Years ago, all sites were basic, static HTML pages. These pages were created with a text editor and were only text. Forward a couple of years, and images started dominating the web. Sites were mostly graphics/photos with a little text. Pages were made with things like Dreamweaver and Photoshop. This is still the way lots of sites are designed today.
There are problems with this Dreamweaver/Photoshop, image-heavy model:
- For one, search engines are not as skilled at reading images as text. (Google is making an attempt at this with it’s Image Labeler Beta program, but that’s only a limited selection of images.)
- Some visitors to your site might be visually impaired and require a screen reader. (There are some Federal ADA regulations, including section 508, regarding accessibility beyond images.)
- While the use of alt=”image description” within the img tag in the HTML provides some information to search engines or visitors, it doesn’t help all that much.
- Typically these static sites are composed of many individual web pages, each of which has to be edited separated.
- The skills needed to update these image-heavy sites are beyond most web site owners. This means that site owners must hire someone else to maintain their sites, including to just make simple typo corrections.
Now, more and more sites are using CMS applications. A CMS website stores the content of the pages in a database. Around that content is template. If you visit Amazon.com, you’ll definitely see this; one page of a book looks very similar to another as far as design, however, as far as content, it’s completely different. So, instead of having thousands of separate HTML files, there is a template, separate from the database content. The template might need skilled to edit and update it, however, the content — the information of the site which gets updated often — does not.
Content in a CMS site typically gets added to the database through web forms — you know, like when you register your name and email address. These forms sometimes have HTML editors (like a mini Dreamweaver) built into them, so the text can be highlighted, linked, and bulleted very easily. A CMS site allows an organization to empower more of its staff to add content to their site, since the training to type in forms is typically very minimal.
You can test out basic CMS functionality with most blog applications, including free accounts at http://www.wordpress.com and http://www.blogger.com. You will notice how easy it is to add content to the site, and with a few clicks you can also change the template or “presentation” of the site’s design.
Additional Resources: CMSMatrix.org has a list of hundreds of different CMS platforms compared.