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Content Management Systems - Do and Don't

Choosing the Right CMS – A Make or Break Decision

Choosing CMS
Choosing a CMS (Content Management System) is one of the most important decisions that you will make regarding your businesses future. Here are some simple tips, tricks, and tactics that can ensure that you choose the right CMS for your needs.

When running a business website, it is often critical to update content on a weekly or even daily basis. Before content management systems or CMS's, site owners would have to manually update the HTML code or use a program like MS Frontpage to update and add content to their website. Fortunately, technology has become much more advanced since then.

Today, utilizing an effective CMS has become more important than ever. It allows business and webmasters to update content instantly and with no technical experience. Oftentimes, publishers will write an article or page of content, choose a section of the website that it belongs to, and then publish it. With a CMS, you cannot only quickly publish content, but also alter the overall theme or layout of your website instantly. All of the styling can be taken care of through the CMS.

Choosing the right content management system is a task that cannot be taken lightly. Making a poor decision can lead to a loss of time and money. The CMS will manage your content and design and should made adding, updating, and changing the website simple as easy.

At this point, it is important to understand that there isn't one CMS that is better than the rest. Different CMS's are designed to meet different needs. In order to decide which CMS is best for you, there are several do's and don't that need to be kept in mind. There are also certain steps that should be taken in order to ensure that you are making the correct choice.


Understand That You Have Options

There are a ton of options available to you. They all have different features and functionalities. Once you truly understand that you have options, you can make a better choice. Never force yourself into using a particular CMS if it doesn't fit your needs, just move to a different one.

Try It Out

Would you buy a house before you walked through it? I hope not. The same is true for choosing a CMS. Try using the CMS yourself. It is preferable not to use the demo that is already set up because it has already been set up and will obviously work. While these demos may give a general idea of what the CMS is like, it will not allow you to alter the installation. Load the installation onto your own server and see how it handles. It will give you a much better idea than simply using the preconfigured demo.

Pay Attention to User Interface

Not only should your CMS effective manage your website, but it must also be simple to use by anyone visiting your website. Understanding the nuts and bolt of the CMS is important, but nowhere near as important as being able to create a great user experience.


Rely On Obviously Biased Information

It is important to understand that not all information is with bias (gasp). If you are in a forum that has an obvious leaning, then it may not be the best place to gather information. The same is true when looking at websites or blogs of other developers. They often have a favorite CMS and will always tell you that it is the best one to fit your needs.

$ = Better

Just because a CMS is expensive, doesn't mean that it is better than a cheaper options, or even an open source option. If I would offer you a pretty car without an engine for a million dollars, is it automatically better than a car that runs? Obviously not, it doesn't have an engine. You should never use price as an indicator of how well a CMS will fit your needs.

Use the "Pretty" Standard

Just because a website using a particular CMS looks good, doesn't mean that the CMS is right for you. Regardless of what CMS you choose, a designer can easily make a theme for your CMS that is "pretty", normally for a minimal price. Aesthetics are nice to look at, but don't give you any idea about how the CMS actually handles. Refer to "pretty car with no engine" example.

Forget About Customer Service/Support

Many people get so bogged down on features that they forget to look at what kind of customer service and support that they will receive. Without proper support, implementing a new CMS can be an uphill battle. Even a simple forum may have all of the answers you will ever need, but does that forum exist?

Now that you understand some of the basic things to do as well as what not to do, here are the basic steps that should be taken before making your final decision.

Defining Your Needs

It is impossible to choose the right CMS to fit your needs, if you don't know what your needs are. If possible, it is best to do this before you have even begun looking at possible CMS options. Many people get hung up on the features that the CMS has. The problem with this is simple. Many people will see a feature that, in reality, will never use, but when they see it, they want it. By looking at feature first, people will tend to create needs that are not really there because they like a feature. Make sure that you look not only at specific needs, but broader needs as well. Here is a quick example what I mean:

Narrow Needs

  • Social Media Integration – What social media do you use or plan on using and will the CMS support it? Do you need to be able to have: comments, tagging, blogs, forums, user generated content?
  • Editorial Features – Do you want your CMS to have a spell-checker? How do want to add video or pictures?
  • Multilingual Support – Do you need support for multiple languages? Do you need your CMS localized?
  • Cost – What is your budget for not only purchasing the CMS, but modifying it to fit your needs both stylistically and functionally.

Broad Needs

  • IT Architecture – Does the CMS easily fit into your existing IT architecture? It is surprising how often someone chooses a specific CMS, only to discover that it does not easily fit into their existing IT architecture.
  • Usability – All told, how easy is it to use. A major reason for using a CMS in the first place is to streamline your efforts and make building and updating your website simple. Even if a CMS has everything you need and more, if it does not make your life easier, it isn't your best option.
  • Evolution – While it is never a good idea to look too far into the future when considering which CMS is best for you, it is important to take a peek. Does the CMS continue to evolve and improve? When a new version comes out, can you easily upgrade your existing version or will it take a lot of time, effort, and money? Are version upgrades free or at least nominally priced?

It is very likely that you will not be able determine some of any of your needs. Don't hesitate to consult with someone in your IT department, marketing department, or sales department to help you in defining what your CMS will need.

Once you have defined all of your needs, make sure to do your research.

Making Your Decision

Once you have done your research, it is time to make your decision. People do this in many different ways. Some make a decision matrix and use it as a measuring tool, while others choose their top two or three and then leave it up to vendors to help convince them which decision is the right one. Other will let their IT department and marketing department guide their decision. As long as the CMS fits all of your needs, it will be the right decision.

If you know what to do and what not to do going into this process, have well defined needs, and have done your homework, you will be able to make an effective decision.

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