Website design · Website Development

Is a CMS really a must for web sites these days?

Richard Pridham Investor, President & CEO at Retina Labs

March 5th, 2016

For a B2B company whose web site does not change that much is a CMS like WordPress (or Squarespace) really that advantageous? I know there are some advantages particularly ease of editing, ability to manage multiple languages, form generators, mobile and desktop versions... I have just acquired a healthcare software company and I need to rebuild the entire site. I have a really solid web designer / graphic artist and one of my front-end developers has some bandwidth to actually program the new site. He'll also maintain it.

In the past, I have used WordPress and 3rd-party templates and the results were decent. My developer is of the opinion that a CMS might be too restrictive and that he can build something much more "creative" and avant garde (based on the web designer's concept) without one. He's a programmer so I can understand his position. He says he'll render whatever the designer comes up with whereas a CMS might impose limitations. Invariably, there are always compromises trying to fit a design concept into a template-based CMS format but it worked out reasonably well in the past. I'm just not clear how much time a CMS actually saves you when you have the technical resources on staff.

The reality is that the site isn't going to change that much. The dynamic parts of the site will be a section of the Home page dedicated to updates to news and events, Twitter feed...,the News & Events page itself and the Careers section. Other than that, plus the odd tweaking of copy and creative, it's going to be pretty static. I do need to make the site available in multiple languages (English and French to start, then maybe others) and I need to ensure that the site is fully adapted for mobile and tablets. We do want to add a blog.

Given that we're doing this in-house, is a CMS really justified in a situation like this? I think it is for the language, blog and mobile requirements alone but I just want to make sure it's the right decision.


Lane Campbell I baked a unicorn cake once.

March 5th, 2016

Wordpress doesn't limit any competent designer familiar with how Wordpress works from doing whatever they want with the design while permitting non technical folks to have an easy to use control panel for updating content.

That doesn't mean that your users will be able to update the look or feel with a CMS like Wordpress, just the content.

Emily Brackett Owner, Visible Logic

March 5th, 2016

Using a CMS doesn't mean you have to use templates. You can have a WordPress that is completely custom designed and developed, not just tweaking a pre-built theme. 

If your developer is proficient with WordPress he should be able to hook into the database and be able to pull the content into nearly any design.

The benefit of a CMS is that many changes can be made more quickly and efficiently than if you are working directly using code. Our firm builds many client web sites every year and we always create completely custom WordPress themes. When we designed our own site we used WordPress throughout. We could have just built it using HTML but it's so much easier for many different staff member to make quick changes since it's in WordPress.

Carey Martell New Media Expert and Entrepeneur

March 5th, 2016

The key advantage to a CMS like Wordpress is it does the heavy lifting and speeds up content generation. The other advantage is the wealth of plugins that cover practically every imaginable thing you'd ever want to do with a website. The time to setup a professional website that will load on mobile devices is dramatically shortened by purchasing an off the shelf $50-75 theme, and installing a couple plugins for SEO, analytics, sales lead generation and social sharing buttons. I can crank out websites in an afternoon that would have taken me weeks to code from scratch -- because the time was already invested by theme and plugin creators. I only do custom websites when I need to do something that is extremely uncommon or it's a brand new product category that I basically have to invent.

Brent Laminack Principal at OpenFace Systems, Inc.

March 5th, 2016

Let's see, WordPress (or Joomla, my favorite) is free and has thousands of plugins from RSS display to social media, to site search, etc. Yes, your developer could do something reasonable in a few weeks. Do the math. Also, when you developer leaves, who will maintain it? The era of proprietary CMS ended about the year 2000. The short answer, yes, you need a CMS if you ever hope to have any level of functionality. Yes, you can do something that's mostly static, but you'll never rank well on Google. Their Panda and Penguin updates have put much more emphasis on fresh content. That's a large reason that everybody blogs.

Anthony Zeoli Digital Strategy and WordPress Consultant and Trainer

March 5th, 2016

Here is the reality. Some developers will try and tell their client not to use this or that, simply so they can design and develop what they want to custom build. What happens is that backs the client into being stuck with a custom developed website, and when that designer/developer moves on, it becomes very difficult for the business owner to then manage the ongoing design and maintenance of a website.

There is a very good reason we buy popular cars off the production line and don't custom build cars by hand. Because they are popular, there are many places to get service and there are many technicians who are trained in servicing those products. When you choose a CMS like WordPress, you then have at your disposal an incredible amount of resources to support your site. Backing yourself into a custom build is nonsensical for any business owner. And, I can't imagine that a graphic designer is going to design any template that will not be adaptable to WordPress.

When one thinks about WordPress, one can't assume that since they see this WordPress site or that Wordpress site, their site can't look any different. There are millions of WordPress sites on the web - many custom sites you've probably never seen or never will see. And, why do you care to design something that is not standardized for your industry? As an information architect, I will tell you that we have web standards for a reason. To try and change the layout of pre-established and successful guidelines is to confuse the people you care about the most - your customers.

Lastly, when you use WordPress, it becomes very simple to login and edit page content, without having to hire a designer or developer to add or update your content and push it via FTP up to your webserver. If you are going to have a "news" feed, what do you think is going to run this news feed? That's basically your WordPress blog engine that publishes your posts in reverse chron with categories, tags, and the ability to add comments. You really want to custom build a website with a post-generator engine to publish new news posts and add all the ancillary tools that already exist with WordPress? If something has already been done and done as well as anyone has ever done it, what do you think is going to be so different?

It sounds to me like you have no experience in web development and are listening to someone who wants you to write a big check to do something that, as a business owner, you have very little understanding of. 

Let's also talk about your careers page. I built a website for in Boston and installed a careers plugin to post jobs with an experiation date and the ability for potential hires to apply online and upload their resume. Do you know how much that costs to build from scratch? Just the form and upload tool alone would take many hours to design and build, but you can get a plugin to do that for $50 and you're on your way.

You say you want a blog. WordPress is the MOST POPULAR BLOG SOFTWARE oin the world. powers millions of blogs. What would you use then? How would you create a sitemap and register it with Google Webmaster Tools and make sure your site is SEO ready by having disparate elements tied together, quite possibly with subdomains.

Every time I go back up to read your post and reflect, then write here in this box, it makes me increasingly angry that someone has given you such horrific advice. I've worked in software development since 1995, am an accomplished vp of product, have run my own startups, advise other startups, and am a digital strategy coach. What would I do? Fire the person who advised me to do something so foolish and hire someone competent to get the job done with the available tools that keep your costs in check and will get you online in months and not years.

And, one of my clients is, a software company that has a primarily static marketing website. They are extremely happy with their WordPress site, which is well SEO'd and does everything they need it to do.

I urge you to rethink this. If you want custom design, then hire an experienced WordPress designer and front end developer. If you need some advanced logic for cool stuff that node.js or backbone.js can do, that's great, but you probably don't even know what that is yet until someone shows you what those technologies can do.

I wish you the best of luck. If you don't choose a CMS and build this project from scratch, then you're in for cycles and cycles of development and dealing with problems that WordPres and all its third party plugins handle already.

David U.K. CEO at Cue Digital Media

March 5th, 2016

Word press is easiest in my opinion. Warmest E-gards, David U.K. CEO Cue Digital Media

Eduardo Fonseca Cloud Architect, Senior .NET Software Engineer

March 5th, 2016

CMS are very good to quickly implement high quality web sites and they are very customizable, they have plugins and you can usually integrate with custom coding. You developer is right in that CMS may limit what you can do, and how you do it, since you need to adapt to the CMS engine specific rules, and depending on how the CMS engine is implemented it could hit performance.Still, CMS are widely used, and even many companies which offer services of web development from scratch have created their web sites with CMS instead of 100% custom development. For your specific situation, it seems using a CMS would be the bet way to go.

Michael Heiligenstein Marketing Manager

March 11th, 2016

A lot of that comes down to the size of the business and how much energy you want to devote to online publishing. You'd be surprised at how much you can do with a modern website builder. If you're publishing daily updates and focused on content to drive your business, you'll want to consider a CMS like Wordpress or even something more advanced, depending on what you want to do with it. For a business that's not devoted to online content, and which doesn't publish new articles all the time, you're probably just fine with a website builder.

It all comes down to the time and resources you have to devote to it, and you can always change your site as your business grows and your capabilities expand. Wordpress is incredibly robust though, and always worth a look.

Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

March 5th, 2016

I don't use CMS at all. I've tried a few, including WordPress, Wix, and Weebly, but couldn't see any obvious benefit to using them.
That said, my case is a bit unusual. So far I've been working on projects in which I'm the only developer, and I feel pretty comfortable with coding things from scratch. Besides, over the years I've assembled quite a bit of useful code that I can reuse, and if I need something more complicated, that will take me weeks to code, I can find an open source library/module that does the job, and integrate it into my code. Also, in the current project we have to install offline (local/intranet) versions of the website for certain customers, which is a bit tricky with a CMS, if I understand it correctly.
But most importantly, vast majority of my time goes into the backend - specially designed algorithms and unique databases. Designing and implementing the front-end and UI is usually insignificant compared to the work that goes into the unique things behind the scenes. So, a CMS probably won't save much time for me. In fact, it may take me more time to learn a CMS in sufficient depth than it would take me to do all the work manually. Especially nowadays, when a clean and minimalistic design is in vogue.

Richard Pridham Investor, President & CEO at Retina Labs

March 6th, 2016

Why are we building a web site? We're still asking this question in 2016? :) Doesn't every company have one?

In the short term the site will be mostly informational. We're carving out a new niche in tele-health for ophthalmology / eye care. We need to convey the value proposition, how it works, features, benefits with various CTAs (request demo, download marketing docs, call us...). When prospects come into contact with us or our marketing campaigns, they will likely look at our site and we want to make a great first impression. We are not relying a ton on in-bound marketing so much as outbound sales. The target market is very well defined and we'll be pushing hard into those segments using a combination of conventional sales techniques (existing contacts, customer referrals, prospecting, e-mail marketing, trade events...). So obviously, we want to have a really good site that explains the platform and benefits while coming across as a cutting edge, disruptive company. Not much different from how other other companies try to portray themselves. Foundationally, I want to make sure the site infrastructure is sound with all the pieces needed to scale and evolve (SEO, ease of updating, blog...).

Longer term, we'll start using in-bound marketing techniques. There is a very large segment of the target market that we would not be able to reach efficiently using outbound sales. So we'll rely on various forms of traffic generation, lead conversion techniques, marketing automation, etc... But we're not quite there yet...maybe a year from now.

So my conclusion from this whole discussion is that a CMS like WordPress is a complete no brainier which confirms my original gut feeling. It was this programmer's suggestion that a CMS might be overkill that got me thinking. So I guess we can put a coda on this topic. Thanks for everyone's input!!!