Choosing a Content Management System (CMS)
Nowadays, over half the websites across the globe are controlled by a Content Management System, and that statistic is growing by the day as older websites are updated and new businesses enter the online space. But not all CMSs are created equal.
Currently, there are four super popular CMS solutions available, with many more smaller and niche offerings. Formally blog orientated WordPress reigns supreme, controlling over 60% of all CMS-based websites and around 34% of the web in total. The other three are Wix, Squarespace and Shopify.
Shopify, Wix and Squarespace are proprietary platforms, which means they control the hosting and developmental tools of a website. While this fosters an easy to adopt learning curve, it does have limitations on customisation and freedoms. Shopify is an excellent platform for E-commerce, as that is its core focus. Wix and Squarespace are less specific, offering a broader range of tools.
As Web Designers, we prefer WordPress – although we have a number of websites across these other platforms. WordPress offers the full suite of customisation and freedom to host in the location/region that is most appropriate for our clients. You’ll find it a little steeper in the learning department, but not by much. Being the most popular CMS solution out there also means there is no end to the amount of plugins available for even the most niche of functionalities you may require.
Possibly more importantly, you have complete control of your WordPress website. You can change hosts or bring on additional designers (did we mention we do Web Design *wink wink*) whenever you want, save the code to your personal computer in case of unforeseen issues and just have peace of mind in general.
Our WordPress bias aside, it’s a good idea to look through the documentation of each and see what’s the right fit for you right now.
A theme is essentially a pre-built website that “plugs in” to your chosen CMS. All the major CMS solutions offer quite a decent range of themes to choose from, but again, because of the open-source nature of WordPress, it reigns supreme here, too.
Over the past few years, themes have gone from single layout designs to full blown designers in their own right. Divi and Elementor are known as Theme Builders and are actually plugins, offering an in-CMS user interface to build from scratch or use one of their ready made templates. But, many themes that don’t call themselves Theme Builders are also more than capable of the task. We use Impreza, a hugely robust theme that can match your wire frame design to the pixel.
When on the hunt for a suitable theme, there are a number of factors to consider. Firstly, can it mirror your wire frame? All that planning shouldn’t go to waste, especially when you’ve planned for user experience and sales. Most themes offer a demo view to show you a range of options. Secondly, is it HTML5 and CSS3 (current version) compliant? All major browsers such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Apple Safari and Microsoft’s Edge are finally very similar in their adoption of HTML5/CSS3 best practices, and thus this enables a smooth experience no matter the device your potential customer is using. Google Search also pays close attention to this when considering rank.
Australian-owned Envato runs Theme Forest, housing possibly the largest collection of themes anywhere on the web. https://themeforest.net/
Functionality & Plugins
Functionality & Plugins is where we step back in time to the planning phase. At this point you should be well aware of what will benefit a prospective customer, so that’s the functionality you should be looking to achieve.
Searching the plug-in libraries of all the major CMSs should reveal a number of solutions to the functionality you’re trying to achieve, however they can at times be a little light on information and use-cases. When you’ve found one that looks the goods, a quick Google search or visit to the plug-in website should confirm and refute its potential use on your website.
If using WordPress, in addition to the functionality you actually require, you’ll need to add a few basic plugins as well. Security (SSL) is one, especially when dealing with payments, but Google wants it too. We use a free plug-in called Really Simple SSL to force HTTPS. If your theme doesn’t come with a contact form, we recommend Contact Form 7.
Technical SEO is one of three primary aspects of Search Engine Optimisation and one of two that focus on the website itself (hint, content is the other one). Technical SEO focuses on what Google loves to see, which for the most part is what your potential customers unconsciously want to see, too. Unfortunately, this is where the limitations of Wix, Squarespace and Shopify become very apparent, you can’t do a lot here using those CMSs. WordPress on the other hand…
Google – and other search engines – wants to give its users the best experience, so they tend to rank websites that load extremely fast and don’t interrupt the user’s experience. Core Web Vitals is their most recent update in this arena, where they focus on layouts and interactivity delay.
There are two tools we use regularly to analyse our website’s performance, Google’s own PageSpeed Insights (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/) and GTmetrix (GTMetrix.com). They both are super handy tools that score various components and tell you how to improve each of them.
What you should look at first is caching and for this we head back to the plug-in library. Autoptimise, WP Rocket and WP Fastest Cache are a few of the many optimisation plugins available that compress all the code in your website to allow it to get to your user faster. This improves performance by stitching together files, removing coding comments and unnecessary white space. But, it can break your website, too, so test before and after.
The other major aspect of Technical SEO you should be looking into is images. Huge image files dramatically slow down websites, and should be avoided at all costs. The goal here is to deliver images that are the right size dimensionally, and optimised to be smaller in file size – which the file type also plays a part. Photo-like images should be JPG, and solid colours – such as logos – should be PNG. If you have access to Adobe Photoshop, the Save for Web feature makes this super easy, but many other graphics programs and even some online converters have this functionality as well. The GTMetrix analysis tool also allows you to download your images they have optimised after analysis for even further gains. Head back into the plug-in library and search for “Enable Media Replace” to allow you to quickly switch out images in the Media Library.
Finally, set up Google Search Console (https://search.google.com/search-console/welcome) for your website to be in communication direct with Google. They’ll tell you when technical issues appear that affect your website and rank.
Related Link: SEO Basics https://www.actualmarketing.com.au/search-engine-optimisation-basics-seo/
We love Search Engine Optimisation. If you’re struggling with the technical aspects of SEO or are looking for a provider to assist you to rank in Google, please reach out to us. See our Search Engine Optimisation page (https://www.actualmarketing.com.au/seo-sunshine-coast/).
Once you’ve completed all the steps above you’re ready to go live, congratulations! You have a thoroughly thought out website that serves the ultimate purpose of improving sales by focusing on what the customer/client needs from you.
People can be funny though, no matter how much research and planning you do, how your potential customers interact with your website may differ, or your ideal customer may change over time. Because of that it’s a great idea to continue to monitor your website and make subtle improvements on it as you obtain real world use cases. Google Analytics (https://analytics.google.com/analytics/web/) provides a wealth of information you can use to improve your website, Google Optimise (https://marketingplatform.google.com/about/optimize/) allows you to split test elements/pages on your website to see which one works best and Hotjar (Hotjar.com) is a neat tool that allows you to visually see what your visitors are doing and where they leave or when they are confident to buy. You may also want to connect a Facebook Pixel and your CRM if you have one.
Note: At present, the Google Site Kit plug-in, which allows easy setup of Google’s Search Console, Analytics and Ads into your WordPress website isn’t great when dealing with E-commerce data, we use the Tatvic Enhanced Ecommerce plug-in for our online store clients instead.