5 Tips to help you choose a CMS

Choosing a CMS can be an arduous and lengthy task. How do you choose from a list of several hundred (or potentially more) software packages to find the one that best suits your needs? We will discuss the best steps to take in order to help you make an educated decision.

Step 1.
Determine the purpose of the CMS and what you hope to gain from it.

Not all CMS platforms are the same, there are some that are geared towards publishers, some are geared towards personal sites and others are corporate focused. Before you can make a good decision you need to know what you want it for. Do you plan to use the CMS for blogging but with some added functionality? Or would you prefer to have something that you can publish news about a topic on? Alternatively, you can also use a CMS to build a social network or for a corporate intranet. They have a lot of uses and step 1 is to narrow down what yours will be.

Step 2.
Determine what functionality you require from the CMS.

Some CMS platforms have limited plugins and can only be extended to a certain extent, while others have huge number of plugins but steeper learning curves. You need to think about what kind of functionality you want on your CMS.

To help you decide, here’s a list of typical features of some of the more mainstream CMS platforms:

Tag Clouds – allows you to have a batch of words a user can click on to search your site. See here for an example.

Forums – This is a common one. Ensure the CMS you are considering has this functionality if you require it. There are alot of different ways these can be added. They can either be built into the CMS, attached to the CMS via a plugin or completely separate. Make sure you investigate which method you prefer as this can be a large frustration to find out you can’t add one after the fact.

Polls – Do you want to be able to post polls that allow your users to vote on specific issues. If so, you’ll need this function.

Ratings – If you want to be able to rate your content, then you’ll need to ensure the CMS you are looking at has some method of doing so, either with a plugin or a tag or snippet.

Captcha – This is a challenge response system that is designed to prevent spam from getting into your comments or any other area that allows user input.

Wysiwyg Editor – This one gets most people. This stands for What You See Is What You Get. Essentially this means that the CMS has the ability to allow you to enter text or pictures in a word processor kind of interface (similar to microsoft word or openoffice).

Gallery – The ability to add photos, video, etc to your site.

Step 3.
Will the CMS be compatible with your host?

Depending on the host you are using, you will need to know what they support. There are PHP based CMS platforms and there are Java, C#, Ruby Rails and other CMS. You also will need to know which database type your host supports, whether it be MYSQL, Oracle, etc. Don’t forget to compare version numbers as well. For instance, a PHP5 based CMS will not necessarily work on a PHP4 host.

Step 4.
How themable is the CMS in question?

Depending on your skill level, you may want to find a CMS that is easy to theme, unless of course you are a designer. Check google for “drupal themes” or “joomla themes” for example if you are considering these two and ensure that you can find something you can make work for your needs.

Step 5. (Getting tired yet?)
How active is the CMS' Community?

This one is important. Ensure that the CMS you are choosing has an active user community and/or decent support. Alot of opensource CMS platforms have forums and the easiest way to find out whether they are active or not is to see how many new posts there have been recently and whether they have had helpful replies. Don’t always expect support from the CMS developers, most of the time they are far too busy or just simply not available as lots of them do the development for free.

This is just a start, we could write for days.. and perhaps we will at a later date.

Thoughts? Share them below.