How to Select a Content Management System (part 1)

This is part one of a four-part series on how to choose a content management system. It is directed toward end-users, but developers may find some tips here too. Feel free to leave your comments.

itPage Image Library Jooma 1.5 Media Manager (Credit: opensourcecms.com)

You may have heard about using a content management system (CMS) to manage your website. How do you determine if a CMS is right for your site? This article talks about some factors to consider when evaluating a CMS and some simple guidelines that will help you determine if your site will benefit from a CMS.

Why Does it Matter Which CMS You Select?

The answer to this is simple: Making the right choice will save you time, money, and will help you to get a system that does what you need. A CMS site can be a significant investment, in both time and money. The correct choice of developer, platform and services can yield a productive, rich site that can really benefit your organization. The differences among systems are huge, so read on.

What is a CMS?

A CMS is a software platform used to manage a website. The website is managed through an administrative area using any web browser (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Explorer). A typical CMS lets you do these things:

  • Manage page content (add/edit/delete/activate)
  • Upload files, images and media to a site library
  • Control the design of the site (templates, stylesheets, skins)
  • Set up user access and notifications
  • Define search engine keywords and other page meta information
  • Advanced functionality, in the form of galleries, widgets, plugins, or some way to add new features
CMS Matrix

Download the CMS Matrix and compare the features of seven different content management systems.

Feature Comparison of CMS Platforms

Start by downloading and printing out the CMS Matrix to help evaluate the points in this article. The CMS Matrix contains a comparison of seven content management systems.

There are entire websites dedicated to this comparison, but these are some popular choices. If you are interested in a more in-depth comparison, see the footnotes in the CMS Matrix. Two sites you can use to evaluate are CMS Match and OpenSourceCMS. Be aware that these sites may contain obsolete information, so some independent resarch may be needed. We have done this for you for the seven platforms listed in the CMS Matrix.

Factors to Consider when Choosing a CMS

There are many factors to consider when selecting a CMS. The most typical concerns are:

  1. Will you be using a developer?
  2. What is the difference between a blog and a CMS?
  3. Which platform will you be using?
  4. What are the feature sets of some popular CMS platforms?
  5. How easy to use is the CMS administration area?
  6. How much does a CMS-based site cost to develop and maintain?
  7. What is the difference between Open-source and commercial CMS platforms?
  8. How flexible are the CMS platforms?
  9. How easy to install is the CMS platform?
  10. How easy to upgrade is the CMS platform?
  11. What options are there for tech support?
  12. Who retains ownership of the site?

1. Will you be using a developer?

If you are considering working with a developer, ask them what platform they prefer. Most likely they have a recommendation, and you may have only one or two choices. Developers tend to specialize on the tools they prefer, so this should not be surprising. Ask how familiar they are with the CMS. They also should be able to provide a range of time or costs for development.

You might not necessarily know if you need a developer. Ask yourself this question: Is this something I can handle myself? The answer will probably be self-evident.

Making a Choice – A possibly significant difference when using a commercial platform is that, should your relationship sour with your developer or your developer go missing, there might not be any other developer to turn to. You are locked into that platform, and it might be expensive to get out of it. With an open-source platform, it is possible to find other developers with familiarity in that platform, providing more flexibility.

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