How to set up a website to be re-usable, always-on and better
Why most sites are only using a fraction of the functionality of their CMS
CMSs, like WordPress, Squarespace, Sitecore, Sharepoint etc. are amazing. They have opened up a whole new world to millions of people and businesses. However, there a lot of common mistakes that people make when they are setting up websites on these platforms. In this article HammaJack co-founder, Jacob Moran explains how most CMSs are supposed to be set up so that they are re-usable.
How CMSs are designed to work
Content Management Systems (or CMSs) like WordPress, Wix and Shopify are beautifully simple and while they all have their different advantages they are all set up roughly the same way.
All CMSs, regardless of how they are displayed are set up with two distinct areas for content.
Firstly you have your content sources. These are called different things in different CMSs;
Sitecore - Modules, Buckets
WordPress - Plugins, Widgets
Squarespace - Galleries, Content Blocks etc.
These content sources do not live on a page. Instead, they are purely sources of content that you can then put on different parts of your site. The easiest example is a blog. The blog content source is a staple regardless of which CMS you are using. In a blog, the CMS has set up a Google and CMS friendly way for you to post flow content onto your site, and, as I am sure you’re aware, the blog doesn’t live on one page. Instead, it is housed in its own repository that you can then easily show throughout the site.
Secondly, you have pages. These are designed to show content, but not house it. The reason for that is that a page is a static, standalone resource, it cannot support anything but itself.
How you shouldn’t set up a website
Let’s be perfectly clear — if you are building sites by predominately putting content directly on a page, you are doing it wrong and you are not utilising the amazing power these CMSs and their tools have. Now there are times this is needed, such H1s and intro content, but as a general rule if it can be made as a source that can then be referenced to, then it should be.
Because, as alluded to above pages can only support themselves they are not scalable when a business wants to go from a 5-page website to a 40-page website, just think of all that duplicated content that requires creation and maintenance.
Let’s use a real example.
Say you were on our homepage and you looked at our client list and then you navigated to who we work for - you’d see another list of our clients. Now if we’d set this up using the page as the hub then we’d have to have two separate lists of clients, which would mean that if we got a new client we’d have to update two separate lists. Sounds messy right?
Well, luckily we didn’t set this up this way. We set this up so the client list is independent of these pages and we only have to update it in one spot and both pages get the update.
Setting them up to scale
If you want to set up a website to scale, and respond well to things like Google algorithm changes, it is imperative that you utilise the inbuilt features of a CMS and not revert to going rogue and posting content in text blocks and individual images on individual pages.
This may mean compromising slightly on design so that you can use an existing plugin or gallery, but doing so can save you vast amounts of time and money and, to be honest, if a designer is designing for WordPress or another CMS, and not designing with Plugins then that designer isn’t doing the right thing.
If you want a website that is going to scale, then you must utilise the features of the CMS your building with. The developers of that CMS will ensure that everything below the surface works well and this is where the biggest gains are made by well-performing sites. Remember some of the best-performing sites are not always the best looking.
If you want total control then go with a headless CMS, like Contentful or Gatsby, but be prepared for bugs, higher ongoing costs and a constant focus on your website.
Stock and Flow
But how do you keep a site fresh and different if you’re using the CMS features? To build a website that stays fresh you need to use Stock and Flow content. So what is stock and flow content?
Stock and Flow content are the two types of content that you need on your site.
Stock content is the content that you have on your site that doesn’t change. It’s your pricing table, your navigation, your contact forms. This information is the bedrock of your site. It’s the content that is there but doesn’t change too often. It’s important to note that this content can, and should also utilise the content source referencing process we outlined earlier.
Flow content is the other kind of content, this is the content that changes over time. It’s your blog posts, your social feeds, your special offers. This content adds the spice to the site, it’s what engages users and brings them back. This is the information you post on your social media and reference throughout the site.
This information, when posted should be able to appear in multiple places on the site such as the footer, the blog page, your pricing page and so on. Think about this article, at any time this article could be in several parts of our site and social media. We couldn’t do that if we housed it directly on one page.
If your flow content isn’t set up to do that, then you need to change the way you’ve built the site or you’ll always be vulnerable.
Most Important Point
If you only take one thing from this article make it this - if your building a website using a CMS, especially one of the cheaper ones, use their inbuilt features, use flow content throughout your site, and please use plugins.