How to choose a CMS

Jun 12, 20235 min read

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Choosing a content management system (CMS) for your website is one of the most important tasks you’ll undertake while building your business. But what exactly is a content management system? A CMS is a software application that is used to create and manage the content on your website (and not just on your website!). This is the digital hub where you create your site and where you store all of the content that you want to publish. Since your website is a key marketing asset, the CMS that you choose can have a massive impact on the success of your business. From driving revenue to promoting your brand and engaging with prospects, it’s essential that your CMS solution is tailored to support your specific business requirements in all areas. By taking time to evaluate and choose the right CMS for your business, you can avoid many potential issues, such as:

  • Going over your budget
  • Relying on another party to update your site (and waiting / paying for every update)
  • Increased vulnerability to security threats
  • Hitting unexpected limits or outgrowing the CMS platform

The key to choosing the right CMS is to figure out what exactly your business needs from it. There are an array of content management systems on the market, so it’s important to make your own business the starting point and identify the definite must-haves on your list.

What to expect in a CMS

Here are the table stakes – essential properties and features any credible CMS contender should offer you:

  • Core functionality Think carefully about the core functionalities you need to manage your content right now, but also take a look at what you might need in the future. If the CMS you're considering doesn’t offer what you (will) need, there will be another out there that does. Remember, migrating between systems can eat up cycles and budgets, so it’s always good to plan ahead 2-3 years when selecting your CMS.
  • Ease of use An intuitive CMS is a good CMS. It should allow non-tech users to manage and customize each page without expert design or programming expertise. Your CMS needs to be as easy as filling out a form – anything more complicated and you start losing people. Check if the less tech-savvy staff members on your team feel at home in the system – without hours of training.
  • Mobile friendliness Countless studies and statistics already confirm that mobile content consumption outpaces content consumption on the web. According to socPub, 57% of users say they won’t even recommend a business with a poorly-designed mobile site. It’s important that your CMS provides the tools that allow you to create an optimal mobile user experience. Mobile-first is the CMS requirement, not mobile-as-an-afterthought.
  • Security and access control The security risk to your website rises with every new user who is given access to create, manage, edit, and audit content. Granular permissions give control and flexibility to website administrators to manage the access of each user and keep the site content secure. In addition to this, a CMS will allow you to put a “chain of approvals” in place to manage workflows. This means that managers can oversee content edits and submissions before final approval is given and content is published.
  • Analytics integration It’s essential that your CMS allows you to track key metrics and analytics to gain insights into what’s working and what’s not. CMS systems do this either by integrating with analytics tools – such as Google Analytics or Mixpanel – or by providing their own analytics engine. The latter can provide an initial convenience for simple sites, however, analytics products are continuously evolving, so avoiding vendor lock-in and being able to freely change and adopt the latest and greatest tool can offer you significant advantages down the road.
  • CMS templates Easy-to-use templates should be available to allow editors and business users to quickly create and duplicate content as needed. Templates also help to ensure a consistent experience for visitors to your site or app, maintaining the integrity and quality of your content and the way it is displayed on different devices and browsers.
  • Scalability As your website grows and develops, your CMS needs to provide tools to accommodate that growth without impacting performance. Scale can mean lots of visitors to your site. It can also mean adding interactive components, dynamic content and a ton of data stored in your CMS. Look for a CMS that has been used by a business bigger than yours for an indication that it can grow as you do.
  • Vendor support Make sure that your vendor’s support options are comprehensive enough to meet your needs. Do they have a 24/7 service via phone and email? What’s the response rate like (yes, take 5 minutes and actually ask a question)? Do your research because this is one area you really don’t want to skim over.
  • Search functionality 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine so it’s safe to say that search is a crucial component of any website. However, the search functionality in content management systems is often subpar. To ensure that your CMS offers an optimal search function, check that the search engine regularly indexes your website – especially if you’re updating content quite a lot. It’s also beneficial if you can limit the scope of the search function within various sections of your website or refine the search results once they've been returned. In terms of ranking, you need to know how the search engine determines the ranking of the results. Can they be customized and can you control how the results are displayed? These are things that you need to have control over.
  • User interaction If you want to collect user feedback, you’ll need this functionality or a third party service to provide it in your CMS. In a similar vein, if you want to create community on your site then you’ll need additional functionality for chat forums and comments. At the very least, you’ll require the ability to post forms and collect responses.
  • Versioning This is a really useful (arguably essential) feature of any CMS, as it allows you to revert to a previous version of a page if something is posted in error. More than just a simple “undo” of the last change, look for a CMS that allows you to roll back to a specific date or a defined state.

The choice is yours

The CMS market is saturated with multiple vendors offering an array of unique features and benefits. Finding the right one can take some trial and error (and patience!), but investing in proper research upfront will save you time and money down the road. The key is to identify the core functionality and features that you really need and not to get blinded by the flashy nice-to-haves that you might not ever need to use. Follow this checklist and you’ll be well on your way to the perfect CMS for YOU.

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