This is the question I’ve been tossing around with a few people lately, and it seems to be a relatively important thing to consider right now. But before I get into the discussion, let me define what (for these purposes) we’re considering a ‘backend system’:
- A backend system:
- A content management system (CMS), blogging system, wiki platform, or other general use software system that allows for ease of publication and maintenance. This system is most often database driven, whether via a flat-file database and linked files or a standardized database system (such as MySQL, Access, etc..). A backend system can be home-brewed / designed from scratch, a custom modified package system, or a standard package system.
Given this definition is essentially the perspective to look at this question from – should all new sites be developed with this type of backend involved?
I believe that, when possible, one should always try to develop new sites with a backend system. Why? Well, that’s what I’m going to talk about here.
First of all, the problems discussed by many websites owners are often directly related to a difficulty in updating or changing the website. For example, let’s assume that you create a website for a client that is not tech savvy in the slightest, yet they insist that when it is done they want to maintain it themselves. (If you are new to the web design business, trust me, there are many people out there like that.) What to do in this situation?
Well, you could try to hard-sell them on a maintenance plan, convince them that they are unable to do this on their own, maybe even refuse to create the site with them agreeing to a maintenance plan, and generally make them feel as if they are incompetent. The thing is, I don’t believe that a site -should- be that difficult for them to do basic updates to. Now, if they want to change the entire look of it all from scratch, then yes, they’re very likely out of their range. But adding or updating a link? Adding a current news notice? They should be able to do that.
My perspective is to empower the user, yet I’ll also hear many people disagree with me on this issue as well. I’ve heard web developers talk about how using easy backend systems, and giving their clients the ability to use them for basic updating, cuts into their monthly maintenance fees. I won’t argue that, it does to a degree. However, I think it ends up being of a greater benefit in the long run.
People like to feel like they understand things, aka: no one likes to feel stupid. Empowering your clients in small ways can benefit your reputation significantly. As we know, a large amount of new work for web developers comes from referrals, and making your customer feel good about your service AND themselves in the deal, works out good for you. Wouldn’t you like to hear praise from a referral, for instance something like:
We have seen that you make a good website, but my friend also told me that you also make it really easy to use. That’s what we’re looking for.
So what is the trade-off? How do you compensate for losing a bit of that monthly maintenance fee? Well, to begin with, I’ve already mentioned that creating easy to use sites will absolutely help you in those referrals. New business = more money.
However, let’s talk about some other basics. Let’s say they have a problem using the backend system, you can charge a technical support fee on a per hour basis. Now, that is not license to make the backend system complicated to try to increase those technical support calls. That entirely defeats the goal of more referrals from ease of use.
Next, you can upsell them periodically. Let’s say that you give them a WordPress backend. Were I to do that they would not have full rights access to the plugins or theme areas because those require a bit more technical skill to use and understand. Yet WordPress has thousands of plugins made that add functionality. Send them out a notice, give them a call, and tell them about some new feature you can add to their site and how much it costs for you to add it. A new feature can run them anywhere from a super low installation price of a quote of the day addition, to a more complex install (higher price) of something like a Vanilla web forum for their website that is linked to their WordPress user database.
Overall, you don’t have to lose money, you can just make it in different ways. The added benefit is that while you are doing all this, creating easy to use sites, bettering your reputation, etc… you can very very slowly start charging more for your services. People are often willing to pay a little bit more for something that will be easy for them to use.
Another reason I think it’s a good idea to use backend systems is the concept of distributed content. RSS feeds are an absolute must-have these days, and the great part is that most backend systems include that capability automatically. Additionally, many backend systems have various plugins that can be used with ease, and you can make the site as simple or as complex as you need.
Once upon a time, backend systems were only for the ‘big boys’. The major sites. Huge communities. Now… I think it’s a value added investment for both the developer and the user. The user gets to feel empowered and can update their site easier. The developer gets the benefit of having a much easier time updating and adding features, and the increased potential for referrals.
Beyond that, sites with a backend system are often extremely fast to develop – assuming the developer knows how to use the system well. For my part, I can have a WordPress system installed and running with several plugins added and a few additional themes working within 30 minutes. Compare that to the hours of creating from scratch, and you have a huge benefit in saved time, and that only makes the client happier! Not only did you give them something good and easy to use, but you also did it all really fast! Wow, you really know your stuff 🙂 While I may say that with a cheeky smile, don’t underestimate the value and effort it takes to truly learn a backend system inside and out. It’s a skill, like anything else. Just like with anything, the better you know the system, the faster you are.
A word of warning: Do not suggest new backend systems that you do not know how to use. That -should- be straightforward, but alot of people run across something that seems ‘cool’ and ‘new’ and decide to try it out on their client. Big mistake. Try it out on yourself. Learn it. What if it isn’t what you thought it was? Never use something on a client site that you haven’t used yourself first. Experiment with new systems, find what you like. Personally I tend to prefer WordPress and Expression Engine for a good deal of things, but that doesn’t mean that those two will suit every situation. You have to keep abreast of new developments in technology, and have fun with it.