Trail 9 Case Study: CMS Benefits
For this case study, we’ll be discussing our own company website, trail9.com, which was built with the Content Management System (CMS) Drupal. Because we have an open source CMS website and not a traditional hard-coded website, we're able to change and upgrade our designs quickly and relatively easily, saving us a lot of time and money.
As we’ve mentioned in posts before, we use CMS’s (mainly Drupal and WordPress) to build and redesign our clients’ websites, too. We know it's the best solution because of our own experience using it! So, with their CMS websites, our clients have the power to edit their own content— they can update their blogs, edit their services, change their images, and more. And, we have the power to change their designs quickly and easily when they decide it's time to. This is why CMS's have gotten so popular with businesses and organizations; they're beneficial for everyone involved.
Now, let's get into the benefits of using a CMS, which we've discovered through our own website-owning experience.
OUR WEBSITE: Two Designs
Trail 9 has been in business for four years, and we've had two different website designs during that time. When we first opened our doors, we were a small startup business, and we had a very simple, basic website to match our needs. As time went on, we decided to upgrade to a better, more complex, and more professional design. So, our website changed to fit our business's success and experience.
With Drupal, our website’s CMS, we were able to change our design pretty easily. The idea behind a CMS, besides its owners being able to edit their content without technical expertise, is that its developer is able to take a design, install it, and then turn it on and off at any time. Because our website is properly configured, Drupal allows us to change our design on the fly. This makes long-term website management a lot easier for us, as we can update or change our design without affecting our website's content or configuration.
CMS BENEFIT: Lower Cost
Website design standards change so fast, that it’s recommended to update your design every two to three years. So, if you plan on maintaining your website over a ten year period, then you’d most likely want to update its design about four times, depending on the website’s size. Doing four design updates sounds like a weighty, pricey project even if it is over the long term, right? Well, you may be surprised— with a CMS, you don’t have to redo the whole website and migrate all of your content over for a redesign. Without a CMS, you WOULD have to redo all of that work. It would be like rebuilding a website all over again: months of planning and testing and thousands of dollars in labor and fees.
If we had a hard-coded website, we'd have to spend a lot of our billable hours in updating the design and basically recreating our whole website every two years. But, since we use Drupal, we can just install a new design and tweak whatever needs to be tweaked, giving us a lot more time to offer our clients.
CMS BENEFIT: Optimization
Now, we know that with a redesign there will most likely be some structural changes to the website’s organization, like the way its menu is displayed and the how the navigation works, in addition to how the website ultimately looks. So, it’s always a good idea to review a redesign from a marketing standpoint, not just a developmental one. And our own website review is no different!
As we upgrade a design, we keep an eye on Google Analytics and other analytics tools to see if we’re hitting the website aspects that most need optimization. So, if a page’s bounce rate is high, or if a visitor’s journey is impeded in any way throughout their visit, we know what to fix, and we fix it. Then, we test it again, optimizing it as much as we can. So, not only is our design updated, but it's improved at the same time.
CMS BENEFIT: Seasonal Changes and Special Occasions
One thing that’s really cool and convenient about how CMS designs work is that you can basically set them up to change on the fly, which is perfect for holidays and special sales. Say that we sell products online, and we really like to promote holidays. Technically, we could have a separate design working for each holiday. For Christmas, Black Friday, Fourth of July, Summer time, or whatever holiday, season, or sale we want to promote, we can have a system in place that almost automatically changes our design to the right option at the right time.
Then, our designs would change as the seasons change, and we could have fun with it, allowing our visitors different experiences when they come to our website. These different designs can be spinoffs of a single design, too, so that they just change something simple, like the website's color. Technically, we don’t want to do too many drastic things to our website and end up confusing people, but an extreme example of design change would be a seasonal change.
Having the ability to switch designs can bring some creative solutions, too. For example, if you have a store with different annual, seasonal, or monthly catalogs, then you can have your website design change to match whatever catalog is currently in the spotlight.
CMS BENEFIT: Long-lasting
If you’re not planning to change your website design for special circumstances like sales or holidays, then a CMS is still extremely helpful for the long-term growth of a project.
We tend to use Drupal for creating websites, given the choice. So, if we were to create a new Trail 9 website right now, it would most likely be using Drupal 8, the latest available version (as opposed to Drupal 7, Drupal 6, etc). From there, we can easily and affordably update the design of the website over the next 8 to 10 years, keeping up with design standards, until Drupal 8 becomes too old to work with anymore. Once Drupal 8 becomes obsolete, we'd need to move our website to a newer version, which would be a bigger project for us. But, we'd have about a decade of fast and affordable redesigns before we'd need to switch Drupal versions.
CMS BENEFIT: No Vendor Lock-In
A lot of the time, our redesign projects are focused on getting the client out of whatever previous proprietary system they've been using for their website. If your website is part of a proprietary system, then chances are that you don't own your own content! This can lead to unfortunate situations— with a proprietary system in place, business owners usually can't take their website content with them if they want to change developers; they have to start over again from scratch.
If our job is to get a new client out of an old vendor lock-in situation, then we'll set them up a new website with a CMS, either Drupal or WordPress. As these CMS's are open source and not proprietary, the client will never have to face that situation again. If they want to change developers for any reason, they don't have to scrap all of their work and start over, like they had to before. They own their own content and everything. (NOTE: Not ALL CMS's are open source! Systems like CivicPlus and Sitecore are still CMS's, but they own your website and all of its content, not you.)
Once they have their new CMS website, the clients are on the same track we are: they can update their designs every couple of years, but they don't have to do a full-scale redesign for a very long time, saving them a lot of time and money.
CMS Project Examples:
CMS’s aren’t great for just small to medium-sized businesses-- they’re very helpful for large businesses and organizations, too. For example, I’m currently working on a News website for a university, and they have roughly 25,000 pages of content, what with all of their different articles. So, if they were to have a full website redesign every three years, then they’d have to continually move those thousands of pages of content every three years too. Simply migrating that much content from an old system to a new one takes about a month by itself, and that's not even factoring in all of the other design and configuration work that would be involved in a full redesign project. Certainly, the cost of doing such a large-scale move over and over would be extreme. But luckily, since the university is now moving to a CMS, they won't have to do that for a long time!
Another good example of ours is a church website project we had. The website was built with WordPress, and it was about five years old. The maintenance on it was fairly good, and the core part of WordPress was continually updated. But, the owners had let some of their plugins’ licenses lapse over time. So, we helped them upgrade their plugins as well as get out of vendor lock-ins that were associated with some of them. We also refreshed their design to meet current website standards. So, we helped them continue the growth of their website without redoing the whole thing. It was a fast and affordable project that got their web presence back up to speed.
I hope I've convinced you! If your website is a CMS website (an open source one, that is), and is set up correctly, then you have a lot of benefits that other website owners don't. First of all, you're saving a lot of money. Secondly, you're saving a lot of time. You also have a lot of design options, and you own your own content and code. We'll be sticking with a CMS website for a very, very long time.