Building a website has become so much easier since the advent of content management systems. A CMS streamlines the process of many web design tasks like creating pages and blog posts, navigation menus, altering page layout and even updating URLs and metadata. For those with a modest or even no web development experience, CMSs are a powerful interface between the code that underpins your website and the people in your company that need to make changes to it.
The problem now for those who want to build a website is that there are so many CMSs to choose from. All of them have different features with their own pros and cons, which can be difficult to parse, especially for those without any background knowledge.
In this article, I want to look at what makes a good CMS and why it could be one of the most important decisions your business ever makes (no, really!).
What Makes for a Good CMS?
There are five factors that you need to keep in mind when considering a CMS:
Despite the plethora of WordPress and Shopify sites out there, clients have come to us with websites built on all manner of bespoke content management systems. Their choice of CMS sets the limitations for what their websites can do, and how easy or difficult it is for an SEO agency like us to implement changes over time. And of course, any additional effort to make what are often relatively simple changes, all translates into higher costs for the client.
To put it simply, the more complex or nuanced the CMS, the more expensive it tends to be for a digital marketing agency to make changes.
When choosing a CMS then you have to account for these costs over the course of your website’s lifetime. These costs tend to arise from the following four areas:
- Adding new pages, such as services and products
- On-going technical support and sourcing web developers
- Technical capabilities and functionality
- Integration with tools / plugins (SEO, marketing, ecommerce, development, etc.)
Forward-thinking is crucial, as choosing the cheapest option to start with might end up costing you much more in the long run. For example, you can whip up an ecommerce site quickly with Wix, but marketing becomes expensive because integrating Google Shopping with that CMS requires a third-party app that’s going to cost you the best part of £150 a month before you start selling.
No doubt that you want your CMS to be secure so that your website isn’t vulnerable to cyberattacks, especially if you’re dealing with customer data. Security features such as 2-factor authentication, firewalls, and strict user permissions are important. You’ll also want regular updates from the CMS developers to cover security loopholes, which hackers are always looking to exploit.
Your search for a secure CMS can lead you toward specialised CMSs or even getting web devs to create you a bespoke platform, loading on a massive overhead that you might not need. While popular CMSes are more likely to be hacked because of the sheer number of people using them, a good developer and host can stop people trying to brute force their way into your website.
Over the course of your website’s life, you may end up needing to move it to a new platform or hosting provider. Choosing an obscure CMS at the start can put you in a bad spot should you ever need to port your website.
People often come to us with, what we call, orphaned websites: they don’t have a developer anymore so the changes that can be made are extremely limited. There’s nobody there looking after them. It gets to a point that if they want anything fundamental done to the site or its functionality, they’re looking at having to get the website redeveloped. And that’s not cheap to do, especially with an obscure CMS.
All the fancy features of a CMS would be a waste if the people who are actually going to use it don’t know how to take advantage of these features. Ultimately, a CMS needs to be usable by the lowest common denominator, which is somebody with very little website knowledge.
It’s crucial to how well your staff and your growing workforce can interact with your business and your digital assets. This isn’t a box ticking exercise, it’s about ensuring you maximise opportunities for growth as this affects how easily you can bring on new services or new product lines, and how much outside support you’re going to need to do that.
Think who is going to be using your website in your company, both now and in the future. Marketing people want an intuitive interface to easily draft and publish content. Sales want an easy way to follow-up and close leads. Developers want as much control and customisation as possible, notably access to the code.
Simplicity certainly isn’t the be-all all and end-all though. Some CMSs are designed for such simplicity but the result is that they become such closed platforms that they just aren’t very configurable and this really is a detriment to doing good SEO on them.
There are a lot of out-of-the-box CMSs that don’t allow you to do relatively simple things like modify HTML or more advanced actions like adding schema markup. Wix and Squarespace find themselves firmly in this camp – although to be fair they have been making significant changes in recent years to improve this.
SEO strategies require the ability to edit metadata, change URLs, put in 301 redirects, add alt tags to your images, and speed up the webpage loading times. If you’re an ecommerce store then easy compatibility with Google Shopping is also important.
Considering the Two Popular CMSs: WordPress and Shopify
Even with all the CMSs out there, there are two that I consider to be good choices for building a website, and it’s no coincidence that they also happen to be two of the most popular platforms out there.
Let’s go over the pros and cons of WordPress and Shopify so you can make the best decision for your site.
For this comparison, I’m specifically talking about WordPress.org, which is open-source software that lets you build and heavily customise your site, but you have to host it on your own server.
Most ubiquitous CMS — WordPress powers about 30% of the internet. Any web developer, designer, and SEO worth their salt knows how to use it. You won’t have trouble finding helpful resources online.
Unmatched flexibility — Its open-source nature means you can create any kind of site, whether it’s a straightforward blog or a large online store. You also have tens of thousands of free and paid plug-ins that can extend the functionality of your site.
Superior content management — You have more features to work with when creating, editing, and categorising content on WordPress, which also means websites built on this platform are more SEO-friendly.
Overwhelming for beginners — The sheer extensibility of WordPress can make it an intimidating platform for those who have never built a website before. Maximising its benefits also requires extensive coding knowledge.
Biggest target for cyberattacks — Because it’s the most popular CMS, WordPress websites are the most likely to get targeted by hackers. Using the wrong plugin or template can easily leave your site vulnerable.
A dedicated ecommerce site builder, Shopify lets you build an online store that is hosted on their servers.
Perfect for ecommerce — Shopify is built for building online stores. From having a virtually limitless number of products featured to automatic tax calculation to a user-friendly setup, Shopify makes running an ecommerce site easy.
No coding expertise necessary — The store builder has a clean, intuitive interface that anyone can use to quickly create a fully functioning ecommerce site.
Reliable maintenance and support — Shopify provides 24/7 support via phone, email, live chat, and social media. Since your site is hosted on their servers, you also don’t have to worry about finding and paying for hosting and maintenance.
Limited customisation — While you do have access to plugins, templates, and other customisation options, Shopify is still a closed system that puts a hard limit on how much you can customise your site.
More upfront costs — Unlike WordPress, you have to pay into a plan to use Shopify. Using external payment gateways also means additional fees for every transaction. If you want to add functionality, most plugins in the Shopify marketplace will cost you.
Understand Your Business Goals
Both Shopify and WordPress have their own advantages and disadvantages when compared side by side. Choosing between them ultimately comes down to what you want to accomplish with your business. Are you focusing on ecommerce? Maybe Shopify is the way to go. Do you want to stay flexible for the long term? WordPress lets you do just that. But that’s not a hard and fast rule. Many successful ecommerce sites are built on WordPress but use the powerful WooCommerce plugin in order to achieve this.
Just because we favour WordPress or Shopify, it doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. If your business is very niche with some very unique requirements, then a more specialised CMS may well fit your specific needs (as long as you take in the factors we’ve discussed above).
The bottom line is that a CMS shouldn’t be seen as a cost to your business but a key pillar of your strategy for growth and as such, a key investment. Getting it right can facilitate your strategy and help you grow online; getting it wrong though can not only cost you time and money further down the line, but it can seriously hamper your ability to implement an effective SEO strategy.