What CMS Will My Client Like?

When left to my devices as a developer, I tend to choose a CMS simply because I am familiar with the process of using it to bring a website to life. I don't really consider (from my end) how intuitive or pretty the interface is, or how simple it is to do basic things like create or edit a page. However, as my clients' developer, I have to consider this, as they will be the ones maintaining their site once my job is complete. With that in mind, here's a basic look at some of the major offerings out there, from the client's perspective.

MODX Revolution

Let's start with what I know best. If you've read many of my posts before, or made it through any number of pages on this site, you know I'm a MODX man. I have my own reasons for this, but we're attempting to see through a client's eyes here.

MODX is (like almost all of the popular CMS choices) a hosted solution. This simply means that you install it in the same place as your website (on your web server) instead of installing it on the desktop of one computer. There are multiple advantages for this:

MODX has a mature and well thought out interface, and in particular clients seem to love the Site Tree. This basically organizes your website into a hierarchy so that you can see exactly where everything is located in a logical, straight-forward way. It also features drag-and-drop reordering and multiple resource types so that you can create any type of page you want, wherever you want. When tied into a menu extra like Wayfinder, the Site Tree is the best way to organize a site that I've seen in a CMS, period.

Another advantage of MODX is that I can define user access permissions granularly so that each user could conceivably have a different manager depending on what they are allowed to edit. My clients like this because the manager that they see when making updates is dramatically simpler than the manager that I use as a developer. This eliminates all the un-necessary noise so that they only have access to the tools they need. It also aids in their sense of security—almost every single client I've ever had is worried about "breaking something," so being able to tell them they're locked out of the important code makes them more comfortable making changes and adding content (which is, after all, the point of a CMS in the first place).

The one thing that seems to cause clients the most grief with MODX is the lack of certain, specific functionality. A gaping hole in my opinion is a well built and well documented e-commerce solution. I can (and have) build a serviceable one myself, but it lacks the polish and ease of use of a native one. Luckily, companies like modmore are starting to offer premium extras that are well developed, documented and supported. The next year will be an exciting one for MODX.


Ah yes. When it comes to the CMS offerings out there, Wordpress is a juggernaut. As a matter of fact, a recent article on Venture Beat stated that 19% of the entire web runs on Wordpress. That's a staggering figure. Chances are, if your client comes to you and specifically requests a CMS, it will be Wordpress. Let's talk about some benefits!

Wordpress (like MODX) is a hosted CMS. There are also apps for all of the major mobile operating systems, so you can even update your site from a phone or tablet.

The Wordpress interface is quite simple and well thought out, which means that it should be relatively easy for a client to pick up and use. It does tend to get cluttered quickly if you add too many unnecessary extras, so when using WP, try to keep your extras down to just what you need.

Speaking of extras, that is a major area of strength for the WP camp. Since it is certifiably everywhere, the library of add-on functionality is massive. If Wordpress doesn't have native functionality that you are looking for, you are virtually guaranteed that there is an extra you can install that accomplishes what you are after. This ecosystem, in my opinion, is Wordpress' most valuable attribute.

Another benefit of WP is the library of pre-coded templates. If you have a client on a tiny budget, WP is almost always the right choice, as you can provide them with a basic (albiet not custom) site with only a few hours of work.

Wordpress has a few drawbacks, but they're mostly on the development side. For instance, it imposes a fairly inflexible template system that won't allow you to change certain things in the code, so you end up having to hack together code to eliminate unwanted attributes. This results in somewhat messy, un-semantic code. If you're a developer in the same vein as myself, that's a deal-breaker. In the end, it's all about preference.


I know, I know. Dreamweaver isn't a CMS, and never has been. I'm not writing about the best choices, I'm writing about a cross-section; this includes some choices that your client may suggest that are most likely bad ideas, as is the case with Dreamweaver. In order to be able to sell them on a true CMS, you need to be able to tell them why Dreamweaver is not one.

While Dreamweaver is a serviceable WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, it's far from perfect. The main reason that your client may be using it as a CMS is its ability to edit the content right on the page and upload automatically (very similar to its Adobe cousin, Contribute - which is intended to be Adobe's actual CMS alternative).

What is the Presentation Layer?

In order for your client to understand why a true CMS better serves their needs, they need to understand the separation of data and presentation. As their web designer, you're in charge of the presentation (the visual look and feel) of the site. They are not. They shouldn't have to add color, complex font styles, drop shadows or anything like that. You should be planning for that when you write your CSS. This is the Presentation Layer - the code that turns their provided text, images and other media into an actual, pretty website.

The problem with Dreamweaver is that it tries to mash presentation and data into one messy pile of code. BLAH.

When you provide your client with a finished site, they should be able to concentrate on maintaining a site's content. With Dreamweaver, the WYSIWYG nature of the program can be a handicap, because it distracts from the information that the client should be concentrating on. I don't know how many times I have had a call from a client asking me a question something to the effect of "How do you make this word bold and red?". You'll have to assist your client in understanding that when you hand it over to them, the site is already a completed design.

Don't get me wrong - Dreamweaver is a great conceptualization tool for non-code-savvy designers, but it will never function well as any type of CMS.

So What's the Right Choice?

In the end, I think that the right choice is going to be defined by a combination of what your client is after and what you are familiar/comfortable with. There are a few absolutes though (rehashing some stuff here, so apologies).

Choosing a CMS for your client will require that you be able to explain the benefits of your choice, so the most important thing is to educate yourself before you approach them. Knowledge is power. Good luck!

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