Updating Your Own Website with a CMS – It’s Possible, To a Point

Most of the websites I develop have features that allow the site owner to update the site content themselves. This may consist of adding articles, blogging, adding photos, putting in calendar entries, and lots of other things. All of this is great – you don’t have to call (and possibly pay) your web developer every time you want to change something; the DIY spirit is thriving! If your site needs mostly have to do with adding and changing text, and you have a good level of computer proficiency, this can be very simple and work extremely well.

But there are limitations. If you’re the type of person who responds more to pictures, photos, colors, and other graphically-oriented material, this becomes much trickier. I ran into this recently with a client. He wanted his site to have very strong visual impact, and he wanted to be able to make this happen himself. Text was not as important to him. With any content-management type of system, your main tool is an editor application. His first complaint was that he could not get enough font size and style variations. Despite my love of graphics, I am a very text-oriented person, and often take pains to warn clients against too large fonts, too much bolded text, and other things that make you look like you’re shouting, have bad taste, or have simply had too many testosterone shots. He was not deterred, though. 🙂 We clearly disagreed on some issues, but in the end I had to agree that if he sees his thoughts that way and wants to express them that way, it’s valid.

It’s still not that simple, though. Your main tool for updating your site is usually a WYSIWYG editor. You know, like Microsoft Word or the like. WYSIWYG, of course, is an acronym for “what you see is what you get”. These editors are pretty good for putting in text, paragraphs, headings, bolding text, adding links, and maybe inserting photos. But anything beyond that, and we get into No-Man’s-Land. Any kind tabular data becomes problematic – things requiring columns and rows, totals, etc. Like spreadsheets and brochures. Some editing apps can more or less handle these tables, but even if they can, this is where updating your own site starts to break down – it’s highly error-prone, and you may end up calling the developer for help. This is a very common scenario and problem.

You may reasonably ask, why are these editor apps weak at these functions? Without boring you with reams of technical minutiae, I’ll say that these editors must work in a large variety of browsers and on many types of hardware. Also, they must generate code that makes tabular data work. These are all very complex tasks. If you get your “table” done on the first try, cool. But let’s say you want to completely reformat it. Ideally, the editor would “un-generate” the formatting code, and let you start anew, but this may be very messy. In this situation most editor apps end up adding even more code to what’s already there, so you have some code telling it to align left, some to align right, go up, go down, on and on, schizoid code, you get the idea. Not easy stuff for a non-geek to fix.

Also, the WYSIWYG editor cannot give you the ability to change your site’s whole design anytime you want, or get that super-edgy, extremely boldly-colored, highly eye-catching look your favorite site has. For that, you generally need to alter the whole design. The skillset for that goes very far beyond basic computer editing skills, and is best done by a designer. So fair or not, having that kind of approach will reduce your ability to update your own site, and may cost a lot more, because you’ll need professional help above and beyond having a content-management system (CMS).

Another thing I see often is that when someone has a CMS system, they’ll add tons of content, not because it’s useful or interesting, but simply because they can. You end up with massive link-itis, and reams of silly content many levels deep that no one will ever read, or even if they did, they’d doze off. Does your readership really need to know what your janitor did on vacation, and all their dating preferences? Do they really need to see all your amateurish and incorrectly sized photos?

There, you’ve been warned! I hope that this article helps you better understand what is involved with updating your own site, and some issues that may arise.

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