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How a Content Management System Works

How a Content Management System Works

Before selecting a content management system some basics on how a content management system works will help you to better understand what to look for when assessing the choices available. A basic content management system is comprised of templates, a programming language, a dashboard and a database.

Content Management System Templates

Content management system templates are a series of files that contain the basic layout of your website or blog. These files are used in conjunction with the selected program language and a database to produce what you and your visitors see.

A template system for the content management system can contain a number of files for different situations (slight layout changes for different circumstances), the different sections of the page (head, navigation, footer), member login (the gateway into the members only section of the website), the members only portion of the site, and the stylesheet(s) (files that contain the presentation formatting of the website).

Content Management Programming Language

A content management system uses a programming language to fetch the information stored in the database, format it and then present it to the viewer.

There are various programming languages that can be used in the background of your website. The most common for hosted, purchased and open source content management systems are PHP and ASP.NET (or ASP).

PHP Programming Language

PHP is an open source programming language bound by it’s Open Publication License. It is usually used on a web server that has Apache server software installed on it.

ASP.NET Programming Language

ASP.NET ( or ASP) are Microsoft programming languages. These programming languages have to run on a Windows based server.

Something to consider when selecting which programming language is best suited for your website is that Apache server hosting costs tend to be less than Window server hosting costs.

Content Management System Dashboard

The dashboard of the content management system is where authorized users (people authorized to make changes to the website) make changes to the website.

Depending on the business requirements of the website the number of tools available to the user is based on their level of authorization (different people can have different levels of permission to make changes). This is the area where content is added to the website, changes are made, information is manipulated and general maintenance of the website is done.

Dashboard features to watch for when selecting a content management system are:

  • Ability to enter individual page titles.

    Search engines use these when listing your web page in their results.

  • Ability to enter individual sets of keywords for each page.

    Some search engines use these when indexing web pages.

  • Ability to enter individual page descriptions.

    Search engines use these sometimes when displaying the web page in their search results.

  • Ability to access files directly.

    Some content management systems are not coded for optimal search engine results. Access to these files will enable a knowledgeable person to fine tune the background coding so it is search engine friendly.

  • Ability to add content to each page.

    A shopping catalogue feature is included with or available as an addon with some content management systems. You need to be able to add different content/descriptions for the summary pages as well as the individual product pages.

  • Ability to backup the website and all data for storage elsewhere.

    As a safe guard against human error and web hosting server breakdown the ability to backup the website and all it’s data is an important feature. Some hosts will say they backup daily but to be sure you do not loose all your work and information you should be able to backup the website to a location off of the web hosting server.

These are a few to the more critical features to look for in the dashboard of a content management system.

Content Management System Database

A content management system is usually run using a database. There are different databases available and some are only compatible with certain operating systems (online and offline). The site might also use what is called a flat file system (a text file containing database information without any program specific formatting that can be used by and manipulated by other applications).

MySQL Database

MySQL is an open source database. It is usually used in conjunction with PHP but can be used with different platforms.

Microsoft SQL Server

Microsoft SQL Server is a Microsoft product that like ASP.NET needs to be run on a Windows based server.

Flat File Database

A flat file based content management system uses a text file to store the database information. The information is sorted in lines with a delimiter (comma or space for example) between each part (or field) of information.

The ability to export the traditional database into a flat file (.csv) would be something to consider if the website information is used off line as well.

So, before selecting a content management system decide on what template design you wish to have (custom graphics or whatever comes with the system and the page layout), the programming language that best suits the organization’s needs, what dashboard features are important beyond the specifically noted ones above and which database is required.

Once you have educated yourself on the basics on how a content management system works you can may a more informed decision of which content management system best suits your organization’s needs.

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