to the point that it would just be easier to code things from scratch yourself.

But when they're done right, they're great – a good CMS gives you everything you need to manage and update your digital presence on a daily basis, reducing your reliance on agencies and developers to make every single change for you.


You are a user of your own website

User experience is an essential part of web design and development, but it typically focuses purely on the experience that your customers are having when they use their website. Ensuring they have a good time is obviously what's important.

But some web developers can lose sight of the fact that their client is a user too – in fact, they'll be spending more time with their site than anyone else.

As a business owner or marketing manager responsible for keeping your company's website updated, your user experience is vastly different to someone who only ever looks at the front end.

A good content management system should be giving you the best possible experience while using and managing your own site. How does that experience leave you feeling?


Does it take too long to make changes to your website?

Let's say you want to make a change to your site. Something like adding a new product, or taking off a service you don't provide anymore, or updating everyone's staff photos because they're all sick of them. Or maybe it's something even simpler, like adding a blog – essential for keeping up with your digital marketing plans.

How long does it take to do – what process do you have to go through? Maybe it's…

  • Emailing your agency or IT department with the changes you want
  • Being told they'll get right on it as soon as they have availability
  • Checking daily to find out whether they've done it or not
  • Finding it's been done a week later
  • Noticing a mistake
  • Emailing your agency or IT department about it
  • Being told they'll get right on it as soon as they have availability
  • Checking hourly to find out whether they've done it or not

…and so on.

Bit of a worst-case scenario, obviously. But this is an unfortunate reality for users of older sites that either don't have a CMS, or have one that requires more than a little bit of technical knowledge to wrangle effectively, so I'm sure it'll sound familiar to some readers.

With a modern CMS, designed with digital marketing and content strategies in mind, the process is more:

  • Get your content
  • Add your content to your website
  • Change it quickly, if you need to

…and that's actually it. Sounds good, right?


WordPress content management systems make the perfect starting point

So, what's the best web content management system out there? Our consensus as an agency should be pretty obvious from the header above – it's WordPress.

Many developers will still have a bit of a gripe about WordPress and CMS systems like it – and to be fair, there are some downsides. For example, you'll need to keep up with software updates to prevent security vulnerabilities – though we provide this as a service for our support clients.

One of the main arguments is probably that it restricts the developer a little bit too much – in order to be efficient, a CMS requires templates and frameworks that ensure consistency and easy of use. It can be difficult to just stick in an extra custom-coded feature wherever you want.

But this point of view is a little bit selfish – it considers the preferences of the developer over the needs of the people paying them to build the website in the first place. When you do actually put the needs to the client first, WordPress is perfect.

When I joined Splitpixel the dev team were still largely custom coding from scratch, and it took some persuading for me to bring them round to WordPress, but now we use it exclusively (the occasional ecommerce site or marketing automation-driven HubSpot site aside). We're WordPress developers, and proud!

After all, there's a reason why it powers about 32% of the internet (and 59% of all websites that use a CMS) – miles ahead of less-practical platforms like Joomla and Drupal. It's easy to use, it looks nice, and it works very nicely out of the box.

But an out-of-the-box WordPress platform will only take you so far – we typically go to great lengths to customise the way things work behind the scenes, so almost every aspect of the site is as customisable and easy to update as you need it to be, giving you much more control over how you can add content to your site.


A good CMS gives you complete control of your website updates

I mentioned templates above, and these are a key feature of just about website CMS. They set out a page layout that users of the CMS fill out in the back end. Text goes here, image goes here, simple.

It's fine for simple websites, or at least it used to be. Things are changing and getting more complex – websites need loads more features, and loads more flexibility, to provide the best-possible user experience to website visitors, and to give website managers the freedom they need.

For example, we were increasingly running into problems with templates. Clients would ask for a page to do something slightly different – say, for example, they would ask that a page looks 90% the same, but has a change to what's featured in a sidebar menu. Seems simple, but actually requires a whole new template to be built. Clients couldn't do this themselves, taking power away from them, and using up their retainer's studio hours.

More recently, we've started to develop sites in a much more flexible way, creating a customisable pagebuilder for our clients to use.

We design and build a broad range of customisable website modules that can be selected, repeated or removed from your page layouts altogether, filled in with your content, and then dragged and dropped to where you'd like them to appear on a page.

Every single page can have a different layout if you need it do – all while maintaining a consistent look and feel.

It really does give you complete control over how you put together your pages. And if you need an extra feature, an extra module can be added with ease, and then included on existing pages. If we used templates for this, you'd have to rebuild the page from scratch in the new template.

We've had some great feedback from clients on this approach, some of whom have described it as a genuine "gamechanger" for the way they manage their website on a day-to-day basis. If you'd like to find out more about how it works, then don't hesitate to get in touch.

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