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How to choose a CMS? (part I)

Posted by admin at May 27, 2010 04:20 PM |
Web Publishing is about people being able to publish material to the internet without being having to be experts in an increasingly technical domain. Many people in this situation use some kind of Content Management System (CMS), but with hundreds (maybe thousands) of these systems in the marketplace, which one should you choose? Or rather, what criteria should one use to choose a suitable CMS?

CMS's are useful tools that help website owners maintain their site without they (or their staff) needing specialist technical skills.  Any reliable CMS will bring a benefit over a static website, in terms of convenience, so in some sense you can't go wrong.  But are there more issues to consider? If so, what are they? And how can you choose between the 100's (if not 1000's) of products vying for your attention?

Before we begin, I should say that I am in the business of supplying CMS software!  So please understand that I am not completely neutral on this issue... I have already chosen the product to invest my time & learning in.  However, I might be more neutral than you think:  I too had to make this decision at some time.  So here are some factors that influenced my choice back then mixed in with some others that I have come to appreciate since.

In any case, here's my thoughts on some factors you might like to consider if you find yourself having to make that choice...

  • Get a CMS that fits your design, not vice-versa:  A lot of the time, a web agency (or a designer) will make the decision on which CMS to use, and at that point they may find themselves squeezed into a design format which neither they or their customers want.  CMS's are more friendly than they used to be, and have a variety of skins available, but why should they squeeze you into their mould even slightly?  Your designer will have a good grasp of this issue, but not necessarily how to solve it.  Furthermore, it would be really nice if the website could be re-branded years down the line without starting from scratch.
  • Make sure it's SECURE:  So you want to be able to change your website on the fly?  Well had you considered that someone else might want a go at changing your site too?  Or even worse, accessing your (or your customer's) data!  Strengthening your website security can be as simple as just choosing a good password for your accounts, but it doesn't start there.  Unfortunately, not all CMS's are created equal, some include security loopholes for free!  This is a major reason why this author has steered away from PHP & Database based CMS's: they are very easy to create, but much more difficult to "lock down". 
    It should be stated here, that there's no such thing as impenetrable security (think of the movie Ocean's 11), but what might be worth aiming for is making the cost (in terms of time & equipment) of hacking your site higher than the rewards of doing so (Which is one huge reason that I recommend you never store your customers' credit card details in your own web-shop, but that's a subject for another time)
  • Look for a system that's well-supported:  Your website won't last you forever, but you would want to think of it lasting for 5 years or possibly more, so even though the person selling you a website might be excited about the whistles and bells on their CMS product now, but you might want to take some time to think whether they still be doing updates to the CMS in 3 years time.  As yet uncovered security loopholes need to be closed & the latest browsers accommodated, that might not take much work, but if the CMS product is in retirement by then, the updates may not get done, and your website may suffer for it.  The longevity of a product is admittedly quite difficult for people outside the IT industry to gauge, but there are a few safer bets:
  1. Expect to pay a fee that includes some maintenance of the company's CMS, as well as the time taken to implement their website.... OR...
  2. Use a well-supported open-source CMS - i.e. well managed and sufficiently popular to last a few years
  • Expect it to be TRUELY User-friendly:  The main point of a CMS is to make things easy, so why settle for a system that only goes half-way?  The edit interface should be intuitive and easy to find - and should at least half look like the page the public will see.  If you are looking at a page and want to edit it, then that should be one click away (though you may have to log-in in the process), adding images to a page may be a little more involved, but it shouldn't make your head hurt!


Next time we will look at a few other factors that you may want to consider, but for the moment let me say that I believe that Plone hits the mark pretty well in all of these areas (which is a large part of why I chose to work with it)

 (to be continued...)