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A shill is someone who engages in covert advertising, pushing a product they have a personal or professional interest in.

A “CMS shill” is a name I have coined to describe someone and something I see a lot of in my day-to-day work: designers, SEOs and others who can’t program indiscriminately push a CMS (a piece of web software that runs your site and allows you to manage its contents) regardless of clients’ requirements.

Without getting too sidetracked, CMSs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but for the purpose of this blog I will refer to three types:

  1. Pre-developed CMS/framework. A piece of software already developed. You pay someone to install it and customise it to your needs. There are scores of these available; most are free though some do incur a one-off cost but it’s rarely expensive.
  2. Hosted solution. These are almost always commercial and you pay a recurring fee for the company that owns it to host if for you. Some of these are designed and built in-house by agencies.
  3. Bespoke site. A bespoke site is designed and built to your needs. It will likely use existing pieces of software to speed up development but on a more modular level. The end result will be something unique to your needs.

So, which is the right one for you—and which one is better?

The point is they all have their own strengths and weaknesses and this is why it is not a good idea to use a CMS shill as I will explain in more detail.

A CMS shill will typically have a platform in mind before you tell them your website requirements. I consider this to be extremely unprofessional and a sign of poor workmanship. It’s both ignorant and selfish.

CMS shills are ignorant

Often, CMS shills recommend their platform of choice because they don’t know any better. For example, I see a lot of SEOs use WordPress for everything. Although it is beyond the scope of this blog, this ubiquitous CMS has an alarming amount of drawbacks that only a developer can appreciate. The default range of functionality is so narrow some developers even object to it being called a CMS—yet it is used by default for thousands of websites.

This is just one example; there is no CMS out there that does everything perfectly so using the same one for everything guarantees you’ll only ever please some of the people some of the time. Almost all non-developers I have come across that are CMS shills have never tried anything else so their recommendations are always made out of ignorance.

CMS shills are selfish

Choosing the same CMS for everything often suits the provider and not the client. I’ve seen agencies that have some fine in-house CMSs but they aren’t always the right tool for the right job. However, it’s more convenient and profitable for them to use something that takes less time and they can host it in-house.

Likewise, because some freelance designers know a particular CMS they will push it every time as it would take them too long to learn something else—or they don’t want to use a developer and sacrifice some of their profit.

Clients can be CMS shills too

Sometimes clients will ask you to use a CMS before they’ve briefed you on what they want. Usually, it’s because they’ve heard its cheaper. I always suggest we decide after some investigation. If they persist, however, I decline to quote. I personally don’t do “cheap” jobs so I always turn these people down.

The solution

Here are my tips to avoid using a CMS shill:

  1. If someone is quick to recommend a CMS, ask them what else they’ve considered.
  2. Always, always, always make sure a developer (not a designer or SEO) has considered your requirements.
  3. My real bugbear is the amount of non-technical people that are trying to skim some cream off the web development industry. If you’re involved in building websites, even in a design or marketing capacity, you should have a reasonable knowledge of how websites work (most I’ve dealt with don’t). I have worked for well over a decade in the design, development and marketing of websites. I have no agenda to push and I am no shill. I have used loads of systems and built hundreds of websites from scratch.

Try me out and call me on 07843 483 078 or get a free quote online.

Tim Bennett is a freelance web designer from Leeds. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.