Tag Archives: business website

Content Management Systems

Let’s just say everything on your website is content (pictures, videos, articles, links, products, etc.).  A “Content Management System” (often referred to by the acronym “CMS”) is software that helps manage content on your site.  You could just use static or custom-built pages to build your site, but for most companies, a uniform look and easily updated content is preferable to the expense, time and risk of having someone editing site code every time an update is needed.

There is an almost endless list of programs to choose from, some of my favorites to use are Drupal, WordPress, and for ecommerce Zen-Cart.  I use them because they deliver flexible, secure platforms.  All of these software solutions are open source projects, and provide the framework and tools for the social media interactions, articles, products, pictures, slideshows and videos on your website. “Open-source” refers to their licensing rights and generally means that they are free to use, even for commercial use. Those of you who have doubts about using open-source for your business might be surprised at the major enterprises who have embraced it.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the programs mentioned are established, well-documented open-source platforms, supported by communities of developer gurus. Each of these programs also represents different approaches to content management, and requires varying levels of technical expertise to use them.  All of these factors of support, reliability, technical expertise and functions that you need are important considerations whether you go with an open source or proprietary paid solution.

Technically speaking, Zen-Cart is actually an example of “Ecommerce” software (sometimes called a catalog or online store) rather than “CMS” software. There are also “message boards” or “bulletin boards” such as phpBB that are not technically considered a CMS.  Most major CMS’ also have ecommerce or message board plugins. If this is not confusing enough, any of these types of software can be used to make a website independently of each other, or with the use of plugins or some coding, be integrated with each. The right developer can help make one or more program appear seamless to your site visitors while maximizing the features from the different programs.

So, how do you decide what content management solution is best for your business?


First, you will need to do some brainstorming and try to create a list of everything you want your website to do for your business, now or in the future.  It is important  to  ask yourself, what you want your web site to actually do for your business or organization.  This will help to not only determine which functions or features you’ll need to use to  maximize your websites potential, but also what your budget might be.

 

To determine your CMS needs, start with the easy questions:

  • Are you selling a product or services online? Will you need to track inventory or assets?
  • How do you want to you engage with your visitors? Some examples might include:
    • Social media
    • Chat/Help Desk
    • Videos
    • Newsletters
    • Contact Forms
  • Do you want to offer subscription services or other pay wall publications?
  • How much do you have in the budget for maintaining the website?
  • How will you or your employees use information that is gathered or published on your site to improve sales and customer satisfaction?
  • Will you or staff be updating the content on a regular basis?
  • Will you want to track your traffic and / or develop online advertising campaigns?

After you’ve taken stock of your needs, talk to a developer or three, or even ten.  Ask them specifically what programs that they would use in building your site. Ask them how much they would charge to develop and or maintain your site. Ask them for bids. Ask them to show you examples of their work.  You will probably find that you will get a wide range of variance in prices, experience and expertise in your survey.

With careful review, you can narrow down the field considerably to find the right solution for you and your organization. The real trick is recognizing your needs are and which programs can fulfill them. Just because WordPress or any other program is a popular choice and has ecommerce plugins, doesn’t mean that you can manage stock levels, or generate the sales and tax reports you need to manage an online store. Asking and answering these questions not only helps to choose a CMS (or developer) for your site, they also help plan your budgets and marketing strategies.

Web-hosting Lesson Number Two Homework

Before you can choose a web-host, there are vital questions that you need to ask yourself to determine what server environment will best serve your needs.

Which web-hosting company or even package to choose, should be based on answers to questions that only you can answer about your business.   You will need to consider your budget, and your resources to promote your site once it is finished.  You should consider not only your present needs and goals but, also any long term goals that you have for your business that might require an expansion or other changes in your web presence.

Technically speaking, the first question you should ask,  is so obvious but it is surprising to me how often it is overlooked;  what function(s) or role will my website play in your business?  Perhaps you want an online store to sell your products.  Or maybe you just want a quick way for your customers to contact you find out information about your business.  Maybe you want an forum, calendar, newsletter or other  interactive social networking marketing tools to promote information and discussion about your business. Or maybe you want it all and more.

Are you planning on selling products with size, color or other options?  Do you want a help desk or chat to interact with your customers?  Do you need a secure connection for customer interactions?

Keep in mind that there are many pre-packaged “web-site in a box” solutions available by different web-hosts that you might be tempted to try, but these products are generally limited in their flexibility and functionality and before you choose one you should ask about any quirks or customizations you might need  or want to sell your products or interact with your customers.

The second question is equally as obvious, and is usually the first concern of small business owners and start-ups, what is your budget.  Web-hosting pricing varies substantially, and is only a small portion of the costs associated with starting and maintaining a web presence.  Other costs you will need to consider in your budget can include, but are not limited to,  security certificates, software, content development, graphics, and of course,  design.

Shared vs. Dedicated Servers and the Cloud

Unless you are moving an already established, high-traffic domain with a lot of content, or have the need for the added security, or you just happen to own your own server, the cost of dedicated servers is often an unnecessary drain on the company coffers.  A good alternative to a dedicated server for high traffic sites is “the cloud” which usually charges by the resources that are used over a period of time, and comes at a slightly higher price than shared servers but less than a dedicated server.

Most web start ups are fine using a less costly shared hosting environment.  If you are lucky enough to need it later,  it still can be more cost effective to use a cheaper alternative until you really need it and then pay a developer to move your site to a dedicated or even a cloud environment as you grow.

“Unlimited”  Space and Bandwidth

Space refers to the amount of files and data that is stored on the server.  Bandwidth is the resources used to display and transfer information between the server and the end user. Whether it is uploading or downloading, every page load, every submitted post uses bandwidth.Many companies will tell you that they offer “unlimited” of either or both.  They really do not, but most good hosts have high enough limits on both,  that you do not have to worry about unless your site goes viral, and offer options at an extra cost,  to manage the traffic if you do.

Research your web host.  (Google is your friend.)

Step one. Enter the name of your prospective webhost and words such as downtime, security, support and “status log”.  Step two, read the results with a grain of salt.

You should especially look for a status log by the web host.  It will not only give you an idea of how often they experience outages or other problems, but it also shows whether the company is responsive to problems.

The fact of the matter is that downtime can and does happen in any hosting environment.  Server downtime can be caused by any number of factors,  human error, hardware malfunctions, and of course, hacking vulnerabilities.  Complaints made by posters on sites that rate web-hosts  could just be a rival web host trying to redirect you their own service.  Look for articles about it on Wired or other tech sites, about problems, or from websites that developers frequent, or multiple un-resloved complaints across the internet probably means that you want to avoid that host.

Talk to a web developer before you decide, and then take their advice.  Its what we do for a living and often we have questions insights as to what is needed to accomplish your goals that you might overlook.  We also have probably dealt with different hosts and have our own preferences as to which ones we would prefer to use.

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