A good website begins with a solid platform. If you’re considering a new website design, a content management system (CMS) will provide the tools you need to keep your site effective and consistent.
With so many CMS options available, however, it can be overwhelming trying to find just one that fits your needs and budget. Here are a few pointers to help you choose the right CMS for your next website.
What is a Content Management System?
A Content Management System (CMS) is a platform that allows you to publish, edit, delete, and organize content on your website, as well as to maintain and update its appearance and functionality. Content Management Systems are designed to make website management simple and straightforward for non-technical users, so that businesses can update their own blogs, page content, resource directories, and more – without the need for a third-party website developer or dedicated website maintenance employee. A CMS offers a host of advantages:
- A CMS allows more than one person to post and modify site content – a great advantage for organizations of any size. You can also set different levels of access for each administrator, depending on their skills, needs, and overall roles.
- A CMS saves time and resources by making it easy to manage your website content from one central administrative area. CMS interfaces are usually user-friendly, with content editors that function similarly to word processing programs.
- By using consistent design templates to handle the look and feel of each website page, a CMS ensures uniform formatting of content, which helps facilitate a smooth user experience. Also, because a CMS is database-driven, content on pages, links, and navigation is synchronized whenever a change is made. This keeps your website pages consistent, which is crucial to building a strong brand image.
- CMS data is stored on the web rather than saved to your computer. This eliminates the need for local editing of individual web pages, and also allows multiple administrators to modify the site from any location with an internet connection, without the use of special software.
In general, CMS platforms fall into two categories:
Open source content management systems are available to the general public at no cost. They are supported by communities of developers and contributors who maintain the system. These communities also create and share thousands of plug-ins (software add-ons), giving you nearly limitless options when it comes to enhancing your site with additional functionality. Also, open-source software operates on well-adopted standards and coding practices, meaning that any skilled web developer can create custom functionality based on the unique needs of each organization. One caveat: though the platforms themselves are free, they don’t usually include technical support (other than self-service developer forums) or web hosting. Popular open source content management systems include Joomla!, WordPress, and Drupal.
Commercial content management systems are owned and developed by a single software company. These platforms require a licensing fee (either one-time or subscription-based, depending on the CMS), and typically provide some level of customer service, upgrade support, and website hosting. Commercial content management systems generally don’t accept third-party plug-ins, meaning that any additional functionality you wish to add must be created by the company from whom you purchased the CMS.
Each CMS on the market (whether open source or commercial) comes with its own unique pros and cons. To find the platform that works best for you, it’s important to develop a clear picture of where your business currently stands, where you’d like to be in the future, and what types of website functionality you will need in order to meet both your current needs and future goals. It’s helpful to ask yourself a few questions:
- What do you want your website to accomplish? Will you be primarily providing information, or also selling products and services online?
- What is the scope of your project? How many pages will your site contain, and how often will it need to be updated? Does the platform integrate with your existing IT infrastructure, or will it require custom coding, plug-ins, or applications?
- Will your website require e-commerce functionality? Smaller organizations with simple e-commerce needs can use nearly any platform to add a shopping cart to their existing website. Larger, more complex businesses, however, often require the power and flexibility that only a dedicated online shopping cart (or storefront) can provide.
- Will your new website include a responsive framework? Responsive design lets your website adjust automatically to smartphones, tablet PCs, and laptop or desktop computers. Most modern CMS software offers some sort of responsive design support, but the ease with which a responsive template can be implemented can vary widely from one platform to another.
- How much time, staff, or money can you dedicate to building and maintaining your website? Will you have a dedicated on-site person handling technical issues? Will you be outsourcing technical changes to an agency or outside developer?
- How many people will need to access and manage your website, and what will be the responsibilities of each user? This will determine the amount of training each user will need to get, as well as the portions of the website to which they’ll be given access.
Once you’ve clarified the scope of your website, you can look more closely at specific CMS features that will meet your needs. Unfortunately, there are no “perfect” CMS platforms. When considering your options, the best strategy is simply to do your homework. Look for features that will work for the size and complexity of your desired website. Read up on common complaints and difficulties other users are experiencing, and determine whether or not they may pose a problem for your team. And don’t be afraid to request a demo or trial of platforms that seem like a good fit.