Your guide to top content management systems

A website without a content management system or CMS can make it a next-to-impossible task to keep updated.

A CMS is the foundation of the modern website, enabling streamlining and regular updating of content without design or development knowledge.

You may not have thought about your CMS as in many cases your web designers/developers will have chosen one for you that best fits your requirements. However, it's useful to know a little about them should you need to completely upgrade your site in the future. You'll need to know whether the CMS your site is using is the most appropriate for your business; whether it is scalable enough for your needs but also isn't far more than you require.

Don't expect web developers to have intimate knowledge of every system as there are literally hundreds out there and it’s impossible to know them all.

Most developers will specialise in just one or a few CMS's. RMLalchan uses three main systems –though you could say four as our sister company’s custom-built solution called WAF is appropriate for very bespoke websites. But for this article we'll focus on the three main systems we use which are Perch, Squarespace and WordPress. We'll start with Perch.

Perch

We have recently started to use Perch and found it to be an absolute joy.

It’s been going since 2009 and has found a place in the hearts of many web designers for its ease of setup and use.

Unlike WordPress and Squarespace, Perch doesn't start you off with templates. This means your site is developed from scratch allowing you to have a completely custom look and feel. As long as you have the budget, there is no excuse for your site to look just like everyone else's.

You still have the usual site features such as blogs, contact forms and you can integrate many other features, such as ecommerce, maps and much more besides.

From a designer/developer’s point of view, using Perch can be a breath of fresh air, not being bound to themes, templates and plugins.

Looking at the total cost of ownership for your website, Perch will normally represent a significantly lower cost as you don't need to keep updating the system each time new security patches, theme updates and plugins are developed –if you don't want to.

If you choose to manage the content updates yourself after developers have launched your site - using a system like WordPress - it's still a burden on your time (and that's assuming you know what you're doing).

With Perch, the content editing side is really easy to use. You see a list of all the pages on your site that have areas you can edit –and that's pretty much it. There are no confusing menu options. No extensive settings to play with. You just log in, select your page and update your content. No messing around.

In summary, Perch is good if:

  • you want something completely custom and not based on a template
  • you're working with web developers who can design and code the site for you

Some examples of recent sites we've produced using Perch:

Squarespace

Squarespace has been around since 2004 and has often been a favourite of designers and creatives for its high quality templates and easy-to-use editing features. The templates are very visual, almost always relying on high quality photography.

One difference between Squarespace and both Perch and WordPress is that Squarespace hosts your site for you in their well-specified and reliable data centre in New York.

Added to this, it's good to be dealing with one company regarding your site. The support is extremely fast, and it's not unusual to receive a response to your query within 30 minutes.

However, as is often the way, a strength can also be a weakness and the fact that Squarespace hosts your site means that you don't have access to run your own backups.

Of course your site is fully backed up by Squarespace, and if the primary site goes down it shouldn't be for long, as according to Squarespace "your data is periodically transferred to secure off-site storage, that allows for recovery even in the face of the worst disasters."

I can honestly say, in over three years of Squarespace hosting our rmlalchan.co.uk site, the amount of downtime –when a website is inaccessible– has been extremely minimal. Their system is certainly reliable.

A benefit of Squarespace hosting your site is that you can be up and running literally in minutes. Just go to Squarespace.com, sign up for an account, choose a template and start adding content. It's as simple as that.

Their drag and drop interface is a delight to use and all of their templates are mobile and tablet friendly.

Another advantage to Squarespace over WordPress –though admittedly developers would often see this as a weakness– is that all of the plugins and add-ons are developed by Squarespace themselves. So they are all subject to rigorous testing to meet Squarespace's quality assurance.

With WordPress, anyone can develop a plugin which means the quality varies considerably. One badly coded plugin can take an enormous amount of time to diagnose and if you're really unlucky it can render your site useless.

In summary, Squarespace is good if:

  • you want an out-of-the-box creative website
  • you are after a quick –but high quality– portfolio
  • you don't have the budget to pay for a fully customised design
  • you don't want the hassle of setting up hosting and domain names separately

Some examples of recent sites we've produced on Squarespace:

WordPress

The daddy of the CMS. Much like Squarespace, WordPress started as a blogging platform –and in many ways is still seen as that. However, since its inception in 2003, it has had a complete transformation to a fully fledged CMS and is now in use by over 20% of all websites on the Internet.

WordPress is an open source tool which means that anyone can develop for it to make the product even better. Because of this, its popularity has soared and there are many more templates, plugins and add-ons than for any other platform.

There are two versions of WordPress. One is a simple free blogging tool accessed from Wordpress.com in which the hosting is provided. The other is the product you download from wordpress.org to install yourself.

Many hosts –companies that provide web space– also provide a one-click install of WordPress, so it's not difficult to get up and running. From there on, it will simply depend on your technical ability as to how you get on with it.

It is possible to create almost any kind of site from WordPress. Your developers may start with a blank template and code it to your requirements. However, this can cost a lot more due to the work involved as opposed to customisation of an existing template.

In recent years, the template quality has risen dramatically. Many are responsive as standard –designed to also work on mobile and tablet.

A problem of WordPress' popularity is that it is more prone to security breaches. This means you need to keep on top of updates, making sure you have the latest versions to stop potential vulnerabilities.

In use, WordPress is pretty straight forward once you understand its concept of posts and pages. Posts are items displayed in chronological order as standard, whereas pages are static content not listed by date. Think blog posts compared with an about page.

WordPress can sometimes be overkill for basic sites as it has many features which may never be used –so bear this in mind.

In summary, WordPress is good if:

  • you want to use a system most designers/developers will know
  • you are focused on blogging
  • you have some technical knowledge
  • you are already used to the WordPress system
  • you want to use the most popular system

Some examples of sites we've produced on WordPress:

As you can see, each system has its strengths and weaknesses. Your web designers will be able to advise you on the best solution for your situation and hopefully this blog will help too!

Got any questions on content management systems? Do you have a favourite not covered? Please let us know in the comments below.