SilverStripe CMS: WordPress alternative

SilverStripe open source CMS

Five or six years ago, many small business owners were satisfied having a static, brochure-like website that does nothing and may or may not ever be visited.

These days, with increased use of online marketing tools like Twitter and Facebook pages and advertising, owners want more hands-on control over their sites. They want to be able to edit copy, change prices, and even add specific landing pages for special ad campaigns, promotions, and events.

WordPress as a CMS

This is where a content management system (CMS) comes in. With a CMS, your web designer creates a framework — a “theme” or a set of templates — within which your changeable content is presented. Then, instead of having to learn how to write HTML and CSS and PHP, you can edit your site on a day-to-day basis using an interface that’s more like a simple word processor than an incomprehensible coding application.

Currently, the CMS of choice for many basic small business websites is WordPress. Originally used for blogging, WordPress has been repurposed and reshaped by clever Web developers into an impressive CMS framework for an astounding array of affordable website designs.

(For an outstanding “bible” of WordPress, check out Chris Coyier and Jeff Starr’s Digging Into WordPress, available in either PDF or book form.)

While purists may not consider WordPress a “true” CMS on a par with Movable Type or Drupal or Joomla!, it has the advantage of being much easier to use and administer than those more sophisticated (and more complicated) frameworks.

Until last week, WordPress was the best solution I had seen for small, owner-editable websites.

SilverStripe

After a meeting with a Kenosha-Racine area salon owner, I was working on a website proposal and trying to decide on a CMS.

This site would be more like a conventional website than a blog, but the ability to edit it would still be key, and the salon’s staff would need something flexible, but still very user-friendly. They would want to feature events and specials, add pages for new stylists, change prices and other details of product lines, etc.

Comparing my various options, Drupal, Joomla, and Movable Type clearly would be too complex. I was again leaning strongly toward WordPress when a search turned up something I had never heard of before: SilverStripe.

According to Wikipedia, SilverStripe was “developed by SilverStripe Limited, a website development company founded in 2000.” They are New Zealanders.

Among other interesting details, SilverStripe is written in PHP5, yet it runs effectively on Windows platforms, which is a nice bonus. It was used to power the website of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, so it can probably handle a hair salon.

The thing that really impressed me, though, was the interface.

SilverStripe CMS interface

Log in to the online demo and see for yourself just how clean and powerful SilverStripe is. Try editing the “About Us” page, then click the “Published Site” link at the bottom to see the results.

I find the SilverStripe editing interface easier and yet more powerful than WordPress. There is built-in support for search engine keyword and description tags, and it produces search-engine-friendly URLs.

SilverStripe installed on one of my testing domains without a hitch, and in minutes I was working through the first tutorial, which shows just how easy it is to build multilevel navigation menus into a site’s templates.

The salon, meanwhile, would never have to bother with tutorials. If they want to add a stylist bio, the new page will be seamlessly added to the site navigation right where they drag it. Brilliant.

If you want to move up from a static “brochureware” site to something more dynamic yet easy to use, SilverStripe might be a great solution. There’s a book on it too: SilverStripe: The Complete Guide to CMS Development.

If you need someone to install it and get it (or WordPress) running with your own custom layouts, styles, and logos, then let’s talk.