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How To Choose the Right CMS, Part 1: What Do I Really Need A CMS For?

Shopping for toothpaste is one of the most difficult things to do. You turn your cart onto the toothpaste aisle expecting a quick grab-and-go only to be presented with a confusing array of options. But all we want to know is, Which one cleans my teeth?

The unfortunate answer to the question is all of them.

These days, picking the best CMS for your website may feel uncomfortably similar — only there are more website options than toothpaste variations. If you ask which one can meet the needs of your website and achieve your business goals, an honest answer will likely be, Well, pretty much all of them.

What do you actually need your website to do?

Answer that question, and you will be fine. Start by digging into what it is you want from your new website. Get as specific as possible, then work backward. Prioritize and weed out any items that could be contradictory or unrealistic. Some of those items might be moved to a “future” list. These might be things that could be revisited in a second phase but should still be considered during your initial planning. We’ll call this your wish list — think of it in the same terms you would if you’re buying a house — can you add on to it later? Or is too limiting of a structure to make changes when you can afford to?

No one’s business needs will be exactly the same, but here are some considerations that are common to most websites.

1. What type of website do you have?

While most are not just one thing, in general, websites can be categorized into four main buckets:

  • E-Commerce — Directly selling products or services online.
  • Consumer information or lead generation — Informing potential clients about your business services and collecting contact information for your sales team.
  • Public relations or content creation — Posting regular content, whether to provide news about your company, showcase expertise in your field, generate ad revenue, etc.
  • Social networking — Providing a means for visitors to connect and converse with one another, often through discussion forums.

There are platforms that can handle each of the above types, but your key concern should be — which platform will best manage the information you wish to convey? You don’t necessarily want to settle for a swiss army knife. Remember, this is your house. Identify your priorities, consider if it makes sense for everything you have prioritized living under one roof, then narrow your focus to platforms which can meet your defined needs.

2. How much content will the site contain?

All CMS platforms share a common limitation: they cannot know exactly how they will be used by any given website. WordPress is a good example. Originally designed as a purely blogging platform, it has gone on to power virtually every type of website out there. But that much flexibility can come at a cost: in order to be usable by everybody, CMS platforms are not optimized for anybody. The more content you create, and the more complexity you build into your content, the bigger the chance your performance will take a hit.

Over the years, server software has become increasingly performant and servers have grown bigger and cheaper, but when you know from the start that you will be creating a large amount of complex content (content with many relationships to other content), you will want to choose a CMS that provides greater control over what that content looks like in the database.

3. You will have images and video. But how much?

The major question here is, will your website be serving up a large number of images and videos, or will your media needs be fairly small? These days, visual media is an essential part of an engaging website, but which CMS you choose will depend on whether you need a few images or videos per page OR major image galleries and media intense pages throughout your website. Most platforms provide tools for image scaling, but these are often cumbersome or lack features such as custom scaling or crop points. That may be fine for websites with minimal media needs, but for today’s highly visual web, you may need something more.

Your website is the wrong place to manage video storage and playback. When it comes to video, your best bet is to look beyond the CMS. If you want to increase social engagement, host videos on YouTube. For better quality and control with fewer restrictions, look to Vimeo. For full control, Wistia is your best bet.

4. Is security a major priority?

Honestly, when is it not? Security should be a major consideration for every website project. The good news is that most high-visibility website platforms are serious about their security. Even so, no software is perfect, and sooner or later, most platforms will have security flaws.

Here are some things to consider:

  • The more popular the platform, the more likely it is for users to find and report problems.
  • “Vulnerabilities” are hard to judge by sheer numbers reported. Example:

In 2018, CVE Details lists eight vulnerabilities in Drupal core, compared to 17 in WordPress. But in Drupal, this included one particularly nasty bug which left every Drupal website vulnerable and required multiple updates before it was finally resolved.

  • “Open source projects” are more susceptible to inconsistent code style and coding abilities, which can increase the risk of vulnerabilities.
  • Security around your plugins is just as important as the security of your CMS and website. Many third-party plugins are hastily written by volunteers and are subject to almost no review before being distributed. Plugins are a common vector for many of today’s exploits.
  • Even the most secure platform can be rendered insecure by poor implementation. Make sure your company policies and website team are serious about security, or that secure CMS can be rendered insecure through a sloppy SQL injection vulnerability or wetware weakness.

5. Does it align with your plan for the future?

Websites are made to evolve and change over time. You’ll never be done working to improve and optimize it. Planning for the future will aid in the ease of those changes. You will want to be sure the platform you choose doesn’t hinder changes you may want to make in the future.

For example, Drupal might be the right choice for a simple flexible content website, but what about when you’re finally ready to start churning out media-rich pages and need sophisticated image management? A WordPress site might work fine at launch with a few dozen pages, but how will it function in two years when you’ve added a large amount of custom content and users are trying to search within the site? Be sure your planning leaves room to grow and expand.

Now that you’ve asked yourself these important questions, you’ll be ready for part two of this blog series: Which CMS Option Fits Your Needs?

Director of Web Development, Chris Roberts
Tags
  • Web Development
  • CMS
  • Technology
  • Content Management
  • Technology
  • Brand Building
  • Digital Marketing
  • Ecommerce