Let Your CMS Do the Work

WordPress Screenshot
CMSs can alleviate your workload when you use them wisely.

Content Management Systems (CMS) are popular, and with good reason: they allow relatively non-technical (and non-designer) individuals to update and manage a website. Occasionally, though, a client wants more power and flexibility than the CMS offers. This is an error. Increasing the power and flexibility correlates directly to the complexity of managing the site. To have absolute control of a site would be to update and edit the code directly, and, as you can imagine, that is quite contrary to the idea of allowing non-technical users manage a site.

Separation of Style and Content

Assumed in the desire to use a CMS is that the end-user is not only non-technical, but a non-designer, and good content management systems isolate the content from both the functionality and design of the site. The content is what the end-user controls. Isolating content is a very good thing.

Most clearly, isolating content from functionality is good. This is often the primary reason to use a CMS. The content is kept safely separated from the site, preventing inexperienced users from crashing a site just by editing and adding content. Less evident is the benefit of keeping the content separated from style.

Design is communication, and communication needs consistency to be effective. I design and build websites with a cohesive design, ensuring the communication is consistent, clear, and effective. When the content breaks from the consistency of itself and the site, the communication becomes diluted and less effective. Users don’t perceive ineffective design, they react to it. They react with less engagement, understanding, and esteem. This affects their opinion of you, the site owner, as well.

Markup Meaning, not Appearance

The desire to control appearance is understandable; we are accustomed to word processors and desktop publishers that give us control over the design. Everyone has access to these programs; they are a necessity of both academia and corporate America. But most of us use these programs incorrectly. The average user thinks, “This is a heading, it should be bold and big. I’ll make it bold and big. This is a subheading; I’ll make it bold and a little less big.” Good designs can come from this method, but it’s not scalable. Professionals use paragraph and character styles to control these appearances. Instead of making a heading bold and big, we mark it as a heading. Then we tell the program that anything marked as a heading should be bold and big; anything marked as a subheading should be bold and less big. Page upon page is created like this, and then, should a change need to be made to the appearance of headings, we make a single change to the heading style and all the headings in the document change accordingly.

Good websites are built the same way. HTML describes content. It says, “This is a header” or “This is a paragraph,” and then styles are applied as indicated. As content is managed in the CMS, you should markup your content in the same way. Tell the CMS what are headers, what are lists, and let the CMS apply the appropriate styles. The visual editor of WordPress (a common CMS for my clients) lets you declare 6 levels of headers, lists, block quotes, and more. Use these declarations. Don’t manually add bullets to the lists, or bold the headers. Use the design you paid for.

Stop Making Your Life Difficult

Content management systems should make your life easier; let them. Relax and focus on writing great content for your users, markup the content appropriately, and let the CMS style it in accordance with the site’s design. The design will remain consistent, the communication effective, and site management easy.

If you’re micromanaging the design of your site because your site wasn’t designed professionally or you feel the design no longer meets your communication needs, get in touch with me and let’s talk about how we can better leverage the power of your CMS.