10 Questions to Ask When Choosing a CMS

If you're building a new website or redesigning an old one, one of the most important decisions you'll need to make is which content management system (CMS) or platform to use. (For the purposes of this article, we'll be using “CMS” and “platform” interchangeably). Your choice of a CMS has wide-ranging implications, from what your site can do, to how you'll manage it, to its performance and cost. However, the number of options available can be overwhelming, and comparing “apples to apples” is difficult. While we can't give an overview of all of the CMSs available, we can give you the most important questions to answer that will help you decide.

1. Will the site be built by marketers, designers, or developers (or some combination)?

Website build tools have improved significantly over time, enabling people with varying levels of technical expertise to create sites with ease. However, many of these tools come with limitations for features, integrations, management, and performance. When choosing a new platform, keep in mind the technical abilities of the people building the site to find the best balance of user friendliness and power.

2. What kinds of updates will require code knowledge?

Most CMSs aim to eliminate the need to edit code for everyday updates. However, you'll want to consider how much flexibility you need within the CMS admin panels vs. when you will be willing to involve a developer. This will affect not only which CMS you choose, but also how it is configured.

3. How do I want software updates to be handled?

Much like your car, websites need to be maintained to avoid breaking down and having costly problems. There are numerous components to tend to, including the CMS software itself, third-party plugins, and server programs like PHP and mySQL. While some consumer platforms (such as Squarespace or Wix) will handle all updates for you, others require regular, hands-on attention. As you evaluate options, think about what your resources are for taking care of updates.

4. Does our CMS integrate with the outside systems we need it to?

If you need your website to send information to or from another system (such as through an API), make sure the platform you choose has this capability. If there aren't pre-built tools for these integrations, a developer can likely build them for you, though the amount of effort involved can vary significantly depending on the CMS.

5. Is the interface of our CMS a delight to use, or is it such a pain that content contributors are holding back?

As people who started out in the design world, this factor is a big one for us. The reality is that many website platforms were built by excellent coders—who haven't prioritized UI/UX design. Because an interface can have an effect on people's motivation to use it (and therefore keep your site up-to-date), make sure your CMS is something that's a joy to use.

6. Is my staff already familiar with a certain platform? What costs will be involved in training them on a new system?

Consider the “people factor” when choosing a CMS. For a one-person shop, this may be less important, but in a larger organization with many website managers, the cost of training everyone can add up.

7. Do I need the flexibility to move web hosts in the future (or maintain my existing web host)?

We put CMSs into two broad categories — all-in-one and standalone. An all-in-one platform (think Squarespace) is designed to be a one-stop shop, handling both hosting and website management. These services lock you into using them as a web host. Other CMSs (think WordPress or Craft) can be installed on virtually any web host, giving you maximum flexibility in the future to change as your needs change.

8. How many resources and how much developer support is available for the CMS?

If you plan on making significant customizations to your site, either during the build or in the future, you'll want to make sure there is adequate assistance available. This help might take the form of blog posts and online communities, or developers. Keep in mind that if you choose an obscure CMS, the number of coders available to help may be few.

9. Do I need to migrate a large amount of content, and if so, is there an easy way to do this?

If you're redesigning an existing website, you'll likely want to keep some of your content—especially if you have blog posts that help your ranking on search engines. Content migration can be one of the biggest headaches of a rebuild, so make sure you have a solid plan for moving it to your new platform.

10. Am I willing to pay license fees?

While it may seem obvious, it's worth highlighting that not all CMS software is free. In fact, some of the most powerful options have one-time or ongoing license fees. Your budget for these will help you narrow down your selection. The good news is there are many free, excellent options available, including our favorite, WordPress.

Are you in the planning phase of a site build? If so, we'd love to help you consider your options. We're just a phone call away.

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