Nov 09, 2012

Why You Need a CMS and How to Pick One

Josh Gertzen

Josh Gertzen

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It’s All About the Content

So here’s the deal. You have a website and it’s working pretty well for you. One big problem though is that your content is constantly changing. New pages go up, existing pages get revised, entire new sections are added, and you’re constantly pumping up your awesome website with new images, videos, presentations, white papers, and more. The list is endless and so are the repetitive and tedious tasks that are needed to update all that content on your site. Somedays it can be a real drag. The good news is that there’s one very effective tool you can employ to help you battle the doldrums. Content Management System to the rescue!

Don’t Repeat Yourself

Whether your team is responsible for a Fortune 500 site or managing the web presence of a growing medium sized business, you’re likely to benefit from what a well thought out content management system can offer you. A great CMS will keep things on your site running smoothly and remove all the nitty gritty details that typically go along with pushing new content up to your organization’s site. Content creators will be able to manage most of the marketing and general site content themselves and IT/Software teams will be freed up to focus on adding value by improving the core products of your organization. Overall, using a CMS can offer your organization one of those great ‘win-win’ situations you always hope to find when investing in your infrastructure. The big challenge of course is that there’s numerous CMS platforms available to choose from these days. Some are very similar to each other, while others offer unique features and extensions that might be really important to your organization. The key to evaluating your options then is to establish a set of consistent criteria by which to measure the platforms you’re considering.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

So how do you do that? Well, one thing we don’t recommend is using those comparison grids that you’ll typically find on the marketing pages for various CMS platforms. Those can be helpful to do a quick spot check for a technical feature you need, but are generally too large and skewed to be useful in the selection process. Instead, develop a tailored list of important features for your situation. Here’s a quick punch list to help you through the process:

  1. Understand your needs and list out the objectives you want to achieve by using a CMS.

  2. Discuss the objectives with your team and be sure to include a system architect who can listen and pinpoint any additional implementation or technical requirements.

  3. Narrow the information you’ve gathered into no more than ten targeted criteria, then rank them based on priority.

  4. Create a list of 3 to 5 CMS platforms to evaluate. Less than 3 is too limited and over 5 could cause decision paralysis.

  5. Rate each CMS platform against each criteria. A rating between 1 and 4 works best since it forces you to choose a positive value (3 or 4) or a negative value (1 or 2), and then offers a way to break ties when comparing the ratings of two CMS platforms against a specific criteria.

Things to Consider

To help get the wheels turning, here’s a list of some popular topics and questions that you might want to bring to the discussion with your team:

  • Mature & Proven – How long has the platform been around? Who is using it? Are those organizations similar to mine?

  • Community & Support – Is there a rich community of developers? Are there public discussion forums that we can go to for help? What does paid support cost?

  • Usability – Are the workflows we need easy to use? Does the platform support direct in-page editing? Is help documentation available directly in the workflows or is it only available via a separate online manual?

  • Ease of Integration – Will the platform allow you to gradually integrate CMS managed content? How difficult is the integration at the page level?

  • Security Model – Can you limit editing access to sections or pages of the site? Can you restrict new page creation to a narrower group of site admins? Does it integrate with your existing authorization & authentication system?

  • Template & Component – How do page templates work? Will you need to migrate your existing page templates to a special format? Does it have a system for handling reusable content components?

  • Performance & Scalability – How much extra load does the CMS platform inject into your site’s page flow? Is the content stored centrally or distributed between each app server? How slow are initial page compositions? What kind of caching is used for composed pages?

  • Rule Driven Content – Does it support conditionally including/excluding content using admin driven expressions? If so, what criteria is available to use within conditions?

  • Approval & Staging – What kind of preview or staging features does it support? Can one person write the content and another approve it? Does it support a third level of approval for mission critical content?

  • Multi-Lingual Support – What model is used; a separate content page for each language or a single page with different textual translations? Does it work well with 3rd party translation services?

No Magical One Size Fits All

When deciding on the yardstick that you want to measure various platforms by, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong set of criteria. Every organization is different, and as such, each has its own unique needs and challenges. Usually you’ll care about things like scalability and the maturity of the platform, but not everyone needs rule driven content or multi-tiered security roles. Similarly, your main objective may be to replace your entire site in one go with a solution that offers in-page editing, or you may want something more modular that can be integrated in pieces over time. Some CMS platforms excel at one and struggle with the other.

In the end, there’s just no magic solution that works best for all needs. Following a well thought out process and limiting your selection criteria will get you off to a great start and should allow you to pick a CMS that fits your organization. Just keep in mind that what matters most  is that you start the process. As your organization continues to grow, the need for a CMS will increase, so the sooner you start evaluating your options the better.

To further help you along the way, we’re going to write a whole series of articles evaluating some of the top Content Management Systems on the market. Over the next few months these articles will start appearing on our blog. Consider subscribing to our RSS feed or just keep checking our blog for updates if you’re interested in reading them. If you need answers sooner, then just remember that we’re here to help, so please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. Thanks for reading along!

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