Content is the lifeblood of any website, and content management systems (CMS) are key to creating content you users will love. So we put together a few questions you might want to ask when you’re either choosing a CMS for the first time or changing from you existing system.
But first, what is a CMS?
A content management system is a web application that lets non-developers quickly and easily update, add to, and edit a website. There are literally hundreds of them out there, and they sit in two general camps:
Understanding the basic idea behind a CMS, we can start looking at what questions to ask when you’re scoping various platform and vendor options.
1. What do you want your CMS to do?
It’s an important question, even though it seems obvious. Before you start looking at vendors, you want to establish requirements – what do you want your CMS to do?
To do that, you’ll need to establish key pain points not being addressed by your current system. Then, you’ll need to consult all the various parties who are going to be using the new CMS and see what they want. What features are really important to them? What features are more nice-to-have versus need-to-have?
The parties to consult might include:
- Content creators (e.g. marketing managers, content coordinators)
- Internal teams
- External people (freelancers)
Finally, you’ll want to establish a list of focal needs. These are divided into Idiosyncratic Requirements and Priority Requirements.
- Idiosyncratic Requirements are requirements that are totally unique to your company.
- Priority Requirements are requirements that are pretty general when it comes to a CMS, but for some reason are very important to you. For example, if you have a huge amount of legacy data, then integration into older systems would be an extreme priority requirement.
2. Is it easy to use?
Don’t forget – at the end of the day, your CMS really only has two functions:
- To allow non-developers to update your website
- To be extremely easy for non-developers to use
Which is why this question is so important. A huge range of users are going to be interacting with your CMS. For the most part, these users won’t have the same expertise as developers. Your CMS is no use to anyone if you need to call in a dev team every time you want to upload a blog post.
The best way to test the usability is to actually test a CMS. Develop a list of tasks that mimic everyday use of the CMS. For example, uploading a blog post. Get a few people from around the organization – the more stakeholder input at this point, the better – to try to complete the tasks you set, and give you feedback on their experience. It’s worth spending a little extra time trialling every CMS from you shortlist: usability is what’s going to make your CMS either a dream come true… or a total nightmare.
3. Will it help hit target goals?
We live in a world where everything has an app, and it’s tempting to reach for tech for every solution. Don’t forget that a CMS is a tool to address a specific problem. If you’re having trouble getting buy-in for content marketing, you’re struggling to get content created in the first place, or your content strategy isn’t in place securely, then a CMS might not be the solution.
Don’t think that an expensive CMS is a substitute for a content strategy.
Let’s say your goal is to increase the number of social followers for your business. A CMS probably won’t help much with that goal. Creating great content will. Conversely, if your goal is to upload more content and the roadblock isn’t in creation, but rather IT is just way overworked, a CMS would be a very valuable asset.
You need to understand the problem clearly to see what CMS is right for you.
4. How much does it cost?
Thankfully, sneaky deals and weirdly phrased pricing designed to confuse consumers are things of the past. That said, in some cases, there are some other costs to be aware of:
- Multiple user-licenses
- Updates and maintenance costs
- Training costs
- Platform upgrades and extensions
- One-time purchase fee
Make sure you ask about these so there’s no confusion and CMS heartbreak down the line.
5. Does it integrate easily?
If you have older systems, be sure to ask about this. Many industries, including healthcare, logistics, or retail, have specific software that they may need to integrate in a new CMS.
Another consideration is migrating your existing content to your new platform. You want to make this process as easy as possible, and you want to do it without losing any of your content. Make sure you ask how your shortlisted CMSes perform in this regard, or if the vendor will facilitate the process for you. And if you can, try and migrate some of the content to see how it goes.
6. What SEO automation comes as standard?
There are plenty of on-page and off-page SEO techniques you can implement to help people find your site and push it up in the search rankings. And a lot of this can be automated to make your life easier. You should look for a CMS that will help you do that.
For example, your CMS should:
- Help create an optimized meta description
- Make it easy to create meta data for your content
- Make it easy to create alt tags for your images
- Incorporate H1 and H2 headings seamlessly
These little things are just that – little. But they do make a difference over time and most importantly, can be agonizing to implement with each piece of content you upload. It’s best to look for as much automation as possible.
7. How reliant on plugins is the core functionality?
We’ve talked before about our love/hate relationship with plugins. On the one hand, an open source platform with a plugin rich environment like WordPress means that no matter what you need, there’s always a plugin out there.
However, what’s emerged is a situation where many CMSes (especially WordPress) rely on plugins for system critical functionality.
And while plugins do a fine job of enabling that functionality, they do slow down the site and open the door for compatibility and security vulnerabilities.
So before you buy or change, make sure you know what comes built in and, and what comes bolted on.
8. Does your CMS support a mobile website?
It should be standard now that any content management system you’re considering is capable of delivering content that looks good on all screen sizes, either through a mobile site or responsive design.
Considering the explosion of searches and web traffic coming from mobile devices, this is no longer a nice-to-have. We’d recommend choosing a CMS that is capable of doing both, so that you can choose which mobile solution is best for you.
9. What’s the scalability of your CMS?
You don’t want to have to go through the effort of porting over an old CMS into a new only to outgrow it 18 months down the line.
You should be looking not only for a CMS that suits your needs now, but will grow with you as your needs evolve.
For example, let’s say you decide you want to go for a basic open source CMS, because you just need a new site launched quickly. Will that same platform support your marketing goals in 6-12 months? Will it support user management for a larger team when you have multiple staff members carrying out different tasks on the platform? Will it integrate with the CRM you’re planning on migrating to next year? And if it doesn’t now, will it be able to when you decide you want to enable those features?
Websites tend to get more complicated as they (and their respective businesses) grow larger. Make sure that you think of the future as well as the present when you’re considering your website and CMS needs.
10. Does the CMS create a positive user experience?
Finally, does your website provide a good user experience? Do people like to use it or hate it? This will come in part from how you use the CMS, but a lot of this will come down to the CMS itself. For example:
- Is the CMS admin intuitive and easy to navigate?
- Is the back-end quick with a fast load time?
- Does the CMS let you organize the site in a way that makes sense?
Make sure that you investigate not only the potential of your chosen CMS, but a realistic representation of what you can get your CMS to do. Drupal, for example, provides huge flexibility – if you know what you’re doing.
There’s no point falling in love with a site only to discover you’re not equipped to recreate what you saw for yourself, or that it requires a significant additional investment to bring the platform up to the where you want it to be.
When you’re looking at a CMS implementation, the key questions you want to ask are:
- What do I want my CMS to do?
- Is it easy to use?
- Will it help hit target goals?
- How much does it cost?
- Does it integrate easily?
- What SEO automation comes as standard?
- How reliant on plugins is the core functionality?
- Does the CMS facilitate use on mobile?
- What’s the scalability of the CMS?
- Does the CMS create a positive user experience?
With these considerations in mind, you can’t go wrong.
If you still need a little help determining which content management system is the best choice for your business, contact us to discuss.