Content Management System Problems

This new sequence about website maintenance, asks how to maintain a website using a content management system, eg WordPress.

A few years ago, you employed a designer to build a site from flat html and css. You would provide copy and images (or instructions about images) and the designer would do all the work. They installed the site on their server. They usually entered into a maintenance arrangement so the site could be updated by the designer.

Many voluntary organisations found it difficult to pay commercial rates. They found their sites were almost impossible to maintain and so rapidly went out of date. Unless you could afford a team to look after your site, updating websites was a big problem.

Content Management Systems

All this began to change with the content management system (cms). Designers were able to set up sites for their clients to maintain. Systems such as Joomla are still going strong. The way it works is the designer hosts the site, determines client needs, installs relevant plug-ins and offers training.  They may do a lot more to make the site distinctive but here my focus is on the cms.

This works rather well and should the client need to extend the site’s functionality, they return to the designer and ask them to upgrade their site. There are two potential problems:

  • If the designer does not understand the commercial side of their client’s business, they are not necessarily the best people to advise their client about upgrades.
  • Many designers are technical specialists who do not understand how their clients use the technology.

If the client is tied to one designer and has staff who understand the technical side, it can be frustrating to have to work through a designer who has other ideas.  It can be worse for voluntary groups who may have an old website set up by a commercial designer at a charity rate.  If the designer’s main interest is commercial contracts, then it can be difficult to contact them perhaps after a couple of years and get the changes made.  Gratis work can be even more problematic.  A website is a long-term investment and people move on.  Many sites are inaccessible because the person with the passwords has gone!  This is simply failure to think through the consequences of a website as a long-term investment.

What to do with a Moribund Website

The client is left with a number of unattractive options.  They can:

  1. Stay there and remain dependent on a designer who may in point of fact be out of date and not understand their business needs and simply no longer be interested in the work
  2. Appoint a consultant to work with the designer to develop the site and hope they agree and the original designer doesn’t take umbrage.  This might work if the new consultant can get access to the host and upgrade the cms.  Sadly this is not always the case.  Charging for upgrades may be a nice little earner.
  3. Set up a new independent site and transfer their domain name and content across to it.
  4. Abandon the old site and start afresh with a new domain name

This can be problematic whether or not the client and designer get on. If the relationship is positive it can, especially for voluntary groups who are not motivated by profit, be an enormous step to move to independence. If the relationship has broken down it might be easier but the designer may not co-operate.

And of course when the designer disappears with their passwords, leaving an out of date site with the same name as the new one you create, it will forever present a bad impression to everyone who stumbles upon it.

Next time I’ll suggest an alternative to this model.  Have you any stories about how a website has become stuck with an old designer?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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Owning Your Website - June 26, 2014 Reply

[…] time I wrote about content management systems (cms) where the designer sets up a website so that their client has little control over […]

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