How to choose the best Content Management System (CMS) for your website

Choosing a platform for your website

Content Managers, Designers and developers need to be able to manage their websites content in order to remain relevant in today's web market. A CMS (Content Management System) provides. Thankfully a bevy of options are available. This article explores the different types of CMS's available and discusses your options in choosing them.

Hosted Blogging Services

If you don't want to managing a host or pay monthly fees for your website, the simplest way to blog is through an online blogging service. One of the most popular is google's Blogger. This platform allows you to create a website hosted by Google, without having to pay monthly fees or have to worry about paying for traffic if your site gets too popular. Some very large sites exist within the blogging plaform including one of my favorites for photography learning Strobist. Other hosted services like Six Apart's hosted version of their popular blogging tool Typepad can provide additional customization for a small fee. In addition, WordPress offers a hosted blogging service through wordpress.com

The advantages are that the services are easy to set up, plus you don't have to learn programming languages to set up and run the sites. It's definitely a good option for beginners. I would recommend that if you go this route, you get your own domain name. A site that has a blogger address doesn't look as professional as one that has a .com name.

Host Dependent

If you need something more flexible than the hosted services, a host dependent CMS will provide a quick way to get your presence online and give you a base of code that you can build upon and customize. There are many options here, and they vary widely. Most of the time, it will consist of a bunch of code you download an install on a server.

As the name implies, their require you to have a host who is capable of running the software. Some hosts offer pre-installed version or easy ways of installing the most popular ones, so it's good to research if what you want to use will work with your current hosting plan.

For most host dependent installations, you'll need to make sure that your server meets the minimum requirements for each installation. Most will require you to have Apache, MySQL and the ability to create databases on your server. Some will also have additional requirements in terms of memory. Some of the cheapest plans might have some problems with some of these.

WordPress

One of the most popular options is WordPress. The platform is open source, which means it's free and the code is programmed and maintained by the public. It's requirements are low and the code is developed with a PHP back-end which makes it easy to tinker with when you want to build additional features.

Wordpress was really developed as a blogging platform and it's functionality is based around that approach, so it will work well for people who need blog-like features. When you grow out of those needs or have a different focus, the platform begins to show some weaknesses, although it's improved as a CMS recently.

One of the things I love about WordPress is how easy it is to install. They have something they call their famous 5 minute install and it's amazingly true. As a matter of fact, you'll be surprised how easy and quick it is to install.

In terms of expandability, the site allows you to build more complex web presences through the use of plug-ins. There are lots of plug-ins for just about everything you'll need on your site, including media plug-ins, iPhone access and lots more

In terms of design, you can easily download lots of templates, customize an existing template or build your own. The platform also has very low requirements. You'll need a linux host that supports PHP, MySQL and the mod_rewrite Apache module, which are pretty standard in almost all installations. You need to be able to create a database on your server.

Drupal

Another popular option is the Drupal platform. The platform is similar to WordPress, but is a little more broadly focused. It has additional features that make it more suitable for a social network driven site.

Drupal is also a php based open source platform with a very active developer base. Drupal is considered to be more developer friendly than WordPress, so if you like to tinker around with your sites and add custom features it might be a better platform. Like WordPress, it has a lot of additional modules (like plug-ins) and many templates.

When you're working with, installing or tinkering with Drupal, you'll definitely get the feeling that it was created more for developers by developers, I found some of the menus a bit excessive...programmers tend to like lots of features versus simplicity. Still though, if you're technically saavy, you'll probably like it more than other systems.

Another powerful Drupal feature is that it allows you to run multiple websites from the same database. If you plan to run lots of sites from a single platform, Drupal might work better for you.

I've successfully installed it on my 1 & 1 server, but had some problems with the memory requirements. After some tweaking with a custom php.ini file, I solved the issue. This is a little too much to ask of most people though.

Other options

I could write several pages on the additional options available, but here are some of the more popular alternatives to Drupal and WordPress.

Joomla

Somewhere between Wordpress and Drupal lies Joomla. Another powerful CMS that has given both WordPress and Drupal great competition. It really lies between the two, but is more customizable than WordPress, but not as easy to install or customize ad Drupal.

Movable Type

Other options are Six Apart's own blogging platform called Movable Type. It's one of the oldest CMS tools around, and has a very solid and respected architecture. It's not free for commercial purposes, but there is a free version for personal use. It's also designed to handle multiple blogs

Expression Engine

A well liked alternative to the options above, Expression Engine was built with robust site management and template approach to building sites. It is also capable of handling multiple sites. Unfortunately, it's rather pricey compared to the other options, but as some of their users will tell you, you get what you paid for.

Build Your Own

If you're technically oriented, one option is to build your own custom CMS tools. You might need to launch with custom functionality. Your site might also have a different focus than what some of the CMS tools provide. It might be even too small and require minimal tools for updating very custom content. A good example of this is Rock Solid Photography, a small site for a local photography company which needed custom JavaScript e-commerce platform that was both small and complicated.

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