Choosing your Content Management System (CMS) is as important as choosing the name of your business: it will influence every decision you make thereafter. The type of CMS you choose will affect the kind of site you build, how you make changes to your site, not to mention how frustrated or happy your future employees will be as you build your empire. Before you make such an important digital business decision, spend a bit of time considering your answers to these questions.

What Kind Of Site Are You Building?

I’m often asked these questions: “How long does it take to make a website and how much does it cost?” I like to answer with another question: “Imagine you asked me to build a truck. Are you looking for one made of Lego or a Dodge?” It’s impossible to answer how long or how expensive a site build will be without knowing what you are building. Consider the following criteria as a starting point:

  • Will your site have ecommerce?
  • Will your site be available in multiple languages?
  • Will your site have 10 pages or 10,000?
  • Will your site have any complex functionality like external database integration or in-site tools?

These are just a few things to consider before you jump into CMS shopping. CMS options range from quick and free (options like Wix, Weebly or Wordpress) to complex with a cost to match at the enterprise level (OpenText, Sitecore and many more). Free platforms may include advertising or branding on your page that may require an upgrade to paid to remove. A system that can be easily extended like Drupal allows you to customize for your current business needs with the flexibility to easily grow as you do.

How Often Will You Make Major Changes?

The point of this question is to determine what kind of version control and sandbox tools you will need. It might not be possible to know exactly how often you’ll make changes, but consider whether you are setting up:

  • A calling card - this is a space to show off your business and tell your customers what you’re about, where they can find you, and how they can get in touch.
  • A blog - from a personal journal space to a full-blown publication, this type of site will likely include commenting, publishing shareable bits of content, as well as archiving and scheduling functions.
  • A tool - are you building a game? Facebook? This type of site is the product you are selling, rather than being a place that shows pictures of what you’re selling.

The first two types of sites may not depend as heavily on change management tools. If you’re making minor changes - ones that can easily be rolled back - on a site with a smaller audience, one that is not dependent on 24/7 functionality, or any combination of these, you may not need as robust of a tool. Consider the difference between a blog site making layout changes and a bank rolling out an update to their login page. The impact to your users and the risk to your business should be factored into the kind of tools your CMS will need to mitigate them, such a multiple environments, version control, or back-up and restore options.

Who Will Use Your CMS?

This may be the single most important consideration. The person or team making the decision about which CMS to use may not be the day-to-day user, so make sure you have the input of that user. Consider the following:

  • How many people will be making changes to your site? Will they be working at the same time? You will likely need some kind of version control and the ability to lock a piece of content for editing.
  • Will they all be administrators or do you need different levels of access? For example, do you want to have final approval over changes or is everyone equally able to publish?
  • Will your CMS users be technical people? Some systems allow you to build and manage a site without ever seeing so much as an <h1>, but you may need more in-depth control.
  • Will you be updating from a mobile device? Mobile usage is only increasing, and more and more you’ll need business tools that offer you that on-the-go flexibility.

The answers to these questions will inform whether you need personalized logins, workflow/approval options, mobile access or a corresponding app, and most importantly, the balance between an easy to use interface and a technically flexible one. Often, simple interfaces can be restrictive in the kinds of edits you can make, while a wide-open CMS option might require too much technical knowledge depending on who is managing your site.

What Is Your Budget?

Like many business decisions, it all comes down to the money. Doing your homework upfront will ensure you don’t buy a sports car when you need a sensible commuter. Many solutions will offer a tiered option to fit your needs, but some of the considerations will be:

  • What kind of support do you need? Do you have an internal team to troubleshoot issues or will you need 24/7 support?
  • How secure does your site need to be? A government’s tax website will have different security demands that a local dog groomer’s. An open-source platform like Drupal offers a high level of security.
  • Is hosting and domain registration part of the package?

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions of your potential CMS provider, but more importantly, take the time to seriously ask the questions of yourself. Be honest about where your business is today as much as where you’d like it to be; in fact, it would be beneficial to answer these questions twice, one for each scenario. A flexible choice like Drupal can grow to accommodate your business as you go.

Headshot of Erin Joyce, Digital Strategist at ImageX Media.
Erin Joyce

Digital, Content, and Social Media Strategist