What to Consider When Choosing a Content Management System

As a web designer or developer there usually comes a time when you need something more than a basic HTML based website to get your or your client’s content live. Content Management Systems were born to make updates to websites easier than ever. When properly configured, your job as a developer is to allow the client to take the reigns when the project is complete. Doing so gives the client more control which is what they are typically after in the first place. Some CMS’s can deliver your needs with ease while others fall short in some areas.

I’ll shine some light on what to consider when choosing a content management system below. A simple comparison and contrast of related software can help you use choose the perfect content management system for your needs.

Price

“How much?” Is likely the first thing that pops into your mind when considering a new tool or piece of software you need. Price is an important factor to anyone looks to monetize or promote their brand, service, or goal on the web.

Some Content Management Systems are free like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla while others come at a cost like ExpressionEngine, Kirby or Craft.

Each has their pros and cons. The more popular a CMS is the more chance that you will have plenty of resources to use in the event that something goes wrong as you are developing your site.

Design & User Experience

Choosing a CMS involves good design as well as functionality. I may be biased but I base a lot the applications I use around their own native user interface design. You could say I “judge a book by its cover”, but I realize after doing some research this method could prove to be a bad decision. It’s not always about looks even though a CMS should have a good user experience to begin with. Having a tool that not only functions well but looks great makes you feel like you’ve got a high quality candidate for your CMS. Do some digging and see what you prefer.

WordPress has come a long way with its UI. The experience as a whole has become easier than ever before to deliver new content fast.

wp-2.7
WordPress 2.7

wp-dashboard
WordPress 4.1

Ease of Customization

Choosing a CMS that is customizable is a crucial requirement. Some are complete open source while others are Saas(Software as A Service). Choosing one that you can modify if required allows you the advantage to building almost anything you need depending on your skill and timeframe.

I use WordPress primarily for my work. There are some great plugins that allow you to easily change the way your CMS works. Plugins save you time and effort but sometimes go out of date or aren’t always up to date so you might need to consider developing your own solution to a problem you are facing.

A great example of modifying a CMS to meet your needs is the Advanced Custom Fields plugin. This plugin allows you to create custom fields within WordPress that optimizes both the front and backend of your website to make the user experience a no brainer when updating content.

With the pro version you can even go as far as creating custom options panels, repeatable elements, and custom galleries for images or videos.

acf | web-crunch.com
Advanced Custom Fields

All of this is capable on your own so long as you know what you are doing. Sometimes the need to use a plugin such as this just makes sense for the sake of time and budget.

Templates
Aside from customizing the backend of a CMS you want to have the ability to optimize the front-end. You should look into seeing if the CMS you are researching for offers templates or the ability to customize a template to be the face of your website. Templates for WordPress are virtually anywhere you Google. Drupal, Joomla, and ExpressionEngine follow close behind.

SEO Friendly

A CMS needs to be SEO friendly. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Being SEO friendly means having your content appear within search engines like Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo. Optimizing your content so it is friendly for any search engine will sometimes make or break a website. Don’t let your site suffer because it wasn’t using a CMS with a good foundation for SEO.

The good news is that most major CMS’s are SEO friendly these days. Out of the box they come with the basis for a fully SEO optimized website. Adding third-party plugins can always increase performance. One I like to use is a SEO plugin from Yoast for WordPress. In the end you can use whatever you prefer but you will have to put in a little effort to make things work no matter the CMS. The main thing to pay attention to in regards to your CMS is how easy it is to optimize the SEO when logged in.

RSS
A small aside is to make sure your CMS has an RSS feed. Most do by default but it is wise to double check. RSS might be old school but some people still prefer to get their updates via email or newsreader app. The reason being is because it is automatic and they don’t have to constantly visit a website to read the same content they can already get in their inbox.

Security and Compatibility

Both security and compatibility are nothing to disregard. You need to do some research to make sure your web server is compatible with your CMS based on what it is built with. It could be PHP, Node.js, ASP, etc… just make sure your hosting provider has you covered. Most CMS’s will tell you what they are built with upfront.

The same research for security is crucial. Ask yourself when reading between the lines how safe the CMS actually is. Or ask just how easy can someone get ahold of your login credentials and take your site down. Security is scary but it is necessary. Some CMS’s now feature two-step authorization to login which prohibits any invasions from unwanted web thugs. Do your homework and pick something you think will suffice. Most CMS’s are built with security in mind but never underestimate a hacker!

Upkeep

Not to long ago there was a need to sometimes update your CMS manually. Before the idea of versioning and code pushes were an idea, most users made do with what they had to work with. You could update your CMS every time there was a release but that was a lot of work and upkeep to maintain a stable version of your website. Even with updates come bugs in the code which could break your site completely. Yuck!

Nowadays we are lucky enough to have the luxury of automatic updates. Everything from your computer, to your phone, to your media streaming device now features this super cool break through. CMS’s that receive the most updates obviously receive the most attention from the developers who created it. If your CMS has frequent updates you can rest assure knowing someone is working hard to get you the best of the best, or at least we hope so.

Alternatives

Say you want to harness the power of a CMS but without all the complicated stuff. Have you ever considered SquareSpace for your CMS or how about GitHub Pages or Tumblr?. With options like these a lot of the work is already done for you. The CMS within each application I listed is already optimized for you but is still customizable. The amount of customization doesn’t compare to a full blown open source CMS but some people don’t need that much control.

Some sites really don’t need a full fledged CMS. A blog for instance only needs information relatable to blogging. For this you could use something like Ghost or Anchor. These are lightweight but still extremely useable, secure, and nice to look at.

Conclusion

There are plenty of options for finding the right CMS for your needs. Sometimes you make use of only one and other times you may need to explore other options. Don’t be afraid to switch it up and use something new. It may take a little time getting used to a new CMS but the fundamental idea of managing content sans code is present in each system. Modern web development makes using a CMS easier than ever before.

Know of any other content management systems you like to use? Why do you prefer it over all the rest?