Anyone can be a ‘web guy/gal’ these days. You can look like a super-hero to your boss/group just because you have figured out how to easily add content to your website. No longer do you need to be at the mercy of a hard-to-reach webmaster or billed for every second you call to ask for a change.
That is if you choose to build your site with a content management system (CMS).
The traditional/old/please-don’t-do-anymore way of building a website was to carve up whatever design you had into HTML code and build one page. Then you would build another page. And another. Then you wanted to add something to a few of the pages so you had to go through and update multiple pages individually, hopefully remembering to paste the code correctly. Then you wanted to make a design change, but unfortunately you then had to rebuild ALL the pages individually to accommodate the new change. $$$ poured forth from your bank account.
Enter the age of database-driven websites. For a number of years now an increasing number of websites have been built in such CMS platforms – simple code calls that place data from a database onto the page. This change allows the design to be on one side and the content on another. Templates are a huge part of this system. You typically would have a home page and one or more secondary page templates (maybe a specific template for the checkout page of an e-commerce site, for instance). The beauty of this is now if you want to change the design or even an element of the design, you just make one adjustment and the entire site follows suit.
From the web admin’s perspective, you can now access your site typically via a web admin interface so there is nothing to load, you just need an internet connection to manage your site. Multiple people can admin a single site as they all just need an internet connection. If you can use Email or Microsoft Word, you are more than qualified (usually) to manage your site’s admin area so you can add your own content, update menu items, create new pages and more. Most CMS have what’s called a WYSIWYG editor (acronym for ‘What You See Is What You Get’) so as you’re editing a page, whatever you see on that page is what is going to be seen on your site.
From a geek’s perspective, the other beauty is that when you want to (and more than likely you will a few times) move to different CMS platforms, you can just manipulate the database (text-only) to work within the new system. I have moved through many different systems including Genesis (proprietary), Moveabletype, Joomla! (1.0 and 1.5), and WordPress – each one with their own features that I enjoy/appreciate/could do without.
Another benefit of this method is load-speed. In the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world, having a page that loads quickly is one of the key factors to how easily the spiders can crawl your site. It’s also noteworthy that most people give you 2.3 seconds to make a first impression and if that entire time is devoted to loading, they move on. Pages, especially subsequent pages, will load much quicker inherently with a CMS as all the images and standard files load on the home page so they are remembered (cached) when you drill down.
Before you venture down any web re-design or website upgrade project, make sure you do some research as to CMS options BEFORE you meet with your web guy/team/master. There are 2 different types, primarily. You have the choice of open-source, which simply means there is no licensing and you have access to all the code. The other type is proprietary which is owned (and usually hosted) by a specific company. There are benefits and drawbacks to each.
The primary benefit for open-source is it’s FREE. No licensing, no price-per-user, etc. The drawback is that you as the end user have to keep up with patches and updates. The main value of proprietary is that all the functionality is typically integrated in a way that makes it very easy to use, but the major drawback is that they own the site. If you want to move your site, you typically either have to pay a very high licensing fee (if they even let you) or forfeit the current site/functionaity.
I’m a huge fan of open-source, especially for the home or small business. Once your business explodes, spend the cash and invest in a solid, propriety system that can help bring all your elements together in a simplified manor.