9 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a CMS

October 23, 2012

If you’re choosing a CMS, make sure you do your homework first!

choosing a CMS

A content management system (CMS) is an online platform for publishing content to your website and, in many cases, managing the workflows around that process. A CMS also serves as a repository for all of your online content, giving you access to it through a single interface. If your company has a website or blog, you’d be smart to have a CMS if you don’t already.

There are hundreds of content management systems available that range from the simplistic, with just basic features, to complex enterprise systems with any and all of the functionality you can imagine. When choosing a CMS, cost may be just one of many factors you consider. While some of the most basic options are free, others charge a monthly fee. Hiring an agency to design your site, however, which is another matter completely, can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

WordPress is perhaps the best known content management system and certainly one of the most popular. In fact, more than 60 percent of the top one million websites (as measured by total traffic), are built on WordPress as the chart below shows.

CMS Distribution for the Top One Million Websites*

choosing a CMS

As compelling as this may be, however, don’t automatically assume that WordPress is the best option for you. So how do you go about choosing a CMS?

Before choosing a CMS, ask yourself the following questions:

1) How stable is the CMS? Is there a solid company behind it that’s in it for the long haul? You want to be sure that they’re going to be around for a long time to come before choosing a CMS.

2) What kinds of content you will be producing? If your primary goal is to establish a blog, you are going to have a different set of requirements than if you are looking to create online forms, an array of microsites, etc. There is no reason to use a complex CMS if you never plan on taking advantage of most of its features.

3) What do you really need to manage? Focus on adding content management to the areas of your website that change the most. Other areas can remain static for now and can be always be made dynamic in the future if need be. People want to control everything, but rarely use all the bells and whistles that they deemed to requirements during a redesign process. Don’t waste too much time or money trying to control things you don’t need to.

4) Can you continue to use your existing CMS? If your company has a website, then you may already have a CMS. If so, can the one you’re using be optimized to better meet your needs?

5) How technically inclined are you? Some platforms are a lot easier to manage than others. If you don’t have the expertise to manage a complex CMS, or don’t have a resource who can do this for you, then you should probably choose a simpler option.

6) What are your plans for the future? As your content marketing program grows, you will want to make sure that you have a CMS that can support that growth. For example, even though may not use Salesforce or Marketo on your website today, that doesn’t mean that you won’t in the future. The last thing you want is a system that doesn’t integrate well. Think ahead before choosing a CMS to be sure that will serve you well not just today, but also in the future.

7) How easy is it to export your data? Some CMS systems purposefully make it difficult to export data, resulting in costly data migration when things change in the future.

8) Does the CMS follow Web standards? You want to be sure that your CMS to generates clean semantic HTML markup so that if and when you do migrate to another CMS, the process is as easy as possible. This is of greatest concern if your site contains a high volume of content.

9) Does the CMS separate presentation from content? A good content management system controls design details with a separate presentation layer using CSS. This makes it easy to control sizing, color, spacing and design without affecting content. That way, when you redesign your site, you can make design changes holistically rather than having to do so page by page.

Choosing a CMS is a big decision, and one that you need to think through carefully. Getting answers to the questions above will help ensure you make the right decision.

* As of October 12, 2012, BuiltWith Trends data.


A special thank you to Kevin Leary for his input on this post.

Content Marketing Director

<strong>Kevin Cain</strong> is the Content Marketing Director for <a href="http://www.bluechipcommunication.com.au/">BlueChip Communication</a>, Australia's leading financial services communication firm. Before joining BlueChip, Kevin was the Director of Content Strategy for OpenView.