Some websites are fairly static, with infrequent content changes. For other sites, to paraphrase an old Rush song, “constant change is here to stay.” These are high-volume e-commerce sites, news sites, and the like. In between are the vast majority—sites that change over time, but maybe not every day or even every week. The owners of these sites may update their home pages to feature new products or services, or advertise seasonal specials, or simply freshen up the page with new images or videos. Perhaps they have a set of photos that they want to rotate onto and off of the site on a regular basis. Whatever the case, for these sites, a web content management system can take some of the headache out of managing the site.
WCMS, WYSIWYG, ALGSSTR and More
OK, we made that last one up, but the others are real. A web content management system, or WCMS, enables website owners to organize their content—text, graphics, video and audio files, and so on—and publish it on their sites without needing to know the technical details of HTML coding. Content that is managed by a WCMS can be kept under version control and updated collaboratively before publishing it on the site. Many WCMSs include a WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) editor for text content. Advanced WCMSs can route content to different people for review and approval before publication.
Another advantage is content reuse—if you have images or text that you use for a particular special occasion or holiday, you can keep it in a WCMS and publish it to the site without having to create it from scratch every time.
WCMSs are especially valuable when more than one person is making content changes. A WCMS typically can be configured with user groups and roles, with password-protected user accounts. A user can perform only those actions that are allowed by the role to which he or she is assigned. So if you want a certain person or group to add or change content pieces, but you want a different person to actually push the content out to the site, you can set up the user roles and groups accordingly. This reduces the chance of someone inadvertently pushing out content that is not quite ready, or causing other kinds of trouble with the live site. The result is a dynamic site that still looks great and is easy to update without the need for HTML 101 lessons.
What’s the catch?
Are there drawbacks to WCMSs? That depends on your perspective, but possible drawbacks include cost and learning curve. Although there are some open-source WCMSs available, more advanced systems cost money to purchase and implement, and many require an annual maintenance fee to ensure you keep up with the latest version of the system. Some time and money is required to get the system set up properly, and then there is some time investment in learning to use the system effectively.
How do you know if going to a WCMS is right for you? If your content does not change that often, or if updating it doesn’t impose much of a burden on your time or resources, then a WCMS may not benefit you much. But if you change content frequently enough that hand-coding the HTML (or asking your web developer to do it) is becoming a drag on your time and/or budget, you should consider it. As with any business tool you are considering, you need to determine what features you need, shop around, try some demos, and calculate your return on the investment.
A WCMS can make site management a good deal easier. Have a look at some; there are many to choose from, and even the open-source offerings can be compelling if your needs are simple or if you want to implement some custom features. With a carefully selected and properly implemented WCMS, you can spend less time worrying about the nuts and bolts of your site and more time focusing on what really matters about your site: the content.