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What is a CMS, and why do I need one?

In the digital age it is increasingly important for companies and individuals alike to maintain a website with accurate and current content.  Before the invention of the CMS (Content Management System), website owners had the choice between learning complicated technologies like HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol), or retaining the services of a professional to make changes to their website content.

A CMS is a piece of software that gives website owners the ability to manage their content themselves, without having to worry about the learning curve associated with website programming. 

Many elements of a typical website appear on each page, such as the logo, menu, and footer.  Although the text of these elements can change (eg. adding/removing menu items), their structure (position on the page) rarely changes.  A CMS generally uses standard web browser forms (input boxes, dropdowns and checkboxes) to allow you to add, edit, and update the text/images on these pages, without affecting the overall layout of your design.  It enables you to create multiple pages from a single template.  The articles on this site are actually generated using a CMS.  The logo, header and footer are programmed into a single HTML template, and the article title and text are entered into a WYSIWG (what you see is what you get) text editor.

In order to use a CMS you will need somewhere to store the content (a database like MYSQL or MSSQL), and a server-side programming language (such as PHP, ASP, or Java) to take the content from your database and display it in your template.  These are standard features on most web hosting packages, but be sure to check with your hosting company to ensure that they support the technologies that you and/or your developer will need to run your CMS software.

A CMS is a powerful tool for today's website owners.  It allows you to keep your content up-to-date without having to deal with complicated programming languages.  Initially, a CMS often involves higher expenses, but in comparison to the costs of keeping a developer on staff or on retainer, it usually pays for itself very quickly.




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