A question that is frequently asked, is what CMS to use for your law firm’s website. In this article, we’ll first look at what a CMS is, and analyze some statistics. Then we’ll consider whether you need one, and if so, what all to consider when you make your choice.
What is a CMS, or Content Management System? The Digital defines a CMS as “a software application or set of intertwined programs that allows you to create and manage your website’s digital content. In other words, a CMS grants you the ability to upload, edit, and delete content from a website without having to know HTML, CSS, or other coding languages.”
Let’s have a look at some statistics. There are close to 1.5 billion websites on the Internet. Of those, about 172 million are active. A majority of websites, 56.4%, use a CMS. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the most popular CMSs. WordPress powers 34.6% of the websites on the Internet, while Joomla is used for 4.9%, and Drupal for 3.1%. When we look at CMSs on the Internet, WordPress is good of 61% of those, while Joomla is good for 2.8% of the CMS market, and Drupal for 1.7%.
The first question to investigate, is whether you need a CMS, or whether you’re better off without one. There are pros and cons to each.
- With a CMS, no web programming experience is required. Most ISPs have wizards that install your CMS for you, and you can be up and running within a short period of time. Adding content is fairly easy.
- Easy collaboration and Access: a CMS typically allows several users to publish content, which also allows them to collaborate.
- Search Engine Optimization: most CMSs have tools, either preinstalled or as optional plugins, to manage and improve Search Engine Optimization.
- A CMS can – but doesn’t automatically – offer better security. (See below). When there is a serious new security threat, typically within hours a patch may be available.
- Cost effective and affordable: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all available for free, and will probably offer the functionality you need, without having to hire a programmer to customize them for you.
- CMSs are constantly being updated. There are quite a number of ISPs who specialize in one or more of the CMSs, and where those updates of the CMS are included in the hosting price.
- CMSs typically also come with built-in search components that allow the visitors of your website to search your content.
- The functionality of a CMS can easily be extended with plugins, which may be available for free or at a price.
- Overkill: if you just want to create an online brochure of your website, and its content won’t change much for several months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.
- Bloat: a CMS has a lot of built-in functionality that you may not need but can’t remove. The content you may want to publish may be limited, and with a CMS you may end up with a system that is many times the size of your content.
- Database access: to run a CMS, you need to have a database included in your hosting package, which may make hosting more expensive.
- Maintenance: CMSs are constantly being updated, as are their plugins. With a WordPress website that is not hosted with an ISP that does the CMS maintenance for you, you should check at least once a week whether there are updates for your CMS or plugins.
- Security: if there is a security risk for a CMS or for a plugin you are using, then your site is at risk. Popular CMSs and plugins are targeted constantly by cybercriminals.
- The themes and plugins that are available for your CMS may not be exactly what you need or want, in which case you will have to hire someone for customizations. That will probably end up costing more than if they were done for a website that doesn’t use a CMS.
- CMSs allow more people to publish content, but each additional user increases the chances of something going wrong.
So, is a CMS right for you? As a rule of thumb, you can’t really go wrong with a CMS, especially if you plan to have a blog or publish articles, etc. But if you’re only planning to have a website that functions as an online brochure, with content that won’t change much for months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.
The next question then is which one to choose. For that, several items should be taken into account:
- The overall cost: there is the cost of hosting, and possibly of configuring your CMS. To get the layout and functionality you want or need, you may have to use themes and plugins that come at a cost. Customizations will add to that cost.
- Ease of use and maintenance: not only of the actual CMS, but also of the plugins and themes you plan to use.
- Ability to customize: does the CMS offer what you want it to? Can plugins help?
- Performance and system requirements: the system requirements for Drupal are typically higher than for Joomla or WordPress.
- User and permission management.
- Support for multilingual sites.
Probably each one of the three major players will meet your needs. WordPress typically is the easiest to use and maintain of the three, while Drupal is – by far – the most complex. I would generally not recommend Drupal for smaller or medium-sized law firms, unless you have a whiz kid that’s familiar with it. For bigger law firms, especially if they have their own servers as well as their own IT department and want to use an internal system for documentation or knowledge management, Drupal can be a good fit.
For smaller and medium-sized law firms, WordPress and Joomla are good options, and WordPress is used for far more websites than Joomla. That doesn’t necessarily make it the best fit for your website, though. When you want more advanced user management or if you want to have a multilingual website, that functionality is built in in Joomla, where WordPress relies on third-party plugins. For multilingual sites, to do things properly, WordPress has to be set up as a multi-site WordPress configuration, which complicates things. Joomla supports multilingual sites out of the box.