Choosing Right Content Management System

This post is part of a series. To read more posts from this series go to “Creating a Small Business Website“.

Content Management System (CMS) is an application or a software used to create, edit, manage and publish content in a consistently organized fashion. We will be using one to manage our small business website. Those used to manage content on the web are called Web CMS. These are usually web applications. Which means that the software resides on your web server. It handles the appearance of your website, organizes your content and serves it in HTML when some one visits your website. Most open source and free CMS use PHP for scripting and MySQL database.

Why CMS?

You can create a web site by simply using a text editor to create your own HTML documents. Even for people with good HTML knowledge it is a lot of work to copy paste the same code on all pages to maintain consistency, check the website for broken links and manually update the navigational structure of the website. Why spend time on that? When you can spend the same time on creating the content.

  • Using a CMS your site has the same look and feel and you manage site’s design with templates. So your pages have a consistent feel which is good for branding your website.
  • Creating and publishing new content is easier as you will not have to worry about HTML and navigational structure of your website. Most CMS show your newest content on the main page and since they serve the pages dynamically so all your documents get updated with new content.
  • You can add new users to work with you on the same site. You can set their roles and manage the content they add.
  • Using a CMS allows you to give your site’s visitors a place to interact without breaking your site. Visitors can comment, join mailing list or take part in forums.

Which CMS is right for me?

There are many applications available and a great number of them are free open source CMS. You choose the one that meets your needs. What you should look when choosing the right CMS for your website:

  • Does it have the features that help you publish your site the way you want. For example if you want to create an online store, wordpress which is a great CMS is porbably not the best choice in your case. But then if you want to create your main page with news and articles then wordpress is definitely a good choice.
  • Does it have the ability to extend functionality using plugins or modules. Using plugins and modules you can add extra functionality and features to your website without breaking it.
  • It has a template system that is easy for you to understand. Are there many free templates available on the web? This is important so that you can pick a well coded template that you can modify with your own branding.
  • Support, does it have a well written manual available on the web? Is there a forum, mailing list, or a chatroom where you can go and ask questions.

There are many Free and Open Source CMS available on the web. They come with great community support, plugins, templates and themes. WordPress is probably the most popular example of an Open Source CMS. If you want a more e-commerce CMS then you can try Zen Cart or SilverStripe. You can also use more than one CMS on your site, for example you can use WordPress for your static pages and company blog, PHPbb for your web forum, and Zen Cart for your product gallery. Many web hosts offer one click installs for these popular open source CMS. You can also download and install them on your web server and play with them for a while before making your final decission.

Create Your Web Site

Now that you have decided to create your website with any CMS. Next step is to modify the default installation. First of all you need to change the logo, site’s name and title, design and layout to meet your needs. Most Open Source CMS has web forums, mailing lists, tutorials and Wikis on their websites with details about modifying your site. For example look at WordPress support pages, zen-cart tutorials, phpbb documentation and support, SilverStripe community support.

This is a great skill you are learning yourself and once you are familiar with the support system of open source community you will feel powerful and confident. Now lets say you want to change the header image of the default installation with your company’s logo, you go to your CMS website and look for tutorial to do that. If you don’t find a tutorial then simply ask in forums or mailing list. Some one will answer your question with in a couple of hours sometimes even in minutes.

Don’t rush to launch and announce your website until it is ready. Keep modifying your website, work on it, browse it, fill it with content, add plugins and try different layouts. Take your time, take a week atleast or a month if you are a perfectionist. Once you are satisfied with the look and functionality of your website launch it as “Beta” which means that product if polished but you are still testing it. After a while when you have enought users and you have resolved most issues with the website you can remove the Beta label.

In the next posts we will be discussing the content you should publish on your website and how you will be working to make your website popular.

This post is part of a series. To read more posts from this series go to “Creating a Small Business Website“.

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