What to Look for in a Content Management System

By admin, August 14th, 2009

Every Which Way
Photo by Editor B

Many web designers and web design agencies now include content management (CMS for short) tools with their websites. These allow you (as a client) to make updates to your website without having to rely on the developer. This has obvious cost benefits, but you should consider the solution they are providing before jumping in.

What to look for in content management

The most important feature of any CMS should be ease of use. If it’s difficult to manage the updates or you need to contact your vendor for help every time you need to make a change, you may be better off paying your designer to update your site.

Features to look for

In most content management systems, the content lives in a database that is separate from the design. This allows you to pull the content out in new ways.

One of those new ways is RSS. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and is a way for software and other websites to be notified of updates to your website. When they are notified, they’ll know to come see what’s new. As well, RSS allows other websites to syndicate your content which can drive visitors from new and unexpected places.

Another feature that any CMS worth it’s salt should come with is blogging functionality. Blogs are an easy way to post articles and news to your site in an organized and easy to digest format. Articles are posted in reverse chronological order (new to old). Websites with active blogs tend to perform much better in search engines.

Other features to consider:

  • Ability to add/reorder pages
  • Flexible page content types (vs. only pages)
  • User management and permissions
  • Browser based editing
  • Ability to extend functionality through plugins
  • Ability to manage meta-data
  • Human-readable URLS
  • Built in search
  • Content versioning
  • Logging and reporting
  • Performance and optimization options

Other considerations

Don’t be tempted to compare CMS’s feature to feature. Not all features are implemented the same way with the same options. That means the blogging feature of “CMS X” may not be comparable (i.e., as easy to use or have as many options) as the blogging feature of “CMS Y”. If a particular feature is really important to you, do your homework to see how each CMS handles it.

As well, the workflow to accomplish a particular task will probably differ between CMS’s. Some CMS’s are optimized for a particular type of content (like blogging), while others are meant for selling, photography, or more general uses. Accomplishing the same task may require varying amounts of effort.

One more thing to consider is the learning curve. It’s important to think about who will be doing the website updates and what is their skills are. Often the person handling the updates may require additional training to be the most effective at it.

How to pick a CMS

You should also separate your needs from wants. You may want to dabble in social media, but making that a requirement for your CMS can add unnecessary cost and complexity. It’s better to start small and grow as needed.

You should ask for a demo if possible. Most companies should be happy to do this for you. This is the only real way to judge whether the system will work for you and your organization.

Category Icon Posted in CMS, Picking a Vendor

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