By Cathy Dew
How and why to take a holistic approach to selecting your website CMS
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 from which to choose. Wikipedia has this list of more than 200 such systems.
So where do you start? It’s complicated, but with some guidance you can narrow in on a short list of viable options.
Here are the different axes of evaluation:
- Basic features – does it have the basics I need? (See below.)
- Advanced features – does the CMS (native or via a plug-in) support advanced features I need? Things like languages and translation, SEO optimization, personalized content, advanced marketing such as A/B testing.
- Open source vs. proprietary – what are the pros and cons?
- Editing support – does it match the skill and capabilities of your editors?
- Out-of-the-box vs. development-required – does it require customization?
- Developer support – does it provide reasonable hooks for custom code? Does the its code base line up with your technical environment and the skillset of your developers? How “wide” is the API provided? Is all front-end development browser-based or does it require compiling code to see your changes?
- Technical support – is there dedicated, timely support from the CMS provider? Is it well-documented? Are there periodic updates including point-release patches and dot-release feature upgrades? Are there working examples of features?
But before we get too far, let’s review exactly what we mean when we refer to a website CMS or a website CMS platform.
What is a website CMS?
Having a solid, performance Content Management System, or CMS, 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 – easy to use editing tools to manage web pages
- Managing content – edit history and version control
- Publishing – workflow to support review, approval and publishing processes
- Search and retrieval – powerful and fast search feature
The top capability and the initial driver behind the development of the plethora of CMS tools that are available today is to allow content creators to easily create and publish content without having to know code (HTML) or be a designer (layout). Separating the content from the presentation (how it is styled) is critical to retaining the aesthetics of your website, especially as the number of content creators goes up.
Content providers and editors can create content by entering text, images and other media via a simple web-based interface. Main body content, including text, images, video and other assets, is entered into a simple WYSIWYG form field. Key data elements are entered into separate fields so they can be styled automatically by the front-end code base. For example, the product or service line name (title), short description, teaser image, etc. are entered into distinct fields, separate from the full description. This ensures content is formatted consistently with the visual design which leverages styling that is consistent throughout the site.
All of the content creation activity is controlled through security (roles, who is allowed to do what), workflow (review and approval process) and audit trails (who changed what when), which is then tracked in a database. This enables an organization to apply rigor to the content publishing process, based on business rules defined by the content and brand owners. Probably more important though, this allows easy rollback to previous versions when something goes wrong.
Note that in most CMSs, this doesn’t usually include a formal check-in and check-out process. An exception is SharePoint, which is a CMS with a lot of collaboration and is the most common large enterprise intranet and collaboration solution, see ZDNet’s The leading enterprise intranet, portal, and collaboration platforms for 2016.
In many CMS applications, workflow can be invoked to push (notify via email, change status, put link to in a user queue, etc.) the newly created content through the review and approval process defined by the content owners and some level of management, e.g., corporate communications, HR, Finance, etc. Many CMS systems allow you to schedule the publication in the future.
For larger organizations with enterprise requirements and highly governed content publishing processes, publishing can get more complicated, e.g., requiring a separate staging instance of your entire website. This is not part of basic CMS functionality.
Search + retrieval
Now that you have all of your awesome content in a database, it needs to be easy to search and display to your website visitors. It is important to index all data for easy access through search functions and allow users to search by attributes such as publication dates, keywords or author. Many CMS offerings have basic search capabilities. Delivering a really amazing search to the end user may require additional development in terms of formatting the search results.
Great, I understand the basics of what a website CMS delivers – what now? Glad you asked! 2Plus2 will dig into this topic at our upcoming Plus16 webinar, scheduled for July 5th. You can read the transcript from the webinar here.