There is no perfect content management system.
In fact, forget being perfect for everyone—there’s no perfect CMS for you, either.
That’s just not the way it works.
There’s a best solution for you, but it may not be the best overall.
There may be a best solution in certain categories, but it may not be right for you.
Why do we feel like there is?
As Paul Boag points out, the early days of the CMS may have led us to believe that these systems were going to solve all our issues; that, now, anyone could update the website with ease.
Even today, we tend to throw around phrases like “everything is editable” or “totally intuitive”.
Yet, we find that’s usually not the case at all, right? Every CMS takes getting used to for everyone. Every CMS takes a different approach to structuring the admin areas. Some are purely for blogging, some are for more entire sites, and some are custom-built.
In general, a content management system does bring incredible accessibility to, essentially, editing database rows. It does feel like magic sometimes.
Expectations (Update Available!)
The issue with magic is that it gives us unrealistic expectations. It makes us think we should be experts in the CMS immediately. It makes us think every feature we’ve ever wanted is one free plugin download away.
I’m a huge WordPress fan. I’ve developed on top of it for years. I love it and my clients love it. I do think it’s the best choice for a majority of folks, and its popularity confirms that.
I also think WordPress is the most intuitive CMS, but that doesn’t make it…intuitive. Not by my standards, anyway.
I’ve traditionally introduced WordPress to green clients by saying something like:
“I think it’s the best option for you. It’s got a lot of power. It’s going to take you the first 4-5 times in that admin area to feel comfortable. You’ll have questions and get confused, just like we all do with new software. I’m here to answer your questions, and even when I’m not, those answers are a Google search away. After those first several times, you’ll get your bearings, and you’ll be running like a pro.”
And that whole “holy grail of plugins” thing that people seem to think exists? As Chris Lema says: you can’t afford it.
If you’ve got clients that you’re talking about content management systems to, you owe it to them to manage their expectations as much as possible.
Know Your Options
There’s a ton of options when it comes to CMSs. Sure, WordPress is the most popular, but Drupal scales really well. Ghost is beautiful, and Statamic and Perch are really fast and simple. Jekyll is great for developers. Joomla! is really good at social networks. The list goes on and on.
We do a disservice to others when we don’t know about these other options.
I don’t just mean that we could be presenting alternatives (although that’s true), but we’re removing the context for people to understand the CMS landscape.
“I’d like to move to a better CMS. What’s the best choice for me?”
“Oh, WordPress. It’s the most popular, it’s easy to work with, there’s a huge community, and it’s free!”
…and then they get 3 weeks into their new site and don’t feel like it’s so “easy to work with.” So they start Googling, and they see countless other options that look way simpler.
What they don’t know is, for instance, that Ghost won’t run on their host, or Drupal doesn’t have the plugin that their site actually relies on now, or the random CMS they found doesn’t have a community and is really hard to upgrade.
You don’t have to know every detail of every CMS to understand their strong points. Once you do, it’s much easier to explain that the CMS landscape is complicated.
People coming into a new CMS, like WordPress, ought to understand that there are quirks, some things are difficult, and when it comes to your plugin hunt: here be dragons. It will take time to learn.
But, you, because you’re an expert, know that this is the best option overall for them. You’ll need to remind them when they demand too much or get frustrated.
It doesn’t take much to be an expert on CMSs to someone who doesn’t understand the landscape. You’ll just need to be honest. You’ll either deal with their expectations upfront, or you’ll deal with them a few weeks into a completed project.
Simplify When You Can
Let’s say WordPress is the choice for a client’s new site. You’ve had honest conversation about expectations and the time it will take to learn.
You can still do your part to improve the experience. Even WordPress has a confusing Dashboard setup out of the box (“WordPress News”? Why would my client care?).
You can hide some of the unhelpful items ahead of time with “Screen Options”. You can have a license to a WordPress learning tool like WP101, or you can hook up an interactive walkthrough tool like Sidekick. You can further refine the admin area and prepare it for users with a bit of code.
With Evermore, we go even further by having curated customization options, so that the entire site presentation of the site (from Site Title to widgets to colors) can be configured visually in the WordPress customizer. We look for every instance to make the entire experience more and more intuitive.
Yet, despite the best efforts of everyone involved in a CMS, no option will ever be perfectly intuitive, flexible, fast, upgradeable, and affordable. Let’s talk about it like that’s the reality we live in, so we can cut down on the frustrations users are having thanks to expectations run amok.