How to Select a Content Management System (part 2)

This is part two 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.

CMS Matrix

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

2. What is the difference between a blog and a CMS?

A blog platform (like WordPress, used to write this blog), is a special-purpose type of platform that has a limited feature-set. Blogs are suitable for a limited-range of duties. WordPress excels as a blog, but is not a full-featured CMS. Some features of blogs are the ability to write articles (posts), solicit reader comments, and engage the audience in discussions about a particular topic. They also have features to submit content to various content networks such as Facebook, Delicious, Twitter or StumbleUpon (among others). If you need only this type of feature set, then you need a blog, so look for a blog platform.

A typical CMS has many features that blogs do not have – image galleries, testimonials, contact forms, some type of user architecture that can be extended, private user areas, advanced search engine features, etc. It might be the case that you need both a blog and a CMS.

3. Which platform will you be using?

Platform refers to the name of the CMS. The choice of platform determines what features are standard. Some platforms you may recognize include Acumium, DotNetNuke, Drupal, ExpressionEngine, Joomla!, WordPress, itPage.

An important point is that if you are an end-user you may not have much choice of a platform, as most of these are not systems you just simply install and use. They take quite a bit of configuration and deep technical knowledge and skills to get them operational and customized. If you are considering working with a developer, they probably will have a platform to recommend. Then the task becomes evaluating the features and cost.

4. What are the feature sets of some popular CMS platforms?

What do you need, what will you use? The CMS Matrix contains over 50 factors that will help you evaluate a CMS. Download it, print it out, and check off which features will be needed for your site.

If you are evaluating developers, ask them about the various features of the CMS they are recommending and how that platform compares to those on the matrix.

5. How easy to use is the CMS administration area?

The ability of an end-user to easily operate the system is arguably the single most important criteria in evaluation. A potential problem with any CMS platform is that it must be created with the end user in mind. The programmers creating the platform must ensure that the admin experience is intuitive. Many CMS platforms fail this test, as they are primarily developer tools that are not suitable for non-technical users.

So how do you tell? Get a demo! Any developer you are considering engaging should give you a free, no-obligation walk-through of the administration area so you have some idea of how it works.

6. How much does a CMS-based site cost to develop and maintain?

Pricing stategies and fees cover a huge range, as do client expectations of the features and support they will get for the money. If you intend to work with a developer, get a written proposal from them for the site development. Make sure that the proposal clearly states the costs, the services offered, the vendor responsibilities, the client involvement, hosting agreement, ownership and licensing of code and data.

Here are some questions to ask them:

  1. How much is the initial development fee?
  2. How much is the hosting cost?
  3. How much is a platform upgrade (maintenance)?
  4. Is there a support or maintenance contract offered or needed?
  5. How is work done after the initial development billed?
  6. How portable is the site (the hit by a bus scenario)?
  7. What is the site backup plan (data, images, system files)?
  8. What type of access is included (FTP, CMS admin, SSH)?

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