Season 06 Episode 3 – Jan 03, 2023  
32:08  Show Notes

Choosing a CMS


We talk all about choosing a CMS - what to look for and pitfalls to avoid and how to evaluate a CMS.

Show Notes

  • CMS (Content Management System)
  • Do you choose it based on what your friend is using, the most popular cms, or is there a better way?
  • Everyone is aware of WordPress
  • What features do you require? Ensure the CMS has these options built in.
  • Plugins
  • Maintainability
  • A CMS is only useful if end-users/content editors want to use it.
  • Price does not equal cost.
  • Author experience
  • Developer community
  • Official support option
  • Professionals network/listing
  • Themes
  • No Code Solutions (subscription services such as Square Space, Wix, etc..)
  • When a CMS moves in a direction that you disagree with
  • Community brain drain
  • Headless

Show Links

Accuracy of transcript is dependant on AI technology.

I think it all comes down to the individuality of your project and what kind of features you want to have in the project, both for the back-end part and also for the front-end. Welcome to another episode of the Website 101 Podcast, the podcast for people who want to learn more about building and managing websites.

I'm Sean Smith, your co-host and with me as usual are Mike Mewa, Hi. and Amanda Lutz. Hey, Sean, how are you? Hi, Mike. I'm great. And today, we're going to be talking all about how to choose a CMS.

Right. I want to put in quickly four listeners who don't know. CMS is an acronym that stands for Content Management System. Right. Technically, it's an initialism. An acronym is something that you can say.

An initialism is letters you have to read out. OK. Amanda, you gave exactly the response that I expected you to give when I... you said that. Just a look in your face was exactly what I expected. The big eye

role and the... Yeah, well basically. And the honestly, sure. Okay. You guys are pedant. I'm a little bit of a pendant when it comes to this. Technically, you're all right. Thank you for correcting me. No, it's a good, it's good, it's a good

tip. And we do have a previous episode from before you were on the show, Amanda, about Web Jargon. Right, Sean? from one of the earlier seasons, a couple of episodes. It was a two-parter. Yeah. We had Reb Jarragan part one and part two,

and we did say that eventually we went to another one if we can find enough Jarragan. I don't think it's a shortage. There's always Jarragan. I don't think there's a shortage. Okay. Yeah, CML. Okay, so everyone, pretty much who listens to this podcast

is going to need to work with a CMS in some form, or most likely anyways. And yeah, so hopefully you get some advice to what you should be thinking about when choosing said CMS or, you know, how to deal with clients who want a particular CMS, whatever, all that stuff.

We'll get into all of it, right? Yep. So, you know, how do you choose it? Do you choose it based on what your friend is using? And what's the most popular CMS is? Or is there a better way? Is that an actual question for me?

Do you want me to answer that question? Well, I mean, I know the answer. It was a hypothetical question that you should be able to answer. Yes. Yeah, yeah. I find in my... So I work with a lot of nonprofits and in my sector,

very often I encounter the issue where it's like, okay, we're gonna do a new project, we need a new CMS. So and so over there at XYZ charity uses this CMS, why don't we just use that? So that whole, should I just use what my friend is using?

That comes up a lot in my work. Does it, do you guys encounter that a lot with your clients? Yes, I know, a lot of time it's like, they'll mention WordPress by name because that's what they've heard or what the new web person at the company?

used at their loss drop. It's about familiarity in that case, not necessarily the right choice. I mean WordPress could be the right choice, but it could be something else. And I guess that's what we're here to talk about, how to figure out what the right choice is.

Yes, I had a client recently say, well, we're thinking we'd use WordPress because it's got to be the most popular CMS for a reason, right? As if to suggest, since it's popular, it's the best. And I am really, really adamant about...

pointing out that logic doesn't really follow. The analogy that I often give, I love analogies, and the one I often say is when you're buying a car, the Honda Civic is, I think, the most popular car in North America or something,

or it was once. But if you have a family of five plus a big dog, maybe Honda Civic is not a great choice for your family. Maybe you should get a minivan or an SUV or something, or maybe you're more whatever environmentally

kind of, I don't know. So there's a million reasons why you... can decide on a better choice for you than just the most popular option. Yeah, I think it all comes down to the individuality of your project and what kind of features

you want to have in the project, both for the back-end part. Do you have just one person who's going to be adding all the content or do you have a very structured approval process and also for the front-end?

Do you, obviously, you want it to be a responsive website, so it'll look good on both desktop and mobile, but... Do you want to have other parts available on the front end of an RSS feed? A React app, anything else?

So there are, depending on the functionality, there are pros and cons to the different CMSs. Right. Is that it? Everything. Are we done? Have we wrapped it up? Okay. Good night, everybody. Yeah. Well, let's talk about maybe, I mean, yes,

it depends on the functionality, but let's talk about. you know, even besides functionality, there are still things that you should be looking at when choosing your CMS. Yeah. Go ahead, Sean. One of the things would be like,

is the feature list complete? How many plugins or add-ons do you need to use with your CMS? So the more plugins that you need, it adds more fragility, it's more parts that need to work together. So ideally you would get a CMS that has as much available

available out of the box as possible. instead of just throwing a plugin at every issue or problem. Well, Sean, can you elaborate on why doing that is a bad idea? I actually have a whole article about that on my blog,

which I'll enter in the show notes as well. Great. It's called the Overreliance some plugins, or the dangers of the Overreliance some plugins. And basically, it just comes down to what I said previously,

plus the more plugins you use that are relying on third-party developers, the more at risk you are of those. being abandoned or adding unnecessary bloat to your site, because you cannot necessarily trust the quality of the developer.

Now, most of the developers are these plugins are probably good, but if you don't vet them or don't know how to vet your plugin developer, you might be adding a ton of bloat and potential conflicts

between that plugin and other plugins within the CMS. Yeah, because very often when you add a plu... By definition, when you add a plugin, it's going to come with its own set of files to make itself work.

So its own CSS files and JavaScript files and every plugin you have has its own set. And suddenly you've got dozens and dozens of files that have to load just to make your site work. And you know, there's also the maintainability of the plugins.

What if your developer decides to stop working with that CMS? And now it's time to do a major update. of the CMS. So let's say you're going from say, craft three to craft four, or WordPress, whatever to the latest version.

I'm sorry. Version to version. Yeah, version to version, not point versions, but full versions. And that plugin is no longer available. Now your site is locked. It can't go to the latest version unless you find a

replacement plugin. And if you do, then you still have to figure out how to migrate data to the new plugin and update your template card. It's just better to avoid. to plug in if possible. Right. Now obviously there are some situations where a plugin does make sense.

It might be like e-commerce plugin or a Google mapping plugin if you need like a store locator rather than a single map. There's a lot of things that plugins make more sense for. I've done that without a plugin though.

You've done what? I've done like the store locator without a plugin. And I think that that also leads to who's worth it. working on the site, is it a developer or is it just like the business owner?

Absolutely. And how much work do you want to put into it? Like if it's the developer, yeah, they should be able to figure stuff out, but then of course somebody's got to pay for that. But if it's just like a small business owner who's trying to put a site together, then

you know, they have enough other things on their plate, they don't want to have to sit down and learn for 20 or 30 hours to get the knowledge that we already have. So in that case, then definitely go for a plug.

Yeah, there is definitely a cost benefit. analysis, if the plug-in is going to cost you $60 or $100, but save you 20 hours of work, it's probably worth it if you vetted it and can trust the developer. If you choose a developer who

has a good reputation, has been involved with that CMS for a long time, rather than some unknown fly-by night guy. I want to add that any simplicity that any CMS gives you, whether it's because it has this big plug-in ecosystem or...

anything at all, it's only useful if the person using it, the, you know, your client or you or whoever the administrator, the thing is, wants to kind of get their hands dirty to that extent in using it.

So I've had, I have some clients who really want to go in there and poke around and do their own stuff and add things to the site, store locators, whatever. And I have clients who just rely on me as the developer to

make all that stuff work. They don't really care what tools I use to do it. don't worry. make it work for the visitors that show up there. So you kind of should evaluate what kind of person you are

as a website administrator and find out, well, how much should that impact the choice of CMS that I choose to use? Exactly. I want to bring up something that I heard. I don't think I made this up.

I think I heard it on a podcast somewhere. Price is not the same as cost. So very often a CMS is free. There are a lot of popular free CMS. MSSs. The open source ones. The open source ones. Many CMSs are low cost and some are $10,000

a month or whatever. And a lot of people think, well, if it's free or low cost, that's better. But the truth is very often, especially for the free ones, you may encounter a quote unquote cost down the road in that maybe something breaks and you have to hire someone to fix

it or maybe you do need to use all these plugins that they themselves might cost money. Things get onkew Alicia addresses, poorly interfaced. that. So the evaluation of the actual dollar figure that the thing costs is not the only

thing you should consider. Yeah, I worked on the project where it was like the perfect storm of just everything that we've already talked about. They were adamant about a CMS because somebody else said that it was the way to go. They found a theme that would work

with the CMS and they had to have this theme even though it was made by a very shoddy. absolutely zero support type of developer and adding like a lot of weird customizations that were not necessary

But because they were like baked into the theme it like had to be done and then they also Absolutely refused to acknowledge my recommendation for hosting So the the host ended up being more expensive

The the host company ended up like sneaking in a bunch of like Additional costs that the client didn't want to pay for didn't realize they were paying for paid for anyway The theme in the end was was not awesome because we were really handcuffed to it

and all just because right from the outset, they were like, this is what we're gonna be using. And it was like, we could have a conversation. There's plenty of, nope, this is what we're using. It was a very frustrating project

and it ended up costing them a lot more in the end financially because of all of these very already written in stone decisions they'd made at the beginning. Yeah, that's a tough spot to be. And sometimes the CMS that they want is the right one,

but sometimes, yeah. You know, if your web developer is talking to you and saying, hey, reasons ABC and get your, a little bit as boom. This is not a good idea. We should look elsewhere. You should be listening to that.

Yeah. Yeah. And that's another thing. Let's talk about that. Should you be deciding which CMS to use without consulting with your web developer? Assuming you're going to be working with a web developer?

100% no. 100% no. You should be talking to your web developer, telling them what you need out of your website, what you expect to be able to do. And then your website, your developer, or a... agency or whoever will come to you and say,

this is the CMS that we're gonna use. We can guarantee it does what you need. Not even, this is what we're gonna use. This is what I recommend. Yeah, that's actually a better way to freight. That's a better way to say it, yes.

I highly suggest using this one, pros and cons. Here are a couple of alternatives, pros and cons. In the end, it's up to the client, but you're paying me for my knowledge, so use it. Getting back to the analogy thing that I love to do.

I remember years ago, there was a conversation about this very issue, like who does the, makes the choice of what CMS to use. And someone said, well, you don't. I think it was something like you don't tell a carpenter which type of hammer to use when he's building your house

And then at one point I jumped in and I said well I don't know if I'd consider that a good analogy. I would say it's more like if you're installing a faucet in So bear with me here if you're installing a faucet in somebody's house

The homeowner is going to be using that moving forward So they should have a say in which faucet it is But anyway, that's how that story went but the bottom line is have the conversation and come up with an answer together.

You're not telling the plumber what tools to use, but you're telling the plumber or agreeing to what you're going to be interfacing with in the end. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it always comes down to the team.

I don't care what wrenches or pipes you use as long as it works with what I want it to look like. Did I say you don't tell a plumber what hammer to use just now? Or did I say? No, no, you did say.

I did the right one. You did say carpenter. OK. And then we switched it to the bathroom. We're mixing metaphors way too casually here. Sorry like that. All right. Do you want to hear more website 101 podcast content?

Of course you do. Now you can not only listen to us, but watch us on our YouTube channel. Search YouTube for website 101 podcast. All right. What else can we talk about to consider for CMSs here?

You need to know what you need on the front end of your site, as well as what is available on the back end for content editors and how to make the author experience. pleasurable to work with because if if the author experience is bad, your content editors are not going to be updating your site or they're not going to want to.

And it's just going to languish and get dated. So you want to make sure it's an easy to update interface that people can understand intuitively. Right. Yeah, these days there is user experience, what people experience when they visit your site on the front end and then there's author experience, what the administrator deals with when they're managing content.

today and some CMSs focus more on one than the other. Some have benefits in one side and not the other whatever. So yeah, you should absolutely consider that when choosing a CMS. Author experience things to consider are things like live preview, draft modes, are you able to edit and crop images

within the CMS, like simple edits and crops, not necessarily full-on photoshop, but you know. Photoshop. Yeah. Photoshop plug-in. Can you. imagine. And these are all things that it goes back to what what do you need to be able to do as

the administrator of your website? Are you interested in the idea of being able to manage your images and crop them and do all that stuff without having to find Photoshop or find someone who knows how

to use Photoshop? Do you want that ability? And if you do then choose a CMS that lets you do that. Exactly. And if and if you don't care then then just don't bother with it. You know again a business owner has got a hundred things on their plate already if they're trying to like update

content on the website. I mean, sometimes they just want to like throw up a couple words and that's great. Sure. I once heard somebody describe a CMS as it had so much functionality, it was like killing

a fly with a tank. So it's like, so sometimes you want to be careful with that that you're not going like too overboard. Oh, maybe one day I'll want this kind of functionality. It's like, well, just, then you know what, deal with that one day.

Like why are you jumping into the deep end now? Yeah, that's a good point because of course building, either building in these features by itself. installing the plugins that do it or buying a CMS that does that, it all is going to cost

you in some way. So, if you only have a budget of so much, then you should consider that as well. Because if you want to be able to do everything possible in the future, it's probably going to cost you for the developer to build that in.

What about CMS features that are beneficial to developers? Well, I would assume that you want to make sure that there is a good developer community, so that if something comes up, either. when you're trying to install it or launch it

or do something with the templating. It's like, you know, you want to use something that's like, oh my God, I'm sure somebody else has come across this problem before. I can't be the first person who's ever had this problem.

So go check out Stack Overflow and see what some of the more popular CMSs are. Yeah, Stack Overflow or Discord or Slack, a lot of CMSs will have support, community support in those areas. I would also strongly encourage looking for a CMS

that has an official support channel where you can email. SUN shattering medicine or set up a ticket, whether it's free support or a paid support because it is nothing quite as good as being able to talk to the people

who built your CMS and say, hey, this is what I want it to do, why isn't it working? Yeah. I do often get the, I've never heard of this CMS, what if they go out of business next week? Do you guys ever get that one?

I got that a while, a long time ago, and basically I just said, well, we were talking about craft, and it's like it's used by ABC, Blue Solid. companies and there's a professionals network here, there's this other network

here where it's easy to find other developers if I should get hit by a bus or you decide that you don't want to work with me you will easily be able to find somebody. And that would be something you should look for in any CMS

whether it's WordPress, craft, expression engine, Drupal, anything. You should be able to find a community and tell your client this is where you can find a replacement for me. Yeah. Amanda. Yes. You sometimes build sites that have themes

that people. purchase online through Theme Forest, stuff like that. Yes. And it's like under WordPress themes or whatever. Do you ever encounter any issues there as far as CMSs go? I wouldn't say issues.

So yes, Mike, you're absolutely correct. I am not a designer. I have zero design skills. I am a developer. I write code. I set up systems. That's my skill set. I did recently do a project where

I recommended to the client, hey, we should use the CMS. And they're. like you're the professional? Yes? That's me tipping my hat? Yes, this is the one we're going to use fantastic. And I was like, great. Go, I like, I don't know why, but I really got into

We'll include a link in the show notes. They just have, they have so many themes, and you can search for themes by content management system. They have like HTML files, like pretty much anything that you want, they have. There are themes contributed by authors. So again, you can see how popular the

author is, how. quick they are to reply to support call, support emails, things like that. And so this client went and they found a theme that they really liked that really worked well with their business.

And it was all just the front end theme, but it wasn't with the CMS that I had recommended. And they were a little bit worried, you know, are we going to have to change? And I was like, no, it's no problem at all.

Like especially when it comes to those front end themes, it's just the HTML and the CSS and maybe some JavaScript. And I can, if you're working with a skill developer, they should be very easily able

to take that existing code locally. I installed that alternate CMS so that I could set everything up and make sure I had everything I needed. But then I could apply it to the templating that we were using.

for the CMS that was chosen for the project. Absolutely. Like Amanda, I have done that as well. Bought a theme, it was a WordPress theme. Didn't use it on WordPress. Used it somewhere else. Nice.

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And people wouldn't think that if you, you know, if they buy something from the WordPress section, they're gonna think it applies to WordPress. It doesn't necessarily.

And again though, if you're the small business owner, then you're probably not gonna have that skill set to translate it. So if you choose a CMS on your own, you're probably gonna have to stick with a theme

for that CMS. Yeah. Right. Plus, actually on ThemeForrest, as well as other theme style sites, you can filter for something that's front-end only. Yeah. Or if you want like a Photoshop file, so it's design only, and you don't even get the HTML,

you can just write your own HTML. Right. Obviously, I'm speaking to developers about that, if you're going to be building 100% fresh, but it is an option. Right. I want to quickly jump in and mention some no code, I guess you call them no code solutions.

Squarespace and Wix and I don't know, the other ones like Shopify. Shopify, yeah, there you go. Shopify. Is Webflow one, maybe? Something that you subscribe to. I think Webflow is one of those where you pay so much a month.

And then your website is hosted and you got e-comm stuff and you can sort of drag and drop stuff and all that kind of thing. That's another option. Again, if you'd like to get your hands dirty because it does require you to go in and do that work.

If you're not going to hire a developer to help you out. But it does come with an ongoing cost. So that's something else you should consider. Like, do you want to pay kind of once upfront? Do you want to not pay a single dime for the CMS?

Are you okay with paying $9 a month? is. Oh, I think it's a lot more than $9 a month. Is it for like, I have no idea what it is for like screws for the for the no code solutions? I think they start around 30 or 40 bucks a month for the

very basic levels and all of these like any other sort of SaaS will have multiple levels that you need to upgrade to because feature you want or you hit another limitation. So instead of 50 bucks a month, now it's $120 a month. Yeah, and imagine being invested in that for a year. And then suddenly

you do hit that wall and you're real. oh we need xyz and but we have to upgrade to the next plan, you know, but you know that that's part of evaluating the CMS if you can Build your website and it costs you 120 bucks a month, but it brings you in

$50,000 of revenue 120 bucks is a month is worth it sure no for sure for sure But quite frankly who is who is starting out a website and they've already got like a hundred and fifty thousand dollars of revenue coming in a month

I mean everything everything build up maybe they've grown a grass, a really successful grass roots business somehow. Maybe. Okay. What else we got here? Well, you know, sometimes a CMS, I'm speaking to developers here,

moves in a direction that you as the developer disagree with. And I know for a fact that all three of us have moved from one CMS to another, at least once, maybe two or three times. Amanda? Yeah.

Yeah. Tell us when this happened to you. and why you moved and what you would recommend. Instead of answering your question, I'm gonna go in a different direction. Okay. I know for a fact that there used to be a CMS

that was quite popular called moveable type. And they moved away from being for free into a subscription basis. And so a lot of their users, and at the time it was early, early blogging days, at the time it had upset a lot of their users.

So they moved a bunch of them, the majority of them I think moved over to. WordPress, which was what gave WordPress its initial bump, huge, huge bump in popularity. Like this is way back in like the early 2000s

or something like that. This was a long time ago. I can tell you when exactly. So it absolutely happens. Yeah. Yeah. Way back in 2005, before I was a professional web developer, I had a blog that I was using moveable type.

And then they did that pricing thing, and there was a couple other changes. It was. around sometime in 2005 and I was not happy about it because I was just doing it for fun. I didn't want to spend money and I started looking and that's how I got into expression

engine because they had a free giveaway and I was like all right got into expression engine. Yeah often what happens is there is an evolution away from a particular CMS that causes people to go in that direction just because I think they're solving more problems or whatever.

So that could be another thing you could consider if you already have a CMS you know it doesn't mean you have to stay with it you could consider you know migrating to a new one that might have better features for what you require. Yeah that's exactly why I moved on from expression engine.

There was nothing wrong with expression engine but craft had a faster pace of development and it had features that expression engine was missing that I was ready for. Well and I think a lot of times

too if you're if you're in deep in the community and not even like contributing to the community, but it's like if you're in, if you're, how can I do something like this? You start to recognize the people who are responding and then if all of a sudden those people

who have been responding, who knew all of the information, they're gone, and then you hear that they have gone over and you know moved over to a different CMS or even started their own, I mean sometimes that might at least

peak your interest to see what is what's happening over there. Yeah, why did those dudes go over there? What's going on? I'm going to investigate. Right. So do you two know anything about headless stuff? I don't I'd have no experience with headless

development. Amanda why don't you you get your hand up? I know I have to defer to Amanda as well. Let's hear what what the hell is headless. Okay so and it's funny because we were just talking about this at Seneca and I've done a couple projects with it. So with the traditional CMS

it's called monolithic this traditional CMS system because you've got this one software package that either you're managing or you're you know, paying for someone else to manage. And it's got the backend, it's got the database,

it's got the front end templating system. And the front end templating system is really just for the web page. So I mean, yes, it can be responsive and yes, it can be good for mobile and tablets and desktop and all of those,

but that's really it. You've got those three parts. So with the headless CMS, it's not that you are removing the head. You actually get to pick and choose which head you're going to use. So you still have the backend part for content editors to go in. You still have like the database part

It's still stored somewhere, but now you can have Your your website head you can have your react head for an app You can have your Alexa skill head you can have your like you can and so all of the content is displayed via API calls

And with some content management systems, it's getting into like GraphQL and things like that But basically you can and get the data and just have it be displayed wherever you've given permission for the data to be displayed.

Right, okay, cool. That's a good, I hope your students found that as valuable as I did just now. It was great. It was definitely very informative. Thank you. Yeah, and thanks, Sean, for the picture

of the headless horseman just now that you posted. I did see that. I was hoping to get a snicker in the middle of the... Amanda doesn't shake, man. She knows she's a professional. I know what's up.

I got a thing to say. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you for listening, everybody. I hope you enjoyed that. If you do enjoy this show, please do give us a rating on whatever you get your podcasts from. It helps other people learn about the show. And if you do know

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Go to YouTube and search for our podcast, the website 101 podcast. Or check the show notes. Yeah, the show notes too. Until next time. Goodbye. Bye, everyone. The website 101 podcast is hosted by me, Amanda Lutz.

You can also find me online. at And by me, Mike Mele, find me online at or on socials at Mike Mele. I'm Sean Smith, your co-host. You can find me online at my website,

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