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What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

A web Content Management System (CMS) is a software tool to allow non-technical people to update their websites quickly and easily.

Why do I need to update my website?

A frequently-updated website full of interesting, relevant, and topical information will attract and retain more visitors, and perform better in search engines. If you are confident to make changes to your website yourself, it will be much cheaper and quicker than paying a web designer or marketing agency to do so.

What does a CMS do?

A good CMS will enable you to produce a website that:

  • is optimised for indexing by search engines
  • conforms to technical and accessibility standards
  • has a consistent look and feel
  • contains no broken links
  • is fast and responsive

To do this, most content management systems provide:

  • an easy to use, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor
  • a way to upload images and documents, and incorporate them in the website
  • control over the menu structure of your website
  • a search facility to help you find the content you need to update
  • a way to preview your changes before publishing them to the live website

More advanced content management systems may also offer:

  • multi-lingual websites
  • websites spanning multiple domains or sub-domains
  • support for multiple content authors
  • integration with the dynamic parts of your website (like shopping carts and user login)
  • more flexibility over the layout of each page

How does it work?

Normally the content and menu structure of the website are stored in a database, and each page of the website is built by merging the content into a predefined page template. This can be done in one of two ways:

  • online processing generates the web page dynamically when a user visits the page
  • offline processing creates the web page when the author publishes it, and stores it on the server

Some content management systems will use a combination of both approaches, depending on the type of page. Offline processing generally gives better performance and search engine optimisation, and more flexibility over hosting arrangements since the CMS does not need to be deployed to the web server. Online processing can be more efficient for pages that are highly structured, such as when a very large number of separate product details pages are generated from a product database.

What does it cost?

There is a wide choice of of-the-shelf CMS solutions available from open-source applications to enterprise-level collaboration platforms. The total cost of a CMS solution depends on many factors including:

  • initial purchase cost for the CMS software
  • ongoing licensing & maintenance costs for the CMS software
  • initial implementation cost and time for the CMS solution
  • the time and cost to import or create the initial content
  • staff training costs
  • the time and cost for maintaining and updating the content
  • development costs for any changes or customisations to the CMS software
  • the risk of having to change to a new CMS if it cannot be expanded to meet your needs

Which one should I choose?

Every application is different, so there is no simple answer to this. A CMS is a major commitment, and it's worth spending the time to carefully evaluate the options before you make a decision. Changing CMS later on can be expensive and disruptive, especially if your business has expanded and your website has become more critical to its success. Don't just pick the one with the cheapest licence cost, but consider how well each CMS can adapt to your future needs.

For many of our SME clients who need a powerful, cost-effective and extensible way to update their website, the RADsite CMS has proved to be a good solution. We also have expertise in customising Microsoft SharePoint for corporate clients who need an enterprise level collaboration platform.