A Creative’s Guide to Craft CMS

The team at Strother Communications Group has created websites for organizations of every size, from the University of Minnesota to entrepreneurial startups like Pinpoint Advisory. While we’re worked with many web development platforms and content management systems, for the last few years we’ve generally focused on the ultra-popular, easy-to-use WordPress CMS. But, after working with our team who developed the recently launched LearnItByArt.com for our client Pacon, I’ve have fallen in love with Craft. It’s a new, more streamlined and stable CMS that gives creatives an incredible array of options to post content and create web pages quickly and easily.

I love WordPress; it’s free and supported by a huge online community of developers and plugin creators. There’s a reason it powers over 30 percent of all websites on the internet, according to W3Techs. It’s intuitive and easily learned by non-development staff and content creators. That’s why I was a bit skeptical when our Digital Media Director Brian Larson started talking about his love for Craft CMS, which is rapidly gaining popularity in the website design and development community (I’ll let Brian dig into the technical reasons why he prefers it to WordPress in a future blog post).

As someone whose job revolves around creating and posting content for our clients’ websites, I don’t have loyalty to any one CMS; I just want to be able to do my work as quickly and easily as possible. Judged by that standard, Craft CMS is a fantastic success.

Learn It By Art website displayed on laptop

How Craft CMS Powered the Development of LearnItByArt.com

Our client Pacon is building a new product line and education initiative that aims to bring STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) education to classrooms across America. Its Arts Integration Kits are ready-made, easy-to-implement STEAM lesson plans that come complete with pre-cut art supplies and curricula created in partnership with national expert Susan Riley of EducationCloset.

In addition to creating the brand name, logo and brand identity for Learn It By Art, we were also tasked with creating a website that is intended to be more than a product site. LearnItByArt.com will a hub for the online STEAM community, delivering informative blogs and news as well as free lesson plans and resources for teachers. Craft CMS – with its flexible “content block” system and comprehensive content creation tools – was the perfect fit for this project. As someone with a non-technical background who regularly posts blogs and updates to web pages, I love it. It’s also lightning fast.

Why Craft CMS’s Live Preview Matters

For content creators, the most notable feature of Craft CMS is the live preview mode. Whenever you start creating a new blog entry or page on a site, you can hit the live preview button and see your text and pictures being updated in real time as you work. This may sound like a small thing, I found it revelatory. Instead of changing a page, hitting save and then going back to preview the post in WordPress, I could freely play around with my page layouts until I was satisfied.

Instead of having to embed images or other design elements in your post as in WordPress, Craft CMS works with content blocks that are created or customized by your web development staff, giving you unprecedented flexibility in creating page layouts.

Building Web Pages in Craft CMS

If (like me) you’re working with expert web developers who have embraced Craft CMS’s ability to create custom content blocks (also called matrix grids), you’ll find creating pages and posts to be a joy. I can’t say enough good things about the content creation process of Craft CMS – after a few minutes of experimenting, you’ll be creating eye-catching posts and page layouts with ease. You can also send new drafts of published pages to team members with a simple link.

Here’s a brief overview of creating a page layout with Craft CMS’s live preview and content blocks:

Create a Page

After clicking New Entry, hit the Live Preview button and you’ll see your empty page template. From here you can see your title and begin to type in your text, which will update on the Live Preview Window in real time.

Click to show full-size images

screenshot of Craft CMS backend

Create Content Blocks

Brian and the team here created a wide variety of content blocks that you can use to arrange your page layout. Here are a few examples:

Pullquote

screenshot of Craft CMS backend

Header and Inline Image

screenshot of Craft CMS backend

Copy

screenshot of Craft CMS backend

Video

screenshot of Craft CMS backend

Forms

screenshot of Craft CMS backend

Customizable Page Layouts

The best part? It’s easy to completely rearrange your page in seconds because each content block can be dragged and dropped in any order – and you’ll see the resulting new layout instantly in the Live Preview. It’s really cool and encourages you to get creative with page layouts.

Easy SEO and Social Settings

You’ll also be able to easily set SEO and social sharing settings right on the main entry page, including SEO description and title tags, thanks to the SEOmatic plugin by nystudio17 :

Craft also has a real-time preview and the ability to edit how your posts will look when shared on Twitter and Facebook.

screenshot of Craft CMS backend

Craft CMS: A Modern CMS for Creatives

Overall, Craft CMS strikes me as “WordPress+”. It has the intuitive WYSIWYG interface that made WordPress so popular, but everything is just a little bit better and more flexible. After using it extensively, I understand why our web development staff was so excited about it. Craft is the best CMS I’ve ever used, and in a few years I think it will rival WordPress in popularity. If you’d like to learn more about getting a fully custom, Craft CMS-powered website for your organization, don’t hesitate to contact me today. You won’t regret it.

Related Links:

Craft 3 CMS feature list

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Matt Helgeson

Matt draws on his years as a journalist to create expertly targeted approaches – and brings them to life with clear and concise copy designed to capture the imagination of audiences. As a senior editor at Game Informer, the world’s largest video game magazine and website […] Read Bio »

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