It’s an increasingly common question — can, and should I blog without using a CMS? Here's an expert opinion from an industry insider with 20 years of experience.
It’s an increasingly common question — can, and should I blog without using a CMS?
The answer is actually not so easy.
There are lots of factors to take into account, and it’s not likely you’ll be able to come to a concrete, informed decision super quickly. Luckily, however, I have years (well, decades) of experience blogging, and I’ve done so using both content management systems and without.
In this post I’m going to give you a thorough breakdown of the top perks of NOT using a CMS for blogging, as well as the worst pain points associated with not doing so.
So let’s get right in.
First, though, an important note about blogging and whether you should be considering it at all.
- Should I write a blog?
- Should I publish this blog post?
- Is this information really going to be read by anyone?
- I’m bored and demotivated, should I blog anyway?
The answer to all the above is a resounding: YES!
Many people don’t realize it, but blogging is one of the largest drivers of online success in 2019.
It’s arguably one of your most important strategies to drive traffic to your website, and more importantly, to sell your ideas, products and services to potential clients.
To me, blogging is a no-brainer.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it personally accounts for the majority of my business-related tasks. Because of my busy schedule, I’m not able to blog every single day (oh yes, there really ARE bloggers who do this!), but the total amount of time I dedicate during my typical work week is largely focused on blogging.
My goal is always to produce blog posts of value, strong opinion, and helpfulness. My aim with every single one of my posts is to help people who might be looking for answers or solutions to questions that they have.
And from a personal point of view, I also read blog posts a lot. I really like reading. Always have. But there’s a lot more to it than that — I don’t spend my time reading just anything. No no. I spend my time reading as many relevant, information-rich, time-worthy blog posts within my industry of work as I possibly can!
It’s great to be able to soak in all the information that’s so wonderfully made available by my colleagues in the industry, and even in other related verticals.
Blogging, for me, is both a job and one of my favorite hobbies. I even read (and write) blog posts while I’m soaking in my nightly bubble bath… no joke.
Anyway, enough about my personal feelings on the matter.
I was recently talking to a web development client. Their business needed a completely revamped website, complete with all the modern bells and whistles, had to be mobile friendly, and stand out amongst its industry.
My thoughts? "Great! Sounds like a project I definitely want to work on."
And it was, I think I did a great job.
The client was really great to interact with, and we shared many fun moments along the couple of months that we worked so closely together.
But, there was one sticking point that kept coming up during the process.
And without beating around the bush — they were unsure about their blog. Well, that, but also the business owner didn’t like the idea of blogging. In fact, the way he described it to me was as follows:
“I know we really need to blog, supposedly, but I just don’t buy blogging. I don’t think it really makes much difference to the way businesses run. I think blogs are just a load of garbage strewn together, just because websites think they should have one. I don’t really want one.”
I was shocked.
Just kidding, I wasn’t really.
It’s a surprisingly common situation for web developers to find themselves in. And it’s even more common for business owners to feel this way, without actually voicing their thoughts and concerns to their team (or web developer).
I think it’s pretty safe to say that there are many business owners/marketers/content writers/website administrators (etc) who just don’t buy blogging.
They simply don’t feel that it adds value, and this would mean that they’re wasting an incredible amount of time, money and resources on sustaining their blog. The very blog that they believe is causing a leak in profit and subtly influencing the decreasing value of their bottom line.
A lot of people have a strong resentment toward blogging.
And if you’re one of those people, don’t worry: I totally get it.
I’ve worked for (and with) many businesses over the course of my experience, and I’ve seen first-hand just how stressful the whole “blogging” scene can become.
It can cause intense amounts of friction within a business.
Oftentimes, a few members of the team completely believe that blogging is the winning solution to the brand’s problems with Google search traffic, low social sharing, digital marketing, and user engagement.
But almost certainly, you’ll have an (even larger) group of the team who sit on the complete opposite end of the spectrum (or the table at the weekly review meeting).
And as someone who has personally written hundreds and hundreds of blog content pieces and posts in my time, take it from me: I know that blogging is really hard.
The harder it gets, and the greater the strain on business resources, the worse of a business engagement blogging seems to become.
Unfortunately, it’s almost never a quick-fix solution to bettering a brand’s online marketing, and this leaves many team members and more importantly, managers, dissatisfied and demotivated. Change of game plan? Actually, no. Not just yet.
It’s all well and good taking emotions and personal pain points into account, but as with any marketing strategy, it’s important for us to look at the data.
Oftentimes, the raw, hard facts are going to paint a more accurate picture of what the real benefits and drawbacks are. Data and statistics are super important for any good marketer or businessperson to pay attention to.
Having a keen eye for detail, and a thirst for statistical data is one of the biggest keys to success. It helps decision makers and employees see past their personal biases, and further forward into the factual evidence that either supports or slanders any theory or practice.
So, (time to take a huge deep breath), let’s get into some of the raw data about blogging in 2019.
Orbit Media has some great information and resources, having performed and curated several up-to-date blogging studies.
- It takes 3.5 hours to write a blog post in 2018,
- The percentage of bloggers who report strong results, in correlation with time spent writing, is almost 38.8%,
- Most bloggers report that posts more than 2000 words have the strongest results, by far,
- The percentage of bloggers who report stronger results either blog daily, 2-6 times per week, or weekly — with the best results seen for bloggers who write multiple times a day.
Orbit concluded that, overall, the least common methods of blogging produced the highest performing results. In a nutshell, that means that you need to start doing everything that your competition isn't.
The study also found that bloggers who...
- Work with professional editors,
- Collaborate with influencers,
- Use paid promotion channels,
- Add video to most of their blog content,
- Write guest posts for other blogs 25% of the time, or more,
- And create original content based on studies that they've conducted themselves
... are far more likely to see strong, well-performing results from blogging.
Well, this is pretty self-explanatory. Clearly, the data speaks for itself. In 2019, blogging is big business. And doing it in a way that differentiates your content from the competition is key to success. I mean, that's pretty evident — and as far as I'm concerned, this data is pretty strong.
I think it would be a big mistake not to follow it, or at least adopt a blogging strategy somewhat based on this strong, statistical evidence.
Should I Use a CMS for Blogging?
CMS stands for content management system. And the content management system rose to fame in the early 2000s, becoming a stable for website development and blogging by 2005.
Fast forward another 5 years to 2010, and the CMS was “the way” to create a dynamic, functional website. And by far, the most popular means of blogging online.
And WordPress, the most popular CMS across the world, now powering over 30% of the web’s 1 billion estimated total websites, completely redefined the meaning of blogging.
Prior to the undeniable popularity of WordPress, popular blogging platforms such as Blogspot, Blogger, and Tumblr were the online go-tos for publishing written content on the web.
Website builders quickly followed, with the likes of Webs (FreeWebs), Weebly, Wix (and now Squarespace) opening up additional avenues for blogging online.
And for the most part, all of these platforms are free.
They’re intuitive, easy to use, and completely redefine the art of blogging. Now writers can focus on the quality of their raw content, rather than managing the bells and whistles of website design, that go hand in hand with “creating” a website or a blog from scratch.
Adding to the powerful ecosystem a little further, premium website template vendors began to appear, and the process of blogging quickly became one of only one discipline: writing good content.
I mean, it’s easy to see how and why this works.
While Blogger, Medium, and Blogspot have their perks, a CMS is clearly the way to go in terms of blogging today.
Content management systems allow blog owners to create a functional, good looking, and interactive blog, jam-packed with interactive media and mobile-ready content, with only a few dollars spent and minimal time lost.
On the other hand, the older, more traditional alternatives (cue Blogger), don’t allow for nearly as much flexibility and power.
Today, these monolithic tools are akin to what the dinosaurs would have used to share knowledge and information.
Reminder: dinosaurs are extinct.
So, I think that paints a pretty good picture of how, and why content management systems stepped in, and precisely the way they manipulated the blogging market.
And they manipulated the heck out of it. In a good way.
Arguably, a CMS is the best way to get started with blogging in 2019.
Or rather, that’s what we’re told.
As any good online marketer, business owner, or blog author, it’s a good idea to understand the mechanisms behind the tools that you are using, and familiarize yourself with the real benefits and drawbacks of the tool you wish to use.
Quite certainly, it’s been engrained in us all that content management systems are key to running and maintaining a successful twenty-first-century blog.
But is that really the case? As a general rule, I tend not to trust marketing — or rather, what companies try to sell me. Open-source or not. And if you’re anything like me, you’re also wondering:
But is a CMS really the best solution for blogging?
A little bit about me: I’ve been in the web development business for two decades. I’ve built, managed, and maintained hundreds of websites during that time, and I’ve written hundreds of blog posts during my time in the industry. Research is also one of my biggest hobbies, and is something I devote time to both in and out of work. And of course, I’m spending that time researching raw data, reading papers, and conducting my own mini-studies, in order to prove what I read for myself.
I think that by this point, I have some good knowledge on both the best use cases for content management systems, as well as how to build and maintain a successful blog.
So let’s get into the pros of using a CMS for blogging.
Why use a CMS for Blogging?
To me, this is really quite simple. The very definition of a CMS is that it aids you in the management of your content.
“Content” management system.
But how does that help you exactly?
Well, as a baseline, it means that all of your content can reside in one place.
It’s indefinitely accessible to you, there aren’t any issues with loss of content (accidentally deleting files from Microsoft Word or Google Docs on your laptop), and you can easily make changes and updates to your blog (and its design, structure, and layout) without losing anything.
The best part of all is that this is incredibly easy with the use of a CMS. You aren’t required to have any specific knowledge — in fact, you don’t even need a technical background.
But these points are quite clearly no-brainers. Really, I’m just scratching the surface.
So, after about 10 seconds of thinking, here’s a slightly longer list of some of the top reasons that using a CMS for your blog is going to be beneficial:
Your content management system works by maintaining a database of your entire blog, and all of your content.
That includes media files, such as images, video, and attachments like PDFs (well, these are usually stored on your server, but are made accessible in blog posts via the database).
If you ever decide to upgrade, move, or even take the site off air, you’ve got all of your blog contents stored in one place.
Content management systems allow you practically infinite options for the organization of your content. Most CMS’s allow you to create categories (and sub-categories) for all of your content, which you can select when creating each new post.
Or, you can update posts to fit into a better category structure if you decide to later revise it in the future.
One of the brilliant things about using a CMS for blogging is that switching the categories of your posts won’t upset the layout or structuring of the blog. Everything will just work.
CMS’s allow you to structure your content in an organized way, such as using categories (as I explained above).
But beyond that, many content management systems also allow you to group your blog posts by date, so users can easily view posts created in any specific month, or any given year.
With tagging, even more flexibility is possible, in terms of structure. Here’s an explanation:
Each piece of content can be individually ‘tagged’, and it’s common for content writers to assign multiple tags per blog post. Tags help users filter down even further into the blog’s content.
They work quite simply, really.
Let’s say you create a blog post about ‘the Best Operating System for Web Development’, you can then tag that post with ‘Microsoft’, ‘Apple’, ‘Windows’, ‘Mac’, and ‘Linux’.
Usually, tags will display either at the top or bottom of the post. The tags help users in two ways. Firstly, it helps them understand the points in the blog post at a glance, and second — if they click a given tag, they can read all posts which include the same specific tag.
You might not have a ‘Windows’ category on your blog since you don’t tend to blog about operating systems very often.
But by clicking the tag, the user can see a list of all previous blog posts you’ve made in which you also discuss Windows. Tags are beneficial from a user’s standpoint, but also from an SEO perspective.
SEO-wise, it also helps search engines like Google and Bing understand what you cover in the post, and creates a good list of the posts where you discuss the same topic. Easy.
You may not pay much attention to it now, but your blog audience will actually play a huge role in your blogging efforts.
For instance, features such as commenting and newsletter subscription rely on the ability of your blog to accept user interaction. Whether that’s in the form of account registration or simple forms scattered around the blog, user forms play an integral role.
In fact, allowing user-generated content (such as comments!) on your blog can increase engagement by 61%.
And of course, we all know about the benefits of offering a subscription newsletter for the busier people amongst your blog’s audience. Having a list of the email addresses of your readers is a great means of marketing for any online blog or business.
I’ve discussed blog commenting in my previous point (above), but I wanted to dive in a little deeper and explain this more thoroughly for you.
Not only can comments increase the user engagement rate on your blog, but one important thing to note is that most content management systems actually come with native support for commenting, out the box.
This means that users can actually leave their thoughts on each blog post, and their comments can be moderated, approved, or removed directly from within the CMS dashboard, by the blog owner.
This is great functionality, because using native comments allows you to store them in the CMS’s database.
That means, once again, that the comments will all be kept in one place, and are easily accessible by you at any time in the future. Moving websites or migrating web hosts won’t pose a problem.
No matter what the future looks like, you won’t lose your audience’s precious comments and opinions, since they’re all stored within the same database.
Comments are a great way to build user engagement, since they encourage active reader participation in the blog. Additionally, comments allow users to peruse the opinions of their peers, which, as humans, we’re hardwired to appreciate.
Not only this, but from an SEO standpoint, comments are like gold dust. They can help boost your rankings by providing more relevance and context to each of your blog posts.
Not least, but comments also encourage users to keep coming back to your blog, as well as foster the use of social sharing. Really, they’re a win-win for everybody involved.
Gone are the days of platforms like Blogger, where blog owners weren’t able to integrate additional features and functionality into their blogs.
In 2019, users are demanding more from blogs.
And more than ever before. Users want the ability to easily share posts on social media, to be able to log in with Facebook to leave their comments on your posts, and they want additional relevant pages and products of interest on your blog.
If you’re blogging about books, they’ll want to see all your best links and resources for finding and purchasing the best books online. They want to know your recommendations, and your sources.
They also want the ability to filter through posts in numerous ways, and they’re tired of the same old mundane text-only posts. Digital audiences are even tired of infographics by this point.
Users want media. Multimedia.
They want beautiful visuals. They want impressive displays of multiple, swipe-able images, they want video, audio, and free downloads.
They want to be able to subscribe to the blog so that they can access all your latest eBooks, and they want a weekly digest of all your hottest posts.
The monolithic dinosaur blogging platforms of the past simply aren’t capable of delivering the kind of user experience that online audiences are seeking today.
Content alone is no longer enough. Not really. Oftentimes, a CMS is the only accessible way that non-technical folk can integrate the kind of additional features that users in 2019 are going to love and appreciate. And as we all know — users who appreciate your blog will come back.
And not only will you love that, but so will search engines. Hello higher rankings.
Using a content management system, updates to older posts can be made easily, without struggle.
This is actually really important. Over time, it’s becoming clearer that blog posts are much less time-sensitive than previously thought. The concept of ‘evergreen content’ basically refers to content that remains fresh, relevant, and useful not just now, but also in years to come.
In this scenario, the solution actually lies more so in updating your outdated content, rather than just creating completely new content.
I mean, since you’ve already got the basis of the blog post down already, updating a couple of paragraphs to reflect fresh knowledge and information about your topic (whether business-related or personal) is a simple task that can be repeated time and time again.
And while this process can indeed take a lot of time and thought, it’s made infinitely easier by means of a CMS.
The content management system provides a great mechanism for updating older content. Quite literally, the hardest part of the task is finding the old content you want to update.
And that’s no trouble at all. But in avoiding use of a CMS, you’re making this seemingly simple task a lot more challenging and mundane.
Publishing new posts
Of course, then we have the creation and publishing of new posts. Content management systems allow you to draft posts, duplicate posts, and modify posts with ease.
All the structural tools for categorization and tagging are also really easy to access and use. Publishing new posts in a CMS is as easy as a few clicks — after writing, of course.
Instantly, the post will display wherever it should — in the associated categories, on the relevant tag pages, and also in your time-related archives.
And since updating old posts is so easy, you can even link to the new post from others with ease. But without a CMS, proper distribution across your entire blog becomes a challenge when new posts are created.
And that poses a little problem, since the distribution of the post around the blog itself is clearly important, as this article explains.
Staying up to date with industry trends
Because the web is changing so drastically every few years, design trends shift and change, and in utilizing a CMS for your blog you’re positioning yourself in the best way to stay on top of this.
Content management systems, by design, allow website and blog owners to make changes and modifications which are applied site-wide.
The key selling point of the CMS here, is that these changes are applied globally without any additional work being required. It doesn’t become exponentially more challenging if you have a greater number of blog posts.
The level of difficulty in updating or re-hauling the blog remains pretty much the same… whether you have 15 blog posts, or 1,500 pieces of content.
This is really key.
Let’s use the emergence of responsive web design as an example. Before responsive design, blogs were typically supportive only of desktop browsers.
Mobile users had to suffer with the inevitable pinch-and-zoom mechanism that we’re all so familiar with.
It was quite like zooming in on a picture. But worse.
Upon zooming, the wrapping of the text on the page would become a challenge to navigate, as you had to manually scroll horizontally across a 5 or-so inch smartphone screen, in order to read much at all.
Factor in pictures and media elements, and this was just a disaster.
When responsive web design hit the scene, the entire mindset and workflow of the web design and development industry changed seemingly overnight.
And of course, blogs were one of the most affected. The key to serving users a successful blog lies in the ability for its audience to read and absorb the information, irrespective of device.
And with the emergence of responsive web design, this very quickly became a recognized industry standard. It’s hard to imagine a website or blog today that isn’t responsive.
In fact, when I come across a blog today that isn’t, I immediately swipe straight back to the search results — 99% of the other listings are mobile-friendly, and these are the blogs that will have my business.
It’s hard for me to imagine how a blog that wasn’t running on a CMS would have coped with such a global shift like this.
How would each individual page and blog post be updated to provide better mobile support, and integrate responsive design techniques?
It’s an awful thought. I hate to even envisage how I would have managed it.
I’m glad that we’ve reached the point where responsive design is now an industry standard, and a basic standard at that.
Websites, and blogs in particular, aren’t even designed non-responsive anymore. But that doesn’t mean you can rest easy.
There will be more shifts in industry trends, specifications, and standards. There are changes like this every few years. It’s the nature of the web, and the nature of design.
Content management systems, and the ecosystems that are built around them, are a great solution to this problem, because they work well at managing site-wide updates and changes.
If your blog’s design were to change in the future, in order to support a new or emerging technology, for example, it would be imperative that things are updated as quickly as possible.
And as far as I’m concerned, content management systems are easily the most efficient, effective method of ensuring this happens quickly.
And best of all, with open source content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, you aren’t alone. The global communities of these CMS’s are in the millions. Many millions.
And that means you can pretty much count on there being a solution that makes the process even easier. Without a CMS, this would be an impossible task, as everything would have to be updated manually.
And in a case like that, it really would matter whether you had 15 blog posts, or 1,500. Scary.
Blogging Without a CMS
So, we’ve discussed the benefits of using a CMS for blogging. In all honesty, I think that should be sufficient to sway anyone’s mind! In the way of a CMS, that is.
But seriously though, it would take a solution fairly unique to try and beat the fight put up by content management systems.
They’re great tools, and in the right hands, they can work wonders for nearly any kind of blogging solution.
Usually, it’s best to give blogs some kind of software to “sit” on, because it makes the entire process so much easier. One of the key elements to consider is that blogs are no longer a matter of content.
In 2019, there is so much more that goes into making a successful, fruitful blog, besides the quality and relevancy of your writing.
Content is king, yes, but according to online blogging and marketing guru Neil Patel, it’s no longer quite enough.
Take a quick watch of this video:
Reasons You Shouldn't Use a CMS for Blogging
There are bountiful reasons that you may not want to use a CMS. By design, content management systems are attractive tools for managing content.
But in reality, the picture is very different. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. And as far as the internet’s concerned, the world is even less perfect.
Content management systems are heavyweights, they’re often inconvenient, and they can cause all kinds of problems. From a technical standpoint, they are very consuming, too.
Content management systems are highly demanding, and that demand isn’t always so easy to fulfill. Here are just a few of the drawbacks of using a CMS for blogging:
- Frequent updates are often required to maintain the CMS
- Content management systems can be more susceptible to hacks
- It's important to backup a CMS quite often, as a disaster recovery plan, since they can be so vulnerable by nature
- The server needs to be configured (and maintained) in a specific way, in order to support the CMS
- Content management systems will usually take up a considerable amount of resources (server, time, effort, money)
Now I'll break down these points a little further for you, to explain in some greater detail:
#1: Frequent Updates
The CMS software itself often requires frequent updates, in order to remain compliant with the latest standards, technology, and security
#2: Susceptible to Vulnerability
Content management systems can be susceptible to hacks, with over 70% of WordPress websites currently vulnerable to attack
.That’s really awful, quite honestly. One of the biggest risks here is actually losing all of the precious blog content you’ve worked so hard to produce and curate.
As soon as that’s gone, it’s game over. Quite literally. The only solution around this is to retain frequent backups of the blog and all of its content, which leads me onto my next point.
#3: Large and Frequent Backups
Due to their fickle nature and incredibly high potential for security vulnerabilities, content management systems need to be backed up very often.
Your entire website, blog, and all of the files stored on the server, as well as the content retained in the database, must be backed up on a frequent basis in order to ensure there is at least some means of disaster recovery. It might not even be the fault of a security issue, in fact.
Sometimes, misconfigurations in a server or content management system can lead to a complete breakdown of the blog with the simple click of a button.
And for non-technical users, this is really bad news.
Your audience might not be able to access the blog, your traffic from search engines will drop, and you’ll likely lose readers — from both search engines, and users who are manually visiting the blog. It’s awful when a CMS stops working, but it’s exponentially worse when you don’t have a backup from a time it did.
#4: Infrastructure Maintenance & Configuration
The server itself needs to be maintained in a specific manner, to accommodate for the changing demands of the CMS.
Even if you’re using shared or managed hosting, you could one day find that the content management system ceases to work if your web host makes an update to the hardware that you’re running on.
In a situation like that, the only fix would be to reconfigure the CMS or the server manually, in order to accommodate for the server-level changes.
One of the most common causes of this, for example, is a change in the server’s PHP version, or other changes made to system ini files or htaccess files, whether made by your web host or by yourself.
#5: Potential Performance Issues
Since content management systems demand a lot in terms of server resources, you may find yourself suffering with much slower load times, and poorer performance in general, if the CMS (or the server) is not optimized appropriately for the blog.
Of course, this then needs to be adjusted depending on how much traffic the blog is receiving, and how exactly users are interacting with the blog.
For instance, enabling commenting on the blog is likely to pose a greater performance issue than not. Additionally, utilizing heavy blog themes or templates, even from many premium vendors, can have a big impact on blog performance if not optimized correctly.
Of course, if you are considering whether to use a CMS for blogging or not, there are certain considerations you’d have to make.
As much as blogging without a CMS is possible, whether it’s actually going to beneficial to you is a whole different ballgame.
It might indeed be the fact that the pain points associated with maintaining a CMS are very worthy to trade for the challenge that blogging may become (whether to you personally, or to the growth of your online business). So, this is important.
Here’s a list I’ve put together of some considerations you might need to make:
- The size of your blog
- Who your target audience is
- Is the blog for a business/brand?
In a bit more depth... here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:
What is the current size of the blog?
And how much do you anticipate that growing in the foreseeable future?
If you have many posts, is it going to be feasible and sustainable to run the blog without a content management system?
Who’s your target audience?
Are you trying to reach a large, global audience size with killer content, incorporating the most modern design trends?
If your audience is very small, and your blog is simple a place for you to voice your personal thoughts on a niche subject matter, or personal experiences, you might be better positioned to run a blog without a content management system.
But otherwise, it may prove a challenging and resource-consuming task.
Is the blog for a business or a brand?
If so, I’d say it’s probably best to stick to a content management system.
Businesses don’t have quite the same luxury to lag behind in terms of features, functionality, and performance.
And over the lifespan of your blog, it’s likely that all of these things are going to need to be looked at.
Without using a CMS, it might be quite costly and time-consuming to implement tasks that could otherwise be performed much faster, and of course, that’s a big no-no in business.
But if you’re still considering blogging without the use of a CMS, here are some of the best tools that are currently available:
The Best Flat-File CMS for Blogging
The Verdict: CMS or Flat File for Blogging?
Well, that’s a wrap! I hope you’ve found this post helpful.
Content management systems continue to be a powerful force amongst the blogosphere, and it’s easy to understand why.
Most bloggers accept that using a CMS goes hand in hand with blogging, but for all the inquisitive minds out there, CMS-free solutions do exist.
Whether or not you should use one, though, is a decision that only you can make.
What platform do you use to manage your blog?