Challenge: I have a new tree.

Goal: Plant the tree.

Desired outcomes: Blossoms in the spring; shade in the summer; fruit in the fall.

Tool of choice: A hammer?

No worries. I can use the claw side of the hammer to start digging the hole. And if I attach a flattened piece of metal to the striker side, I can dig an even bigger hole. Of course, I might have to lengthen the handle a bit, so I’ll get a pole and some wire to attach it. And if I wrap the wire around both handles eleventy-seven times, the whole thing might hold together long enough to dig the hole.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Why doesn’t she just use a shovel? It’s made for digging! Now she has a cobbled-together mess that’s going to require constant fixing, and might not even work to begin with.”

Indeed.

Well-Defined Needs Make for Better-Fitting Solutions

As more of our clients are seeing the value of using a content management system, or CMS, to serve up their digital and print content, we are sometimes asked to make do with hammers where a shovel might be more effective — or vice-versa. Budgets, schedules, and technical environments all play into our clients’ CMS selection process — and rightfully so. That’s reality. But all of those considerations can also be affected either by not scaling the desired outcomes to the tool or the tool to the desired outcomes.

Seven Important Tips for Evaluating Both the Project and the Tool

1. Content Complexity

How complex is your content? Is it contained in a single site? Across multiple, interrelated sites? In print as well as digital media? Are there significant chunks or kinds of content that must — or can — be reused across digital properties or print collateral? Do you have documents, video, audio, or other media you wish to publish through your CMS? Do you have social media content you want to manage through your CMS?

2. Responsive Design

Will your users want to engage with your content across multiple contexts, using different devices? Do you want a CMS that will support responsive design or adaptive content? Does it add its own CSS code, requiring code editing to get the right look-and-feel? How does it handle JSP? HTML5? Web fonts?

3. Workflow Needs

How does your current content go to publication? Who creates it? Who approves it — and at what stages of its editorial journey? Can any of the process be handled through the CMS?

4. Ease of Use

Who will be entering, editing, and approving your content? Who will be maintaining your CMS? What level of skill do these users have — or need to acquire — with the system — or with technology in general?

5. Integration with Other Systems

Do you have a customer relationship management tool (CRM) with which the CMS will need to integrate or share data? Email systems? Other business-critical — or even merely important — systems that will affect the publication, distribution, or success metrics for the content?

6. The Amount of Customization Required to Get the Job Done Right

If your CMS of choice requires significant customization — especially work-arounds — to achieve basic functionality, you might want to keep looking. Extensive customization results in potential risk, and that risk is rarely worth the effort. You would be better off looking for a CMS that more closely fits your needs than you would be trying to bend, wire, and duct-tape a solution together.

7. Vendor Service Agreements

Your CMS vendor is an important partner in implementing your system. What kinds, levels, and duration of support do they offer? At what cost? Will they assist you with cut-over planning? System testing? Data migration? Do they offer training? Will they provide on-site support? How much? How often?

Not Even the Right Hammer Makes Everything a Nail

In addition to thinking about what you do want your content management system to handle, you’ll need to think about what you don’t want it to handle. If you aren’t intentional about what goes into your CMS — and what stays out of it — you’ll end up with a system resembling the digital content equivalent of a junk drawer. A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Should your CMS be your system of record for auditing purposes, or are there other places where legacy or expired content can be stored?
  • Most rich-media content, such as videos, be stored in the CMS, or would it make more sense to create a YouTube or Vimeo channel?
  • Would you benefit from using a document management system or other repository for printable content, such as PDFs of brochures?

Asking yourself — and your business stakeholders — questions such as these can save time, expense, and frustration.

So can selecting the right CMS for your needs.