Choosing a Basic CMS

The web is flooded with many different content management systems (CMS). The majority of sites are powered by top dogs like WordPress or Drupal. While these are fantastic platforms, they tend to be a little overkill for a basic website.

What do I mean by a starter/static website?

Basic websites have pages like About, Contact Us, and Services that rarely need updating. Even pages that change are just text and imagery.

A few examples:

  • The New England Convenience Store Association – an informational site whose purpose is to inform its members of events, government issues, and training
  • The Butters Farm – a local non-profit site informing viewers of the importance of saving a historical farm house
  • Bishop’s Backyard Retreat – a funny website I made in a day for my uncle since we camp out in his back yard
  • My Personal Blog – this is where I share my thoughts outside of Adjacent Concepts

Why should you choose a simple CMS?

Simple content management systems tend to have less moving parts. That means less hurdles to jump to get your site up and running.

Granted WordPress and Drupal can be set up fairly quickly if you want to stick with default or free templates. But what if you want your own custom design or have a pre-existing design that needs to be converted? That 2-days setup turns into weeks since you need to understand the inner workings of each platform. By choosing a more basic CMS you take a lot of steps out of the process.

The biggest advantage of a simple CMS: a concise feature set that lets you focus on what is really important…the content. People visit your site to read your read your articles, recipes, and research. They visit to find out what you’re thinking, what your political views are, and how you respond to world news. They don’t come to your site to see your Twitter widget, sponsors of your ads, or your top blog post commenters. They come because of YOU and how your content makes them feel.

OK, you’ve got my attention. What are some of these “simple CMS” options?

Tumblr – This is a very popular hosted option that is gaining a lot of popularity in the blogging world. It offers no installation and configuration. Just sign up and post! Its focus is making it easy to post text, photos, quotes, videos, audio, and chats. It also offers tagging for content organization. Its biggest features is the community it has. You can follow people just like you can with Twitter and see their most recent posts in your dashboard without having to visit their sites.

Posterous – Similar to Tumblr, this is another popular hosted blogging platform that focuses on small targeted blog posts.

Twitter – Yes, Twitter can be a blogging platform if you are concise enough to stay within 140 characters. You can include photos, videos, links, and even tagging to your posts or status updates in this case. Our very own Kevin Wnek is planning on setting up his own domain name to point to his Twitter account as his blog.

Perch – This is a self-hosted, self-installed CMS that makes WordPress and Drupal setups look like brain surgery in comparison. For a minimal cost of £35 or $56.13, which is well worth it, you can have your site up in a single night. There are numerous free add-ons that can give you a photo gallery, blog, and even an event calendar.

Tiny Trivial CMS (ttcms) – Talk about basic. This doesn’t even need a database to store your content. Your whole site will be powered by plain text files. That’s right, plain text files. You don’t need to rely on knowing any HTML. If you want to add formatting then you can sprinkle some markdown syntax into your text files to define headings, lists, links, etc. As long as you have a text editor you can edit your website.

Of course there are plenty more out there if you do a google search, but I just wanted to give you a taste of what is out there.

So, what do the examples you gave me above use as a CMS?

I am happy you asked. I didn’t tell you what was what right off the bat because I wanted you to see the sites at face value without knowing which CMS was being used. Now that you’ve read about some of the options out there here ya go:

  • The New England Convenience Store Association - Perch
  • The Butters Farm - Perch
  • Bishop’s Backyard Retreat - Tiny Trivial CMS
  • My Personal Blog - Tumblr

I see your point in using a basic CMS, but I need WordPress/Drupal for its features. What now?

A basic CMS is not for everyone. If you do need WordPress or Drupal I recommend you check out the following free options. They will help familiarize yourself with each platform before completely committing to one or the other.

  • WordPress.com – This is the hosted version of WordPress that you can use for free. It offers preset themes and plugins, but will require additional cost to customize beyond the defaults.
  • Drupal Gardens- This is the hosted version of Drupal that you can use for free as well. Again, themes and plugins are preset and any added customization will incur additional costs.

Both WordPress and Drupal are open source. That means you can download and install a copy on your web server if you buy hosting. This is where the configuration steps get complicated if you want it done right.

My recommendation: hire a professional that will help you understand each system, design a theme based on your content, and get you moving in the right direction. That’s the best way to make your site a success given the amount of time and money you spend on a custom setup.

Written on November 09, 2011 by Blain

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