At one time, if you wanted to build a website, you would do so by writing HTML in a text editor. The codes (known as tags) indicate headings, links, images, tables and paragraphs of text. The World Wide Web was a lot simpler in the 1990s, and an HTML editor was fine because pages contained little more than text and images. Modern websites are far more complicated in comparison, and the code they contain can sometimes be greater than the content they display. There's HTML, CSS, Javascript. PHP and many more technologies and programming languages in today's web pages.

Hand coding a website from scratch is still possible, but it's a labor intensive task that is slow and prone to errors. In addition to creating the content for a website, you would also need to create the design by typing in lots of code. Even when copying and pasting much of the code, it's a lot of work to turn out web pages by hand. Hardly anyone uses this method of building websites these days.

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One solution is to use web design software running on your computer. Using a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web page editor, you can create pages much more easily to make the task simpler and to remove some of the tedious work involved in designing web pages, the software can make use of templates. There can be a template for the news pages, another template for articles, one for blog posts and so on. There is rarely any need to fiddle around with complicated HTML tags and Javascript code. Web design software can sometimes be a bit like using a desktop publishing package to create a magazine.

This greatly simplifies the task, and some people use this method of building websites. The end product can be exported to a disk drive as a set of web pages, images, Javascript and CSS files. The whole lot can then be uploaded to a web server on the internet. The web design software might simply FTP everything to the web server directly, bypassing the need to save it to disk. This is a great solution for individual users creating websites for themselves, but it has some drawbacks. One is that most web design software costs money. Indeed, the best packages cost more than £ 100. The popular web design package Adobe Dreamweaver CC costs £17.58 a month. That's over £200 a year, every year.

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The second drawback is that most web design packages enable only the computer owner to create the website. You couldn't create a site for someone else that they could easily update themselves. The only person that can update the website is the one with the software and the skills and knowledge required to use it.

A web content management system (WCMS or just CMS) gets around all the problems associated with building a website. A CMS is software that runs on a web server located somewhere, and it could be anywhere really, on the internet. This means that it can be accessed remotely by anyone, and the source files are not stuck on someone's PC where only the owner can access them. All that is required to access a content management system is a web browser and internet access.

One of best features of a CMS is that it separates the content from the design. The content is usually stored in a database, and it consists of documents, images and other things that are needed on the web pages. When someone visits a website that uses a CMS, the content is pulled from the database, inserted into a template and sent to the web browser, where it displays like a regular web page. A CMS supports three types of people. The first type of person is the visitor who simply accesses pages on the website. The second group are special people designated as editors, who have access to a special section of the website that enables them to create pages.

This is often a simple matter of selecting a template, typing in the text, importing, it or copy and pasting it and then selecting the images to include on the page. This is entirely menu driven, so creating web pages is a point and click process that can be carried out by non-technical people, There are simple menus and buttons to access all the features required for entering content and creating web pages. Any number of people can be designated as editors, and each one of them will be assigned a user name, password and set of permissions that determine what they are allowed to do.

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The third type of person that uses a CMS is the developer or webmaster. This is the site administrator, who has a special status and login, They create the templates for each section of the website and decide on the page and site structure, as well as choosing what web elements are included, where to display them and so on. It is mostly menu driven, with little need for coding, but more technical knowledge is required than to be a content editor. Only a small number of people are administrators for a website running a CMs, and sometimes there's only one. The administrator sets up the CMs so the editors can add content and the visitors can view the pages.

Developing websites using a CMS can be done on a fairly simple level, but all of the big websites on the internet are CMs systems, and it can then get very technical indeed. Big companies sometimes employ their own developers, but sometimes they hire freelancers to come in and make changes, such as creating a new website design or adding new features and functions to it, there’s good money to be made developing big sites that use CMS. Many, but not all, CMS systems are free, open-source software packages so they often don't cost anything to download and install. You do, however, need web hosting and you might need technical support from time to time, so frequently CMS is bundled with both. You pay but the charge is only for the hosting and support. If you had your own web server you could download the software, install it and run it for free. We'll see how to do that later,

Modules Plug-ins and Widgets

In addition to relying on templates to display the content, content management systems use modules, plug-ins and widgets. These can be inserted into web pages to add extra functions, such as to show a calendar, display images in a gallery, add Facebook, Twitter and other social networking functions, add a contact form, add a shopping cart, take payments and so on. Some CMS systems have thousands of these modules that you can add, some are free, but some you have to pay for.

A CMs that has few modules, plug-ins and widgets limits the features and functions you can provide on your website, if you need to go beyond the basics of text, images, links and so on. You will wish you had used another CMS instead. There is nothing worse than wanting to implement some feature on a website only to find the only way to do it is to hand-code it. The whole point of a CMs is to avoid coding, so one that has a module, plug-in and widget is much better. In fact, this is one of the most important features to consider when choosing which CMs to use. Ease of use and basic features are important, of course, but an extensible CMS with a comprehensive collection of modules, plugins and widgets is probably more important.
Popular content management systems have thriving communities of users. They create and share modules, you can get help by asking questions in forums and so on. When you use a CMs you're rarely on your own, and there's always someone to turn to ask how to do a particular task or how to solve a problem.

Switch Your CMS


One of the biggest worries with using a CMS is whether you've chosen the right one, if you start with one and find that it would have been better using another, can you switch? It's not a good idea to start out thinking that you can later switch if you don't like the current one. It's best to create a shortlist of potential CMS and to try each one. See which one suits you best start with the right CMS, because your website content may be locked in.
If you find you're using the wrong one, it's sometimes possible to convert from one to another but not always, it depends on the source and destination CMS. The biggest and most popular CMSs like Drupal and WordPress can be converted. Because they present a common problem that people have tackled many times before. There are hundreds of content management systems, though, and if you have one of the smaller ones, then it can be awkward to say the least.

The main problem with switching is that converting from one CMS to another is difficult to do, if you search the web for the CMS conversion you want to do, you will find solutions, but you might want to consider letting someone else do the work. CMS2CMS (cms2cms.com), for example, is a web service that can convert from 20 source CMS to nine destination CMS. It's only free for ten pages, but even for 2,500 it is just $69, if it can do the conversion you want, it's well worth the money for the pain it will avoid.

Converting from one CMS to another is never going to be perfect, and a module, plug-In or widget used in one may not be available in the other, or you might find there's no way to automatically install or configure the modules on the new CMS. Only basic information is transferred, so you can still expect to have to put in a lot of work once the conversion is done, Try to avoid it.

Simple CMS

A CMS that has a lot of features tends to be more complicated to use and difficult to learn compared to one that has few features. To begin exploring CMSs, you might want to start with one of the simpler systems covered in this section before tackling the pro CMSs covered later.

Zimplit (zimplit.com) is free and is perhaps the most basic of all content management systems and while it doesn't have many features, you should be able to get it up and running in a couple of minutes. You start by downloading zlimplit from the website and then extract the files from the zip. You need a web hosting service and your own web space. Upload the files to your web server, change the properties on a couple of files and then you can create a username and password and log in.

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There are two panels and on the left is a menu for creating new pages, saving pages managing the files and so on, there are a number of simple templates to choose from, probably around 50 or so. A toolbox contains buttons for setting text styles, fonts and colours, adding bullet lists, inserting images and so on. There's a very limited number of extras - only half a dozen in fact. You can insert a YouTube video, a script. Google Search, a feedback form and a menu.

The sites you can create with Zimplit are quite basic but if it's a small and simple one such as a personal website with just a couple of dozen pages, then it's worth considering. It's a good place to start learning about CMS but you will quickly outgrow it, probably in about half an hour.

In some ways, PageLime (pagelime.com) is similar to Zimplit but it's much more powerful. This is free to use on up to three websites, and there are paid options for more sites if you need them. It works in an unusual way. and you need to have a web host for your site and one or more pages to use as templates. If you can't design web pages you can find free templates online easily enough log in to Pagelime and then enter your website's URL and FTP details.

This enables Pagelime to access the pages on your site. You can then load a page and insert an HTML tag in the editable areas of the web page such as the content where the text and images of an article are displayed. This makes that area editable, and as the mouse hovers over it on a page, an Edit button appears, clicking it opens that area in the WYSIWYG editor.

New pages can be added that are based on any existing page and then you just change the content of the editable areas. Images and documents can be uploaded and stored online, and there's a site map facility and template manager. There is one account administrator, you, but there can be any number of users with permissions settings such as edit, publish, create and so on. This means that you can set up web sites for others, and a Pro account enables you to rebrand Paglime with your own logo colours and domain. You could easily set yourself up as a website designer creating sites for customers.

CushyCMS is very similar to Pagelime in the way that it works. You need to provide the ready-made site, and it can either be created yourself or you could download templates from the web. You're the administrator, and you insert an HTML tag into the parts of the page that can be edited such as text. Images and so on. As the administrator, you have the power to do anything, but any number of editors can be set up that can edit only those parts of the page you specify as editable, It's useful for building simple sites for companies or individuals and assigning editors that can update the site safely. Up to five websites can be created for free, and there's a Pro account with unlimited sites, rebranding with your own title, logo, domain and so on.



Professional Systems
Millions of people producing tens of millions of websites use WordPress, Joomla and Drupal content management systems. They aren't the only professional CMS, but they are among the most popular. Google 'wordpress vs Joomla vs drupal, and you will find lots of people arguing over which is best. You can't really say which is best, because the three systems are different, and a lot depends on what sort of website you want to create, how much time and effort you want to put into it and the level of your current knowledge and skills.

Most people agree that Word Press is the simplest, and you can have a website up and running in half an hour. Go to wordpress.com and you can sign up for a free account. This instantly creates a website using WordPress with a couple of dummy pages and assigns you as administrator. The setup and web hosting is all sorted, and you can start creating pages straight away. There are lots of great features, such as a catalogue of ready-made templates, known as themes. You can browse the themes and assign one to your site very easily. There are widgets that add features, and these can be added to templates; you can create menus and submenus to access pages on your site; create contributor, editor, and author users that have limited permissions to change content; and there's a media library and more.

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After getting to grips with a free site on wordpress.com, you can download the WordPress code from wordpress.org and install it on your own web server. Although it can be set up manually, many web hosting companies provide an automated installation. You need to log into your site's admin, such as cpanel, at your web host, and then you'll probably see it as an option on the menu. To set it up, you click it, fill in a form with a few basic details like the folder to install it, the administrator's name and password and so on. Afterwards, you can log into WordPress and start configuring it and adding pages.

The advantage of running your own WordPress installation is that you have the power to install any of the thousands of modules, plug-ins and widgets that are available. WordPress was originally created for bloggers, but these days you can create a wide range of websites by customizing it. Lots of large companies running big and popular websites use it, like The New York Times, CNN, Reuters and many more. Each of the big three content management systems are used by household names, and Joomla (joomla.org) is used by eBay, Ikea, Barnes & Noble, Peugeot, MTV and even Leonardo DiCaprio. Joomla is free and can be downloaded from the website. It's powered by PHP and MySQL, as are many CMSs, and runs on Apache and Microsoft web servers. You can upload it to your web server and install it yourself, but as it's so popular, many web hosting companies provide a simple installer in the admin panel of your site. As with WordPress, you click a menu button, fill in a form and its set up for you. You can then log in and start configuring it and adding content.

At the Joomla website is an Extensions Directory with 7,500 extensions in categories such as calendars and events, ecommerce, maps and weather, multimedia, marketing and more. In terms of difficulty, Joomla is slightly harder to use than WordPress but not much, and in some ways it's quite similar. It's capable of handling bigger sites and a wider range of types. It could be used to create a personal website, but it's mainly aimed at larger and more complex ones.

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Last but certainly not least, there's Drupal (drupal.org), which is a very popular CMS among serious website developers. Many people regard it as the most powerful. It's a very powerful and flexible CMS that is harder than Word Press and Joomla to learn, but it's packed with advanced features that enable it to be used for some of the top web sites and organisations in the world. It's used by The White House, The Economist, Examiner.com and many more. It supports extremely large websites and thousands of simultaneous users.
As with the others, you can download Drupal from the website and install it on your own web server manually, but because it's so popular, many web hosting companies provide easy installations from a menu in the admin panel. Just fill in the form with a few details as usual, and Drupal will be up and running in minutes. Choose the right web host and it really makes setting up a CMS much simpler.

There's an extensive library of modules for Drupal, with 14,500 at the last count, but there will probably even more by the time you read this. However, you do need to pay for a lot of them, because Drupal is mainly aimed at commercial web sites and large organisations with big budgets. There's a thriving community dedicated to Drupal, so it's easy to find information and help. You'll need it, though, because it's one of the hardest content management systems to master. If you want to create or maintain corporate websites, though, it is a good one to learn.