9 reasons you should never use a CMS

By Emma Grant Posted Jul. 03, 2015 Reading time: 4 minutes

I’d like to find that guy who was the first to promote to customers the idea that they could manage their own website “as easily as using a word processor” and give him a good kick in the ass. I think he deserves it. Really and truly.

Since that fateful day when the idea was first pitched to the public, we’ve seen a stampede of low quality sites emerging. They probably weren’t always low quality sites, but I think you will find that, in general there is a direct proportional relationship between the decline in the quality of a site and the amount of time that the site owner has been self-managing it.

there is a direct proportional relationship between the decline in the quality of a site and the amount of time that the site owner has been self-managing it

Then along came third-party site-builders with their ads all over Facebook encouraging the idea that with their software anyone can build a website quickly and easily. To some extent this is true. Anyone can build a website; but it does not necessarily follow that everyone should build one.

My five year old kid can draw a picture of a car. In a light-headed moment I might do something really crazy like stick it to the fridge. But I’m certainly not crazy enough to go out and display it in an art gallery. Yet that is almost directly analogous to what these amateur website builders are doing. I’m not saying there’s no place for amateurs — especially when it is clear that the website is intended to be an amateur website that somebody just built for a hobby — it’s quite another matter, however, when amateurish sites are being used to represent businesses and organizations.

The damage is done now, and unless there is a sudden mass enlightenment, it will continue to be the question every new client sets your teeth on edge with: “Will I be able to update and manage this site myself?”

Where once they were terrified to even think about messing with anything technical, they’ve now come to expect it as a right. Obviously as the customer and site owner they do have that right, but I wish I could be completely frank with them and say, “By all means you can manage the site yourself. But, if we’re both totally honest with each other right now, there’s no way to deny that you’re going to mess it up.”

I can’t say that though, instead I just quietly sigh and give a meek affirmative response, mentally wincing at the thought that this is going to be yet another site I will have to keep an eye on and eventually drop from my portfolio once the client has ruined it sufficiently that I’m no longer proud to show it off.

The main culprits in this shift in clients’ expectations and mindset are CMS products such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. In an ideal world, the purpose of CMS would be entirely to make it easier for designers, developers, and content managers to design, develop, and manage websites.

the copy you crafted most carefully for search engines, will be the first content your client edits

Inevitably, however, some misguided fool decided at some point to pitch the idea that the client would have autonomous control over their site content. Which is how they end up with a 700px wide image into a column that was intended to hold a 200px image. And that image will be at 300dpi. And saved in GIF format. Or maybe BMP if they are really having a good day.

It is a rule, universally true, that the copy you crafted most carefully for search engines, will be the first content your client edits.

They will completely ignore the white space that you built into the design. They will copy and paste half of a JavaScript code from Trip Advisor then blame you when it fails to work. They will cheerfully combine four different font styles in the same paragraph. In fact, if there is any way at all they can make your design look terrible, they will find it.

What is the good side of CMS? Well, for one thing it allows you to develop sites more quickly provided that you already know exactly how your site’s skin is going to drape over the framework. For another, depending on which CMS you choose, you may have access to a vast library of tools and plug-ins that will help with easily adding functionality to the design.

But what about the bad side of CMS? There is a bad side. The reasons not to use a CMS include:

  1. Security vulnerabilities in your chosen CMS become security vulnerabilities in your sites.
  2. Unless you have a water-tight contract, any harm caused by security vulnerabilities exposes you to litigation; when you install and use the CMS software, you (not the client) agree to a licensing agreement that specifically states that you accept all risk for using the software, you have no recourse to make any claim against the manufacturer, even if the problem was due to negligence on their part.
  3. All available online WYSIWYG editors have quirks and problems that result in: “What you see is almost what you get, but not quite!”
  4. For smaller sites that don’t need access to the full range of technologies provided by a CMS, the use of a CMS is overkill that often involves a steep learning curve for the client.
  5. CMS products inhibit your ability to create semantically structured source code.
  6. CMS products often make simple tasks more complex.
  7. All CMS products introduce bloat to your pages which can increase page load time and impede performance.
  8. Some CMS products are not SEO-friendly right out of the box, you may need to tweak the settings to make your pages crawl-able, and do you really want to leave SEO to a plugin?
  9. Self-management allows the client to alter your design, but still expect you to support their site (including their changes).

In conclusion, a CMS offers many advantages to designers, developers and content managers for rapid development and somewhat simple access to advanced features. But it is time that we stopped promoting it as a way for clients to manage their own sites, because in reality, you’re going to be doing the managing for them (for free).

And honestly, how often do most clients need to update their website?


Featured image, CMS image via Shutterstock.