Once an organisation wants to move its website from being a few static pages to something that is frequently updated (or even highly interactive), a website content management system becomes pretty much essential.

Being able to update your own website is pretty neat – but the right content management system can do far more than just enable you to update content.

Let’s look at some examples. These are based on the content management system we use, which is called Umbraco. (We’ve also added quite a few features to Umbraco, so this doesn’t always describe the out-of-the-box product.)

Some things, which seem simple, can be time-consuming and error-prone on a static website. Take the breadcrumb trail, for instance (that’s the small, usually single line, navigation that many sites carry to show you where the current page sits within the site’s hierarchy). On a static site, that has to be edited by hand, every time a page is added. It’s not a big job, but it adds to maintenance time. On a content-managed site, it updates itself – there is no maintenance.

How about a website search? There’s no facility in static HTML to do this, so static sites tend not to have a search facility. (While clear, usable navigation is important, around half of people are ‘search dominant’ and would use a search in preference to navigating to a destination.) The bigger the site, the more necessary a search facility is. You can add a search facility to a static site, using JavaScript, a third-party service or even many off-the-shelf solutions – but they simply don’t perform as well as the search facility integrated into a content management system. And often the search pages look terrible, not being properly integrated into the site. 

Now let’s raise the stakes. If you want to carry time-sensitive content on your static site – such as news stories, events and so on – then all of these pages have to be continually managed. New news stories added to the top, old ones moved to another page, perhaps you have to add a heading link to the home page. Events have to be taken off when the event date has passed. A content management system can handle all of that for you – add in a news story, and it ‘knows’ what to do with it. Your home page is automatically updated and old stories are moved into an archive. New events appear on calendars that automatically show (for example) those events that are nearest to today. When an event has gone, it automatically removes itself from the site.

Perhaps we want our visitors to know when new website content is added. Sure, on a static site, we can add an RSS feed, but the ‘simple’ part of ‘Really Simple Syndication’ turns out to be something of a misnomer, especially if you aren’t technical by nature. Even if you are, it’s time-consuming keeping RSSfeeds up-to-date. You might want people to sign up to a mailing list, as an alternative – keeping their contact details on your computer then e-mailing them manually when you add new content. A content management system can do all of that – without any human intervention whatsoever. RSS feeds are updated automatically all the time, people can sign up for updates on the site (where their data is also stored) and when you add new content, the site automatically e-mails them on your behalf.

That’s pretty compelling, but there’s some even better stuff.

With Google being the gatekeeper to your potential customers, every company wants to get the best performance it can in search engines.
While there are plenty of content management systems that produce pages that perform very badly in search engines, Umbraco is something of a star, ticking most of the boxes on Google’s submission guidelines policy.

We’ve also extended it significantly in this area too. Even though there is only a moderate advantage to some of the things we’ve done, there is an advantage – and it’s worth taking every advantage you can.

So our sites include many features that on their own provide a slight edge, but combined can make a significant difference. For example, our sites can automatically manage their own meta tags against a library of keywords stored a user-controlled dictionary. They provide a continually and automatically updated XML site map to Google. They have search-engine-friendly URLs (plain English ones that reflect the content of the page) and fully indexable pages. And so on…

Handling all of this detail yourself is a non-starter – you’ve got a business to run and don’t want your website to become an industry in itself. Plus you don’t want to have to become an expert in search engine optimisation.

While that’s quite a list of features, it’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

You could do a lot of this manually, but you would multiply the amount of time needed to maintain your website perhaps fifty-fold. A good content management system, as well as allowing you to ‘edit pages’, should do all of this for you – delivering a far better website, with significantly better search engine results, with minimal maintenance.