The R40-million Free State CMS website debacle raises an interesting question - what should you expect to pay for a content managed website and where is your money actually going?
Content managed websites have exploded onto the digital marketing scene in a massive way, and it's not difficult to see why: they can be hugely cost-saving for clients who need to do ongoing site maintenance in a cost-effective way, and they offer fantastic functionalities that can make even the smallest company's website look large, impressive and established.
So, if the costs are so low, and they're so easy to use, why should you fork over any money to have your CMS website built professionally?
Pretty much every article about the Free State website debacle has included one key takeaway - the template only cost US$40.
Likewise, pretty much every web designer opposed to CMS systems will fall back on that same argument: these so-called developers are just using a template that they've downloaded from the internet!
While that is true... it's very far from the whole truth.
A template is a starting point - and what you're paying for in this case is the web developer and designer's html coding knowledge.
That ability to hand code a website is what makes the developer able to completely customise the template to your brand's look and feel, in a way that ensures that it is stable and will stay intact through platform updates and web browser iterations over the coming years.
This way, not only can even the most overused CMS template look completely unique to your needs, but it will be stable, and able to weather the changes that happen so quickly and often in the world of web standards. Without these safeguards in place, the first update you run could literally see your entire website fall over.
Likewise, the time taken to make these kinds of changes is often hugely underestimated.
What looks like a simple change from the outside can literally take days to fix - in fact, I've seen a simple background change take 8 hours to implement.
So, in addition to expertise, what you're also paying for is time spent effecting changes - and the grey hairs that often go along with making client requests a reality.
Practice makes perfect
It takes 10,000 hours to reach mastery - and here's hoping that you don't reach that on your first website build!
Regardless of the ease and efficacy of the system you're using, it takes time, practice and repetition to get to know the ins and outs, what you can and can't do and what will and won't be stable. You won't reach this level of knowledge with one, five or even ten website developments.
A huge part of what you're paying for is the amount of practice and knowledge the web designers and developers have gained working on the CMS platform - and template integration - that they use.
Each team of developers has a unique way of structuring the work they do, and repeated exposure makes the elements you're trying to implement easier to effect.
So while you may be paying more for the skills, you'll also gain an inestimable amount of time by using a professional who knows what they are doing.
SEO, copywriting and technical build
Without the right content, laid out in the right way, your website means nothing. And content is so much more than just the copywriting on each page.
The longer you work with websites as a whole - and the more you know about them - the more you'll see that SEO, copywriting and technical aspects are inextricably linked - if you treat them as separate elements, you won't get the kind of traction you want or deserve.
Do you know how to structure your copywriting and SEO? Do you know what kinds of sitemaps are required and where to submit them? Do you know how to set your SEO up to avoid duplications - and do you even know the effect that duplications have on sites indexed by search engines?
Or do you simply think that putting a website online is enough to make it easy to find?
Whether you build a hand-coded or content managed website, you need great copy and SEO to make it findable and to get the results you want.
You also need the technical expertise that goes along with building hand coded websites because exactly the same technical rules apply to content managed and hand coded websites. And if you don't know them, your website won't do the job it's meant to.
There's no doubt that the R40-million spent by the Free State Government is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on any piece of marketing collateral.
The key thing to remember though is that the CMS platform is about making it easier for you - as the client - to manage and update the website afterwards.
In the beginning though, you're still paying for the same level of skill and knowledge you were paying for previously to have it set up and implemented properly - so that it can be the effective 24-hour selling tool it needs to be.
Chemory Gunko is the MD and creative director of Dsignhaus, a B2B marketing services agency with in-depth and specialist knowledge in the field of digital marketing. For more, go to www.dsignhaus.co.za, email her on or follow @dsignhaus on Twitter.
The $40 template is a great sound-bite which makes it really hard to ignore. And I confess to quoting it in an article I wrote about this debacle too, despite misgivings that it suggests that a template-based website costs almost nothing.
But you are absolutely right. A solid content strategy and relevant, well-written copy are essential to the success of a website. And a $40 template can't provide that. Posted on 20 Mar 2013 18:07
Firstly, I’m basing the points that follow on how you structured your article. By begin with a mention of the Free State government’s blunder of a website, I presume your points that follow were, to not necessarily defend it, but to give the reader some insight as to the cost implications building a website carry, right? Cool.
Let’s start here:
“A template is a starting point - and what you're paying for in this case is the web developer and designer's html coding knowledge.” Uhhhhm, I’m not sure what’s going on here. Though it is true that one can chop and change a template’s code to their heart’s desire, this usually never happens. Why? Because the overarching advantage of a template is that ANYONE can purchase one, upload it and voila, you have a website. Generally, people that purchase these templates are looking for a quick and easy way to have a website whilst avoiding learning how to manually code. Any developer worth their salt prefers building code from the ground up. They know what it is their doing and have an idea of what the final product will be so even suggesting that developers (experienced ones at least) actively decide to purchase templates and modify them is totally absurd. Those developers you speak of are in actual fact, not developers. Same can be said about anyone who uses WYSIWYG software.
“Likewise, the time taken to make these kinds of changes is often hugely underestimated.” Like I mentioned before, templates exist for their convenience.
“... in fact, I've seen a simple background change take 8 hours to implement.” Clearly you hang around inexperienced individuals. Heard of Cascading Style Sheets? Thanks to CSS, changing the look of your website is quite simple and quick to do. Changing a background is CSS 101 and if changing a SIMPLE background takes 8 hours to implement, that person should consider changing careers.
What I get from your article is that templates are convenient and though they may be cheap, the back end development of CMS websites isn’t. That the quality of service from the experience and knowledge and expertise of developers/designers does not come cheap. True.
“A huge part of what you're paying for is the amount of practice and knowledge the web designers and developers have gained working on the CMS platform - and template integration - that they use.” This is true but websites tallying such a crazy expense usually have their CMS custom built; they do not use Wordpress AND the actual website’s code is written from scratch with some sort of long term plan of content generation. This plan can range from 5 to 20 years even, where researchers, writers, photographers, copywriters, sub-editors, etc. will all be on board to ensure a particular website constantly has relevant, topical content all the time.
SEO doesn’t differentiate between a website built on a CMS or one that is static. The only valid point from your mentioning it is the technical aspect and specialised skills required to ensure the actual website is SEO friendly by allowing it to be indexed and to pull up the desired keywords through the help of a copywriter who has the knowhow. Sadly though, a template won’t save you. You didn’t seem to make this distinction.
I could go on forever but what’s evident is this article was poorly written with even poorer research put into it. You wrote this like someone who has experience as a developer? If you were trying to get that across, it didn’t work. Matter of fact, to the contrary. You just came off as someone who thinks they know a thing or two about coding and your credentials suggest otherwise. Stick to marketing because you evidently don’t know much about building websites! Posted on 20 Mar 2013 19:10
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