Choosing an open source CMS based on PHP and MySQL

Web CMS experience and implementations. Sharing cases of CMS experience.

When choosing an open source CMS (content management system) based on PHP, there are several great ones to choose from that are incredibly popular, including Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress. There are also less popular and more powerful CMS’ for those who have some IT training and like a bit more freedom through their own coding. These include Maxsite, Frog CMS, CMS Made Simple, E107, and Typolight, among others.

Whatever you decide is best for your needs, you should expect PHP-based CMS systems to have the following features:

  1. Easily add, edit, and remove pages using a Microsoft Word-style editor, also known as a What You See Is What You Get, or WYSIWIG.
  2. Place those pages into buckets and groups, as well as categorize them into menus.
  3. Manage a visitors UX experience through navigation changes, including site menus, breadcrumbs, and maps.
  4. Create, edit, and remove templates to allow for the customization of pages and layouts.
There are a few other key areas to consider when selecting a CMS

Virtually all the solutions listed above offer them, but be sure that your selection has a good library of plugins (sometimes called modules) and a strong third-party community of developers, web development companies, and PHP developers, who are adding and updating them. Plugins add critical items to your website, like e-Commerce solutions, search engine optimization (SEO), social media integration, tagging solutions, and much more. Since you can select plugins that are already written and that work for you, you can save time and money, often avoiding the expense of hiring a separate programmer.

Be sure to look closely at the features of each CMS system as well. All PHP-based CMS’ will offer feature comparison tools so you can make an informed decision. Remember, however, that just because a CMS has a feature, doesn’t make it superior to a CMS that may not or may have a difference process to achieve a similar purpose. By way of a simple example: all CMS tools can add pages within your website, but do you know how to appropriately use that tool? Be sure that the CMS you choose has robust training components as well, including written documentation and even online or onsite assistance.

So, what CMS system is best for you? If you can, always select a system you’re familiar and have previous experience with. If you must select a CMS that is entirely new to you, find a good web development company in the UK that, at the very least, can help you as you transition. A CMS is only as good as the people who know how to use it. Even a completely custom CMS will due, if the web development company or PHP developer uses it exceptionally.

This brings up an important point, as well – it could be that bespoke system or even a commercial system would better fit your needs. Completely customized systems can be very expensive, but if you are completely unfamiliar with CMS’ to begin with, it will likely take you just as long to learn your own system than an open source product. At the very least, a custom system will ensure you get everything you need and will fit perfectly with the architecture you already have in place.

Commercial systems, like Bitrix for example, also offer important benefits that community developed open source options do not. The advantage that these systems have over CMS’ like Joomla or Drupal is their flexibility, comprehensiveness, and quality of support. Additionally, commercial systems are built on other architectures, like Java or .NET, which may fit better with your needs.

PHP CMS’ for Specific Purposes

PHP-based CMS’ can be designed very broadly, to do several things, or can be drilled down to provide support for specific purposes. The two most popular purposes that run-on PHP-based CMS’ are e-Commerce solutions and blogging platforms.

e-Commerce solutions like ZenCart, Magento, and osCommerce, as well as many others, feature a dazzling number of features, are easy to install and can be customized to meet your needs. It is a good idea to have an experienced webmaster design and implement your initial solution, to ensure your shop runs smoothly. Once designed, however, modern PHP-based CMS e-Commerce solutions essentially run on their own. Additionally, most CMS’ have eCommerce modules or plugins that you can use directly on your platform (i.e. Drupal/UberCart, WordPress/WP e-commerce, Joomla/VirtueMart).

WordPress is the undisputed king of blogging platforms. Its blog-specific architecture, high number of plugins, and rich community are all developed and designed with the blogger in mind. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned coder, WordPress can offer you exactly what you need. No system is perfect, of course, and some bugs with the system persist. The best example of this is the theme change bug. WordPress allows the user to change the theme of one’s blog with just a few clicks, entirely changing the look, and feel of the website. Sometimes, without warning, WordPress will change the theme, but not carryover the content. This happens very rarely, but it can happen.

Pro tip: Always backup your work outside of any platform you use!

It is possible to build a blog outside of WordPress on another CMS, like Drupal, but the site will be “heavier,” needing more server space and may have fewer features than WordPress. General CMS’ are not best suited to powering blog-centric websites – they are extremely powerful for full sites, but unnecessary for blogs.

There are other blog-centric CMS systems other than WordPress, but none of them are particularly popular nor do they boast the features, community, and ease of WordPress. A great example of another blog platform was Serendipity. When WordPress came along, it could not compete and ended up having to delete its list of users from its websites, mostly, because many of them had moved to WordPress, leaving dead links in their wake. Still, some users like to download the program and test their blog architecture on the system. If you do this, be sure to let us know what you think.

WordPress powers our blog, but we have experience working with a variety of other platforms.

Contact us to discuss the CMS solution that will best meet your needs.

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