Your Building: The Website Software

The address is acquired, the location is determined.  I continue on with this forced metaphor with the third step in the website process.  It is now time to put something up so there is a place to visit.  This will be the building, which equates to the website software which will provide the infrastructure for your content on the web.

There are a myriad of options to choose from when selecting the software that will manage your website.  In fact, the simplest sites may not use website software at all to create dynamic sites, but use static HTML files to create the website.  In today’s age, though, this method is not preferred as dynamic websites with easy content management capabilities are available to anyone and have huge advantages.

When choosing to use software to manage a site, the software selected should match the requirements of the site purpose.  The smaller the site, the less time available to spend on the site and less experience the owner has likely requires software that is simpler to manage.  The purpose of the site will also be a factor.  If the site is a personal or service-orientated site, blogging software may be the best suited package.  Product based business and e-commerce sites will want to look at e-commerce software or packages with e-commerce integration.  Many content management systems (CMS) provide the capability to become many things, be it a portal, a complex multi-user CMS or e-commerce site and add additional features such as a forum or other community-drive features.  These packages are more complex to configure and therefore I suggest non-technical site owners seek professional advice and help implementing a site when needing a more complicated package.

CMS vs Blog — What does it all mean?

A brief interruption now to explain some of this terminology.  A content management system is simply any software that allows the management of web pages or content of a web site through a familiar word processing interface.  The CMS term has become known more for managing traditional commercial sites with individual pages of static content, but most blogging systems provide content management features as well.  A blog, by the simplest definition, is a site that displays a regularly added to series of posts in reverse chronological order.  A blog in general terms is a way to communicate with visitors, to inform them of announcements, ask questions and open communication.  Traditional sites that use pages for content on products or other information may still want a section for a blog.  Recent posts for a blog normally appear on the home page, but a separate blog home page can be used instead.  Therefore, the lines between a traditional CMS and dedicated blogging software are being blurred.  This is something to consider when selecting a software package, perhaps choosing a package that performs both functions, but whose focus is on the area required most.  If the different types of sites available are not clear to you, I suggest spending some time reading about the types of sites before your proceed further with defining your requirements and selecting site software.

There are other considerations to note when selecting the software package to run a website.  The complexity of the software increases the time to implement a site.  Complexity can come from the number of features and sections a site has and from configuring a custom theme and look that matches your or your businesses personality.  Also consider whether a package can grow with your needs.  As easy implementation but lack of features to grow with a site’s needs only delays the work needed to a later date.

Within the software to manage the site there is also the site design.  Most packages provide the ability to “skin” or theme a site with many base themes to choose and customize.  While it is possible to use a default theme out of the box, most commercial enterprises will want to create their own branding and site design and may need the help of a designer to do so.  A web designer’s time would be an additional cost to the project.

For serious site owners, a custom site may be developed around a framework such as Django, Ruby on Rails or CakePHP.  A developer will create custom data models and an administration area to manage the site.  While development using frameworks can be very rapid, it is still likely to be the most expensive route.  It does provide complete control over how every part of your site is managed and total flexability in expanding and adding features to your site in the future.

For do-it-yourselfers, most hosting companies will provide a one-click install for many blog, CMS and forum software packages a long with e-commerce shopping carts.  While this can provide an easy, web-based method for site owners to install and update software, it does not eliminate the configuration process.  Some packages can be easily configured by anyone who has the initiative to learn a little and read some documentation.  The barrier of entry for anyone who wants to do it themselves is very low but for those who want to focus on other things, it is also very affordable to contract the work to a professional administrator.

I have kept the explanation of selecting your software package at a very high level for this post and am not including any specific recommendations for software.  I recommend talking with a professional or knowledgeable individual for advice if selecting a package on your own is too intimidating.  A professional can take a list of specific requirements for a site and pair them with capable software.  An expert with experience and knowledge of the software available can also provide an idea as to the ambition and scope of the project, allowing it to be scaled back to match the time frame and budget available.  Those with a little patience and time to ask questions and learn can choose to manage the software selection themselves.

Conclusion

With the site software selected, installed and configured, the most technical parts of the project are complete.  The most important part of any website still remains — the content.  In the next post in this series I will provide some thoughts on creating and managing your content.