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When we create a new website for a client, one of the first questions we ask is whether the company wants a content management system (CMS) site or a non-CMS (also called a traditional HTML) site. The right choice depends on a number of factors, including the client’s budget and how much control the company needs over the site once it’s completed. While a growing number of our clients are requesting CMS  sites, some still prefer to go the traditional route.

Not sure what the difference is? You’re in the right place. We’ve put together a primer on the basics of CMS and non-CMS sites to help you find the right fit for your company.

Under the hood

While most clients leave the techy stuff to us, there are two very different scenarios if you peek into the back end of a CMS versus a non-CMS site. Traditional HTML sites are written in HTML code and have static content. What you see is what you get with one of these sites – changing anything requires you to go in and change the site’s actual code.

A CMS site, on the other hand, is driven by a dynamic database that determines the content that appears on each screen. While these sites also contain HTML code, the way they’re built allows users to add or change content on pages without knowing HTML themselves.

Pros and cons

For many of our clients, the ability to update a CMS site on their own is a huge selling point. We give clients a one-hour CMS training when their sites launch, and that training contains everything they need to know about adding, deleting and editing pages on their sites. Instead of relying on your marketing agency to update the names of your trustees or add a new item to the event calendar on your website, you can do it yourself on a CMS site, which can be a big money-saver.

So does that mean CMS sites are more expensive? Not necessarily, depending on how large your site is. While there’s an upfront cost to create the CMS database, creating each screen takes less time in a CMS site than a non-CMS site. That means it’s cheaper to build a small website in traditional HTML, but using a CMS is more cost-effective for a website larger than 15 pages.

Some clients also don’t have the time or desire to handle site updates themselves. In that case, an HTML might make more sense for them.

Figuring out what’s best for your company is a big decision – and one we’re happy to talk through with you.

Different types of CMSs

Take a look at a visual description of a CMS, different types of CMSs, and what is involved in each. We are particularly interested in the dispelling of the myth that most CMSs are free or overly simple, as that is just not the case – anyone can set up a CMS, but making it look presentable is another story entirely.


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