7 Critical Factors when choosing a CMS

By Shawn Moore December 14, 2016 Articles and Editorials

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 7 critical factors we feel are important to address when choosing a Content Management System for your organization.

1. Ease of Use

When choosing a CMS Platform ‘ease of use’ is paramount. However, there is a fine line between ease of use and robust functionality. Many CMS platforms compromise on functionality to make their platform easier to use. When searching for different solutions, make sure that not only is the platform easy to use and intuitive, but also has all of the features and functionality your organization will need to meet your business goals.

Updating and Maintaining Content

The days of having to know how to code to make edits to your website content are long gone. Microsoft Word-like interfaces with WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Editors and inline editing are basic requirements of any modern CMS platform. Additionally, it should be easy to share content and data across several channels without requiring multiple instances of content. Find a CMS solution that enables anyone in your organization, from marketing to sales, to make site-wide edits without requiring IT support, developers, or a third party agency to update your content for you.

Custom Content Applications

CMS platforms typically come with applications, sometimes called modules or plugins, either out of the box or as an add-on and/or upsell to the platform. These applications are used for many purposes, including easy, form-based authoring of structured content for specific content types like news items, events, and management bios. Look for a CMS that offer applications out of the box that do not embrace a one size fits all mentality, but are customizable to suit the needs of your business.

2. Breadth of Features

Any product is only as strong as the features, functionality and ease-of-use they provide out of the box. When evaluating CMS platforms, carefully review what features and functionality come with the product and if they meet the needs of your organization and avoid the expense of required third party plugins and integrations for what should be standard functionality. The ideal CMS has almost everything you need right out of the box, but also provides the option to integrate with third party applications where necessary.

Native Functionality Vs. Third Party Plugins

Third party plugins are required in many CMS platforms. While seemingly convenient, they can be both a pro and con at the same time. Plugins may save hours of development time and even money in the short term. But they can also be developed by a third party who may or may not continue to support the tool consistently or at all, which could leave you in a vulnerable position. Plugins can also be a major security problem — even well established plugins like Yoast, a widely used Google Analytics plugin, can be exploited by hackers. In fact, the more widely a plugin is deployed, the more attractive it may be for hackers to go after it.

Digital Marketing and Ecommerce

Managing a website in today’s marketplace often involves a robust integration of digital marketing technologies — CRM, marketing automation, social media management, etc. At the end of the day your website is a tool to help your organization meet its marketing and sales goals, whether that’s through lead gen tools like landing pages and calls-to-action, or eCommerce features to increase shopping cart conversions. When looking for a CMS platform, you’ll find that more and more platforms have native digital marketing and eCommerce capabilities — or have established integrations with the leading products in those segments — and deliver the metrics you need to understand if you’re achieving digital success. You need to decide if you’re looking for more of an integrated suite offering, where digital marketing and eCommerce are native to the platform, or if you prefer a best of breed solution that is more focused on third-party integration.

Front End User Role Management

In a world driven by big data, personalization that delivers state-of-the-art digital experiences is more and more commonplace. Real-time intelligence on how users navigate your site can help you deliver just the right content at just the right time to visitors based on their credentials, cookies or even just their site actions. CMS platforms with front end user role management can maximize your bottom line by serving up different content based on how often a user has visited a certain page or even offer a buying incentive to a shopper after 60 seconds of being idle in your shopping cart.

3. Deployment Infrastructure

There are many factors to take into consideration when deploying a website and CMS platform. Is it a cloud-based system that lets your organization focus on its business, not investing resources in IT infrastructure. Is the environment Linux or Windows. What type of system resources do you require based on your traffic and bandwidth, or how mission-critical your site is (i.e. uptime and backups). When evaluating these various requirements, it’s important to think beyond cost and focus on the needs of your organization and whether the CMS platform meets the goals and objectives of your infrastructure plan.

Flexibility

How flexible is the CMS platform? Can it operate in various environments or is it OS specific? Some CMS platforms will run in either Linux or Windows, some only run in one. This can limit your hosting options and create issues down the road. If possible, look for a platform neutral CMS.

Speed

When you hear the term speed related to CMS platforms, it can mean a variety of things. One is how easy it is to install, setup and configure to deploy your first website. Are we talking hours, days, weeks, months? Another is page load speed and how quickly the CMS renders content. Not all CMS platforms are the same so it’s important to understand how the system works and how easy it is to get up and running.

SaaS or On Premise

There are different ways to purchase CMS platforms. Some are premise-based which means you have the license rights to setup the software in your own hosting environment. That can mean “on premise” as in an internal server or on your own server within a colocated environment. Another popular way to structure things is what’s referred to as software as a service or SaaS model. This means you pay monthly as part of an overall infrastructure option based on the monthly or annual installments tied to the hosting environment, software license and support. This is a great way to structure things if your organization desires to leave the IT tasks to the software people.

Scalability

Whether premise-based or SaaS, another factor is how scalable is the environment you’re using to host the CMS platform. Can it handle large spikes in traffic and easily scale up so that a great day for visitor traffic does not become a nightmare. In many SaaS environments, like within AWS (Amazon Web Services) you have the ability to add resources and create multi-server environments that mirror each other. That means you can add servers and resources to balance the load of traffic across multiple servers versus a single server. Cloud-based “clusters” work extremely well for organizations looking for speed, uptime and security.

4. Design Flexibility

So many websites look exactly the same today. Sure, the designs are cleaner and the navigation crisper than ever before — but visiting websites today can be like driving through a planned community where it’s hard to distinguish one house from the other. This is largely the result of theme-driven platforms like WordPress. But in a world of cookie-cutter websites, it’s more important than ever — and somewhat easier — for your brand to stand out from the crowd with amazing web design.

Represent Your Brand Exactly How You Want

Not all CMS platforms can handle the nuances of custom, complex design as well others. It all depends on how much control the CMS allows over the templating system. Control may vary from simply being able to edit the existing templates to being able to work outside of a template structure altogether. CMS platforms that offer a flexible architecture that allows complete development freedom from a template structure are much more able to accommodate the exact design that could differentiate your brand from the competition.

Support for Mobile

Depending on your business, today’s web visitors are more likely to find you on a smartphone than on a desktop. We live in a mobile-first world — that is getting more mobile every single day. Be sure that your CMS supports responsive mobile design directly out of the box so that you can reach customers and prospects seamlessly across all channels and devices.

Ease of Design Refresh

The flexibility of today’s SaaS CMS platforms offer options that make it possible to stay on one CMS for years. SaaS vendors can continuously upgrade the CMS platform without you ever needing to do anything. Upgrades fix bugs, improve performance and add more functionality. In fact, you’re more likely to outgrow your look and feel than you are your CMS platform. Certain CMS architectures make it very easy to port all of your existing content and custom functionality into a new look and feel without the pain of a replatform.

5. Multi-site Management

Many organizations no longer manage just one or two sites. Even mid-size businesses may have multiple sites to manage, while large companies may have dozens or even hundreds of sites. Sometimes it’s due to different lines of business or a network of subsidiaries, but more and more, it’s driven by organizations launching various marketing campaigns, all needing their own websites, content and landing pages. What can frequently happen is that all of these sites end up being managed on different platforms. This can be super inefficient, expensive, and can result in your brand looking vastly different across your different websites.

Manage From a Single Platform

Having all your websites on a single platform and part of the same installation means your entire team can work from a single interface to develop and manage content. This means more efficient training and better user adoption. It also allows for better utilization of hardware resources and ultimately lower hosting fees. Additionally, a single platform can make it extremely easy to spin up new sites by making a clone of an existing site that offers a starting point of existing content and templates. It also makes it possible to share the same piece of content or other assets across all of your sites. This approach can enforce a consistent template governance across sites and ensure your brand is presented the way you want it to be.

Assign Admin Roles by Site

Not all content editors should have access to manage content across all of your sites. If managing multiple sites is important in your selection process, be sure that the CMS can assign roles that control access to your sites, and even sections within sites. Granular permissions gives you total control over who can access what, yet still allow you to work together with common workflows that enable sharing and teamwork.

6. Third-Party Integration

In today’s marketplace, your website isn’t just about pretty pictures and marketing copy. The digital experience should be about streamlining operations, automating workflows, and providing your end users with tremendous value. That’s why third-party integration is important. The ability of a CMS platform to communicate with other third-party applications — whether CRM, commerce or marketing automation — allows for seamless integration and workflow, therefore improving the overall digital experience.

APIs

One key thing to look for in a CMS platform is API connectivity. An API, or Application Programming Interface, allows data to be two-way communicated between the CMS platform and other applications. This is paramount if you have plans to develop mobile applications that connect to the CMS platform data. A native API will make those future app plans much easier to implement.

Developer and Custom Application Support

Third-party integration can be completed in many ways. You can leverage your own internal programming and IT team to write the code. You can contract a system integrator to implement the connectivity. Of you can have the developers of the CMS platform handle the heavy lifting. Not all CMS platforms have development support options. Many are “open source” which means they are being developed with the best of intentions but due to the software being free to use (licensing options vary) there isn’t any developer support to assist you in customizing the overall experience. Depending on your plans for development, launch and future implementations, this may be a very important part of your decision making process.

7. Security and Support

The CMS platform’s security and support options can be an important factor in the decision-making process. In some situations, it’s enough just to download the software, install it on a server and build your own site. In others, the need for security and support factor into the equation because the demands of your business and mission-critical uptime lead the charge.

Security

Hackers love hacking, and that’s not going to stop. When evaluating CMS platforms, you have to consider the security implications, the integrity of your data, and whether you can afford to have your site go down or suffer from a data breach. In theory, all websites can be hacked when targeted, but some platforms are more secure than others. Do your research to be sure that the source code is sound and that security is not a major issue.

Support

Know who will be there for you after you go live. Not all CMS platforms come with support options. For example, many open-source applications do not offer direct access to support teams. Typically they develop security patches and software upgrades that you must download and install to keep your site up to date and secure. Most closed-source or SaaS products offer technical support and periodically “push down” the security and feature upgrades to all sites running their platform. This is a great thing if you do not want to worry about the potential technical issues. Its also a bonus to wake up one day with new features that were added at the request of the user community.

Conclusion

The right CMS for your organization is one that fits with your current and future needs and helps you achieve success. If you need help making the right CMS decision, there are plenty of places to turn. You can speak to local developers in your area or engage CMS experts for larger projects. In any event, make sure you choose wisely and test drive the software first. If possible, download trial installations and evaluate systems using consistent criteria. The decision you make could affect the health of your organization for a long time to come.

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