27 Apr 2017

What is Umbraco?

Website Development

So you’ve decided you definitely want a new website, or a total rebuild of your old one.

Even if it’s only been a couple of years since your last major revamp – and we know for some of you it might be a bit longer – things have changed a lot.

Developers, marketers and end users look for different things when planning a new site, but the end result is always to deliver a site that does what you, the client, want and is easy to update, well designed, adaptable and offers a fantastic user experience.

So where do you start?

Right now, the best content management system to achieve the goals of you and your employer by giving developers the freedom and flexibility to work efficiently to produce your site is Umbraco.

There are plenty of proprietary content management systems (CMS) where you pay for expensive licenses to access their services. Alternatively, when you talk about Open Source platforms, WordPress is still, by number of users, the biggest in the world.

But there are restrictions and difficulties in proprietary platforms that simply don't appear in Umbraco at all and as for WordPress, it isn't a pure CMS, more an adapted blogging platform. Umbraco offers much greater functionality.

We’ll look at the more serious detail later, but what you need to know is that Umbraco’s flexibility makes it cost effective, allows it to build an integrated site that can feed content to other digital assets and is only restricted by your imagination!

How does it work?

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From the off we should be clear that Umbraco does need web designers in order to build your site, be they in-house or agency.

It’s an Open Source content management system created in Denmark 17 years ago. Since then it has developed from a niche product into a mass user Open Source platform to rival WordPress and other (proprietary) platforms.

Built in the .Net (dot Net) framework, it uses the Microsoft stack, Microsoft Windows servers, and benefits from the core security protection built into that system, something it then builds on – but we’ll come to that.

When comparing Umbraco to other CMSs, many restrict you in the way you can create pages. There's a lot of functionality in them, however they force you to include a lot of HTML, which they need in order to render out content.

Umbraco is different, it’s cleaner and doesn’t have that requirement. Without that messy extra HTML, pages perform better in web searches as there's less material for the systems to wade through. Umbraco is a pure CMS so you create the content, you edit the content, at the front end you can access all the content and those responsible for the more technical aspects can place that content anywhere on a page, giving a granular level of design detail and flexibility.

Quick, creative problem-solving

Having access to the source code in Umbraco is a major advantage over proprietary systems.

If you're using one of those, you will pay a significant license fee and purchase a support package on top. If you encounter a problem they will go through a process of escalating it and attempting to resolve it, which can take valuable time.

With Umbraco, there's flexibility. Issues can be identified by your team and reported to Umbraco for them to investigate. However, in the meantime, your developers or your agency team can work on a solution and restore full service much faster. And once a problem's been solved and the solution has been tested, Umbraco will include it in the next update so the whole user community benefits as soon as possible.

It’s not all about websites…

Umbraco’s versatility allows you to use it to push content to apps and pull data back through, using the same CMS interface that you use to update website content.

Because it’s a content management system, by default you’ve got your home page and standard pages but you can also use it for other bits of content. So, for example, you can build a property search tool that's accessible through an app and which utilises the insight data from your website to match properties.

Or you could create a questionnaire that sits in an app, the answers can be built up within CMS as content nodes and they get sent to the app. To be able to use the same CMS that is familiar to people whose website runs in Umbraco makes doing clever stuff simple.

Open source – is it secure?

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It is. We are not going to say it’s 100% secure – no system is and you should probably avoid anything making that claim – but the combination of scale and a highly engaged development community means that issues are patched swiftly and Umbraco itself is committed to ensuring the platform remains secure as it expands.

It's true to say that the fact Umbraco powers around half a million websites and WordPress is behind around 75 million means that WordPress is the more popular target for attacks, as a breach there would be more valuable.

But as Umbraco continues to grow it knows, it will attract more attention. Which is why it has spent a lot of effort building a collaborative community.

Developers who identify weaknesses in security work on patches and submit them so everyone can benefit. So your security team with Umbraco is, in effect, the entire developer community. Even issues identified by internal penetration or security tests are shared by both businesses and agencies.

This is in addition to the security protection offered through the Microsoft servers on which Umbraco is built.

Umbraco is also future proofing its security by stripping out vulnerable old code. By doing this it closes loopholes in redundant code that malicious programmes or individuals could exploit. By keeping the code clean it makes it easier to identify and fix future weaknesses.

With the recent move to Umbraco Cloud, the focus on security has only sharpened as they compete directly in the cloud storage stakes with proprietary CMSs. Success depends on reputation so they need to ensure their security is as good as it can be, which is great for users of the platform.

What can’t I do?

The answer – so far as we're concerned – is that there's nothing you can imagine that you can't create in Umbraco.

There's complete freedom to create anything within the platform, nothing's too crazy. The only restriction is your budget!

Over generations, the user interface for editors and the CMS itself have improved a lot and handed over more flexibility to create custom controls, which was once a really difficult thing to do.

Now the Umbraco community has added a lot of functions for editors into the CMS and there’ve been some quite interesting ones which we use to add flexibility when we create websites or create apps using the interface.

Is it easy to live with?

Clients are always impressed by the Umbraco CMS because it combines ease of use with the ability to do so much.

I’ve done a few training sessions over the last few years with clients when a site’s ready. From the start, the project manager on the client side is usually really involved. But the end users who are actually the editors who are going to update the news or content pages often only join the process towards the end when the site’s ready for them to start populating.

With other platforms that can mean either expensive revisions if it doesn’t perform the required actions, or learning how to operate a new CMS that might not be very intuitive.

But when you train people how to use the Umbraco interface, it’s always easy to do because people understand the concept behind the pages. As an editor, if you can use Word you can use Umbraco.

Plus it then gives them the power to do publish great-looking content thanks to its easy media management. In Umbraco, we've eliminated the need to crop photos into the various sizes a site requires outside of Umbraco, instead you upload one hi-res image and choose the pre-defined crops you want.

That’s often a 'wow' moment for people. So often I hear: "That will save us so much time."

From an admin point of view, editors can have full control. Umbraco’s user types means they can give junior staff rights access and the ability to create content but they can’t hit the publish button. Instead they can only save it and send it to an admin editor.

The editor gets a note alerting them some content requires checking and they can review it and publish it. There's also a full audit log of every change on every page so the editors have the reassurance that they can see who has made changes and when.

So, in a nutshell, Umbraco is a CMS that allows you to create any website you can imagine, makes it simple to keep content updated, has a huge community working on security, gives users the power to add great content and doesn’t come burdened with huge license fees.


If you're thinking of embarking on a new website and want to find out more about cyber security issues, why not head over to our article How Secure is Your Website? to read up? And if you're still weighing up whether it's time to go back to the drawing board, take a look at 10 Signs You Probably Need a New Website to help make up your mind!

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