Are the Changes You Make to Your Website Killing It?

Written by  on Oct 10, 2013

Once upon a time, our company really built up the ease and advantages of using a content management system (or CMS, for short). As with much in our industry, however, it didn't take long before views started to change, which in turn led to a shift in the way we work.

A number of our clients have excelled at using their content management systems and have been able to manage and update their sites successfully without much help from us. Others aren't so confident, or simply don't have the time to dedicate to website management. (Regardless of skill level or time, we're always here to help all our clients - just call us!)

Today, we embrace a custom approach to building sites, taking a more in-depth look at a client's administrative needs. Sometimes a CMS is the right choice, and sometimes it's not. This isn't to say that a CMS is no longer a good option, or that our clients who had sites built using them were misdirected. In fact, when you use a CMS you get more... a lot moreTherein lies the double-edged sword.

There are pros and cons associated with the administration of any website, and often times they're a bit hard to distinguish. Today we're looking the pros and cons of using a CMS.

CONTENT/PAGES

Pro: A content management system gives you almost complete control over your site content and organization. Categories, individual pages, and a combination of the two (think blog layouts) are all at your finger tips. You can edit your home page content, post a new blog, and update your 'upcoming events' with just a few clicks.

Pro: The basic editors are similar in style to well-known word processing applications like Microsoft Word, which many of our clients use both at home and at work. This makes the transition to working on the web less stressful, as the environment feels familiar.

A basic CMS editor in Joomla

Con: If you're not careful, too much freedom in the editor can lead to clashing styles throughout your site and make the whole thing look a bit unprofessional. We do our best to limit this, but sometimes it's unavoidable, especially if you have more than one person administering your website.

When you copy content from somewhere (be it Microsoft Word or a website) your computer will remember certain styling aspects associated with the text, like color, size, bold, italics, and the font. Paste that directly into your CMS editor and you'll soon have a site with many differing styles.

It's an easy fix (Paste as Plain Text) but it's also easy to forget. It can take time before actions like pasting as plain text become second nature, but it only takes one small misstep to really screw up the look of a page.

MENUS

Pro: Creating and changing the menus on your site is no major feat when you're working in a CMS. Be it your main navigation or your footer nav, you can link internally (on your site) or externally, add new links, or delete old ones. Even sub navigation is in your control; with one extra click you can turn a main link into a drop down under another.

Menus are the backbone of your site, and have a huge effect on what people are viewing on your site and when, so having control over them can be a great ability.

A portion of BKMedia Group's menu with heirarchy

Con: Accidentally creating two menu items that have the same URL but point to different places can break parts of your site. Creating two menu items that point to the same place but have different URLS can break parts of your site, too.

Un-publishing content without also un-publishing a menu item can result in broken links sprinkled throughout your menus. If you accidentally turn off your 'home' navigation item, you can essentially break your entire site. Even adding hierarchy (sub menu items) can lead to unseemly styling on your site if it wasn't something your site was built to handle.

Make sure you know what you're doing before you start, especially with menus. Unlike content, where a mix-up will change the look of a page, a menu mixup can render portions of your site completely inaccessible.

COMPONENTS

Pro: Want to install a component to automate functionality, such as integrating your email marketing directly into your website, or allowing users to register for an online event? When your site is built on a CMS, you can do that too. Because content management systems are widely supported, there are libraries of open source components that programmers have created to plug-in and perform extra functions you (and many others) need from a website.

Con: Uploading, installing and updating components on your site can break other aspects if they don't mesh, or aren't created for the proper version of your CMS.

While many components are created to do a certain task right out of the box, your needs won't always fit that solution perfectly. More specific needs may require retrofitting a component, which then takes it out of your hands completely and negates the ease-of-use a CMS provides.

CONCLUSION

As Voltaire and Spiderman's 'Uncle Ben' have famously said (albeit in French and English, respectively), "With great power, comes great responsibility." This applies to more than just monarchs and superheroes; the power a CMS gives you over your website needs to be used carefully or it can quickly cause harm.

To negate these problems, we build a number of sites using custom administrative dashboards, created specifically for each site. With this solution, your ability to edit certain sections and aspects of the site are specific, based on your needs and ability. (If the 'About Us' page changes once every 2 years, it costs you less to have us make those changes than to build access to it.) The trade-off is an admin that gives you access to what you need and ONLY what you need, limiting the amount of damage that can be done with a stray mouse click or a bit of 'dirty' code.

Make no mistake: our clients aren't locked to BKMedia Group because of this customized approach. Just because a site is custom doesn't mean we're the only ones who know how it works. We build custom access, but do so using well-known, well-accepted and well-supported platforms and languages; we're giving you a solution that is created just for you and your needs, rather than a cookie-cutter approach.

Is your site on a CMS? If so, what's your take? How has your experience been?

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