Re-posting this article due to lots of discussion lately - let us know what you think! Before clients see BigTree CMS, Fastspot's content management system, they often ask us why we built our own when there are so many out there that we could have...

Re-posting this article due to lots of discussion lately - let us know what you think!

Before clients see BigTree CMS, Fastspot's proprietary content management system, they often ask us why we built our own when there are so many out there that we could have simply used. When they ask me, I usually picture this.

How could I ever expect my clients to wade through instruction manuals numbering in the thousands of pages when they should be focused on content? What is the point of purchasing a CMS if you need to hire several programmers or experts to run it? Why would I actually expect my clients to willingly log into a system that is unusable, unfriendly and doomed to frustrate and confuse as they try to update a page or change a video clip?

Clearly, there are different "types" of content management systems and there are blogs and companies that do nothing but rate them, review them, provide training for them, etc.. It is an industry of its own, and with little oversight or benchmarks being applied, it is confusing to determine what makes a good CMS. Here are the things that make a good CMS; they are built into BigTree CMS and enjoyed by our clients:

Easy to Use

Let's face it. Most of the time, you want someone who knows words and pictures doing the editing and updating on copy and imagery, not a computer scientist. I don't know about you, but I only know a few very special people who can claim to be a programmer, a designer and a copywriter.

If my goal is to be thinking about words and tone and audience, don't make me worry about code.

Intelligent

If I need a piece of content to be placed in multiple places in the Website, it would be nice if the CMS could handle that for me. The benefit of a customized solution is that the development team can tweak the CMS to anticipate your needs and be ready to deliver when you need it to.

Helpful

When I need help, I want to get to it quickly and easily. Tool tips, easy-to-locate help sections, videos on how to do a certain process, FAQs—these are all extremely helpful. I like for this kind of information to be built into the system I am using so I don't have to leave my CMS to find the information on a Website or, even worse, in a 1,000 page written manual.

Flexible

If I am going into my CMS to update a bullet point, I don't want to have to jump through 30 hoops to get it done. Likewise, if I am adding an entire new section to the site—setting up new templates, adding links to the navigation, inputting SEO-relevant content, and setting up modules—then I expect some complexity, along with some checks and balances along the way.

Powerful

If I want something to be done, it should be possible. This is one of the reasons we developed our own CMS:  So we could do the things we wanted to be done within the system. It's also why we developed it on open-source platforms. That way, our clients aren't beholden to us if they want to build upon the system.

Intuitive

If I want to move a navigation item higher on the list of drop down items, wouldn't it be nice to simply drag and drop it in the list? If I need to upload an image to use in a template or inline, wouldn't it be nice if the system automatically knew the size and ratio and let me crop the image accordingly during the upload process? Oh, how we used to dream of sleep-filled nights without the worry of broken links or content that wasn't being indexed by Google. Well, we answered our own dreams with BigTree—and any good CMS out there should be doing the same.

Stable

Don't you love when you hit one button and it seems the whole internet goes down? Or, at the very least, it seems you may have fried some sort of major thing with servers and possibly satellites and you swear you smell smoke? A good CMS should keep you out of harm's way. You shouldn't be able to do massively bad things without being loudly prompted (several times) by your CMS:

  • "Are you sure you want to delete that page?"
  • "Are you sure you want to erase a week's worth of work?"
  • "Are you sure you want to take down the whole site just because you want that animated gif in the copy?"

Additionally, if you do make a mistake and cause a problem, it should be a recoverable problem. Hitting one button somewhere should never take down your whole site. Ever.

Secure

You want the people who need to know, knowing. And those who only need to know a little, well, they should be in the 'know a little' room. A good CMS should allow for security and user account settings to be configured in such a way as to protect your sensitive information on the back end of your site, as well as on the front end.

The system should only show users what they have been authorized to see. No more.

That way, your disgruntled intern can't mosey on over to the professional bios section and add a line about Mr. Smith's prized Chia Pet collection...or something like that. You get the idea.

Pleasant

If you want your team to do something, willingly, proactively even, then that "something" better be pleasurable to engage with.

Have you ever had your team say "no thanks" when you've invited them down for a pizza/brainstorming session? You make the brainstorm process more pleasurable by including the pizza. A little pleasure goes a long way, which is why we think a CMS's administrative area should be as nice looking as the front-facing Website, if not nicer. It should be organized, friendly, use real world language—not things like "vars" or "default"—that make sense only to programmers. It should help you if you make a mistake, allow you to play without fear of crashing, and inspire you to log in and keep creating great content! A CMS is essentially tools for the creative process, same thing as Photoshop to designers, or paint and brushes to a painter. Who wants to create something in a sterile, threatening and confusing environment?

Simple

This is the most important element for a good CMS. Simple does not mean weak or limited.

Simplicity is difficult to achieve and requires great effort and restraint to get it right.

Sure, we could probably add modules to BigTree that would allow our clients to do some crazy stuff, but they don't really need it. And, if they do, it's one client out of a million. In that case, we do something custom just for them. Keeping the CMS simple allows you to build a solid foundation first. Then you have time in real world scenarios to determine if you really need it to reposition that satellite or not.

What do you think? Share your thoughts on what makes a good CMS, and don't forget to tell us who you are. Perspective is everything!

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published November 2nd 2011