Inline HTML editors ruin your brand

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19-May-09 09:51
In the ELATED Extra this week, I posit that inline WYSIWYG HTML editors such as FCKeditor and TinyMCE cause more problems than they solve and that anyone in charge of content for a company website should know some basic HTML.

Do you use a great inline HTML editor we should know about (please!), or do you have horror stories of the rubbish they litter your code with? Let us know below!


22-May-09 16:16
These WYSIWYG HTML editors have caused me serious nightmares and I'm glad to read this edition of the Elated newsletter.

We used it for a few client websites and they ended up causing more problems than solving them. This is usually because the staff in charge of updating content on their websites did not have basic HTML skills. They destroyed their websites and guess who they put the blame on?...

Recently, AspireCMS seems to have caught my attention. Theirs seems to have a lot of cool features and seems easy enough for most novice users.

Does anyone have any experience with AspireCMS? Is it as good as they claim? Please let us know.

26-May-09 11:46
@mauco: It's a difficult issue isn't it. Clients want the ability to update their own content but they always mess it up! I agree with Simon that all clients should have to learn basic HTML. Either that or give them a plain text editor with minimal formatting.

Haven't used AspireCMS myself but it looks decent enough. It's a full hosted CMS service though, not just a rich text editor. I see you can request a demo:


Matt Doyle, Elated
20-Sep-09 15:42
I couldn't agree more. I'm so tired of reading about how great WYSIWYG editors are!

A WYSIWYG editor in the hands of a client who doesn't know any HTML, CSS etc is a recipe for a screwed up site. I've written more about this issue here: [url][/url]

As a developer I've searched high and low for a decent editor that will keep clients happy but not result in messed up code - so far no luck, and that includes some expensive commercial ones too.
20-Sep-09 23:57
@byrst: Welcome, and thanks for your comments!

I'm fascinated by your whole business idea that focuses on building "static" websites for clients. I think you may well be onto something there. Everyone's told they need a CMS these days but, in reality, how often does the average small business need to update their site? And wouldn't it be cheaper/easier/better to outsource those updates?

I know a web designer who does offer a CMS, but half the time the clients ask the designer to enter their content for them anyway, which somewhat defeats the purpose!

Interesting stuff. We're coming full circle back to 1996 aren't we! Do you find that most of your potential clients "get" the fact that they don't really need a CMS, or do they take a lot of convincing?


Matt Doyle, Elated
21-Sep-09 04:56
@matt: It does seem that most people 'think' they need to have the ability to update their site themselves but there are those who just aren't interested. I've had people say to me "I pay a bookkeeper and I pay a cleaner, why would I want to do my own website? I've got enough things to do running my business".

I think a big part of the problem is dishonest salesmanship. I'm not against CMS's per se but many web developers make it sound like if you have a WYSIWYG editor then you don't need your web developer anymore and it's just not true. If making a site was as easy as writing a Word document then we'd all be out of a job!

Some clients can be convinced but if people really want/need a CMS I just advise them to go into it with their eyes open and be prepared to learn a bit about HTML and the web if they expect to be able to maintain any kind of quality on their site.

Personally I think CMS's are essential for larger sites/businesses - but they still need properly trained staff and for most smaller businesses a CMS is just going to get them into trouble in the long run. Also depending on the cost they often won't save any money either. You can build a simple static site for a client much cheaper than you can supply a CMS site - these savings can go into updates plus the client isn't wasting their own time on something they have no expertise in.

Everyone's situation is different of course and some small business need lots of updates, some clients are prepared to learn how to do it properly etc. I'm just talking generally based on my own experiences of supplying CMS based sites for a number of years - I've had enough of trying to make it work!

I actually think that because everyone has jumped onto the CMS bandwagon that it's left a bit of a niche for old fashioned service. There are clients who don't want to do updates themselves (for their own reasons - usually because they see it as a waste of time they could put to better use).

You can actually make a decent sales pitch for a static site that you maintain for the client: it will cost less up front, the quality of the site isn’t going to deteriorate over time, there won’t be any hosting restrictions, it will be very easy to find another developer to take over should that be necessary, the design won’t be restricted by needing to be fitted into some CMS’s way of doing things, and the client can get on with running their business while they have the peace of mind of knowing their site is in good hands.
21-Sep-09 05:05
Wow how funny is that? - I wrote my last post in Word, then pasted it into notepad and copied from there to clear up any formatting before pasting it into the editor box on this forum and the apostrophe's are messed up anyway!

Sorry about that, but it does kind of illustrate the point - yes?
21-Sep-09 09:27
Arrgh, the dreaded "paste from Word" -- the bane of Web editors everywhere!! (Hmm, maybe it's a Unicode issue actually - I must change our database over to UTF-8 one of these days...)

Yes, CMSs have their place in larger setups, to be sure. I think you're right though - small/single-person businesses are generally better off outsourcing their site updates (and possibly copywriting too), just like it makes sense to outsource bookkeeping, tax, logo design, etc...

It must also be nice as the supplier not to have to get bogged down with setting up CMSs and server-side coding. Personally I'd rather concentrate on the fun front-end stuff anyway. Less to go wrong too, which is always good.

I think there's a lot to be said for seeing which way the bandwagon is going, then heading in the opposite direction. Smart move!

Best of luck with the business. I hope you can stick around on the forums and let us know how you go with it all.


Matt Doyle, Elated
21-Sep-09 10:29
Some great points byrst.

I have a custom built CMS that I sell as a package to my clients with some optional add-ons like a newsletter system and ecommerce capabilities. Whilst I've managed to work around some of the problems (like the usability nightmare feature bloat that's so common in CMS's); the WYSIWG editor causes me no end of problems.

As you've so rightly pointed out, give a client a WYSISWG HTML editor and they'll think they know everything they need to create a web page, BUT and it's a big but - they miss all the subtleties of semantic (and SEO friendly) markup, pages that are great for people with disabilities etc - all they care about is how to make some text red, or change the font etc.... And paste from word - shudder - oh even the thought of it makes me tense up!

Being a perfectionist, I tend to go in and clean up the formatting mess that's left behind when my clients have entered in all their content - but that kind of destroys the point don't you think!?

The main advantages to me are that I don't have to wait for clients to send me their copy and don't have to cope with them changing their copy on me half way through a build. I also do my pricing a bit different to most - low setup costs and extra for hosting which means I have a nice regular income stream coming in (then again you'd have that with a series of maintenance contracts anyway).

How many of my clients actually benefit from a CMS? Probably about a third - mostly those with regularly changing events or news etc. At the other end of the scale one client actually pays me to make the changes through the CMS because she can't contemplate doing it herself - bizarrely this client used to have a static site built by me, and asked for the ability to update her pages herself.

So will I be sticking with the CMS? For now definitely. Although I'd love to get my hands on a decent HTML editor!


Web design for natural therapists
21-Sep-09 11:57

It's the WYSIWYG editor that causes all the problems that's for sure. All the other stuff about a CMS, login, admin, database updates etc are all easy enough to get right. Since it's too much work to contemplate building your own editor though you're stuck with one of the open source editors (like FCKeditor) or a commercial one. I actually tried two different (expensive) commercial editors and they weren't much better than the free ones.

I even tried a different approach and built my own HTML editor (with a simple toolbar of buttons that ran JavaScript functions to encapsulate selected text with tags) and had/still have a few clients that learnt how to use that. It has a quick preview button so they can see how it will look. The clients who use it are a bit more savvy than most so it's not a good general solution though.

For the time being I'm working on getting clients who are happy to just let me do the updates. I do know one other developer who does OK with this strategy.

It will be interesting to see how it goes in the long run. Basic Website World is a new business that I setup to focus on small, quick jobs that are simple and don't have the pain and complexity of CMS, shopping carts etc. I still do software development and complex web app work in my other business but I'm hoping to wind that one down. It will all depend on how I go focussing on the niche of smaller, simpler sites.

If I never see another WYSIWYG editor again I'll be very happy!
21-Sep-09 16:19
Interesting. I just wrote an article for the Extra about CMS vs static and came to similar conclusions, ie, CMS's are sometimes useful, but often innessential whatever we're told.


22-Sep-09 07:38
Has anyone tried a solution like Textile or Markdown instead of WYSIWYG? With clients I mean?

Perhaps it's a better compromise between plain text and WYSIWYG?

Textile looks really easy for simple stuff like bold, italic, lists and hyperlinks. Yes the client still has to 'learn' something but its pretty trivial.

Those few things are all most clients really want to change anyway and the interface could be setup with quick help, preview etc.

It'd be pretty impossible to screw anything up with Textile

No images, no tables, no layout, no paste from Word - just paragraph, line break, bold, italic, hyperlink or list.

I'd say for updating most news, blogs, etc that would be enough.

Anyone have any experience on this or an opinion?
22-Sep-09 10:22
Hmmm. A few years ago, a place I worked at used to use a very simple javscript/icon toolbar thingy - which did work quite well come to think of it (as long as you were using IE!). What it couldn't cope with though was inserting images, links or uploaded files etc.

Textile looks very interesting - I might implement it for cleanups on one of my sites that accepts user contributed articles which are always full of "rubbish characters" even just being pasted into a standard text box.


Web design for natural therapists
28-Sep-09 10:43
I'd say Textile and Markdown are very promising solutions to the problem. They pretty much produce bullet-proof HTML and are fairly easy for anyone to learn - certainly easier than HTML (Markdown is the easiest of the two IMO). If coupled with a "preview" feature then clients can check exactly what their content will look like before they publish.

The other problem, as I see it, is how to prevent a client adding a bloody great H1 in the middle of their content when they should be using an H3 for example, or inserting an image that's too wide for the content column and breaks the layout. These issues are harder to get around... :-/

URLs for Textile and Markdown in case anyone needs them:


Matt Doyle, Elated

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