Choosing the right content management system (CMS) is not easy. As you begin investigating your options, make sure you’re asking the right questions. Here’s an analogy that underscores the complexity of the problem, followed by seven factors to consider and important questions to put your on the right path.
Challenge: I have a new tree that I need to plant.
Desired outcomes: The tree blossoms in the spring, provides shade in the summer, and fruit in the fall.
Tool of choice: A hammer.
A hammer, you ask. Is that really the right tool?
No worries, the guy at the store said 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.
The obvious question is why not just use a shovel? It’s made for digging! By using the wrong tool, you’ve cobbled together a mess that’s going to require fixing.
Well-defined needs make for better-fitting solutions
Content management systems (CMS) are great for serving up digital and print content, but we are sometimes asked to make do with a hammer 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 be affected by not scaling the desired outcomes to the tool, or the tool to the desired outcomes.
7 criteria and questions to help evaluate 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 kinds of content that 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? Of course they will. Do you want a CMS that will support responsive design or adaptive content? Does the CMS 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 this process be handled through the CMS?
4. Ease of use
Who will be entering, editing, and approving your content? Who will maintain 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 (CRM) tool that will need to integrate with the CMS? Email systems? Other business-critical systems that will affect the publication, distribution, or success metrics for content?
6. The amount of customization required to get the job done right
If your CMS of choice requires significant customization, especially workarounds, 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 closely fits your needs versus trying to bend, wire, and duct-tape a solution together.
7. Vendor service agreements
Your CMS vendor plays a critical role in implementing your system. What kind of support do they offer? What is the level and duration of that support? And 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?
Not even the right hammer makes everything a nail
In addition to thinking about what you 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. Ask yourself these final questions:
Should your CMS be your system of record for auditing purposes, or are there other places where legacy or expired content can be stored?
Could 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 another repository for printable content, such as PDFs of brochures?
Asking yourself and your business’ stakeholders questions such as these can you save time, expense, and frustration.
So can selecting the right CMS for your needs.
— Contributed by Denise Dilworth