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Do You Really Need a CMS?

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Nov2009 20

One of the first things I hear from folks when I meet with them is that they need a content management system (CMS).  Now if I were an unscrupulous website designer I would simply nod my head in agreement and put the line item in the proposal.  However, I’m not and instead I opt to have have a conversation about having a CMS.  In many cases I find that a CMS is not needed and could actually do more harm than good.

What a CMS brings to the table

A CMS allows you to edit your website without involving your website designer.  This sounds great and now you’re probably asking, “Hey, why wouldn’t I want that?”  Well there are other things that a CMS brings to the table that you should consider.  Let’s look at a quick list of pros and cons.

Pros of a CMS
  • Can edit content without your website designer
  • Format of content will be uniform across website
  • Allows different access permissions for editing content
  • Puts the website owner in control
Cons of a CMS
  • The cost of adding a CMS is considerable
  • Code tends to be bloated and opens a website to security holes
  • Design may be constrained by the CMS framework
  • Unless used regularly users may forget how to use the CMS

The pros of a CMS are what everyone knows.  However the cons are often shuffled under the table.  You should definitely consider both the pros and cons when considering using one with your project.

Questions to ask yourself

So how do you determine if you need a CMS or not?  I’m glad you asked.  Here are a few questions to consider.

How often will the website be updated?

If you are updating your website more than once a month a CMS may serve you well.  However, if you are updating less than once a month you will more likely be better off simply working with your website designer to make edits.

Do you have sufficient resources to commit to a CMS?

Many of my clients are small business owners and the last thing they need is one more thing to worry about.  If you are going to implement a CMS make sure you have people who will be responsible for using it regularly.

Do you plan on having a blog on your website?

Blogging has grown exponentially in recent years.  It’s a great way to keep website content fresh.  If you are planning on blogging than a CMS will definitely be needed, but if not a CMS may not be required.

If maintenance will be done in house does your person know html?

Contrary to popular belief there are ways to maintain a website in house without a CMS.  If you have someone who knows HTML, he/she will be able to edit the website directly.  A standards based website separates content from the design so basic HTML skills are all that’s needed.

The case for not having a CMS

A few years back I collaborated with a top-notch national agency on a project.  One of their people had a saying, “All content management systems suck.  Some just suck less.”  While “suck” may be a bit strong, I can say from experience that adding a CMS does tend to limit a website’s flexibility.  Many CMSs have a pre built framework that has to be worked around.  By their nature a CMS is also template based, which can be limiting.

A website built without a CMS does not have these flexibility limitations.  It will also have a much smaller code base and be less susceptible to security holes.  When I build a website from scratch, I am familiary with all the code because I wrote it.  The same cannot be said when I’m relying on a CMS.

Too often folks see a CMS as a magic bullet.  But it really isn’t.  For those folks that can go without a CMS I think there is something to be said for having an expert handling all your updates.  Your website designer will ensure the quality of any edits and will also have ideas to share with you regarding making improvements to your website.


Let me be clear.  There are definitely websites that require a CMS.  In fact, the Tunnel 7 website runs on the ExpressionEngine CMS.  However there are cases where one is simply not needed.  This decision should be made in consultation with your website designer rather than you simply making it a requirement.  Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous website designers who will be quick to add that line item to the proposal even if it isn’t necessary.

Further reading

In researching this article I came across the following articles you may find interesting.

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