Content management systems (CMS) have become a key business tool. They allow you to add, edit, format and delete digital content (text, images, videos etc.) via a user-friendly interface. This removes the need to deal with any backend code, making the process of updating website content more accessible for individuals who aren’t highly technical.
As a result of this widespread use, there’s now a wide variety of CMS options to choose from and webmasters, copywriters and marketers alike will debate the pros and cons of each and champion their preferred choice. But when people ask “So what CMS do you use at Bytemark?” my answer has always been “Well, we don’t really use one”.
For years, the main Bytemark website has been updated through GitLab, which has come with many benefits. Firstly, it’s very collaborative, you can view other team members’ activity to track progress and work together on issues. Plus the fact you can create separate branches means it’s easy to work on a long-term project whilst still releasing smaller updates to the live site as needed. However, it’s not always very user-friendly – at least not if all you’re trying to do is update a few lines of text and you’re not a developer.
The problem with not having a CMS
In defence of GitLab, it’s not designed to be a CMS, nor does it claim to be one. Gitlab is a DevOps tool, it allows teams to plan projects, manage source code, release and monitor updates so that the entire DevOps lifecycle can be completed within a single application. Just to be clear, this is why we love GitLab and will be continuing to use it for many other projects, including Bytemark Panel. But the scope of the tool is also the reason we’ve had difficulties with content management – the content is generally amongst the backend code.
So, simply updating one paragraph could require all of the following steps:
The 7 (or 8) Stages of Content Updates
1) Creating a new branch to work in.
3) Navigating between various markdown, yaml and html files to update the text, then committing those changes to your branch.
5) Waiting 5 minutes for the pipeline to pass and confirm that the merge request was successful.
Or, alternatively, waiting 5 minutes only to have the pipeline fail because you accidentally put a space in the wrong place in the aforementioned yaml file. Then repeating steps 3 – 5.
6) Checking the dev site to confirm there are no problems.
7) Merging the develop branch into the master branch to push the update to the live site.
8) Making a cup of tea to recover from the fact it just took you 20 minutes to make such a small update. Well, maybe this last step is just me.
Going back a few years, when the same person likely built a page and then edited it going forward, some of the points mentioned above were less of an issue. But, as actually developing the website and maintaining the content became the responsibilities of separate departments, it was increasingly difficult to manage. It then became apparent that we didn’t need a 7-step process to release content updates that are highly unlikely to break the website’s functionality.
So, towards the end of last year, we made the decision to migrate the website onto a CMS. Then, after doing some research, we settled on WordPress as our CMS of choice!
A lot of considerations were factored into our decision, but I’ve outlined some of the main ones below:
Our docs and blog subdomains are already in WordPress, so moving the main website onto the same system seemed like the natural step. It would also simplify making global changes e.g. to the main navigation or footer.
As I’ve mentioned above, making content changes was not as simple or as quick as we would like. There have been several times where I’ve simply been unable to find which file content was in without asking someone and setting up a redirect could take hours rather than seconds because the redirect file was in a different repository which needed approval from the operations team to release.
With WordPress, you can access all of the pages on the website directly from the menu All of the content for a single page is stored within one file, without any backend code or styling, making it quicker to find the page you need to work on and simpler to carry out the work.
Plugins are a brilliant feature of WordPress, by installing them onto your site you can complete time-consuming tasks in just a few clicks or even automate them entirely! Redirects, content optimisation and backups are just a few of the things you can simplify.
It’s worth noting though that if you use plugins you do need to keep on top of updates to avoid bugs or security issues. And, also, less is more! If you install every new fancy-sounding plugin you come across it can slow down your site speed.
It’s Open Source
We’ve always been passionate about open source software, so much so that it’s part of our company manifesto. At its core, that’s exactly what WordPress is – anyone can create a plugin and the source code is freely available for anyone to review, modify or add to.
WordPress allows you to create your own theme, so every aspect of the design and styling is customisable. But it also gives great flexibility for formatting content. We’ve coded the styling for various blocks and sections. So now, when we want to add a new page we can simply drag and drop these sections and add in the content. Then everything will automatically be formatted just the way we want it – without ever touching an element of CSS!
A major bonus for us is that you can mix and match these sections to create a page layout that is unique from existing pages. This gives us the flexibility to try something new if someone comes up with a great new idea on how to best present information. Previously, we’d experienced issues that all pages needed to include certain elements or some elements could only be used in certain elements. This limited our ability to experiment and display content in the way which helped users the most.
Take a Look Around!
We’re very excited about the relaunch of Bytemark.co.uk so we’d love for you to test it out. As many of you will have noticed, we’ve also used the WordPress migration as an opportunity to update the site design. This follows on from the launch of our new branding back in January.
We did lots of testing before putting the new site live, but if you do notice any issues please send us an email [marketing[at]bytemark.co.uk].