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Content Management Systems: Making Website Updates Enjoyable

A BUSINESS’ WEB SITE IS OFTEN THEIR INITIAL POINT OF CONTACT WITH NEW CUSTOMERS. For this reason, it is vital for the site to be continuously up to date with useful information. As anyone who has ever tried to maintain a website knows, this is not as easy as it sounds. Many times, website updates just aren’t a priority. Furthermore, you may not have direct control over the site—often changes go through an independent webmaster or web development company. Their schedule may not be the same as yours, and you can’t always count on them for a crucial change

So, without employing a full-time webmaster, what is the best way to ensure timely revisions and up-to-date content? A content management system.

Without getting into the technical specifics, a content management system, or CMS, allows a person with little or no HTML knowledge (the simple programming code used on most early web pages) to edit existing content and create new content at any time through the use of simple forms. This would allow virtually anyone at a business to update the company website quickly and accurately with no bottlenecks through the web programmer and with no extra costs.

Content management systems usually streamline auxiliary processes as well, facilitating operations like file uploads and site backups and providing a host of other features that vary from system to system.

One great thing about this kind of dynamic web site is that it eliminates the kind of time consuming, repetitive tasks that make you put off updates. For instance, it’s a new year and you want to change the copyright date on all your pages. No big deal if you have 5 or so pages, but what happens if you are approaching 50? With static HTML (the way most older, smaller sites are built), you’d have to hand-edit all those pages one at a time. With intelligently thought out dynamic web pages (such as those generated by a CMS) all those pages can be changed with one action! So what could have taken nearly an hour of monotonous work can be done in one or two minutes.

Lets use as an example. Some pages, like Evolution or Contact are static HTML. Every time we want to change them, we have to open up the HTML file and edit the source code. However they don’t change very often, so it’s debatable whether or not it’s worth the time to convert them. Other pages, like On The Fly, Pattern Recognition (which you’re reading now), and our Portfolio are managed with MovableType, a blog publishing platform that we’ve managed to adapt to a variety of needs.

You’ll notice that unlike the static pages, Pattern Recognition and Portfolio are actually a bunch of pages. Our Portfolio is actually over 100 separate web pages. Changing the copyright date by hand isn’t really something we want to do. Luckily, MovableType uses templates that determine the look and feel of the pages on the site. Portfolio uses 3 different templates (the main page, the category pages, and the individual pages), so I only need to update the code there, and click on a button that rebuilds the site. MovableType then automatically updates all of the pages.

Creating new pages is easy too. Right now, I’m typing this article in MovableType’s text editor. Once I save, a few things happen:

  • a new page with this article will be created
  • the main page will be updated, adding a link to the article to the top of the queue
  • 3 archives will be updated (main archives, category archives, and date archives)

So by now, you should be able to see how much of a time saver a CMS can be. One important thing to note is that it’s much easier and economical to build the site from the ground up with a content management system. Converting a site to function with a CMS is doing a lot of work over as new pages are made and the old content is loaded into the system. So, if you are thinking about establishing a presence on the web, or are overhauling your current site, give some serious thought to utilizing a CMS. It may cost more up front, but if you anticipate a need for constant updates and expansion, it will be more than worth it in time and effort saved.

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