When dealing with designing and mantaining a web site there is one real important thing to keep in mind: create the site using HTML+CSS only or create the site as a template of a Web Content Management System (WCMS or just CMS)? A few years back I preferred the HTML only option and had many reasons to stay away from CMS. These days things have changed and now I have almost any good reason for not using a CMS.
I’m not a full-time web designer, though I do some stuff related to things like asp .net cms, I do some freelance work every once in a while, mostly for small local bussiness who want just static sites that include 4 or 5 pages with the company description, portfolio, contact info and so on. On those cases going for a basic HTML design works fine, specially because on most cases the client doesn’t need to update any information in a long period of time, and even if they did editing those 4 or 5 pages isn’t hard work and can be done in a few minutes. But what happens if the client decides that there will be a weekly update? 3 times per week perhaps? Or who knows, maybe a couple of times on a daily basis. Suddenly mantaining the HTML site is too much work to be done in just minutes.
A Content Management System can really make the day for anyone who’s job is to mantain a website. Adding content to a site is as easy as using a webmail with the difference that instead of creating a new mail, writing something and sending it to some other person you’ll creating and article (or post), writing something (using a rich-text editor) and publishing directly to your site. The best part is that all the site gets updated at once! There’s no need to open all the pages using an HTML editor to add a link to your new content, all those changes are done automatically. For that reason every time I’ll be the one who will be updating a web site’s content I don’t hesitate and design it using a CMS, even if the site is just 4 or 5 pages long.
Content Management Systems have some clear advantages over classic HTML sites:
– Organization: On a CMS there is a control panel where it’s easy to access all the site sections, articles, posts so it’s easier to edit them. On a classic HTML site you would have to browse into folders and files to find the one you want.
– Interaction: Giving your site’s users the ability of leaving you feedback using comments is good for you because you’ll know if your content is having the impact you want or not, but replying to those comments is great, your readers will feel like they are part of a community and you’ll gain returning visitors. This is something all CMS include.
– Tracking: Most CMS can also provide stats about your site. You can see wich content is being most viewed, where your visitors come from, how much time they spend on your site among other things. This information can be used to improve your site contents. With HTML sites you would need to depend on third party solutions like Google Analytics.
– Functionalities: Most CMS come bundled with add-ons that can improve your site functionalities. From simple things like easily adding a photogallery to maybe more sensitive things like implementing a shopping cart and cashout system. Sure that can be done using HTML, but if your CMS can do it for you why to bother?
Not all that shines is gold and CMS solutions are far from being perfect. They do have dissadvantages compared to HTML sites:
– Extra knowledge: To create an HTML site all the that’s needed is to know HTML and CSS. When dealing with a CMS there’s the need of knowing HTML, CSS and perhaps a little of the programming language the CMS uses, wich could be PHP, Ruby, Python and so on. On most cases HTML+CSS will do the trick but knowing the language of the CMS will open the door to more advanced features so maybe this isn’t really a dissadvantage.
– Technical requirements: An HTML site just needs to be hosted on a web server. CMS needs to be hosted on a server wich meets some technical requirements like having a database installed, or having PHP or Ruby. But again, that’s ok as most web servers can provide all what’s needed to run a CMS.
So I think now it’s clear that using a CMS is the right option but there are many solutions to choose from. I would recommend you to use Joomla! or WordPress as they are very popular, have a lot of plug-ins and add-ons that you can use and there are a great deal of online tutorials and how-to’s that will help you design your site.