Which Content Management System Should You Focus On?

The web is a fantastic place filled with everything anyone could ever want. The problem becomes though, is that there can be too much to choose from and we often suffer from choice paralysis–where we freeze up and are unable to choose anything at all.

Choice is not something lacking in the development world either and because of this, it’s important to choose one or two platforms to focus on otherwise you run the risk of not being good at any of them.

If you’re a front-end developer like me, it’s important to realize that it’s no longer enough to specialize in HTML and CSS.

Without some kind of CMS knowledge, you’ll find it tough to find normal PSD to HTML/CSS jobs, at least ones that pay over $80 an hour.

So the problem now becomes, which content management system should you focus on? It can be quite confusing, so let’s take a look at a few and the pros and cons of each.

[Editor’s Note: the opinions expressed here are those of the author and not the entire Freelance Folder community.]

Trying Out Content Management Systems

The first thing to deciding on which platform to work with is to try a few out. Download some of the platforms you’re interested in, install them and try to code a couple of sites in them. It also helps to pick up a few books or read a few tutorials on the CMS itself.

If you’ve already dipped your toes into a CMS, you may find that you’ll want to continue on learning that platform. This was how I started with WordPress myself. I had done a couple of edits for a client and decided I really liked the platform and wanted to continue learning it.

Another thing to keep your eye out for is the content management system’s community. Does the CMS have a large and expansive online community like WordPress? Or, something small and hard to find like Joomla? Not only does the website have a community, but are there a lot of blogs dedicated to tutorials of the CMS?

This is really important, especially for someone just starting out, because it allows you to quickly and easily learn your chosen platform. I can’t tell you how many times some blog post has saved me time and money by writing a tutorial on what I was needing to do.

Different CMS’s

Let’s take a look at some of the popular CMS’s out there and how they compare. We’ll (of course) start with my very favorite:

  • WordPress is my very favorite platform of all. It’s super easy to learn, has a very extensive community and codex and I’ve never really not been able to do something in it. It’s simple enough for a small blog, but powerful enough for a very large non-blog website. Clients are able to understand the admin area very quickly. Bonus is that it’s free to download and use.
  • Drupal is another great open-source (free) platform. I’ve been told that the learning curve is a little bit higher than WordPress, but that it’s still easy to pick up and really powerful as a CMS. It also has a large community and is easy to find resources for.
  • Joomla is the worst CMS in the history of mankind and if you choose to support it, I’ll no longer be your friend. In all seriousness though, I don’t recommend this CMS for beginners, or really anyone at all. It’s very clunky, the admin area was impossible for both me and my client to understand or pick up quickly and coding for it – forget it. Plugins were buggy for it, it was tough to customize and there isn’t a large enough community to find what you’re looking for in terms of customization. Let’s move on…
  • Mura is a neat little open-source CMS from the guys at Blue River Interactive. I had the chance to download, install it and play with it a couple of months ago. The backend was very nice looking and easy to figure out. It was a bit more work to install a version locally, because it runs on Cold Fusion, but was pretty easy when following the included instructions. Mura would be great for a serious developer to get to learn, but it is in Cold Fusion, which is not a very popular web language.
  • ExpressionEngine is the only paid for CMS I’ve come across and it comes at a pretty hefty price. I have been told though, that ExpressionEngine is the CMS to go with, although I’m pretty skeptical about that, considering the ease of use of WordPress.

While choosing a content management system to focus on is imperative, it’s also very helpful to choose an eCommerce CMS as well. This will allow you to take on clients that need to set up stores, without trying to bolt on any plugins to the CMS’s above. (The eCommerce plugins for WordPress are terrible….). Here are a few eCommerce platforms that come with a CMS that you may want to check out.

  • CoreCommerce (my eCommerce platform of choice!)
  • Zen Cart
  • Shopify
  • OSCommerce
  • FoxyCart

Making Your Own CMS

What happens if you’ve taken a look at all of these platforms and none of them tickle your fancy? If you’re a great programmer, you may think about rolling your own. I’ve often heard that custom CMS’s, while not as pretty as the professional ones, are better and more fine-tuned to the client’s site. While I disagree with this, I think it would be a great idea for a developer to produce their own CMS. Who knows, it could be a rival to WordPress!

What to Do After You Choose One

After you’ve figured out which CMS you want to learn, the next best thing to do is just to start using it. Download it and try to integrate it into your portfolio website, or one that you’ve made up. You can also find some awesome books on Amazon or a bookstore that would help you along.

If you’re brave, you can also start taking on client projects that deal with the CMS you’re trying to learn. The project may take you longer than normal to code, but the knowledge you get from first-hand coding is always better than any tutorial or book can give you. You will also want to tap into some ecommerce analytics to make sure your traffic is stable and to see what trends you have going on.

From then on, it just takes practice and dealing with different site features to become an expert on your chosen CMS. Happy coding!

Your Turn

What CMS do you use and why? Was it easy for you to learn? Are you thinking about learning something else?

Image by rport