How to choose the right CMS

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When it comes to CMSs, we live in complicated times. Which system do you choose and what do you want to achieve? If your goal is simply to build an 'editable website', then you might need to rethink your goals. You should be aiming to create the beating heart of your digital ecosystem. 

WordPress is a very popular choice – and there are plenty of great WordPress websites around that make it clear why. However, it's by no means the only option when it comes to CMSs. 

So what exactly needs to be considered when making the toughest choice in digital? Here are a few questions you should be asking yourself when selecting the right CMS for your site.

01. What is your aim?

A CMS should be designed to support all of the critical interactions and functions your business needs. I hear now more than I have ever done: ‘We have invested all this money in a website but it’s not delivering what we expected.’ Establishing real KPIs for the site will help you make the right decision.

02. How will success be measured?

If you create KPIs for a site’s success, match them with the right level of insight. In my view, you can never have enough data around website usage. The greatest amount of time should be given to this aspect of the CMS strategy. If you can’t integrate an adequate level of analytics into the considered CMS, walk away. 

Also consider the rest of the ecosystem: ensure you have measurement in place to track the impact of changes across your digital real estate. 

03. How will the site be managed?

A website is like a living, breathing thing: it needs to be fed. Up-front, think about your organisation’s ability to manage it moving forward. If you are a team of one or two and are targeting a content-hungry website, you will be battling competing demands so ensure you consider how you will feed it. Sites that have been designed with high content demands will suffer far worse in the hands of small teams than those with more modest content needs. 

04. How will the site be maintained?

Before you get in bed with one particular CMS, consider what will happen further down the line. Digital changes constantly. Things will break. Code will need updating. This is where careful consideration should be given to choosing between a bespoke, an open-source or a proprietary CMS.

With a bespoke CMS, you get the functionality you need. Your budget has paid for what you are going to use and not for things you won’t use. However, its biggest asset is its greatest limitation. In most cases, a bespoke CMS is developed by a single developer or a team. Their approach to development can sometimes make it very hard for another developer to take over. A bespoke CMS will need constant updates, so consider the real cost of a relationship with those developers breaking down. 

Open source is free to use. This can be all someone needs to hear to make it the weapon of choice. But, as with all open source, nobody really owns it. Yes, there are more developers out there who can develop for that platform, making it easier and cheaper to recruit. But, without the defined development roadmap of the proprietary CMS, you are somewhat at the mercy of the masses. The subscription fee that comes with the proprietary CMS guarantees not only a defined roadmap but also accountability and a support network moving forward.

05. How much personalisation will you need?

Beware the lure of personalisation. This is some advice based on experience. True personalisation is very hard to achieve: it will require a great deal of investment. Managing and creating specific journeys for individual personas requires time. 

As with all decisions when choosing a CMS, consider the reality of living day-to-day with your chosen platform. Consider using as many automated approaches to content personalisation as possible. The flexibility of a CMS is reflected in the experience a user has. If you can’t put in, visitors will get out. 

These are just some of the considerations when choosing a CMS, and every option will come with its positives and negatives. As long as you are clear with what you need it to do up front, you will always reduce the risk of making the wrong choice. 

This article was originally published in net, the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers. Buy issue 313 or subscribe.

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