Websites & Apps

Why we’re falling in love with Craft CMS

The Motum web department is swooning over the B2B benefits of Craft. Here’s why. By MOTUM B2B May 22, 2018

In the wonderful world of web development, new platforms are always coming and going out of fashion. Motum B2B has worked with a variety of technologies over the years, always on the lookout for a better content management system (CMS) that meets the unique needs of our B2B clients.

After years of searching, we’ve discovered Craft CMS, a platform developed by Pixel & Tonic. The latest iteration, Craft 3, has developer communities raving about its flexibility, security and ease of use for content managers.

We’re very excited about our conversion to Craft, and we think you should be, too. We sat down with a few members of Motum’s web development team to talk about the platform and its benefits.

What do we look for in a CMS?

“Something that is easy to develop on the developer’s side, and friendly for content editors,” says Chris Fantauzzi, Front-End Development Lead at Motum B2B.

In web development circles, Craft has been touted as the anti-WYSIWYG. For those not versed in the lingo, a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG, get it?) editor lets you create web pages or documents in a form that closely mirrors what you’ll see as the end result.

These often pose problems for content authors who are less experienced on the development end.

“WYSIWYG editors are frequently filled with programmatic code and styling hooks that are hard to understand for anyone who isn’t a web developer,” says Chris. “It can easily be broken without intermediate-level code knowledge.”

The advent of Craft eliminates the need for coding experience on the content management side.

 

Enter the Matrix

That brings us to one of the main draws to Craft: a feature called Matrix fields. The CMS lets you create Matrix fields made up of custom blocks that authors can pick and choose while creating content.

In other words, Matrix fields give authors the flexibility to create engaging, varied pages with a high degree of control over how content is input into the CMS.

According to Chris, Craft lets you do this “without ever seeing a line of code.” The fields are easily identified and help create rich, highly extendable content without help from an external developer.

“It’s kind of a build once, use it many times approach,” says Chris. “Programmatically, because the actual guts of the code are controlled on the developer end, we can make sure it’s maintainable and version-trackable — we can iterate and implement new things site-wide without needing to tweak individual pages.”

99 problems but a site ain't one

Craft CMS is so light because you only use what you need, whereas other CMSs often come loaded with extras. Mark Whiting, VP of Technology at Motum B2B, says it's a lot like buying a Swiss Army knife with 100 tools when you just need a can opener.

"In other CMSs, you have to hook everything into the 99 extra tools you aren't using," Mark explains. "The extras slow down your site and add cost and time to the development budget."

"One-size-fits-all website builders will never fit as well as a bespoke CMS," he adds.

With Craft, your Swiss Army knife can have as few or as many tools as you'd like.

Craft’s Entry Types add more structure to the whole endeavor, allowing you to store and define multiple types of content in different shapes and sizes. Picture a news page with videos, long-form news, short “blurbs,” podcasts and external links.

“A traditional CMS approaches this with a one-size-fits-all solution, whereas the granularity in Craft CMS allows us to identify these as separate entry types. We build each one to have some shared fields and some unique fields to that entry type, which can then be extended for added variety.”

Craft has another shiny new feature to help content authors visualize their changes: it’s called live preview.

As content editors make changes or additions to their website via the CMS, live preview lets them sneak a peek at the results.

Motum recently saw the Matrix fields and live preview functionalities in action while working with a client.

Our web team used Matrix fields to create a column and row builder for the client’s website, allowing for a completely customizable layout. The client’s content manager created rich layouts full of complex functionality while watching everything take shape on the fly.

“We built an interactive in full HTML5 and SVG animated interactive with content that was completely powered and customizable via Craft CMS,” Chris adds. “The client was able to live preview and position elements and content without needing to come back to us.”

Fitting squares into squares and circles into circles

As a B2B marketing agency, Motum serves clients with very specific needs. One day we might build a standard news area on a client’s website, while the next day we create an interactive 3D model of a product with tips and options.

With platforms like WordPress, that often means stripping down unneeded functionalities and finding plugins (or writing our own) to create the capabilities and relationships we need for the job, which feels a lot like fitting squares into circles — or circles into Squarespace, as it were.

On the other hand, Chris says, “Craft CMS is a bottom up approach that builds the CMS around your needs.” Instead of spending time scrapping superfluous functions, you can start with the basic building blocks for a lighter experience.

A word of caution, though: Craft’s customizability is also one of its caveats. The platform has been lauded for its flexibility but isn’t as widely used as others, because it’s more challenging for developers.

“You can still create a bad Craft website,” Chris warns. “You need an experienced developer to approach it with a data-focused mindset.”

The right tool for the job

To be clear, we’re not hatin’ on other CMSs. The market has favored different platforms over the years, changing along with users’ needs, but the current shift indicates a more content-focused approach to website development. Craft does this well, but it’s not universally applicable.

Motum builds plenty of custom business tools and projects that aren’t necessarily geared for a content-focused audience. For that reason, says Chris, we always ask, “What is the best possible tech we have in our toolbelt for this job?”

Initiating new Craft converts

To leverage the benefits of Craft CMS in an existing website, developers must invest time in converting the site to the new platform. While that’s not a herculean task in itself, it requires careful planning.

To make the switch, Motum looks at the existing site through a “Craft” lens. We determine the number of unique entry types and fields and then conduct a full content inventory of resources, static pages and other so-called “buckets” of content on the site.

“This is a good time to use that dataflow mindset to plan everything ahead of time,” Chris explains.

Leave it to the pros

Mark stresses that while Craft excels at streamlining the content management process, it still requires an ongoing relationship with an experienced development team.

"Craft requires a lot of discussion and hand-off between the content manager and the technical developer," he says. "It can't be taken from zero to built by a non-technical dev, but once built it will be easier to use and less confusing for a non-technical user."

For businesses considering conversion or a new website build in Craft, Chris recommends keeping a consistent, open conversation between the content editor and the developer.

“While it’s possible to build a Craft site, hand it off and let it live with the client forever, Craft makes it easy to rapidly prototype, change and add features,” he says. “If there’s a gap in functionality — which could be as simple as missing a pull quote or as complex as adding an interactive feature — having that conversation with the developer helps you decide if it’s worth the effort.”

“This helps the content editor grow beyond the tools they have, and instead look to the future for the content they could build.”

Motum plans to finish our own conversion to Craft CMS in June. The web department, and our office in general, has been buzzing with excitement about the change.

“In the web world, things move so fast that it’s hard to find something truly magical,” says Chris. “We’ve been searching a long time for a CMS like this. We work in an industry with really unique demands, and our clients don’t have one-size-fits-all needs. Craft lets us mold our sites to fit our exact vision.”

 


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