By Cathy Dew
Good morning / afternoon. Welcome to the fourth installment of our monthly Plus16 webinar series. Thank you for taking the time to join us. We know that you are busy – so our goal is to be focused and to pack meaningful data into an efficient 30-minute window.
Drop any questions into the chat as we go through the presentation, we’ll save time for Q&A at the end. We will be recording this session and sending you a link. So let’s get started. My name is Cathy Dew and I am CEO + Information Architect for 2Plus2 Partners. Today we’re talking about the incredibly important task of Picking a CMS for your organization…
The CMS landscape
There are many aspects that must be considered when choosing not only the right but also the best website CMS for your organization. And boy are there a lot of CMS solutions to choose from. Wikipedia has a list of more than 200 CMS systems. This makes it incredibly important to take a holistic approach to selecting your website CMS.
Open Source = FREE in terms of licensing the base product. Many of these solutions are also built on top of an Open Source (FREE) operating system, the biggest player is Linux.
So where do you start? It’s complicated, but with some guidance you can narrow in on a short list of viable options.
The Big Players
Open Source, PHP
- SiteCore (.Net)
- Episerver (.Net)
- OpenText (Java/.Net)
- DNN* (.Net)
- Kentico* (.Net)
- SharePoint (.Net)
Where do I start?
That’s a great question. The best approach is to think holistically across these various axes.
- Cost considerations – What is the cost of the CMS?
- Basic features – does it have the basics you need?
- Advanced features – Does the CMS (native or via a plug-in) support advanced features you need?
- Open source vs. commercial (proprietary)– What are the pros and cons? Do you prefer Windows or Linux or maybe it doesn’t matter.
- Admin experience – Does it match the skill and capabilities of your editors or content contributors?
- Developer support – Does the CMS technical stack match up to your organization’s developer capabilities?
- Technical stability – Does the CMS provide adequate technical support
There is definitely overlap in these items, but as a quick reminder, let’s recap exactly what is a CMS.
A Content Management System is...
Having a solid and appropriate Content Management System platform for your website is key to making and keeping your website vibrant and engaging. But what exactly is a CMS? From an application standpoint, there are two parts.
The first is front-end application where all of the content is entered by non-technical users.
Then there is the engine of the CMS that compiles that information and updates the website for its external audience.
CMS platforms are appropriate for pretty much all “websites” including public websites, B2B extranets, specialty microsites and internal company intranets.
There are four aspects to the most basic CMS:
- Creating content
- Managing content
- Publishing content
- Search and retrieve the content
To learn a little more about even these basic features, as there are differences even in these core capabilities, check out a recent blog.
What are all the have-to-haves?
- Level of Automation – does the CMS offer sufficient automation to make updates easy for you? For example, does it automatically update links to newly uploaded or updated content? Does it create image thumbnails automatically? A poorly designed CMS may result in repetitive and duplicate work. A good CMS should make every update quick and effortless.
- Navigation & Link Management – does it automatically support updating links among pages? Is the nav automatically updated when you move pages around or create new pages?
- Documents & Multimedia Support – can you upload documents of certain formats, embed videos, etc.?
- Asset Management – does the CMS have a central library to store and reuse images, documents, etc.?
- Search Capabilities – does the CMS have search capabilities? What is the search engine technology? Solr and Lucene are two of the best technologies and usually what the commercial systems use
Moving from Basic to Advanced
- Editorial Review & Approval – can you have an editorial review process, where one user prepares an update and another user reviews it before publishing?
- Authorized Access – can you assign user privileges and roles, allowing users to pre-defined levels of access?
- Revision Control – can you quickly revert to a previous version of a page?
Bells + Whistles
We’ve talked about the basics, but what about all of the other fancy features that will delight your audience? Here are some of the features that start to distinguish CMS platforms and might help you narrow in on the best and right CMS for your organization.
Do you need an online store based on a catalog for your sales? An ecommerce CMS platform provides a catalog, support online sales, manages customer accounts and lets you manage the sales transactions.
If your organization is global, then you need a solid solution for translation, not a simple Google translate (that is a simple add-in that can be applied to any website). The larger (often commercial) CMS provide multiple cultures for the content but also have default workflows to support the actual translation task, even if it’s external to your organization.
Search Engine Optimization is a moving target. It is changing constantly and if you’re like most organizations, you need to keep up. Your CMS should provide a way for the editors and content providers to easily enter the meta data and specify image alt tags (critical to SEO and accessibility). There should also be a way to create an XML sitemap – this Is invisible to visitors but used by search engines to better index your website. You want human readable URLs and you need to make sure that you can change the page name without changing the URL – which would result in a lot of 404 page not found errors.
Social Media Integration
Social media activity can positively impact your SEO. The CMS should make it easy to integrate the ability to “like / comment / share” your content, especially your blogs/news articles which are constantly providing new content. You should also be able to easily add a streaming feed from your social media properties.
The ability to deliver specific content based on the individual (or persona) of a visitor is a great way to further engage your audience. In some cases you may have premiere content behind a “pay wall” or user login. Once you know who the visitor is, you can better target specific content for that user.
- We have one client who recently augmented their profile to collect the person’s title, allowing “free” content to be tailored, not just to schools, but to principals versus a school nutritionist or teacher.
- More sophisticated personalized content delivery systems can display content based on the user’s path through the website
- Advanced marketing such as A/B testing.
If you have a large organization then you will want to have multiple instances of your website available including – development, stage which allows you to validate any changes before moving them to Production.
If you have multiple editors then you will probably need to set up some type of gatekeeper that can provide a final review and approval. You may also have conditional requirements, for example if a department wants to feature something on the home page, this might require an additional review and approval from the Marketing Director or Brand Manager.
Other features (that we don’t have time for today)
- Integration with accounting, distribution or business systems
- Self- service capability for your customers
- Moving business processes online
- Knowledge database
- Enterprise collaboration
- Seamless login to the CMS from the network, such as Microsoft AD
- Digital workplace collaboration
- Team workspaces
Open source vs. commercial (proprietary)
Open-source software (OSS) is computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software is often developed in a collaborative public manner. Anyone can modify and enhance the software. These edits are in turn contributed back to the community for anyone’s use.
Closed or propriety or commercial software is not open.
What about open source?
- It’s FREE, that is there is no cost to use the code or the framework
- Apache PHP, Drupal, WordPress, Joomla
- There is a vast community of developers
- You have direct access to the source code
- While there are no support costs for core code, there may be costs for advanced modules and enhancement
- To get the features you might have to go with a variety of paid or free third party modules
- Because the pool of developers of open source is vast, Coding standards may vary greatly
What about a commercial solution?
- There are licensing fees
- With a commercial system, for the bulk of the features, it is sole-sourcing for development and support
- There are standards and integration between all these features
- There is dedicated support for base system and any add-ons provided by the vendor
- As long as you go with a standard technical platform (Java or .Net) you can be assured that they have a large market share which means that you can easily find developers
- You will enjoy a more standard schedule of upgrades. In fact some hosting providers for CMS platforms include upgrades as part of hosting, ensuring that you are always on the latest release.
What is the experience for users of the CMS?
In terms of editing in the CMS, does it match the skill and capabilities of your editors?
- Consider basic versus advanced editing
- Do your editors know CSS or do they need to?
Support your editors
As you think about content generation, you will want a CMS that can be configured to help your content editors easily and consistently contribute content that maintains the design. Of course some training will be required, but make sure that the system is easy to use and allows your editors to focus on the content and not the tool, including formatting.
All CMS have some type of WYSIWYG editor that by default probably gives the user the ability to change the font, color style, perhaps even add inline CSS. Opening this up without guidelines and best practices can compromise the overall integrity of the design of your website. Be sure you can limit the set of styling capabilities in the editor and that you can link back to the site-wide style sheet to ensure consistency. Make sure your CMS provides the ability to set up multiple content types that can be styled separately.
Create a style guide (with examples)
Include an online style guide for the site. Include examples of all the content types with various styling applied. For sites with lots of content produced frequently, you should provide a catalog of display options for various content types. This in conjunction with a few, well thought out templates results in a flexible but consistent editing environment. Everyone wins!
Don’t forget about your developers
A related topic is determining how much of your required feature set is out-of-the-box vs. development-required. To meet your requirements, is it just a matter of configuring the existing CMS features for your organization. Or does it require customization in the form of additional modules or custom code?
For example one of our clients has an online tool that determines if you are getting enough calcium. This is a custom module that is integrated into the CMS platform. In this case, we knew that we had to build this from scratch. If you have custom features then there are additional considerations.
- Does the CMS provide reasonable hooks for custom code?
- Does the CMS code base line up with your technical environment and the skillset of your developers?
- How “wide” is the API (Application Program Interface) provided? Can you easily integrate with other systems?
CMS vendor's technical stability
Technical stability speaks to the overall success of your CMS, especially if you have more advanced requirements.
- Is there dedicated, timely support from the CMS provider?
- Is the CMS well-documented?
- Are there periodic updates including point-release patches and dot-release feature upgrades?
- Are there working examples of features that your developers can use to jump start development?
Cost considerations – what is the cost of the CMS?
This starts with the CMS itself, but as you see from our discussion, that is just the beginning. Depending on your needs the “cost” of a commercial system may be easily offset based on the capabilities it provides.
- Licensing fee – free to thousands of dollars depending on the level, most commercial CMS products have a couple of levels that correspond to advanced features and the number of servers and URLs
- Annual fees – CMS annual fees, hosting, CMS support and enhancements
- Professional services – design (information design, visual design, CMS architecture design, implementation, feature development, integration, testing, training, dot dot dot.
- For internally hosted solutions – hardware, database licenses
- Your time. Having a process to get through your project efficiently and effectively is key.
CMS scenarios or buckets to consider
The first is small to mid-sized websites with standard features
Your corporate brochure website is a perfect example. These sites are fairly easy to manage and there are several industry standard solutions that offer the functionality needed for a basic set of features. What is required to run them is well known and widely available. An open source platform like WordPress leveraging a template design may be the perfect choice.
The second scenario or bucket is…
Mid-range websites that vary in size and complexity, with hundreds of pages, that are growing every day. In this scenario, the CMS becomes an application platform that achieves more than just content publishing. Now, the CMS also contributes to your communications and marketing objectives and processes. With this scale project you will need to leverage a more robust CMS – open source plus modules or development, or a more sophisticated commercial solution.
The third and last scenario is…
Complex websites that serve as applications, or sets of interconnected applications, with collections of content. Page counts are in the thousands and these systems require more complex workflows, governance structures and content models than mid-range systems. Often, growing companies start with the mid-range scenario and evolve to a place where they need a whole suite of more complex features that are integrated, tied together. Commercial solutions are your best bet.
Here is a recap:
- Open source = WordPress, Drupal, Joomla
- Commercial = SiteCore, Episerver, OpenText
- DNN*, Kentico* (* = offer both FREE + Licensed versions)
- And then there’s SharePoint
- Look at what you're currently doing. Identify your pain points, but also determine what is missing.
- Identify scenarios that you desire but aren't currently supported with your current web content management system. These use cases can be used to evaluate various platforms.
- Formalize your requirements into a prioritized list
- Look at the top players (CMS vendors) within your general level and budget and do some research, get a demo or see if they have a list of preferred implementation vendors
- Develop an RFP and start looking for vendors.
In terms of finding the “best and right” vendor – that’s a whole other webinar.
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