How to break up with your Content Management System (CMS)

What happens when you fall out of love with your Content Management System? How do you break up and move on? Like any break up, it will probably be painful and cost you money, but maybe youll be happier when its gone and you can move onto bigger and better things. Besides, your mom didnt like WordPress anyway.

People in faltering CMS relationships tell us all the time:

  • I have to call my developer every time I want to edit my site well hes my nephew and hes starting college now and doesnt have time.
  • I put off editing my site because I dont like the CMS. Its too complicated!
  • Im getting a MySQL (??) error and I think we need to move the site to something else. Thats not too hard, right?

Before you go jumping off WordPress Bridge into the Drupal Ocean, consider your options. We advise taking the slow, sanity-preserving approach to ending a CMS relationship. Moving a site to a different CMS will require time and money and possibly re-thinking (and in turn rebuilding) how the current site works. Each CMS has its own rules, advantages and limitations.

It could get ugly if you dont plan first. Here are a few things to think about before breaking up with your current CMS:

1. When was the last time you looked at your hosting package?

You need enough space in your hosting package to deal with all of the files youve been dumping into your website over the last five years. A Small Orange, one of our current favorite hosting providers has a bunch of different sizes for hosting packages. Most of the good ones do too.

Small shared hosting packages typically get you 150MB – 7.5GB of storage, 4.5GB – 10GB of bandwidth and customer support. Those are all super cheap and would be great for small brochure sites and blogs that are just starting.

Shared hosting means you are going to share a server with other sites, which is just fine if you dont have any super-sensitive information, high traffic or payment processing.

Business packages add more space and more security for bigger sites with high traffic, lots of data and payment processing. Payment processing is a whole other huge nut to crack youll need an SSL and PCI compliance ask your friendly web development agency for details.

So if youre getting MySQL errors or your site is slowing down to a halt, it might be time to up your package. Youll get more space and those errors might just go away.

You might have also heard of a VPS. A VPS is a Virtual Private Server which is terrific?? if you need to dig into your hosting and configure a bunch of settings. You usually get more developer access and way more space. VPSs are for application development and sites with a ton of data and high traffic. We recently moved the Welles Park Bulldog to a VPS to alleviate speed issues and accommodate large amounts of content, a new forum, events calendar and classified ads. Plus, they had just a huge amount of content.

Dedicated hosting means what it sounds like: You have a ton of space, your own server and a people who are checking on it, maintaining it, backing it up, and more. Its like having a website butler.

2. Do you have a whole bunch of data you never use sitting in a database?

Time to clean out the closet. Take care of your database. Say you have a giveaway promotion on your site and for some reason, one of the freebie directories on the internet picks it up and now everyone on the planet knows about it. They are all going to submit your form to receive the giveaway and you could get 30,000 entries in 4 days. Weve seen it happen. If you are accessing your CMS to manage these entries and have a small brochure site-type of hosting package, you will most likely get time-out errors and a host (ha) of other issues. This has happened and heres what to do:

Time to log into the database directory from your hosting cpanel and export the database as an Excel or .csv file. Heres what to do so you avoid a panic attack:

  1. Select the overflowing database and export a file with all of the data.
  2. Check the file to make sure all 30,000 names are in it
  3. Double check that all 30,000 names are in it
  4. Delete all of the records from the database

Everything should be working now. Just make sure you keep checking it and cleaning it out. Better yet, create a process for regular database maintenance.

Things still not working? Upgrade to the most recent version of your current CMS.

This is a big deal. If you have external hosting meaning youve paid another business to host your site not your web developer or your own internal server that company is going to make little improvements to the server on a regular basis. Programming languages change almost constantly, sometimes drastically. Regulations, standards and laws also change.

Content management systems change too. They improve. They add features, fix bugs, change technology, make processes more efficient, improve the user interface and sometimes change in a big way like the last Drupal 6 to 7 update.

Sometimes, CMSs release small updates within a version ??version 2.1 to 2.2 to address a single issue, like a security update. If security is an issue, and it almost always is, pay attention to these. If you have any experience with WordPress, you have noticed almost constant update notices. Plugins, the little bits that make your website do all of the fancy things you want it to do, need to be updated as well. These updates should be part of your regular, ongoing maintenance and built into your website budget. Its not an IF, its a WHEN.

And please, ask the professionals to do it. Updating a CMS can change processes and may effect the rest of the user-facing website. What we do is create a development environment, which is a copy of the live website, make the update there, test everything with OCD-style attention to detail, and replace the live site with the updated one.

If you get this far and still want to break up with your CMS, consider giving it this one last chance.

Think about this: Did anyone ever show you how to use it for exactly what you need to do? Do you understand all that your current CMS, updated to its current version, can do?

Almost always, we find that the person who is updating the site has no idea what shes doing or no idea that things could be better or easier. CMSs, like websites and good relationships, are can change and most of them get better over time with a little work.

Problem One:
The admin has too many options that dont matter, so posting content or editing is wildly confusing.

Most content management systems can be configured to only show the things that the website manager needs to see. Out of the box, you see everything and have access to way too much for your own good. But most CMSs can be configured to only show necessary bits to the person or people in charge of maintaing the bits. So if an admin only needs to write and post blog entries, the CMS can be configured so that she only sees the bits of information that she needs to worry about.

Additional logins can be created for most CMSs so admins with different responsibilities see different bits and have different levels of publishing control. Maybe your Designer is in charge of creating banner ads or infographics, but the Marketing Director is in charge of approving and posting those images. Its possible to create different admin levels so that nothing gets posted by mistake.

Problem Two:
The admin doesnt have enough options to style her content.

Content Management Systems have a core set of bare-bones functions right out of the box for creating and editing content. Thankfully, lots of dedicated programmers have developed modules, plugins, add-ons (the words are different for each system more on that below) that make editing easier.

Weve seen systems set up by other firms without these additional features and editing the content is a long and arduous process of copying and pasting file paths for images and styling text with HTML. Totally fine, but wed rather take the easier approach in every case. Most CMSs have features like WYSIWYG text editors, Facebook-style image image uploading, custom field types, and drag-and-drop reordering to name just a few. Almost all of them need to be set up and configured. Sometimes you dont want an admin to be able to change the color of the text, but you do want her to be able to add bulleted lists. Many of these specs can be configured to the kind of content being edited.

Problem Three:
She doesnt know the CMSs vocabulary

A Sort-of Solution:
Each CMS has its own set of words and labels. Drupal has nodes and views, ExpressionEngine has Channels and Listings, WordPress has Widgets and Plugins. Some overlap, some dont.

When we write a user guide for our clients websites, we always explain the terms specific to the CMS and sometimes even include a rather large glossary. It helps to sit down and go through tasks, too. Some people can read directions and know what to do and others need to see it to learn it. Its not good or bad, its just how it is. So we write userguides and always offer an in-person training session.

Ive tried everything. The break up is on.

Ok, you still want to break up with your CMS and arent sure which one you want to move to. Here are some things to do and ask yourself to narrow it down:

  1. Make a list: What do I like about my current CMS?
  2. Make a list: What dont I like about my current CMS?
  3. Make a list: What are my current and future admin tasks?
  4. What do I have planned for my website in the near and distant future? Am I adding features that might require more server space or a database?
  5. Who is responsible for editing content and how do they learn?

After you make this list, any web developer worth her bytes can guide you to something that makes sense. We all have different systems that we know and use, and others that we dont use enough to recommend or just plain loathe. For example, WordPress is a great platform for blogging, but wed never recommend it for a serious business brochure site with customized levels of administrative controls and lots of content to manage. There are just too many undependable and unsupported plugins required to make WordPress work for that kind of site.

Content Management Systems that We Love

ExpressionEngine is easier for non-techies to update and the admin interface is incredibly user-friendly. Also, since you must purchase a license, the support is much better than Drupals, which is spotty at best and wholly reliant on developer forums. EE allows us to create a set of templates that lets users easily edit and change any of the content on the site without fear of disrupting the look of the site. Built into the system is a forum as well as an extensive set of tools for creating and editing content in the future.

Drupal is a free, open-source Content Management System (CMS). This CMS can do just about anything. Its great for database-driven sites, lots of moving parts, and many different kinds of content. Theres no support for the system, but there is a dedicated community of 630,000+ users and developers. Developers who have created modules commit to maintaining them. If you want something that doesnt exist, there is a huge bank of developers to hire to create it. And after its created, it can be made available for everyone to use.

What we absolutely do not recommend is using a CMS that your developer created and only your developer knows how to edit and maintain. If you do, you’re tied to your developer for as long as you both do what you do. We like being fire-able. Your website is your business asset and you should own it and know how to manage it. It’s probably a vital part of your business. Control it.

A small proprietary system controlled by one person or a small company could make leaving that system incredibly difficult. It’s almost always a messy goodbye. Save yourself the heartache.

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