Settling on a CMS (content management system) platform is the most crucial decision you’ll make when starting your online business as it’s a decision not easily changed. Investing in an intuitive UX, attractive design, powerful backlinks, and quality content all go to waste if your CMS can’t manage them right.
Over the last few years, the CMS market expanded, making choosing the right CMS an even more daunting task. In addition, the fact that switching to another CMS platform requires a complete rewrite (recode, redesign, rebuild) of your website reinforces the dire consequences of making a bad decision, emphasizing the importance of making the right decision in the first place.
To help you make an informed, impactful decision, we’ve sat down with experts from top web development companies who shared their advice on what to look for in your perfect CMS.
A brief story of CMS: CMSs vs. static websites
A CMS is a massive amount of code in PHP, Java, or another programing language that allows you to create and manage a website without the need to write code. Prior to the emergence of CMS systems like WordPress, developers coded each website from scratch or built their own coding sequences then combined them in building a website. It definitely wasn’t for the amateur and it took a long time to build a website, even once you learned to code.
Before CMS platforms, websites were static, meaning the site’s contents couldn’t be modified without the developer editing the site’s source code. Changing your content, even adding a blog post, required writing code, so it was an expensive and time-consuming operation.
However, the cost and inflexibility of static websites aren’t the only downsides to this tactic for building websites. Static websites can’t easily or cheaply adapt to changing consumer demands, new products added to an e-store, or respond to changes to the SEO algorithm that determines your rank in search and, thus, greatly impacts your traffic. Moreover, static websites offer limited functionalities – there’s not much you can add to the site other than text, images, videos, and hyperlinks.
When CMSs appeared, they allowed even non-tech savvy users to build a reliable, beautiful, and efficient website. In addition, the platforms encouraged the dynamicity of websites, meaning a site can show different contents without changing the source code. Easier site maintenance, the ability to add multiple users, and simple content modifications are only some of the benefits that propelled the popularity of CMS platforms. Besides, CMSs enable sites to keep up with the hallmarks of good UX and SEO (search engine optimization) – easy updates, interactivity, smooth navigation, quick responsiveness.
Today, CMSs power over 70 million websites worldwide. If you’re planning for a new website or a major redesign of an existing one, choosing the right CMS is a critical first step.
Architecture of a website
To better understand the role of CMS and factors to consider in choosing the best CMS, let’s first look at the basic architecture of a website.
- The CMS is the base-level architecture used in designing a website. A CMS informs browsers how to handle the content, controls revisions, establishes processes for image handling, and creates an index used by search engines to find new content. Examples are WordPress (which I use on this site), Joomla, and Drupal)
- A template further enhances the CMS by establishing buckets for content. Choosing a template featuring the layout you envision with the color scheme you want reduces the need for coding even further. I use Genesis with a Parallax Pro child theme. You must use a template and there are a bunch of free ones out there. Templates options are based on your choice of CMS. You customize your template to control the user experience.
- Plugins provide additional functionality such as speeding up your site, adding social sharing buttons, connecting your site to analytics, such as Google Analytics, and increasing security. You don’t need any plugins and should keep the number to a minimum to avoid slowing down the site or opening security holes.
- Content on your website includes text, images, and video. You may include as much or as little content as you want, but the more valuable content you add on a frequent schedule, the more user will visit your site since your rank is higher in a user’s search, as you see below.
Tips on choosing the best CMS for your business website
With the right CMS, your business can deliver an amazing customer experience and streamline processes like order processing for maximum efficiency. Read through our tips listed below to discover how to find the right CMS for developing your business website.
#1 Define and consult users
When choosing the best CMS, you must consider your business model, the size of your team, and the website wireframe created by your team. Small businesses and enterprises have different needs in terms of site structure, the volume of content, or the number of people involved in site maintenance. So, before deciding on the best CMS, discuss options with your in-house team or agency whose opinion matters the most.
For example, your IT team is often responsible for maintaining and modifying the CMS while employees in the marketing function want to leverage valuable tools, whereas sales employees look for the option of CRM integration.
Frankly, few CMSs offer all these features – at least, not at an attractive price for a small or medium-sized business. As you will most likely have to make some sacrifices, ensure your business’s decision-maker(s) fully grasp what everyone needs from the CMS.
#2 Prioritize CMS features & integrations
As we already discussed, your CMS will probably lack some features and integrations that you and your team would like to have. So, now that you have input from your decision-makers, ask them to prioritize their CMS requirements following the MoSCoW method. Then, draft a list of CMS features and integrations that are:
- must-haves – essentials that your business can’t work without
- should-haves – important features, yet not that critical to your business operations
- could-haves – less relevant options your business could leverage
- would-haves – the least vital CMS elements that might be useful sometime in the future
Above, you can see some of these requirements based on an employee’s role in the organization.
With a meticulously crafted list of features, the road to choosing a CMS becomes much easier. Knowing whether your website will have a login option, carts and orders, booking feature, or other elements considerably narrows your CMS options, making your decision easier. Again, armed with a wireframe, you have this information at your fingertips. During this prioritizing process, you might even discover standalone tools that make great alternatives for some of your desired CMS features.
#3 Decide the type of CMS you need
CMSs come in three different types: on-premise, cloud-hosted, or SaaS.
On-premise CMS means you’re purchasing a license from the vendor and installing the software on your or your hosting provider’s servers. In this case, the CMS provider is responsible for software maintenance and updates, whereas installation, security, and infrastructure upgrades are your task. WordPress and Drupal are examples of on-premise CMS solutions. Sixty-two percent of all CMS-based websites are built on WordPress, which is available as a free download.
A cloud-hosted CMS works similar to an on-premise solution, with the only difference being that you install the software on third-party servers you don’t own. Hostway and WPEngine are examples of cloud-hosted CMS.
Software as a Service CMS works like any SaaS tool, such as Google Docs or Salesforce. The CMS provider takes care of all the technicalities such as installations, updates, or maintenance. In a SaaS solution, you usually purchase a monthly or yearly subscription with few costs before deployment.
#4 Predict the costs, effects, and future needs for your CMS
Take your time to envision your business in five or ten years. Will you add new products or services, expand to a different market, tweak your business model? Will your website require significant traffic to achieve profitability, or will you target a narrow clientele? Will the site feature multiple languages? How frequently will you add content?
Ensure you understand the true costs of the platform you’re considering and outline possible needs of your business in the future. Assess whether the CMS aligns with where you see your brand and how the platform’s features contribute to that goal.
For instance, some CMS solutions are free and updated frequently to plug security holes while others incur a fee. Some SaaS CMS products start as free then add a fee to get the customization you want. Saas CMS, sometimes called website builders, also face challenges when it comes to SEO.
#5 Aim for a CMS that supports omnichannel
Omnichannel is the new buzz in the digital world. According to studies, omnichannel experience ensures a 30% higher lifetime value compared to using only one channel. Often, users start their search in one channel, say a mobile device, and continue on another, such as a desktop computer. Therefore, choosing a CMS that supports a variety of user interaction channels is the way to go.
You first want to address the question of SEO. SEO entails everything that makes your website successful online: good performance, fast loading, intuitive UX, quality content, keywords that reflect user intent, social signals such as backlinks and social media engagement, and lightweight code. Opting for a CMS with poor SEO possibilities is a one-way ticket to online oblivion.
The next important aspect of omnichannel is social media. Social media marketing is imperative in times when a third of users discover products and brands via social platforms. Examine how well the CMS integrates with social media and what data the platform collects.
Whatever one may say about email marketing, one thing’s for sure – email marketing offers the highest ROI of any digital tactic and is much better than traditional marketing channels. So, when deciding on a CMS, make sure the platform supports email marketing integration with common email providers such as Constant Contact and MailChimp.
#6 Easy content management with WYSIWYG CMS
What You See Is What You Get is a user interface that accurately reflects the document as it appears in its finished form. WYSIWYG became a staple of CMSs, as it allows non-technical users to create and manage website content easily. A great CMS provides intuitive editing capabilities that simulate the ease of handling content tasks offered by word processing programs like MS Word and Google Docs.
New in WordPress is block editing that enables enhanced WYSIWYG content creation. The most recent WordPress update created even more block types to make content creation even easier.
#7 Validate the CMS’s stability & community
The CMS market is brimming with new platforms and solutions appearing nonstop. But, unsurprisingly, many business owners make a mistake amid the conundrum of choosing between established and widely used CMSs and new, less-pricey solutions. Besides thorough research of the features and options of your favored CMSs as discussed earlier, you want to take a look into the platform’s support and community. While a solution’s support may be limited to product patches alone, some CMS vendors include hosting, user mentoring, or web development services. In addition to the vendor’s support, you want to choose a CMS with a wide and active community of developers, designers, and marketers.
For example, WordPress, one of the leading CMS platforms globally, features a very tight community with active contributors from all over the world who work tirelessly to constantly update the code to provide the best experience for website developers and content creators, and enhanced security for managers. The community consists of WordPress developers, businesses built on WordPress, and digital agencies that create WP themes for others. As a member of this community, you gain and share knowledge about all WP functionalities and features.
Let’s Wrap Up
Choosing the best CMS isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime decision, but it’s pretty close, so it warrants a lot of consideration and time. The key to finding the perfect CMS platform for your business is maintaining the balance between team requirements, solutions’ features, implementation cost, level of complexity, and ease of use.
To summarize our tips, include relevant team members into the decision-making process, prioritize CMS options, and be ready to pay extra for long-term business investment. The good CMS choice you make today pays off tomorrow.
Christopher is a Digital Marketing Specialist, Project Manager, and Editor at Find Digital Agency and a passionate blogger. He is a dedicated and experienced author who pays particular attention to quality research and details. Focused on new web tech trends and digital voice distribution across different channels, he starts the day scrolling his digest on new digital trends while sipping a cup of coffee. In his free time, Christopher plays drums and Magic: the Gathering.
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