Your content management system is one of the keys to a stable, secure, and well-used website. If it's time for a new one, look before you leap.
Choosing a new content management system requires a significant investment of time and resources for any institution or organization. As many of our clients can attest, sometimes the costs of staying with an old system (including dated content, unhappy team members, and an ineffective website) can be even higher. Our development team weighs in below with expert opinions on when and how to make a change.
What are signs that you might need to consider a new content management system?
You can't make changes to your website without outside support. Expensive outside support.
Only a handful of people currently know how to enter content into your website.
Even when employees do know how to enter content, they avoid it at all costs. ("Too complicated!")
You're on an aging and insecure platform with no clear path to an upgrade.
Who should be involved in evaluating the options for new content management systems?
A general rule of thumb: the amount of time spent interacting with the CMS platform for each group should reflect the weight of their input in the decision-making process.
Technology choices are often informed by your IT department, and this is very valuable input. However, if you're open to hosting your website externally (e.g. not on a server directly at your location) your IT department should not necessarily have the final say in the choice of your CMS platform. Content editors will likely spend much, much more time working with the CMS than the IT department will.
On the other hand, if you have an in-house web development team who will be interacting on a daily basis, they should have equal say with the marketing or communications department in the choice of the CMS.
What are some of the most important things to look for when evaluating a new CMS?
How easy is it for editors to enter content?
- Is it a multi-step process to edit page content?
- Is it easy to forget the process?
- Is it easy to break things?
- If it is easy to break things, is recovery within the ability of the editor or does it require an administrator's assistance?
How restrictive is the CMS to the design system?
- Will you run up against issues with asking for tweaks to things such as the navigation?
- Will the CMS output bloated code that is not accessible or performs poorly on slow connections?
Does building a site on the chosen CMS require heavy dependence on third party plugins?
- Have you done the research to know which plugins / modules are trusted?
- Do you have a system in place for frequently updating plugins to keep your site secure?
- Do you have the staff and infrastructure to stage plugin updates on a secondary server to ensure compatibility with your site before updating your live site?
How does the choice of CMS affect your budget? The choice of CMS can greatly impact the development time (and thus the budget)!
Does the CMS require heavy customization that will make it difficult to maintain in the future (either by internal teams, your current vendor, or a future vendor)?
Does the CMS make your life easier in ways that are important to you?
- Do its features match your priorities? (Ex: SEO integration, analytics integration, etc.)
- Does the CMS become a time saver for you instead of a time waster?
How can you balance the needs of content contributors with the more technical concerns of the IT team?
The easiest way to alleviate IT concerns is to choose off-site managed hosting. This removes the burden from your IT team of managing the servers and the network infrastructure related to your website. If the chosen CMS requires a Linux-based platform and your IT department is only knowledgeable in Windows systems, offloading to a third party is your best choice. Services such as Rackspace offer 24/7 support for your server - something most IT departments can't provide even if they are knowledgeable in your chosen platform.
How do you recommend evaluating the strengths or weaknesses of a new CMS?
Evaluating a CMS based on checklists tells you very little about what the actual experience of working in the system is like. We would recommend that you set up a walkthrough of a few existing CMS implementations with your vendor (or prospective vendors) to see what it's like to work in the CMS platforms that interest you.
Almost all modern content management systems will "check all the boxes" that matter and will have plugins that fill the gaps in the core system - what the checklists don't tell you is how well each of those features is implemented (and how easy those features are to understand). It's also a good idea to talk to other institutions that have their website based on the CMS you are curious about.
Don't give up!
There are many systems out there for you to evaluate, and these are just a few ideas to get you started. Above all, we recommend that you choose the system that's right for you, your needs, and your team. If you're not impressed by the CMS all your peers have been talking about, or if it's too expensive or too complicated, keep looking! Don't rest until you've found something that will help you take your website to a whole new level.
image credit: Kevin Lau