Things to consider when selecting a CMS
A content management system is a centralized platform from which to create, edit, and manage all your organization’s content. This can include blog posts, e-mails and landing pages, for example. Your website is your most visible and valuable marketing asset and the decision as to which content management system (CMS) to use when building your site can have a long-term impact on the success of your organization. Today’s CMS solutions are at the epicenter of your marketing technology stack and are key factors in driving revenue, brand awareness, and engagement with prospects and customers. Finding a solution that can be tailored to support the needs of your business is more important than ever.
And remember, you’re not just choosing technology. The vendor of that technology is an essential part of your decision. Do they see the needs of your market the way you do and are they working on a product roadmap that will support your organization going forward? Or are they focused on features you don’t really need and will just serve to clutter the product you’re using. Is there even a vendor? Open source solutions may seem great — but if you require any support, you may not have an obvious place to turn to when you need it.
Choose the right CMS platform and you can avoid several issues:
- outgrowing the platform sooner than is reasonable
- allocating more budget than you really need to
- always relying on someone else to update your site
- greater vulnerability to security breaches
- not keeping pace with the needs of your customers
To help you in your selection effort, we offer this overview of a few critical factors we feel are important to address when choosing a Content Management System for your organization.
When most people think of content management, they think of creating, deleting, editing and organizing pages. They assume all content management systems do this and so take that functionality for granted. However, that is not necessarily the case. Nor is there any guarantee that such functionality will be presented in an intuitive way.
Consider carefully the basic functionality you need. Even if you do not require the ability to structure and organize pages now, you may in future. Be wary of any system that does not allow you to complete these core tasks.
Also ask yourself how easy it is to complete these tasks. There are literally thousands of content management systems on the market, the majority of which offer this core functionality. However, they vary hugely in usability. Always test the system for usability before making a purchase.
Intuitive and easy to use
The whole point of a CMS is to enable non-technical people to be able to make updates and changes to the content of the website—easily. So it’s important that the back-end of whatever CMS you choose is intuitive and easy to use. Regardless of the needs of your website, it’s imperative that you choose a CMS that the average user will be able to understand with little or no instructions. Basic activities like adding a new page, editing a page or adding new content types should be a simple task for virtually anyone to perform.
The editor is the interface through which content (text, images, videos, etc.) is added to and changed on a page or post. This is one feature that is often overlooked when it comes to evaluation, but it can play a critical role in your company’s ability to ensure design consistency regardless of who is adding content to the website. You should consider a CMS with an editor that provides users with the ability to change headings, body text and other elements, without specifying how it should look.
User roles and access
It’s very important that you have the ability to limit different users’ control over the content of the website. For example, if a particular user is only going to be adding basic things to the website such as a news update or blog post, you wouldn’t want them to have full administrator-level access to the entire website. If you have multiple people involved in updating your website, it is important to possess the ability to control who can edit what on your website. Most CMS platforms have the ability to create multiple editing roles such as administrator, editor, contributor, etc. and even create custom roles for more limited user roles, but be sure to look at this when making your decision.
Clean, fast and SEO-friendly code
Site loading times can make or break a website, especially when it comes to bounces and time-on-site. It’s important to choose a CMS that creates clean and simple code. Bloated, overly intricate code can slow down loading time and increase the likelihood of errors and improper renders. Also, good, clean code is critical to ensure that search spiders will successfully move through your website. Choosing a CMS that generates clean and validated code is absolutely essential.
Scalability / multi-site support
Be sure to choose a CMS that will work for you not just right now, but in the future as well. A CMS should have the ability to scale with your business as your needs change over time. Just because you don’t need certain capabilities or features now, doesn’t mean you won’t need them down the road. You don’t want your CMS to limit your ability to expand your web presence over time. Also, as your company grows, you may want to create additional blogs, websites or microsites. So having a CMS that allows you to edit multiple websites from the same installation is a valuable feature to include in your wish list.
Open source or proprietary
There is no shortage of debate on the issue of using an open-source CMS versus a proprietary CMS. Choosing one over the other really boils down to your business, your needs and often the preference of your internal IT department or the developer building the website. Things to consider when evaluating the two paths should include your requirements related to flexibility, customization, security, scale, support, resources, database functionality, setup, maintenance and budget. Each has pros and cons, but it really depends on your business requirements to determine which is the right way to go.
Management of images and files is badly handled in some CMS’. Badly designed systems can frustrate users with poor accessibility and usability. Images in particular can cause problems. Ensure that the content management system you select forces content providers to add <alt> attributes to images. You may also want a CMS that provides basic image editing tools, such as cropping, resizing and rotating. However, finding one that does this can be a challenge.
Also, consider how the content management system deals with uploading and attaching PDFs, Word documents and other files. How are they displayed to end users? Can descriptions be attached to the files, and is the search function capable of indexing them?
Search is an important aspect of any website. Approximately half of all users start with search when looking for content. However, the search functionality in content management systems is often inadequate.
Here are a few things to look for when assessing search functionality:
- Freshness: how often does the search engine index your website? This is especially important if your website changes regularly.
- Thoroughness: does it index the entire content of each page? What about attached files, such as PDFs and Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents?
- Speed: some search engines can take ages to return results. This is especially common on large websites.
- Scope: can you limit the scope of the search function to a particular section of the website or refine search results once returned?
- Ranking: how does the search engine determine the ranking of results? Can this be customized by either the website owner or user?
- Customization: can you control how results are displayed and customize the design?
The issue of customization, of course, goes far beyond search.
You need a content management system that allows flexibility in the way content is retrieved and presented. For example, can you retrieve news stories in reverse chronological order? Can you display events in a calendar? Is it possible to extract the most recent user comments and display them on the home page? Flexibility makes a CMS stand out. Speaking of user comments, all forms of user interaction are worth mentioning.
If you intend to gather user feedback, your CMS must provide that functionality or allow a third-party plug-in to provide it. Equally, if you want to host a community on your website, then you will require functionality such as chat, forums, comments and ratings.
At a minimum, you will need to be able to post forms and collect responses. How easy does the CMS make this process? Can you customize fields or does that require technical expertise? What about the results? Can you specify who they are emailed to? Can they be written to a database or outputted as an Excel document? Consider the kind of functionality you need and look for a CMS that supports it.
Choosing a CMS can be overwhelming with so many different choices out there. But not just any CMS will work, you need to make sure you select a CMS that aligns with your website needs, both now and in the future. We hope this list will give you some food for thought and help you know some of the things to look for and consider when making your selection.