Should you change your site’s CMS?

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Every website and its design falls down to the CSS. If the CSS is broken, the site’s broken. If it’s inaccessible, it makes updating a real challenge. When a client asks for a website redesign, they often assume one very common factor: the site will be, in the backend, the same. Many designers assume that a redesign means a new CMS. After all, your suggestion is the best for their situation, right? Well, some clients expect that the CMS should be the same. They’ve only ever known one way to add content and simply don’t have time to learn another one. So the real question is: should you change the CMS?

The Customer is Always Right

First and foremost, the customer is always right. Sure there are exceptions, but as a web designer or developer it’s important to keep the customer’s needs and wants in mind while still giving them what you know is best. In a lot of cases, the client just says “I want a redesign” simply because the website is dated and not very user friendly.

Here’s a scenario: a client comes up to you and says they want a better site. So you come up with a nice design that follows their company’s color scheme and give them a working and easy-to-use responsive website using a custom WordPress theme. But in their old website they used a custom-built CMS and loved it. You decided it’ll be best for everyone if they just keep the WordPress theme; it’ll be easy to update, navigate, and there will be no problems whatsoever, right? No. In fact, the client really liked the old way. They just clicked upload and didn’t have to go through all of these steps to add what they wanted. Sure the old way was broken, weird, and backwards, but it was easy. So, should you have given them the update? Or fixed the problems with the old version and found a way to transfer it over to their CMS?

Long-term Goals

One factor to consider is the long-term benefit of the decision. In the vast majority of cases, an updated CMS or a custom CMS is a better solution than keeping the old one and finding a way to make it work. In the short-term, you’ll have to train them how to use it, and if they have multiple people adding content to the website, it may not be the “budget-friendly” way to do it. However, in the long run, the new CMS may make their lives so much easier and even take less time to upload content than before. Weighing the costs and benefits, as well as the short-term and long-term effects, is an important factor, especially when dealing with larger organizations.

Making the Decision

There are some cases where there is truly no question of “should I update it or should I start from scratch?” It’s a definite “start from scratch”. Just be sure to run it by the client beforehand and let them know why you think the current site is unrecoverable. For example, if they use a WordPress theme that is no longer updated and is running on a buggy version, it may be time to get a new or custom theme. Make sure they understand that they will have to learn a new way to do what they want. If they want to keep the CMS they have now after you’ve explained it all, then it’s time to break out the debugging hat.

However, it can be 100% worth it to plan and strategize the design before you begin by working with the current core. Some commonly overlooked factors are:

  • More in-depth programming than anticipated
  • Organization’s setup
  • User’s experience

Refreshing the website as opposed to rebuilding it can mean that you use the coding currently in place (so long as it’s not too buggy) to provide an efficient way for the webmaster to add content to the website. Changing up the CSS may give you more work than you expected when trying to keep the site user friendly. In the end, it saves you the trouble of teaching the client a whole new system. It also saves the client from paying for training for their own employees to figure out how to use this new system.

Many designers skip the planning step and go straight into their redesign process: starting from scratch and using what they know. As a web designer, you have to be well-versed in numerous content management systems, so don’t try to stick with just one. It can be beneficial to you and your client to consider your current options and see if there is a way to make the site responsive, mobile friendly, easy to optimize, easy to update, user friendly, and (of course) good looking before jumping straight into your usual redesign process.

Author Bio: Ryan Gavin is an associate of Ignition72, a Maryland web design agency. He believes in a Strategy First approach to web design.

header image courtesy of Jeremy Steiner

Catalin is the founder of Mostash – a social marketing boutique – and he’s always happy to share his passion for graphic design & social media.