by John Eberhard
A Content Management System (CMS) is a system that allows you to log in online, and through an online interface, make changes to your web site.
I have observed that over the last year this concept has become more and more popular with companies, and many of the people I talk to about having a web site designed or re-designed want it done with a CMS. They want to be able to make changes to the web site themselves, without depending on a designer who is often busy.
When clients want a CMS, I typically put their site into WordPress, which is a blogging program but is also very workable as a CMS and has become quite popular in the last two years for this purpose. I like WordPress because by and large it is pretty easy for people to learn and use.
I spoke to a fellow designer recently about CMSes, and we agreed that many people seem to have a misconception about what they will be able to do with a CMS. So I thought it would be good to talk about what you can and can’t do with a CMS, or more precisely, what level of knowledge and expertise you would need in order to do certain things with a CMS.
Here are things you can do with a CMS like WordPress, with limited or no knowledge of HTML:
1. Edit text on the site
2. Add new pages
3. Add pictures
4. Add a video from YouTube
5. Add posts to your blog if you have one
Here’s what you can’t do with a CMS unless you have an intimate knowledge of web design and the use of programs like Photoshop and Dreamweaver:
a. Change the masthead graphic
b. Change the number of columns on the page
c. Change the colors of the background
d. Change the content of your sidebars (you might be able to change some content)
To make pictures appear correctly and ensure that they are the right size, you will need some sort of program to edit and resize your pictures. Most digital cameras today give you pictures that are huge by the web’s standard, between 8 and 12 megapixels. If you uploaded and tried to place a picture of this size on a web page it would cover the entire page and then some.
So you will need to be able to resize photos and set them at the size you want, at 72 dots per inch (DPI). Usually you want to have photos between 4 and 7 inches wide on a web page. Any wider and you will cover your entire page and any less and the picture will look too tiny.
Even if you successfully resize your photos, you may get some undesirable situations, such as where the text next to the photos is right up against the photos with no space in between. A web designer can fix such things but he would do so using HTML code.
WordPress has some really good photo galleries that allow you to upload files (of any size by the way) and create a fairly upscale photo gallery. You can see one I have created on my own site here.
YouTube gives you code for each video that you can use to embed that video on your web site or blog. Once you copy this code, then in WordPress you will have to be in the HTML editing mode, then you can paste in the code where you want the video to appear.
They give you options for different sizes. If you paste in the code and the video is too big, you can go back to YouTube and select a smaller size, then copy the new code and paste it into WordPress again.
A CMS allows you many options, but it is not a magic bullet that gives you unlimited options, unless you have some knowledge of the tools and software of web design.
Even with a CMS, you have to get used to the interface, you will need some kind of photo editing software, and you may have to use some HTML code now and then. Even then, you may need to bring your web designer back in to handle certain things for you, or to make broader changes to the site.