How do you figure out whether a CMS is good or bad? More to the point, how do you know whether the CMS you're using at this selfsame moment is hurting your business or harming it? Selecting the right CMS is a really, really big decision. It's no overstatement to say that your CMS choice can either propel your business to success or drive it to the ground in abysmal failure. Rather than scare you with doomsday tails of people who made bad decisions, I want you to provide a measuring stick by which you can determine whether your CMS is tall enough for your needs.
Exam picture by Shutterstock
Here are five questions that you can ask yourself right now to figure out if your CMS is good enough.
1. How does the user interface make you feel?
Okay, this is a subjective question, but CMS choices aren't always cut-and-dried. When it comes to the UI, it's an intuitive thing. You can get a sense pretty quickly — I'm talking seconds, not days — if the interface is helping you out or slowing you down. Here are a few sample questions you can ask.
- Do you have trouble figuring out how to complete a simple operation?
- Is there something that should be easy to do, but you have to click 14 times and open 5 menus just to get to it?
- Do you avoid certain CMS tasks because they take too long, or "it's just a hassle."
Are you getting a sense of things? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, then your CMS may have a user interface problem. I've asked this question first, because without a clear and clean user interface, you're going to have a really rough time with your CMS going forward. Simplicity, clarity, and functionality are important here.
2. Does the CMS have a healthy and responsive support network?
One day, you're going to face a problem you can't fix on your own, unless you're the Chuck Norris of CMSes. In this case, you need help. There are some CMSes out there (I've used them) where zero help exists. Whether the CMS developer was running a solo operation from his parent's basement, had retired, or had passed away, I know not. All I know is that a CMS without a help network is like a hot air balloon without a gondola.
Check to make sure that the CMS of your choice has the following. One or more will suffice. You don't need all four.
- You can pick up the phone and talk to a live human being.
- You can hop on a forum and get an answer within 24 hours.
- You can email a problem ticket, and receive a response within 48 hours.
- You can attend a class to gain additional information.
Don't simply rely on a fat documentation PDF to help you through your struggles. You'll need more.
3. Is the hosting customizable and/or rock-solid?
One of the biggest oversights in selecting a CMS is the hosting issue. Often, users and testers tend to gaze at the CMS itself without remembering that everything needs to be hosted somewhere, somehow. To complicate issues, when you test a CMS, you're often doing so in a web-based environment, meaning that hosting is going to look a lot different once you've paid up and get all situated with the shiny new CMS in its hosting environment.
Many businesses use Windows VPS hosting. If this is your choice, make sure the CMS supports it. Otherwise, ensure that the CMS offers a hosting solution that guarantees uptime, can maintain traffic surges, and gives you control and flexibility as needed, such as InMotion Hosting or Servint.net.
4. Does the CMS have active developers?
When I look at a CMS, I try to notice something really simple — the version number. When a CMS has a name like "Sitesuper v. 6.1.5, " I consider that a good thing, based on the string of numbers alone. Why?
- It's been around for a while, and will probably be around for a little while longer.
- It's changing, most likely for the better.
- It has people who are actively developing it.
That last point is clutch. If a CMS is left to survive on its own merits apart from the constant work of team of developers, it will die within a matter of months. The turbulent and ever-changing nature of the web demands that a CMS be constantly changing in order to adapt.
Let me get specific here about what kind of developmental changes should be present and/or available in your CMS:
- Responsive design adaptations. If they don't already have one, most businesses will need a responsive or mobile site within the next 12 months.
- Social capability. This is a must-have.
A team of developers is the lifeblood of a CMS.
5. Does the CMS offer extensive customizations?
Finally, you're going to need a CMS that meets your needs. In other words, you want your CMS to give you options — design options, user options, plugin options, color options, video upload options, analytics options, ecommerce options, etc., etc. Some CMSs attempt to place every user within a box, usually a very small box, that dictates how the site looks, feels, and works. This may work for some people, but if you want a scalable and robust online presence for years to come, look for something that offers a bounty of options.
If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, it may be time for you to go shopping for a new CMS. By way of disclaimer, the fewer CMS needs you have, the less important these qualifications are. If, for example, you're a photographer who's happy with a nice-looking site, you probably won't need a big enterprise CMS. For most businesses who depend on publishing, ecommerce, web traffic, or web solutions, each one of these points above is imperative for long-term success.
So, what about those qualifications of your CMS that didn't quite measure up? The good news is that here on CMS Critic, the Internet's best source of CMS critiques, you're in the right place.