At r2i we are often asked by clients to help them navigate their options in selecting a content management system (CMS). They will list a set of features and ask us to point them in the right direction. If only it was that simple. Selecting a CMS is typically a major milestone in a multi-generational project plan that can be the single most important decision that will drive the future success or failure of the entire project. Now that the pressure is on, what actually goes into a decision?
I wish I could tell you it’s as simple as selecting a list of features (which you can use our CMS Comparison to do), and choosing the tool that most closely matches your needs. While understanding the differences among CMS platforms is important, it’s only part of the selection process. Regardless of the maturity of the CMS there will be a similar core feature set such as a rich text editor, blog, news, ability to manage media assets and even a content publishing workflow. Selecting a CMS that will be the content publishing distribution hub of your organization’s most important digital assets by the out-of-the-box feature set alone is a major mistake.
Keep in mind that a CMS should be viewed as a foundation, not a solution. You will never be able to install a CMS out of the box directly into production and solve your problems. Yes, you may have a fancy new blog module that allows your content authors to start blogging. But…what does that actually do for your end goal? Why are you blogging to begin with? Most likely, it’s to drive traffic to your site and build visibility for your company. Does a blog module really fulfill the needs of your overall digital strategy? What features should be enabled such as commenting, ratings and sharing? How should it look? What tagging methods should be incorporated? How will it be moderated? What about SEO? Analytics? Advertising? Thinking in terms of a single feature is a common mistake that will leave you with a half-baked tool.
Before you commit to a new CMS consider the following:
1) What is the overall vision and goal behind implementing a CMS?
Remember, selecting a CMS on feature set alone is a mistake. You need to understand the overall purpose behind the CMS more then you need to understand if it solves a single problem. Who are your business owners? What are they looking to do? The answer to that question usually ISN’T to simply publish content on a website. It’s more likely there are business objectives such as, “drive brand awareness,” “upsell clients on new services,” “promote new products.” Meeting these needs is not done with an out-of-the-box feature. Now that you are thinking in terms of a digital strategy and business goals, how do the various CMS solutions fit into that vision? Are you implementing a CMS that will stand alone or integrate with other tools to implement that strategy? Are you getting buy-in from these owners on what they want the tool to do?
2) What is your core technology stack? Do you expect to support it in-house?
Phase 1 of any project is relatively easy to identify but understanding phases 2, 3 and beyond is key to making the right choice. Once you have a CMS, what’s next? Are you going to support it in-house? If so, what is your organization’s core technology stack? Can you host it on your existing server infrastructure? Aligning the system with your organization’s technology stack is key to reducing future costs, and being able to truly utilize your CMS as a foundational platform, not just a tool. This is an important part of the decision-making process and involving IT is a must to ensure success. Don’t throw the cool tool at IT if they can’t support it. Maybe your IT organization has a strict “no open source” policy. Maybe they have an “open source first” policy. Understanding the internal compatibility and ensuring it fits within your overall IT plan is integral to making the right decision.
3) Budget vs. wish list vs. timing
Ok, you know the vision and you know you can support it. Now, can you afford it? What are your time-to-market needs? Looking at the selection from a project management perspective will ensure that you don’t spend your entire budget on the tool – or – that you don’t buy the cheapest tool without keeping long-term development cost in mind. Maybe you need the CMS yesterday. Who doesn’t? Are you ready to increase cost to decrease time? There are different levels of CMS support available on the market that can help you get to market faster, or reduce cost. Identifying which is more important will help drive the decision.
4) Place in marketplace
The final consideration should be understanding the history and market share of the product. Are you risk-adverse and need a rock-solid system that has been proven in the marketplace? Are you willing to be an early adopter and possibly get the better tool? This part of the decision process encompasses the previous decision points. What is your long term plan? If you need future development (which you inevitably will…) can you do this in-house? If not, is there a community who understands the platform that you can contract to help? What about support? What if there is a security flaw in the code? Is there a professional organization backing the CMS who will put their name and reputation on the line to fix the flaw?
CMS Research is Worth the Effort
Hopefully, after reading through these considerations you now understand that selecting a CMS is not just a “feature” decision. You’ve most likely recognized this is a major decision with a lot of factors involved in getting it right. Don’t make a mistake in the process and pick a CMS solely on one decision point. Reach out to others who have made these decisions. Read online reviews. Talk to experts in the marketplace who have been through the decision and understand the decision tree that you need to navigate.
Trust me, the research is worth it.