Getting a website Part 3: Which technology to use?

If you are considering getting a website (or having one built for you), you have two basic options when choosing the development technology you'll use:

  1. Hand code the website using HTML, Javascript, CSS and other technologies
  2. Use a content management system (CMS)

Making the right choice is a critical early step in getting a new website. If you're in a hurry, and just want my opinion (and the opinion of most smart website developers) about which option you should choose, the answer is 2. Hands down.

If you're in less of a hurry, here's some background on content management systems and my reasoning why I think you should go the CMS route.

Historically, most websites were hand coded. This required that you learnt the arcane code that sits behind most websites. If want to get an idea of what that code looks like, choose View, Source in your web browser (View, Page Source if you're using Firefox). See what I mean? Managing and updating all of that code over multiple pages in a website becomes a considerable challenge. Not only that, but simple changes to the content of your website means picking your way through that code to find the content you need to change.

Then, smart people started building tools that allowed them to generate that code automatically. These tools were the first content management systems.

Today, these tools are becoming ever more sophisticated and powerful, to the point where it is difficult to justify hand coding web sites any more.

Content management systems allow you to separate the content of your website from the underlying code that controls the website's presentation and functionality. In simpler terms, it means you can worry about the content on your website without worrying about how it's going to look.

In practical terms, a CMS allows you - the website owner - to take control of your website. Want to change your phone number, or the wording on the home page? No problem - simply log in and do it yourself - any time, anywhere. There's no need to go back to your website developer to ask them to make the change, wait while they put it in their queue, then wait again for the bill to arrive.

Another important aspect of content management systems is that they make it easier to add new functionality to your website. With hand coded websites, you generally have to build all the functionality by hand (or beg/borrow/steal someone else's code). With a CMS, if you want a newsletter signup page, all you have to do is plug in the newsletter module.

There are many content management systems to choose from today, including commercial software products, proprietary systems that website developers create to develop websites for their customers, and open-source products that are available for free download.

Choosing the right CMS is a very important decision - get it right and you shouldn't need to build a new website for years to come. Get it wrong, and it could be an expensive mistake that locks you in to your website developer.

For more information on choosing a content management system, read Don't pay for a Content Management System

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