5 Point Guide to Choosing a CMS 

September 15, 2016

Blog | Technology | 5 Point Guide to Choosing a CMS 

Choosing a content management system (CMS) that fits your business objectives and user needs is harder than you think. We’ve put together a 5 point guide to choosing a CMS to help you narrow them down and choose one that you won’t want to throw out the window within months of launching.

If you’ve been tasked to find the best (CMS), you may have been given a checklist similar to this one:

  • Non-technical marketers must be able to manage content easily.
  • Roles and permissions must be assigned to prevent non-technical users from causing a crash or data loss.
  • Must be responsive and able to support every possible view on every device imaginable (plus those that aren’t imaginable and haven’t been built yet).
  • Your IT team must be able to develop on it and deploy changes rapidly.
  • It must support your inbound marketing goals by generating so many leads you need to hire more sales staff to handle all of them.
  • You must be able to report on web data through cutting edge analytics tools tracking every click, blink, and sniff of every site user AND generate beautifully created pie and bar charts for your executive officers to see with the single click of a button.
  • You must be able to personalize content to users through data gathered from previous visits in order to nurture them through the marketing funnel and qualify them for your sales team.
  • And finally…it has to be free (obviously!).

As great as those things sound, meeting those requirements isn’t usually feasible.  There’s an old saying in software development: “You can have it fast. You can have it cheap. You can have it right. Pick two.”

Choosing a CMS, especially when there are so many available with similar features, can be a bit of a nightmare. To help you narrow things down, here are some things to take into consideration before making a decision:

1. Cost “Savings”

Many people experience sticker shock when they start gathering bids, so they lean towards open source/community-driven solutions. Unfortunately, they end up spending considerably more because of the custom development required to get the features they need. This isn’t a knock against open source, we’ve implemented countless open source solutions like this upgrade and rebuilt on Drupal 7 for Cynosure, rather, it’s a suggestion to “keep an open mind” as you may save money by spending more up front. In the end, the right decision depends on your feature list and what the solution needs to support.

2. But… It’s A Marketers Dream!

You’ve been wowed by all the bells and whistles that “x” CMS has to offer and you’re ready to make a selection. Your pick will allow your marketing team to see every move your site users are making and create new campaigns on the fly geared towards turning each user into a customer. Afterward, you’ll be able to view/generate some awesome colorful charts that you can use in your next awesome colorful PowerPoint presentation showing your +50% conversion rate.

I admit, I’ve been wowed by what these content management systems have to offer too. But, the marketing tools require a lot of planning, preparation, and configuration to be useful. If no one knows how to use them, or understands how much it’s going to cost to configure them, your team may end up frustrated and give up. And that’s after the money’s been spent. Be sure you understand what it’s going to take to use the tools and that you have a technology partner that knows how to best configure them to help you meet your needs.

3. Development & Deployment

Before choosing the right CMS for you, here’s some questions we recommend getting clarity around first:

  • What is “x” CMS like to develop on?
  • How easy is it to install/setup?
  • How long does it take from initial install until a developer can start working on your site?
  • How well does it support team development? Do developers have to work connected to a shared database?
  • How do developers sync changes between environments?
  • How easy is it to push changes to an already launched site? (New features, not content changes)
  • How does your developer get a whole batch of updates up on the live server?
  • How does the system handle pushing content and code changes from three different servers?

Talk to real people who’ve actually worked on it before you select a CMS so you can get real responses and a better understanding of processes. The sales engineers for “x” CMS will always tell you that it’s easy, so talk to developers who have been in the trenches and fought the good fight to get the real story.

If you don’t understand some of these questions, I encourage you to bring in an IT resource to help vet your choices.

4. Maintainability & Support

Who’ll be working on it for the next 10 years? Yes. 10 years. If you’re investing time and money, the solution had better last a long time.  It’s important that your developer or development vendor is comfortable and experienced with your selection. After all, they’ll be responsible to take on your demands to magically make your CMS fulfill your business needs. Also, check out their support. Are they responsive? Are they helpful? Again, find out from people who’ve worked with the system before, not from the source.

5. CMS Lifespan

In order to have a good long trek with your CMS make sure it’s going to stick around. Look at the company’s history, other companies that are using it, and make sure it has a good healthy roadmap. The last thing you want to do is buy software that is either at the end of its life, or will be outdated after a short time.

Think twice about proprietary systems (you know the ones that no-one has heard about and only that one vendor can work with and use) because once you start going down that path, your at risk of being stuck with that partner for the long haul. Find one that you can have someone pick up with little or no effort if things don’t work out for whatever reason with your development partner.

Other areas that you’ve probably already read on countless sites include: Ease of Use, Performance, SEO, Flexibility and Control. All of these are important, but the issues I raise today aren’t talked about as often. I hope it helps you in your search for the perfect CMS to fit your business objectives, both in the short and long term.

Are you researching CMS? How are you going about the process? We’d love to hear from you! Tweet us @GeekHive or reach out on LinkedIn.

*Originally posted here Aug 7, 2014. Updated September 2016.

Dave Cardine, UX and Creative Director, GeekHive

Dave Cardine

Marketing Technologist
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