Updating Your Own Website, Pros & Cons
Today, web technologies like WordPress, Drupal, DotNetNuke, and Joomla allow website owners to make their own updates. No longer are you dependent on a webmaster to fit your changes into their schedule, and you’re not going to get a $100 bill for fixing a typo or updating a phone number either.
Making your own updates is called Content Management (CMS), and it sounds ideal. What could go wrong? Well, there are pros and cons to any system or service, and content management is no exception. Whether or not it’s right for you depends on your goals, your staffing and work situation, and your budget.
The Pros of Content Management
- You’re empowered and in-charge; you can make updates when you need them without waiting on a webmaster’s schedule.
- Most content management systems are relatively easy to use; you don’t have to be an expert to change text and pictures on your website.
- There’s no additional charge from your web developer for updates.
- Multiple contributors can work on different areas of the same website without interfering with one another.
- Features like staff updateable calendars and blog pages can help make your site a rich resource of easily accessible information.
The Cons of Content Management
- Everyone thinks of the money they will save making their own website updates, as if their own time or their staff’s time was not worth anything. In our experience, professionals can make changes in 10 minutes that take amateurs an hour, and the professional’s changes look better.
- You should expect an investment of your time and money in training. However simple the system, the ins-and-outs of its operation will require some effort to master.
- Over time, content managed websites often take on an amateurish appearance. Non-professionals have no training in fonts, image optimization, color balance, and graphic design, etc. We can often tell content managed sites by how “junked up” their appearance becomes over time.
- Content management does not come with marketing skills and writing expertise. A badly worded message can turn away prospective clients as easily as an ugly site.
- Content managed sites are based on templates. This often limits the design possibilities to a standardized look and feel, with nothing to set it apart from a thousand other content managed websites.
- Search Engines are highly sensitive to the content on the page. Just by changing a headline or a bullet point, you can easily disrupt search results. Where search results are important, it’s better to leave as much of the on-page content to the professionals as possible.
- By their very nature, popular content management systems end up being targets for hackers. While the developers of CMS software take security seriously and are always providing new patches and updates, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll know how to apply them or that your hosting service is doing it for you.
Is Content Management Right for You?
By my count, that’s 5 good arguments for content management and 7 against. Of course, it’s not a numbers game. It depends on what is best for you, taking your entire situation into account.
For example, we developed a CMS website that has been edited for years by a 75 year old retiree for a non-profit organization. He rarely requires even the slightest assistance. While it does not look like a slick, professionally edited site, it fulfills all the needs his organization has, from immediacy of updates to a budget friendly experience.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we work with a municipal website where one of the requirements was to avoid CMS systems. They knew going in that their personnel neither had the time nor the skills to effectively update a website, and if we, as the developer, were going to make updates reliably and affordably, then that was the service they insisted upon.
We even work with a business organization that purchased a fully content managed website from another developer, only to find that they had no time to devote to web updates and no members in a position to effectively learn how to use the system. They now regularly call on us to perform updates to their WordPress website.
Section-Based Content Management
There is a “middle road,” one which we have found to be very effective for a number of clients. It is called Section-Based CMS. In this hybrid of custom design and content management, a few sections or modules are set aside for owner updates, while the majority of the site remains under webmaster control.
It is an approach which offers many of the benefits of content management while avoiding the worst of the cons. With section-based content management:
- You are no longer limited by templates. A unique custom design can represent your company’s brand at its best.
- Announcement blocks, news pages, calendars, and blogs can be set aside for easy access and editing by the website owner.
- Limited access means less opportunity for the look and feel of the website to degrade through changes made by inexperienced users.
- Areas of the site under webmaster control can be kept looking sharp and professionally polished, as well as optimized for search engines.
- Security is enhanced because limited access means less opportunity for hackers too, and if security is ever compromised, the potential damage is limited.
- Your investment in staff and time is the most effective, making critical updates as needed. Training is minimized because section-based CMS can be simplified for ease of use.
You may still harbor that nagging concern that webmaster changes are expensive and take a long time. In our experience, if your web company charges $100 for the simplest change and takes weeks or months to do it, it’s time to find a fairer and more responsive web developer. It simply doesn’t have to be that way.
While at first it sounds like doing your own web updates is a great idea, the reality is often more complex. It may be a really good idea for you and a disaster-in-waiting for your competition, or vice versa. A careful consideration of the pros and cons as they apply to your situation is best.
When it comes to content management, I’m reminded of the story of the master carver and his would-be apprentice. While the master turned out one stunning piece of folk-art after another, the apprentice managed only a few rough figures unfit for sale. Convinced that the trick must be in the master’s knife, one day the apprentice begged to see what he could do with the fabled blade. Indeed, the master’s knife was impressive to behold, with a silver sharpness that fairly glittered in the light. Unfortunately, it took only a few cuts for the apprentice to ruin the wood and nick a finger in the process. Thus he learned the most valuable lesson of all: the art of the master was never in the blade but in the native talent and decades of practice that had whittled away at another young man until that apprentice had himself become the master.