The CMS Industry’s Dirty Secret

By Kris LaGreca

The CMS Industry’s Dirty SecretNew Possibilities Group

Not everything in the CMS industry is black and white. While it may seem like all you have to do is plug information into the back end and the software will comply and reflect it properly on the front end, that can’t always be guaranteed.

The dirty secret is that nothing is 100% in the CMS world. 

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, let me explain it further.

In truth, not all promises can be fulfilled when it comes to the relationship between off-the-shelf templates and content. As you may have experienced while working in a CMS like WordPress or Drupal, you might have a specific vision in mind of how you would like a page to look on the front end, only to find out that it’s not feasible. 

So you settle, which can lead to both a subpar user experience and a whole lot of hair pulling.

Compromising Between Flexibility and Conformity

Let’s say you wanted to include a biography section on your website. On the page, you have a grid layout with an image and some text for each person in the directory. The images have to fit into a fixed template. That means you will have to do the work beforehand by making sure they are the correct size and shape in order to be sure they will appear correctly. 

In this situation, you have to conform your workflow to your CMS. It could take many rounds of editing the photos, inserting them into the grid, looking at previews, and trying to figure out what the right size is before it starts to look right.

A better approach would be to have a system in place where you can simply create individual records for each person that includes their photo and other information. The organization of this information into the grid format would be automatic, as would be the cropping and resizing of the images you’ve uploaded.

With a custom CMS, you could build this tool in so any time you had to add or remove someone, it would only take a matter of minutes, as opposed to all of the time you might spend fighting with the photo alone. 

Styling Made Not So Simple

There’s a bit of a Goldilocks conundrum when it comes to how your CMS handles your front-end styling: a CMS that is too flexible, not flexible enough, or requires significant customization. 

If your CMS is too flexible, it may be easy to use, but there is no guarantee you will be able to get the exact look you’re going for—or that it will look good at all. Using a WYSIWSG editor provides a lot of flexibility, but if you have the ability to type 300 characters for your page titles, for example, it probably won’t look good on the front end. 

On the other hand, when your CMS is not flexible enough, the constraints will make the appearance predictable each time and you are stuck with the same layout, unable to highlight important information or play with any sort of variations. A scenario where this can become a problem is if your design involves a specific style for page titles in a hero section, but you want to be able to change it up on a page-by-page basis.

The solution to overcoming these issues is a custom CMS, which allows for ease of use and getting the styling you really want. Want a hero section with a large heading and a smaller subheading? You could feasibly have a separate custom field for each, and each one can have its own style settings. Really, the sky’s the limit in this scenario.

Changes To Data Architecture

The last scenario to ponder is when your CMS causes a change to your existing data architecture. Imagine you have an ecommerce system that needs to be modified to handle event registration in addition to product orders. The current data structure is already set up for standard ecommerce functionality, but there is information involved with event registration that might call for an additional layer of functions and data.

Modifying the existing system would require changes to the data structure, workflows, and overall functionality. In the end, the changes become a “hack” in that you’re employing workarounds and tricks to make the system adapt to the new workflows.

For example, you may end up with event registration data that looks so similar to a regular order that your customer service department gets confused. Or worse, order data might get jumbled with event registration data to a point where you can’t report on each separately.  Problems with hacking a solution might not be evident for months, and at that point, your data is “dirty” or worse, completely unusable.

Another option some would consider is to use a completely separate registration system and attempt to have the two systems communicate with each other efficiently. This creates a logistical nightmare, as you will have to maintain each system separately and pray that one doesn’t outpace the other via updates to the point that they become incompatible.

Both options create issues with the ability to fetch consistent data about things like returns, order information, etc. The best way to handle this scenario is to build a custom solution from the ground up so you get the best of both worlds: a system that can receive both orders and registrations and report back to you about them either separately or together in a streamlined fashion.

As you can see, the dirty secret of the CMS industry is really that off-the-shelf templates can’t do everything 100% because they add an extra layer of complexity to even the simplest functionalities. 

There is a better way and that’s to consider going custom

A custom CMS can be designed for your specific business needs and to bring you the most efficiency and least amount of frustration possible. Publishing many different types of content like videos, articles, pages, images, and more would never be a second thought with a custom CMS.

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