I was an engineer, so I can honestly say I find website content management systems (CMSs) fascinating. I remember the early days of the web: in fact, I have used Gopher, had a Compuserve account and remember when AOL was [just about] cool. Anyone who can remember these days will agree that it’s so much easier to make information available today than it was in the early days of the internet.

There have been a couple of things that have driven the dizzying improvements to the web: firstly, the availability of easy-to-use hosting services outside of walled gardens such as Compuserve, and secondly the creation of easy-to-use CMSs.

Website CMSs

For those of you who don’t know, a CMS splits the content from the presentation, or in language that non-geeks might use, it lets you add content to a website without having to be a web programming nerd. The introduction of CMSs meant that content could be posted to a corporate site without needing a team of coders to create and upload HTML and CSS. This meant content updates could be done quickly and easily by the people who had the content, rather than the slow and sometimes painful process required by hard-coded HTML sites.

Websites, however, aren’t like word documents. It’s important to have a consistent look throughout a website, so CMSs use templates. Most CMSs, however, had a philosophy of delivering a single chunk of body copy within the template. This is now rarely the case, with background images, widgets and other layout techniques making page layouts much more complex.

A couple of years ago, the solution was custom coding of the CMS. In fact, I’ve written custom WordPress code for a client to insert related case studies and links to content, based on the specifics of each page; as there wasn’t a good way to achieve the same result using pure WordPress at the time. Today, however, everything has changed.

Why You Don’t Need to Customise WordPress

I’m going to talk about WordPress in particular. Partly because our web team uses WordPress and partly because it’s such a good example of what has happened to CMSs. I also see many WordPress sites that used hard coded content blocks in a customised WordPress environment to create a layout with zero flexibility. Note that I’m not talking about the development of themes: here you still need to hard-code to create a custom layout; I’m referring to the customisations that mean you have to fill in several boxes when you create a page, and the coding will then place each block of content in a specific place on the page.

Today I don’t believe there is a need to customise WordPress to create the layout you want. Firstly, the core WordPress editor has switched to Guttenberg: this is a new approach that allows you to place content in multiple blocks, rather than a title and single piece of content. For some websites, this editor is more than enough to allow you to deploy the layout you need.

Some sites, however, require even more complex layouts and functionality. There are a number of plugins – WPBakery is probably the best-known – that give you almost unimaginable control over your content and layout by simply dragging and dropping blocks. It’s really that easy. You don’t need to be a programmer to create a layout with columns, sidebars, background images or even parallax scrolling. The cost of this incredible power is ludicrous: $45. That’s probably less than the cost of the time to publish a single blog post for most enterprises! Oh, and if you’re using a paid-for 3rd-party theme, you’ll likely find that WPBakery is bundled for free!

Despite the fact that these capabilities are now easy to deploy and use, and are very, very cheap, I still see clients struggling with hard-coded custom themes. They’ll typically want to have a slightly different page layout for some new content, and either have to pay for additional custom coding or compromise and use the hard-wired layout that almost meets their needs. It’s crazy to have to compromise with the technology that’s available today.

Break Free of Hard-Coded WordPress Customisation!

The reality is that migration away from a hard-coded layout is really simple and typically very quick. Yet companies struggle with their limited hard-coded systems because it’s what they have always done, and they don’t believe that it’s either possible or easy to migrate to a more modern approach. We disagree! If you want to find out how easy it is to move from a limited theme where you have to ask a web developer every time you want to do something different, simply email me and I’d be happy to talk to you about how we could make your website cheaper, easier to use and more flexible than you ever imagined.