Do we need a CMS for our business website?
July 17, 2012 9:24 AM   Subscribe

My small business is redoing its website. We are hiring people, and the main difference is: no CMS or two choices of open-source CMS. Do we want to go with the (more expensive) CMS option?


We do not now and will never need e-commerce.
We do need a blog, which the no-CMS guy will create (he suggested hosting it on blogger/wordpress, which I am unwilling to do). It does not need comments. He would also make it possible to put the headlines on our front page, which we need.
We will have CMS-like functionality (eg, go to a webpage and change something) for a few bits of content that will need regular changing, the rest would have to be changed by me going into the html and editing it myself, which I am comfortable doing, but which means either I have to do it or we need to pay for it to be done each time.
The impression I get is that there is less design freedom if you use a CMS, and I am sometimes tired of all the websites that look identical.
A CMS also has a lot of power that we don't need and would require upgrading, and might cause problems if updating it ceased in the near future.

I do not know enough about this to make an informed decision, as obviously the people who are pro-CMS think it makes more sense, while the people who are not think it makes less sense.
posted by jeather to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A CMS makes it drastically easier to manage your content, even if it's only a small site at this time. Especially since you will be blogging.

You don't have to host on the Blogger or Wordpress corporate platform - you can buy your own domain and hosting and install Wordpress on your own site so that you (or your vendor) control it top to bottom.

As for design - whatever design you want to use can be implemented in a CMS like Wordpress. In fact it's sometimes easier than coding by hand, especially if you are using a variety of styles for different elements on different parts of the page. It takes care of everything for you, so you really only have to decide on the design once, then focus on the content.

The best part about using something like Wordpress is that there are plugins to extend the functionality. One such option allows you to assign rights to users - so you could let multiple people create or edit content, but it won't go live until you or another assigned person approve the changes. This takes you off the hook for managing it all yourself or paying someone to make every little edit.

Your money is best spent on: (1) a good design, and (2) a good installation by someone knowledgeable in best practices for security. Hosting and domain registration are relatively inexpensive for a small business so just go with the recommendation of your guy.
You will probably have ongoing costs for maintenance, including updates to the platform (along with proper testing to make sure said updates don't break anything). This is standard but not terribly expensive.
posted by trivia genius at 9:50 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

We have a current website, which is 10+ years old, on our own domain. Right now everything is static and we need to ask them to make all the changes, it also looks 10 years old and the navigation is difficult. (We're also paying very excessive hosting fees. Get me started on how much I like these people.)

We anticipate ongoing maintenance costs whichever one we choose. I do not mind making small edits. The website designers will do whatever coding they decide to do -- I will be approving their designs, but not doing any coding, so if one prefers a CMS and one doesn't, I would choose between them based on (among other things) whether I want a CMS as the back end.

I do understand what the benefits for the CMS are, but am not sure that someone easier managing of minor edits (which are unlikely to be common) is worth it. The data which would be changed regularly would be available to other staff (blog, dates, etc) in a database of some sort with a roll-your-own semi-CMS for just those functions.

All the people we are looking at have design skills and installation abilities which we trust.
posted by jeather at 10:03 AM on July 17, 2012

Not using a CMS for a site with a blog and other areas that may need to be updated is setting you and your business up for a lot more hassle and work than you'd otherwise need to deal with. Rolling your own seems...I mean, it would work, but I don't know why you'd rather do that than use one of the many well-designed, secure, up-to-date CMS backends that already exist.
Something like WordPress would work perfectly for your purposes, but if you think WordPress is a little too much for you, I really like Perch, a super lightweight, simple CMS. WordPress, Perch, and just about every other major CMS gives you complete freedom over design. Most sites looks the same because designers design the same, not because of any technical limitations with the CMS itself.
posted by logic vs love at 10:23 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like MODx (Evolution), personally. Way more flexible than WordPress.
posted by divinitys.mortal.flesh at 10:29 AM on July 17, 2012

yeah, you really do want Wordpress or the like. is hand editing HTML a core daily profit-generating aspect of your business? I bet not, since you are looking to outsource the overhaul.

I have extensive experience designing for and providing admin services on various blogging and CMS platforms, both hosted and self-hosted, remotely and in house. A full-blown CMS is totally overkill for what you want to accomplish.
posted by mwhybark at 10:34 AM on July 17, 2012

One company wants to use django, one wants to use drupal (or joomla? I forget now). We're not talking about 5 pages here, or a 20k/year company -- we're talking about 100 or so pages and 2-4 million dollar/year revenue. (This is defined, here, as a small company as it has less than 50 employees and isn't owned by some bigger company.)

There is no blog right now, we need to add one. There really is fairly little content that changes and this will again remain true for the foreseeable future.

We don't want to use Wordpress because none of the companies we like want to use Wordpress. I do not particularly care which CMS we use and will use whichever one we get asked to use, I just wanted to know if I should use one, since the ones suggested seemed like overkill (our site, barring a few things, is essentially totally static), but rolling your own blog seemed like a different sort of overkill.
posted by jeather at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2012

The thing about a good CMS is that it handles search engine optimization without you ever having to think about it once you have it set up.

Also, if you have 100 pages on your site then I'm willing to bet that you don't have 100 separately designed pages. Say you have 5 different page types (e.g., Subnav on left, subnav on right, list of articles, etc.). With a properly set up CMS, you can set up those pages and then use them to display your content. If you need to make a change, you make it to the page, and it's a change you do once for one page type. Yes, this might take away some design freedom but being consistent is better for your users anyway.

With a site that large, I'd definitely go for a CMS. I use ExpressionEngine and it's great for both static and blog-type pages.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:38 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any of the aforementioned CMSs will suffice - if you've got by so far with a static website, you're unlikely to need anything that would cause even the most simple modern CMS to break a sweat. I've personally deployed Wordpress-powered sites for companies far bigger than yours.

If they know what they're doing, there's literally no reason to think that design freedom should be constrained with a CMS-powered backend.

I may be reading between the lines, but it sounds like you want someone to say "No CMS is fine." To be honest, I agree with the other commenters - an off-the-shelf CMS should be a standard requirement for almost every normal small-medium business client site these days. Without a good reason, I would steer clear of the CMS-less developer.
posted by Magnakai at 11:57 AM on July 17, 2012

I'm probably going to take some heat for this, but stay the hell away from Drupal. Drupal is one of those products that are singled out for automated hacking attempts because of their a) ubiquity, b) poor design, and c) cost/hassle of proper security upkeep. I've found it to be slow and extremely delicate - updates will often break important plugins, and every damned thing in Drupal is a plugin.

It is theoretically possible to do good work with Drupal, just like it's theoretically possible to do good work with PHP generally, but it requires a lot more effort, and is much more prone to error than other, better tools.

I can practically guarantee you the Django company has a smarter team.
posted by zjacreman at 1:07 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rather than worrying about what's overkill, I'd go with whatever makes your site easiest to maintain. A CMS that is set up well does that. All websites are subject to needing update periodically, so your concern about maintenance/upkeep is a bit of a red herring. You can do a site in static HTML and find out relatively soon that it needs updating due to changing web standards; the difference is that with a CMS there's more likely to be a common upgrade path (your developer downloads and installs the latest patches) rather than a hunt through the codebase for any problems.

The reason sites like this tend to look alike is a tendency for a lot of low-budget web designs to use stock templates, or relatively stock templates. If you're a web developer and the client doesn't have any ideas about what they want the site to look like or do, you're also going to tend to give them something pretty stock. CMS systems can be templated any number of ways, and custom features can be added if needed.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:24 PM on July 17, 2012

I also vote for CMS, but not Drupal because it's overkill for your purposes, and I see a lot of bad web shops who use it for everything. The reason you should get a well-supported CMS is because your business will not the same forever. It may grow, or you might win the lottery and quit tomorrow. You can't depend on someone having Django or HTML knowledge as a secondary skill forever, and you don't want to find yourself (or your replacement) in the exact same situation with an outdated, hard to maintain site a few years down the line.

You aren't a tech company, and this isn't a tech question. It's a business one, and you have to think about costs down the line as well as future growth and vulnerabilities. In your shoes, I would ask the Django guys if there's an open source CMS they like, and if they say no, rebid the project.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:09 PM on July 17, 2012

Stay away from Drupal and Joomla. You will spend far more money in the time cost---not only now, but also again when you want to redesign. If you need a blog, go with WordPress.

You can either manage the other page content with WordPress, or just use straight HTML/PHP. Honestly, I've found it's less code work up-front and less hassle later to do the latter; an hour's worth of copy changes down the road to a well-built site is cheaper than the extra work of the pages (and unsnarling tags because there really is no such thing as wysiwyg).
posted by mimi at 7:28 PM on July 17, 2012

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