Sunday, February 27, 2011

A CMS Introduction for Designers and Businesses:

A Content Management System (CMS) is a web application that is used to create and edit HTML content in a way that can be easily managed by people who don’t know anything about web design, programming or code. Templates can be chosen from a pile of free offerings or designed specifically for the website appearance and then the content can be regularly updated by anyone the website administrator allows. I think it’s important for designers and businesses to know about CMSs and continue to stay abreast of new products and applications. It’s good to know which ones are more stable than others and what features to look for when choosing the right CMS for a client.

CMS Basic Features:

Some basic features of a CMS that I think are essential include the ability to choose from a large variety of templates or easily create a template, separation of presentation from content updating, and an easy to use interface for content managers.

As a designer, I want the CMS to be easy for me to implement my template design and then protect that design from content managers by separation of presentation from content. I also want the CMS to be extremely simple and user friendly for the content managers to learn and use in order to reduce their dependency on the web designer for non-design related tasks.

Part of being user friendly is the availability of support and tutorials in using the CMS for beginners. Even if a large open-source CMS doesn’t have a set of documented training devices, it should at least have a community of users that freely give advice. Paul Boag of warns that “it is not unusual to find apparently vibrant communities that are hostile to new users asking ‘dumb questions,’” Too many content management systems. As someone who is constantly learning new tasks, I value respect whether I’m giving it or in receipt of it.

Nice but Not Essential CMS Features:

There are other features that are nice but not essential, depending on the needs of the client. These CMS features include search engine friendly URLs, search engine optimization (SEO) features that allow search engines to crawl content deeply and regularly, and a robust security system that protects against hackers with ongoing diligence.

Search Engine Friendly URL:

Paul Boag of says that “if a CMS supports friendly URLs they probably support accessibility and standards too,” Too many content management systems. A friendly URL is a web address that is made readable and can be understood and manipulated by users to re-navigate within the site and it can be used by search engines in a keyword search. There is a component for Joomla called JoomSEF sold by Artio that rewrites Joomla URLs to be search engine friendly.

SEO Features:

SEO is an internet buzz word; every client wants it to help their page rise to the top of a search list. Therefore, it is a nice feature for any CMS to offer. Making search engine friendly URLs is a big part of SEO but that’s only the beginning. Not all CMSs allow designers to write relevant meta tags that search engines use to find content.  iData Technologies states that “it is possible for designers and CMS systems alike to create pages that are virtually invisible to search engine spiders because of text in images, script-based navigation, overuse of AJAX and a host of other practices,” SEO and CMS: How will a CMS impact my SEO efforts?

When CMSs advertise that they are SEO ready, one should read the fine print. It could mean that they offer devices that only a programmer would be able to set up. The best way to achieve SEO is to use semantic markup and CSS which “search engines can easily crawl and understand.” The content management system Simple CMS includes semantic markup language and a Mod rewrite engine in its list of features and Tracy Schmidt of 435digital says that a WordPress user can install the SEO plugin by Yoast.


Finally and perhaps most importantly, is security. This feature is not necessary for everyone because not everyone is willing to pay extra money for protection against hackers.  Large open-source CMSs are more vulnerable to hacking problems. They often have volunteers that work on increasing security but every site is responsible for self-cleaning and you can’t control your neighbors. WordPress dot com is more secure than WordPress dot org because it is a hosted CMS that has a team of experts that are responsible for maintaining security patches, WordPress Sites Hacked Again; Hosted CMS the Answer?

There is more security with a custom built commercial CMS for a business website that is willing and able to pay for it. This can be expensive if you can’t build it yourself. Cmsdesignresource says “If you are a huge corporation (or if you have lots of enemies!), you’re going to need a system with higher security, because it matters a lot more” and “Websites that handle any kind of monetary transactions will need higher security.” There are some CMSs, like sitefinity that specialize in offering security and ease of use for websites that rely on on-line financial transactions.

Evaluation of CMS Options:

The first thing for designers and clients to do when evaluating CMS options is to ask questions in regards to who needs the website and for what purpose it will be used. The needs of a large or mid-sized corporation are very different from a single-person entrepreneurial business or personal profile website. An online brochure style website may not need the same kind of security as a product based business that sells products through their online presence. In the pdf document Evaluating Web CMS Purchase Models, Level Studios says that “as web managers set out to identify a CMS that will meet their organizational needs, their decision will likely be influenced primarily by price, functionality and purchase model…As a web team begins to evaluate different CMS options, the purchase model is often the last thing to be considered.” They say that ignoring the financial security that I mentioned previously can be a costly mistake.

Why Designers Should Learn about CMSs:

Designers should learn about CMSs because the majority of their clients are going to want one. Designers should learn how to make templates and make use of available plugins on a variety of CMSs.  There are so many old, new, large, small, simple and complex CMSs that are free or priced in ranges that reflect levels of services, personal or global in scope. The first learning curve for everyone is just determining the best CMS for the job at hand. Then there is a learning curve for every CMS a designer wants to master in order to provide more versatility to clients.

According to webdesignerdepot, a great CMS to start with is Frog CMS. "Frog CMS shows the most promise of any CMS that is currently in development. The extremely friendly administrator interface is its golden gem. The community for Frog remains small, but despite this the project is developing quickly, while plugins are constantly being produced at high standards to fill the gaps."

The best way for designers to learn about CMSs is to start using them. A designer can begin by searching for reviews of the most currently popular CMSs, old and new, and then pick one to start experimenting with using non-client projects. A really wonderful website for tinkering with a variety of CMSs is opensourcecms because they host a huge number of open source CMSs that are ranked by five stars and are then available for testing without the designer having to sign up for the CMS personally. Some websites and bloggers will do their own reviews where the designer can learn about new plugins that others are finding useful.

You know, even though there are a gazillion open source CMSs and plugins, there are many plugins, applications, and CMSs that charge for their use. Even though the CMS itself may be free; sometimes, the accumulation of objects that cost money can become greater in cost than if the client had gone with a CMS that charges up front. A designer should become familiar with all of the CMS options for their clients so that they can better help their clients make the best choices for their individual business needs.

Smashing Magazine dot com is a great source for a designer to begin looking at anything regarding web design. In 2009, Robert Hartland published an article there, Getting Started with Content Management Systems, that is a good starting point for a newbie to begin learning the basics about CMSs and their features and functions. In 2010, Rachel Andrew published an article there, Designing for Content Management Systems, where she suggests the services Fontdeck and Typekit that allow for the use of fonts not installed on the user’s computer without resorting to image replacement for text, which is an SEO unfriendly thing to do.

Featured Video

The video I would like to share, Google’s Matt Cutts gives tips to small business owners, dates back to 2007 but it is still relevant to understanding SEO in a CMS. Matt Cutts from the webspam department of Google is being interviewed in this video about improving SEO in websites from Google’s perspective. Back then, WordPress 2.3 was new and yet Matt was praising them then for being SEO friendly due to their placing posts in one location and thus avoiding duplications. This video has a number of great tips for designers and small business owners including the best places to post videos and why as well as the use of Google maps and Google Webmaster Central. He said that Google is getting better at crawling JavaScript and Flash but these should be used primarily for decoration and avoided in regards to navigation and business name.

Resources listed in order of appearance:

1. Too many content management systems:

2. Too many content management systems:

3. Artio:

4. SEO and CMS: How will a CMS impact my SEO efforts?

5. Simple CMS:

6. 435digital:

7. SEO plugin by Yoast:

8. WordPress Sites Hacked Again; Hosted CMS the Answer?

9. Cmsdesignresource:

10. sitefinity:

11. Evaluating Web CMS Purchase Models:$assets$/35ac9de5-c9da-4617-bd56-74fd1c5988f7/LEVEL_EvaluatingCMSPurchaseModels.pdf

12. webdesignerdepot:

13. Frog CMS:

14. opensourcecms:

15. Getting Started with Content Management Systems:

16. Designing for Content Management Systems:

17. Fontdeck:

18. Typekit:

19. Google’s Matt Cutts gives tips to small business owners:


  1. Very informative blog, Lisa. Lots of great points. I particularly appreciate your suggestion to choose a CMS with good support. Even experienced designers sometimes find certain CMS to have steep learning curves. It's vital that clients feel comfortable with the system and can find help easily. Which CMS, in your opinion, best satisfies this need?

  2. So far, I have used two CMSs: CMSimple and WebsiteBaker. The learning curve for CMSimple was steep and difficult to learn which made WebsiteBaker seem much easier to use. There were next to no tutorials to help me learn CMSimple but WebsiteBaker has a lot more help. Even the WebsiteBaker website is more useful for newbies.

  3. I've seen a number of sites created in WebsiteBaker and they look great. It's good to know that the necessary support is there as well, both for me and my clients. Thanks.

  4. Organized content is the best way to display or post an article, thank you for making it easy to digest your