Unlike an HTML website, a CMS website allows non-technical users to make changes to a website with little training. Changes to content, adding or modifying web-pages, even publishing video and interactive functions can be achieved with minimal knowledge of programming. A CMS typically requires an experienced coder to initially set up or add features, but Web-site maintenance is primarily performed by non-technical administrators.
The World Wide Web was developed with a focus on publishing information. The very first Web sites were set up by scientists at CERN, so physicists around the world could publish information in a consistently accessible way. Since then, the Web has moved to more than just publishing information; starting with e-commerce Web sites, and leading to collaboration, social networking, and interactive sites, to name a few.
Even as the technology has evolved, the need for Web publishing remains fundamental. For example, e-commerce Web sites publish catalogs and terms of sale; collaboration and social networking sites publish usage guides and ground rules. Therefore, Web publishing remains a core function of any Web site, even if it is more than just an “online brochure. ”
Publishing a Web site is no different than publishing a book: People in specialized roles each control particular
aspects of the final product. In addition to the authors, there are many other contributors to the book. Someone selected and developed the title and “ brand ” for the book; other people designed the cover-art and page layout; editors checked for quality and consistency, and still other people typeset and printed the book. However, unlike a book, the Web site is being constantly updated, and people want the freedom necessary to change their aspects of the site without affecting one another. For example, an author may want to add a new page, an editor may want to reorganize several pages, and a branding manager may want to change the colors and logo of all pages, all at the same time. The final “ product ” — a connected set of Web pages — needs to reflect the input of each of these contributors at any given point in time.
This is the problem solved by Content Management System (CMS). A CMS website separates and organizes the content, programming and design, allows for versioning, editing, and moderation, and compiles it all together for the site visitor.
Consider a typical Web page. The banner, color scheme, and general look and feel are part of the branding of the site. A main navigation is probably visible, revealing the organization of the site. In addition to the main site navigation, there may be listings of content such as a “ front page ” list of articles or other topics. These are another form of navigation, one which cuts across the formal structure of the site to highlight contextually relevant content. Authored content — that is, content written by an author and possibly run through an editorial process — may appear in one or more sections of the page, along with images that may require acquisition and approval. Syndicated content, such as news feeds and advertisements, might also appear. Down at the bottom, in the fine print, there may be a legal notice or other disclaimer. Within a typical organization that has a Web site, different people will want to manage each of these aspects, all while the site is up and serving customers.
In the bad old days, the approach to managing a Web site was to edit Web pages and associated files on the file system of each Web server. This approach is simple enough at first, but makes it very hard to modify things such as branding, navigation, or legal disclaimers that appear repeatedly on many Web pages. Moreover, if the authored content is stored in the same files as branding, navigation, and other page features, in the course of editing a paragraph an author could accidentally modify the wrong thing and break the page entirely. This led to the role of Webmaster, a person to whom all Web site content and other changes are fed, and who knows the intricacies of HTML, CSS and any other page programming. The Webmaster’s job quickly became a tedious one — copying, pasting, and reformatting content submitted via e – mail and in documents. As the single gatekeeper for all aspects of a Web site, Webmasters often were seen as bottlenecks by contributors whose changes had to wait at the end of the queue.
A CMS website provides flexibility and independent control over all these aspects of a Web page. The Webmaster bottleneck is largely eliminated by giving control over the many aspects of a site directly to business users, information architects, developers, and designers. Instead of endlessly copying and pasting content, developers can focus on system administration, site design, and programming development, enabling them to have a much greater impact than ever before.
Some advantages of a CMS website are:
- Standard templates
- Create standard templates that can be automatically applied to new and existing content, allowing the appearance of all content to be changed from one central place.
- Scalable expansion
- Available in most modern CMSs is the ability to expand a single webpage into a multi-page website over time. CMS sites maybe able to create microsites within a main site as well.
- Easily editable content
- Once content is separated from the visual presentation of a site, it usually becomes much easier and quicker to edit and manipulate. Most CMS software includes WYSIWYG editing tools allowing non-technical individuals to create and edit content.
- Scalable feature sets
- Most CMS software includes plug-ins or modules that can be easily installed to extend an existing site’s functionality.
- Web standards upgrades
- Active CMS software usually receives regular updates that include new feature sets and keep the system up to current web standards.
- Some CMS software allows for various user groups to have limited privileges over specific content on the website, spreading out the responsibility of content management.\
- Document management
- CMS software may provide a means of managing the life cycle of a document from initial creation time, through publication, archive, and document destruction.
- Content syndication
- CMS software often assists in content distribution by generating RSS and Atom data feeds to other systems. They may also e-mail users when updates are available as part of the workflow process.
- Ability to display content in multiple languages.