Should We Always Deploy Content Management Systems?

Dec 14 2011 by Maria Malidaki | 42 Comments

Should We Always Deploy Content Management Systems?

Content management systems are a wonderful tool for empowering website owners. Most of us have witnessed the power and ease of use of CMSs like Drupal and WordPress. They have changed the web development industry in a significant way.

Now, even average Internet users who have very little technical knowledge can have the ability to run and manage websites without any help from trained web developers.

Because of this CMS revolution, a major segment of the web development industry — dedicated to developing simple to complex CMSs for a broad set of users and premium themes for popular publishing platforms — has blossomed.

There are quite a few benefits to developing a site powered by a CMS. Chief among them is that the website owner is able to add and manage their website’s content, thus keeping visitors interested and search engines tuned in. And for the web professional, he has much less responsibility in maintaining the website.

But is empowering the business owner with a CMS always the way to go? Sometimes leaving tasks such as website maintenance and system upgrades to a professional leads to better results for the owner.

To explore the question of whether or not we should always deploy content management systems for our clients, let us first go through some types of clients who would not fully benefit from them.

Owners of Static Websites

Not all websites have content that constantly changes. Websites for small- to medium-sized businesses and brochure websites that provide relatively static information usually require only a few changes throughout the year, such as when featuring a new product or making an event announcement.

The brochure website of Pic Fresh (a catering company) has information that changes infrequently.

These websites just include an overview of the business, a presentation of its products and the company’s contact information. We see this with restaurants, small shops and local organizations (such as a non-profit animal shelter’s website).

Such business owners usually have a small budget, so the extra cost of a CMS might be unnecessary if they don’t use it to its full potential. Asking a professional to make a couple of changes per year could be easier and cheaper.

Owners Who Don’t Want to Be Empowered

When I entered the Web industry, I assumed that every business owner would absolutely want a CMS to manage their content. But then I had a string of clients who made it clear that they wanted absolutely no involvement in technical matters or that they would just rather a professional maintain their website after launch. This is when I decided to cater my services to this category of clients.

Some clients simply don’t want to be empowered for various reasons; whether it’s because they’re not the best of friends with technology or they just don’t want to add to their existing workload and responsibilities.

By hiring a professional, clients that fall in this category feel more confident in the changes being made to their website and they have one less thing to worry about.

Many of my clients have told me that it’s like hiring an accountant to manage their finances or a secretary to manage the office; the work is done more efficiently, and the owner has more time to focus on their field of expertise.

Owners of Websites with a Shelf Life

Some websites have an expiration date. These usually support an event, such as a conference, a cultural event or a promotion of a special deal on a product. The website promotes the event ahead of time, stays up during the event and a little while afterwards.

The single-page promotional site for a 2009 event, HDLive 9 (hdlive09.co.uk) would not fully benefit from a CMS.

Projects like these require heavy maintenance for a short period of time (several months to a year), and doing it efficiently is critical. The event’s organizers will be preoccupied with planning the event and reaching out to participants through newsletters, media, the website, email, etc.

Hiring a web professional, then, is much easier, if not essential. Empowering such a client with a CMS would do them little good.

Owners Who Rely on a Web Professional’s Expertise

We have all come across websites maintained by people who don’t follow any design or usability principles. And preventing a hapless owner from ruining their own website is difficult, which is why we so often see links in multiple colors, excessive use of bold and underlined text, mixed font families, body text the size of headings, images squeezed in here and there, navigation menus that pop out of their containers — the list goes on.

The truth is, when we let non-technical website owners maintain their own Web property, we can’t expect them to adhere to the rules of aesthetics and usability, simply because it’s not their job to know these rules.

The moment the owner takes over their CMS, we should expect that the beautiful and functional website we so painstakingly created will start to look a tiny bit (or a whole lot) less perfect. This isn’t a big problem for every website, but some websites rely a lot on detail and uniformity of content.

Poorly styled text, for example, might not look so bad on a teacher’s blog where visitors mostly seek specific information, but it can be a disaster on the website for a new fashion line where users want to get a feel for the company before browsing the collection.

Empowering owners of websites that fall into the latter category is questionable.

By the way, some Web professionals worry that a deterioration of their work will reflect poorly on them when potential clients visit their portfolio. The potential client might be impressed with a screenshot in the designer’s portfolio, but then be surprised when they click through to the actual website. For this reason, mention whether you or the owner is currently maintaining a particular website, so that potential clients are not caught off guard.

Website Maintenance as a Service

Now that we’ve gone over some examples of business owners that wouldn’t benefit from a CMS-driven website, let’s now talk about what we can do to fulfill their needs.

For site owners that don’t need a CMS but would still like to have a site that’s taken cared of, we can offer them website maintenance as a service.

The following are some benefits that come with offering website maintenance as a service.

Extra Income

Maintenance is a paid task, and you can increase your income a little or a lot, depending on:

  • The difficulty of tasks that are requested
  • The frequency of updates
  • The number of websites you’re maintaining

Keeps Existing Clients Close

Providing website maintenance as a service strengthens your relationships with clients. Not only will you be at the top of their mind by providing long-term quality service, but you’ll also get to follow their business as it evolves. This will make you a prime candidate when they have a new project.

Promoting your services also becomes easier, e.g., when creating a mobile version of the website, or redesigning for a small discount.

Easier Upgrades

As with every technology, websites get rusty over time. A client might want to add features down the line. Adding code and updating site features will be easier if the code and product are your own. If the client has meddled with it, upgrading could entail a lot more work.

Before You Offer Website Maintenance as a Service…

The main disadvantage of maintaining websites is that it can really fill up your schedule. In case you decide to add this to your roster of services, be clear about the following.

What You’re Charging

I suggest that you offer maintenance only to customers who have been pleasant to collaborate with and who don’t give you trouble with payments. You can charge by the hour or by the amount of work done.

Overcharging can scare clients out of requesting changes, so be careful with your pricing. A website maintenance plan is a sensible approach. For example, a customer could prepay for a three-hour maintenance plan, which could be spread out over several updates during the year, equaling three hours of work for you. Or it could be a casual maintenance plan; for example, one new page of text and five new photos per month.

Here’s an idea: You can bundle these website maintenance plans as part of a new project.

What the Deliverables and Terms of Services Are

Draw a line between maintenance and redesign. Be clear on the definition of website maintenance. You could allow for minor new features, such as new icons or a fancier photo-gallery script or a new color for links. But draw the line when a request looks like a big change. You wouldn’t want to end up doing a redesign by making hundreds of gradual little changes.

Expected Delivery Time

Website maintenance work should be scheduled so that you don’t fall behind on other commitments. Ask clients to inform you of requests ahead of time (for example, an email one week in advance).

Also, give yourself enough time to fill the request so that it doesn’t interfere with other projects. My current arrangement with clients is to fill casual requests within five working days and to perform urgent updates within 24 hours. This can vary according to your own capabilities and priorities.

To Empower or Not to Empower?

The answer to that question depends on the type of client and website you’re dealing with. Empowering the owner to maintain their website is great as long as it’s worth the cost of implementing the CMS, and as long as they feel comfortable doing it.

Present the client with both options, and explain the reasons for opting for one choice over the other. Some websites absolutely need to be maintained by the owner, while others are best left to professionals. Some websites can go either way, in which case the client’s preference could be the deciding factor.

Last but not least, if you’re not willing to maintain websites yourself or are not willing to let clients do it, let potential clients know this in advance. And don’t recommend one approach over the other merely because you don’t want to offer both solutions. You shouldn’t feel inadequate for preferring one method to the other. Rather, try to excel in the services you offer, focus on your target market, and keep your clients and the Web happy!

How do you handle website maintenance? Do you use one approach over the other? What are your clients’ preferences? Share your strategies and thoughts in the comments.

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About the Author

Maria Malidaki loves creating and managing websites, focusing on clean and simple design primarily using semantic HTML/CSS. Planning to also work as a vet and researcher, she specializes in building the web presence of academic and scientific events. Keep in touch with her on Twitter @mthunderkit and at her professional website at thunderkit.net.

42 Comments

Terence

December 14th, 2011

Interesting read, thanks!

James Young (@welcomebrand)

December 14th, 2011

I always build a site on the back of a CMS, even if I don’t give a client access to it. It’s virtually the same amount of build time putting together a site in WordPress for example as it is building a load of static pages and you get the massive benefit of it being easier to update and manage.

Don’t forget a CMS also represents an opportunity for you to manage your clients site/content for a retainer if they wish.

I’ve built a couple of small “static” sites without a CMS in the past, they quickly become a nightmare to maintain and manage.

I’d recommend against it for sure!

J.

Debasish Panda

December 14th, 2011

Yes makes perfect sense. Not every website needs a CMS, and frankly sometimes its an overkill.

Live example – me. I make WordPress websites for others for a living, but when it comes to my one page portfolio, I get by perfectly fine with a simple index.html!

Why squander away your time managing a CMS which you can otherwise utilize to code on client projects to make actual money.

Also not everyone needs a blog [in my humble opinion] :)

Mario Awad

December 14th, 2011

Great tips and an inspiration to implement additional services in our web development company. Thank you. Cheers.

Lyndsay Howarth

December 14th, 2011

Thanks Maria,

Great article!
I have 13 yr clients who know I will just look after things for them. They don’t want to know the technical… just the mechanical steps to upload their notices… and to know I’m here if something out of the ordinary happens.
They’ve had maybe 5 or so major upgrades to the backend code and hosting circumstances… but to them nothing has changed to the core structures or interfaces. They won’t let me change those.

- Lyndsay

Chris Elliott

December 14th, 2011

Great article Maria!! I currently manage a number of sites for clients and have monthly and quarterly fees. I have found that most clients never login to their CMS’s due to time restraints. Those that do usually end up with really ‘funky’ colours and squashed logos etc.
Clients are generally reluctant to sign up to monthly management plans however giving them a free month after their site goes live soon helps them realise the benefit of having a professional manage their website.

Jason mark

December 14th, 2011

Content Management Systems are to manage content not just for clients. In your examples you mention an event site which requires a lot of maintenance over a short period of time. Why wouldn’t you use a cam for that? It might add 20 minutes to your startup time but you’ll get that time back in maintence time-savings, not to mention that you can add modules/plugins for things like registration more easily with a CMS. Lastly if you have many CMS sites that need maintenance you can more easily hire someone to maintain it without them knowing HTML and without you needing to hand off your code or go crazy with documentation.

Easy navigation control alone is worth having a CMS in 90% of the sites we’ve done even if the client never touches it.

RE: WYSIWYG fonts.
I don’t think many web shops give all those options you showed to clients. Most shops have a CMS install profile which turns off 90% of the wysiwyg options so that’s not a problem.

Evan 'OldWorld' Skuthorpe

December 14th, 2011

Thanks for the article. Sometimes I feel WordPress is being used a little too much by some designers. Often, as you’ve pointed out, static websites will do. It’s nice to go through the options with the clients in the first place as some would prefer not to have to manage their site at all.

Matthijs

December 14th, 2011

Great article. Agree with everything you wrote. My experience is the same: there are people who just don’t want the responsibility of having to deal with their website them selves. Sending a quick email to ask me to update a few pieces of text is much easier for them. I have even build WordPress powered websites where in the end the clients still asked me to update the content.

Another point (as you pointed out) is that of costs and maintenance. Every CMS out there (wordpress, drupal) etc needs regular updates and attention. Maybe 5-10 times a year. That’s 5-10 hours paying a professional (if you want to have it done the right way). For a small business or non-profit that can be a problem.

David Y

December 14th, 2011

Very rarely do I come across a client that doesn’t want a CMS solution to power their website. Even those that I’ve worked with that are completely new to having a website pick a CMS solution after hearing the ease of use to update certain items, while leaving the heavier more technical things to be maintained/updated.

Overall I think it comes down to a matter of educating whoever we’re working with as well as properly explaining the pros and cons of both sides.

Also for those that don’t need one, we as creatives should respect those wishes and still develop a site to the best of our abilities.

Dustin

December 14th, 2011

I agree that some clients should not have the ability to change their sites as this leads to many problems. But, what about setting up a CMS for you as the developer to use in your maintenance of sites for clients?

Nate Klaiber

December 14th, 2011

I sell it as a service. I have seen so many CMS projects gone wrong, simply because the wrong people were involved. When I build an application, and a designer builds the interface, we have a vision for how to help a company succeed with their branding and communications. Too many people view a CMS as a silver bullet and assume people want it. You hit the nail on the head with:

“When I entered the Web industry, I assumed that every business owner would absolutely want a CMS to manage their content. But then I had a string of clients who made it clear that they wanted absolutely no involvement in technical matters or that they would just rather a professional maintain their website after launch. This is when I decided to cater my services to this category of clients.”

I was the same way. I thought every system I built had to be maintained by someone. I quickly learned that wasn’t the case. I also learned that a CMS needs to have business context. Throwing WP at everything (a blogging engine), only complicates when it doesn’t align with the mental model of how a business works or manages their products or services.

Every client is different, but I learned early on I don’t want to work with clients who will create the content you showed in the screen shot above.

Tomas Krejcar

December 14th, 2011

Yes, there are some people that shouldn’t have a cms and some that don’t. But even if I knew that I would be the only one who is ever going to edit the website, I would install a cms. It makes my life easier and the cms I use is so easy to install and customize that it doesn’t take any longer than uploading static files would.

Johnny

December 14th, 2011

IMO WordPress has taken a lot of time off development on blogs and stuff. I don’t think it should be an automatic deployment though, but it certainly is my number 1 choice when it comes to making a blog.

Some awesome tips though. Thanks :)

Omegakenshin

December 14th, 2011

Excellent article, very useful information :D
Thx

Super Intellisense Technologies

December 14th, 2011

I am into the field of designing & really like all the stuff that you provide on this site. It really helps me to gain knowledge about the latest tools & changes in demand.

Great Work Guys..!!!!!

Swapnil Samfrancisco

Christian S.

December 14th, 2011

What a great article, this is an important decision before the proposal presentation for any customer.

Jim

December 14th, 2011

Another point that might be a whole other topic but something I didn’t see discussed here is that just because the owner of the website does NOT want to edit the website or have a CMS does NOT mean you shouldn’t throw away using a CMS. I have found over my 14+ year career that CMS’s can make life a lot easier if you’re doing “maintenance” or updates for a client. Even if you’re living in your own code a CMS could be faster and more efficient. Development and design can also benefit from a CMS or like system through APIs to build custom objects for a website on already created code.

In one website alone getting content up went from a long drawn out process through custom code from previous developers to I decided to put them on Kentico and now it takes 30 seconds to put up the same content.

artfanvikram

December 14th, 2011

I am new to freelance and have very little experience in this regard. This article gives good insight on dealing with clients of different mindset. It will help me in time ahead.
Thanks for the article.

Ondra

December 14th, 2011

Some very good thoughts here.
But I have one experience with most clients – at start, they need only micro website with contact and one photo…and after few weeks you are suddenly working on huge CMS powered site with e-shop integrated ;o)

Mikal

December 14th, 2011

I’d argue that using a CMS every time (even in incredibly simple sites) is the way to go for two main reasons: never ending plugins for SEO, Analytics, etc. and maintenance. Even if your client doesn’t want to maintain it, someone will have to (hopefully your company) so why not have something that even a non-technical person can update. Hiring a specific person for content management still allows you to bill your company rate, but by having a non-developer/designer as the point person for content updates allows you to cut your cost on that position.

Great thoughts here.

rick

December 14th, 2011

I use WordPress on the sites I build… but:

1) I don’t make absolutely everything manageable by the site owner. Logos, for example, are coded. To avoid ugly text styles, I override everything with CSS and I’ve been known to remove certain buttons from the TinyMCE editor. However, I try to educate my clients on good CMS practice so that they don’t go wild and try to do styling in the CMS.

2) I set up accounts with appropriate rights so that site editors don’t see the admin tools (pluing installation menus and the like). This makes their experience cleaner and more efficient too.

3) Finally, you can alter the admin area of good CMSes so that the enduser’s experience is guided. In WordPress, for example, I create Custom Post Types for some clients so that they have a UI tailored to the structured content they are entering. Even if you don’t do that, you can do simple things. For example, WordPress will display a prominent notice if there’s an upgrade available. You can disable this in the functions.php file so clients don’t see it, click the link, upgrade their site and break it because of a plugin incompatibility.

When it comes to maintenance, I don’t want to spend my time editing content, so I let them do that. I bring in post-launch dollars by doing technical maintenance tasks (upgrades of WordPress mostly) and by the inevitable post-launch development tweaks. I’d not feel right about creating a site and not using a CMS specifically in order to bring in more dollars via maintenance.

Isiah

December 14th, 2011

I’m not a professional web designer but I’d like to say that there is another sector of website not covered in your article – that of legacy sites created and updated manually in pure htm and css years before good CMS systems became so widespread and easy to use. Often these sites are tricky to retrospectively fit into a current CMS system for various reasons, mostly around templating issues. I know this because I’m in that boat.

Sean

December 14th, 2011

A nice CMS for sites that don’t change that frequently is Get-Simple.info. It takes 10 minutes to integrate and doesn’t require a DB.

prothom alo

December 14th, 2011

For my customers & my each site comes with the WordPress Content Management System. So they can now maintain their own website. All they need is knowledge of a word processor like MS Word or notepad. With the right tools they can in most cases just from MS Word or other word processors, copy and suits & add photos of new products to Documents. It’s all in just a matter of seconds …
Especially for my customers, i have compiled a document that explains step by step, how easy it is to add new articles, add articles as it saves them money but also time.

sc927

December 14th, 2011

Thank your good articles, very useful for my site.

adam

December 16th, 2011

Warning WordPress fanboy here: ) but with so many great & essential plugins, re-usable themes etc we only use it now. Not all of our clients have access and some we limit it, another great feature…oh and SEO ease, remote management, community support – the list goes on for WordPress and the like and I’m the least techy in my team (it’s nooob good: )

Re maintenance, we quote for the work at hand including if a client messes their website up…just need to make this understood at the start like any project.

Maria Malidaki

December 16th, 2011

Thank you all for your wonderful comments!

There have been plenty of comments suggesting implementation of a CMS to be used -by the web professional-. I would like to make it clear that this article is meant to discuss whether your client will be maintaining their website -using a CMS-, or whether you, as a professional, will be doing the maintenance for them.

The case presented in the article is this: you are hired for a project and you are thinking whether -your clients- would like a CMS in order to do the updates by themselves, or whether they would like you to do it for them.

Now, if it is decided that -you- will be doing the maintenance for them, then it’s up to you how you want to do it. Plain html/css on a notepad, CMS, WYSIWYG editor? That’s up to you, and up to your clients’ budget in case you’re charging differently for each maintenance option.

I apologize if this hasn’t been clear enough in the article. CMS implementation for the web professional is a different discussion, with other parameters and concerns to elaborate on.

Having made this clear, I personally believe it depends on the web professional to choose whether a CMS helps them at maintaining a website or not.

Please let me know if I have answered your question, and if not, how I could make it more clear in the article.

@Jason Mark, I have seen plenty of clients being allowed to use many features of the WYSIWYG editors, mostly because they request it as they get familiar with the editor. In the cases I’ve witnessed, it started with being allowed to add simple text, a link or a photo, then they asked how they can change colors, font families, sizes and add all sorts of different gadgets here and there.

So, speaking by personal experience only, some CMS WYSIWYG editors can really make a nicely organized website look like a nightmare.

Looking forward to your thoughts everyone!

Ross

December 16th, 2011

Cheer Maria for this, really interesting article and I do know of some companies who similar to what Chris said, that they make everything in a CMS system.

Another interesting point Chris made is that he offers a month free updates so they can trail this out. Me thinks Ill have to try this out in the new year!, thanks again.

Nick Yeoman

December 16th, 2011

This is a good opinion article, really inspires best practices.

I think your stuck in the outdated world of Drupal and wordpress. Modern CMSes such as Joomla have an underlying MVC framework that you can use regardless of if you use the core CMS system.

When building a web site today, even if it’s “static” one will likely use a PHP frame work such as CodeIgniter or Kohana. Joomla has it’s own underlying MVC framework (called Joomla framework) which allows you to quickly write and deploy a website, regardless of if you use the CMS system or not. This greatly improves the ability to add a CMS in the future if you so require.

Personally I always use a CMS no matter how small (or large) the requirements. The support from the community will save you a lot of work in the long run and make maintenance and standards easy and straight forward. I think not using a CMS is sort of a “set it and forget it” mentality.

I hope this inspires discussion so we can all find the best solution for our projects. And thanks again for inspiring me to really think about why and how we use CMSes.

Loni

December 17th, 2011

Most of them “beautiful sites” are static, most likely some landing page, or really a minisite, that well designed websites can not exist within dynamic websites, cause they are well prepped for the context inside.

Anthony

December 18th, 2011

It is worth noting that there are many levels of CMS applications out there, from very basic and unsophisticated – barely a step above pure HTML – to enterprise level.

It really is about matching the right tool to the site’s user and business needs. Determining whether the client is an end user or not is a factor, but it is only one of many.

Big Russ

December 19th, 2011

using a CMS is a must with my customers. If I had to manually make the changes they needed I would be in update hell. On the surface a CMS might see, like overkill but 9 times out of 10 a user will ask for something that the CMS can provide in a fraction of the time.

Mauricio Matias

December 19th, 2011

We use both solutions depending on clients needs. It true, not everyone needs a CMS. Sometimes we use CMS even when we will manage clients websites, depending on volume of updates since it will be easier to update and cheaper for client.

Dave

December 19th, 2011

Hi Marie, you raise some good points. We seem to share similar opinions on this topic and you bring some interesting new issues to the debate with good examples. I wrote a piece on this a few years ago which may be of interest to some of your readers. http://daveharrison.net/articles/the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-content-management-systems

Jens Schellhase

December 20th, 2011

Well, I think it depends on the final size of the site. Most of small brochure or mini pages I do hardcoding (as for my own portfolio and company site), but when it comes to growing and content crowded sites I prefer a CMS anyway (and choose carefully what kind fo CMS; so I won’t sell WordPress to a store;))!
BTW, thanks for the article!

Matej Latin

December 20th, 2011

I never tought of it this way… I always insist on using a CMS but I think you have a point here…

fotograaf

December 21st, 2011

The last site I finished was a pure HTML/CSS/JS site.
For me, a site without a CMS is just easier to develop. I really enjoy doing that, for the sheer pleasure of getting things done quickly and effortlessly, exactly as you want it to.

Another big plus of pure HTML sites this is the huge speed difference compared to dynamic sites. Load times of a little over half a second for pages with lot of elements, you won’t get that easily with a WordPress site, even if you use caching.

Customers that I built WordPress sites for get instructions on how to manage the site themselves, and a small printed manual (±10 pages) to work with. But still they might need some guidance every now and then. Or the site itself may need some attention, like upgrades or backups.
For the next year I am thinking of sending those customers a sort of maintance proposal, which will include a number of hours of support, regular maintaince and backups of the database and picture files on the server.

Steve

December 21st, 2011

As with many of the commenters here we too design websites almost exclusively with WordPress. I would question whether it really is a CMS but I guess that’s a whole different thread :-)

We only sell websites as a service, people come to us because our pricing model is very clear and simple – there are no hidden extras, all changes, updates etc. are included as part of the package.

Using WordPress (or CMS) is central to the whole concept because the ease of use means that we don’t have to pay web designers to do the work. Our service desk is manned by very competent people but without the “web dev” price tag.

An added benefit of course is that as the business grows it’s very easy to grow the website and increase the price.

Worli

December 22nd, 2011

@Debasish, Yes you are right at some point. But at the same time web designer charge hundred of dollars just to make make a simple few pages website. In that case learning simple things like setting-up WordPress can be a big saver.

Richard

December 23rd, 2011

I have found Content Management Systems like wordpress slow, if you are looking for fast page speed for SEO reasons there is nothing like HTML. If you are building a website for a client you might have to compromise and go with a CMS as there code knowledge is most likely going to be minimal

David Robins

December 25th, 2011

Great article, not all websites need CMS.

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