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What I want from a CMS

Posted on by Clive Walker in Web Development Personal

I wrote this post a while back. The content can still be relevant but the information I've linked to may not be available.

I've been thinking about my business, my skills and knowledge, the type of projects that I do, and the best CMS or website system. This is a brain dump post with a few thoughts about all of that. I may add to the post as my thinking develops.

I'm not saying these are the best systems for everyone. They are what I have been thinking about recently. Currently, I work with Perch and WordPress and have used Craft CMS and Squarespace in demo/trial mode; so, my knowledge of these is less.

Things I want

Not prioritised. Just a list.

  • Great theme designs that I can customise (if the project requirements and budget are limited).
  • Full control of all code.
  • Quick to build a site (turn-round times, I always feel that I need to get more projects done).
  • No bloat.
  • Live preview mode (a nice-to-have, mainly for clients).
  • Cheap to buy (software costs) if the project budget is low.
  • Feelgood factor (I want to work with systems that are a joy to use).

I probably don't have to explain most of the above but live preview might need more explanation. Obviously, it's not an essential requirement but I think it's a great selling point for clients. And I like editing a post with live preview. I just do, so there. It's not fully indicative of a responsive design, yes I know that, and I explain that to clients.

Some CMS options


  • Does a lot of the above.
  • Great themes and the Genesis framework is very good.
  • But, unless I custom build a site (with longer project times), I don’t have full control of all code.
  • Ecommerce with easy to use and comprehensive WooCommerce plugins.
  • Bloat (sometimes).
  • Incredibly popular.
  • I'm getting more and more WordPress site updates and maintenance jobs at the moment.


I saw another developer/designer's site where they specialise in Squarespace sites and had fixed price packages for that. That's an interesting niche/specialism. And, one of my clients moved to Squarespace so I have signed up for a 14-day trial to see what it can do.

  • Great designs with a lot of customisation (CSS editing and code blocks) but no control of the code output.
  • Nice interactive editing experience. I don't have clients on the system but I'm sure some of them would love it.
  • Best for small sites with limited functionality (but isn't that most of my sites?)
  • Not entirely sure how I would move/export a full site from here. But, it's possible to export some of the site into an .xml file that can be imported into WordPress.


  • It's a great system that I love working with (given the right projects).
  • No theme marketplace. Yes, but website themes/templates (Bootstrap, HTML5 Up).
  • If not a website theme/template, projects would need a custom design - which I would prefer - but this cannot be done with smaller budget (£1000) projects.
  • No live preview.
  • Fully customisable and with full control.
  • The shop add-on is very customisable and has some great features.
  • Not sure I could focus solely on Perch sites and get enough work ... although that might be a nice thing to aim for.

Craft CMS

  • I liked the admin when I tried a demo.
  • Learning curve for me because of how it is organised (nomenclature) and templating system.
  • Does have live preview.
  • Fully customisable and full control of code.
  • Fits the same type of projects as Perch (custom builds).
  • Craft Shop is above my typical project budget.

Much of the above is dictated by my position as a freelancer in the low-to-medium end of the market. I'm not 'bargain basement' but I'm still pretty cheap (I think). My projects are (typically) small business brochure and online shop sites.

OK, that's it for now. All comments welcome. If you think I'm comparing the wrong things, let me know!

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  • 14 Jun 2016 09:27:42

    A good read Clive! I definitely think Perch and Craft CMS are the way to go with any web build – sticking to the whole ideology that “the right CMS is a customised one”. I think it’s entirely possible to only accept projects using these as well. Although I’m not 100% freelance (as I also have a full time job), I now don’t accept any WordPress jobs. This has worked really well for me, and all my clients so far have been open to trying a new CMS – moving away from WordPress in most cases, and they’ve absolutely loved their experience of using a CMS that is tailored to their individual requirements. Sure, there is a cost compared to WordPress (and I agree, Craft’s is a little pricey in my opinion) but if we explain to the client the benefits of using a tailored CMS, they’ll hopefully see that the benefits outweigh the cost.

  • 15 Jun 2016 05:33:33

    Thanks for your comments Philip. Interesting to hear how you have moved away from WordPress. I need to sell the benefits that Perch is a CMS tailored to individual requirements more when I’m talking with potential clients. I still have the budget issue though, some projects just don’t have the budget to do any more than customise a WordPress theme. How do you deal with that? Presumably, you don’t take those projects on?

  • 15 Jun 2016 10:01:47

    I’ve accepted a couple of fairly low budget sites (circa £1k), and when doing these I’ve used a CSS framework to save on time but I’ve still done a custom design for them. What’s helped me speed up the process greatly is the likes of Perch – I can integrate the CMS in these sites within 1-1.5 days in most cases. What I found with WordPress is that it takes considerably longer – especially when building your own template, but also when making major changes to an existing template. That and the fact that most of the time I had to rely on third party plugins that’d break, led me to walk away from WordPress. Nearly every time there was a security update required, a plugin broke and I ended up losing lots of time maintaining the sites. Luckily, all my clients have taken my advice to pay for Perch – so I haven’t needed to turn down projects yet, but I likely would if the client wasn’t open to using Craft or Perch. I don’t know if that makes me narrow-minded? I just think our time is equally important as the client’s.

  • 15 Jun 2016 20:06:06

    Hey Clive. I’ve used Craft to build the last 2 versions of my personal site. I absolutely love it as it gives full control, but it has absolutely NOTHING out of the box in terms of themes or templates. You have to write all your html/css from scratch then use Craft’s Twig templating to make it all work. I think that’s how Perch works too, right?

    I’ve not built any client sites for a long time now, as I’m back working fulltime. But if I were doing site builds, I would not use WordPress anymore; it’s just awful from a templating point of view and so slow and bloated. It’s another reason why I ended up not building a template business: I couldn’t stand the idea of having to work with WordPress! (And I would have needed to to make any money.)

  • 16 Jun 2016 18:44:41

    Hi Matt. Thanks for your comments. Yes, I see Perch and Craft as the same approach although Craft uses Twig and Perch has standard HTML & its own template tags. You’re right, both of them are ideally suited for custom build sites and that’s part of my ‘problem’. Whilst I would love to be taking on that type of project all the time, the reality is that budgets, at least for me, often dictate that theme customisation is the best approach… and that’s where WordPress fits in. I know what you mean though with its disadvantages.

    Having said that, I do need to investigate an approach where I take a Bootstrap template, for example, and 'Perch-ify' it because, with the right project, that's an alternative. WordPress and its themes are tough to ignore though!

  • 04 Jul 2016 09:03:12

    Well! Wordpress is the best CMS to start with, as it is easy to use and can be customized as per your needs. … and I feel security issues is weak in a wordpress site.

  • 16 Sep 2016 09:53:49

    Wordpress would be my personal favourite. It’s free. It supports millions of websites today. It’s customizable. It is regularly updated. It has a very large community. A large community support especially for an open source software ensures that bugs and other problems are easily weeded out.

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