10 things to consider when choosing a CMS

With an overwhelming number of Content Management Systems (CMS) available, choosing the right one can be challenging. It’s extremely rare for a website’s functionality to remain the same throughout its lifetime; needs and internal processes may change and extra components may be required. You need a CMS with the flexibility to meet your needs with little or no restrictions.
So where do you start when choosing the right system? This post details ten of the most important factors to consider when making your decision.

1. Platform
Enterprise solutions are often based on platforms such as .NET and Java, but that doesn’t mean other PHP-powered CMS solutions can’t do the job just as well.
If you opt for an Open Source solution, the CMS you choose should have a credible history and a strong community so you can be confident it won’t be dropped shortly after your launch. Open Source is free, but this doesn’t necessarily make it any less valuable.

2. Customisation
Finding a CMS shipped with everything you need by default is difficult. However, the capacity to customise the way things work or appear should be included, and in a way that doesn’t hinder the ability to apply updates provided by your CMS developers.
Plugins, otherwise known as modules or add-ons, are worth bearing in mind. They’re a key part of a successful CMS, but you shouldn’t have to rely on them to get what should be part of the system’s core functionality. If you find yourself constantly purchasing plugins to enhance default capabilities, it may be time to shop around.

3. User Groups
Ideally, user group functionality should be offered by a CMS out-of-the-box. It’s unlikely you’ll need to provide a Web Content Editor with the same permissions as your Systems Administrator - access to some sections/settings must be restricted for such users.

4. Intuitiveness
Research into User Interface Design (UID) and User Experience Design (UX) show that an attractive and user-friendly UID can improve productivity along with other benefits. There is nothing more frustrating than searching for menu items or particular settings pages in a CMS.

5. Scalability
Speed and reliability of a website can be core to securing a visitor’s trust and converting them into a lead. Caching pages can dramatically decrease server-load but this may not be an option. Research the framework that the CMS in question is built on and compare its performance with others.

6. Future-proof
New Content Management Systems turn up regularly, many with huge promise. Whilst there’s a chance you may find a future leading CMS - let others make that leap.
The most important part of future-proofing your website’s content revolves around the way data is collected, rather than what end users actually see. The site’s design can change anytime but once your CMS is in place, moving it elsewhere can be an onerous task. Future data migration should be a key factor in your decision.

7. Security
Needless to say, the security of your CMS is crucial. There are people who use the tools of others to copy databases looking for personal data or injecting malicious code to spread malware. Whichever CMS you choose, follow as many of the security recommendations provided. Your hosting provider should be able to offer an extra layer of security.

8. Asset Management
As time passes and your website grows, the number of images and files will grow too. Without a well-structured Asset Management system, you may struggle to find the items you need.
A good Asset Management System will allow you to add custom directories, permit hidden/private directories, maintain links to relocated items and create customer meta tags by which items can be filtered. Essentially though, an Asset Management System is only as good as the data you put in it.

9. Versioning
Versioning can be extremely helpful in a CMS. There is nothing worse than losing an unsaved page, or wishing you had a copy of an old one only to find it’s gone forever. You should be able to view previous versions and revert back to them if necessary.  Versioning often comes at the cost of database storage, so ideally, an option to switch it off for particular content types/entries should be present. A good versioning system may also offer the option to create a content workflow, allowing one user to create draft content, and another to moderate it before setting it live.

10. Cost
It would be nice if the best solutions were provided free of charge, but in the CMS world this is not always the case. If you’re looking for a simple blog site, there are a few good free options out there. If, however, you need a website that offers much more then be prepared to invest.

David Neal - PHP Developer at the Purple Agency; with experience in ExpressionEngine, WordPress, Drupal, Wagtail, October and more. A family man, addicted to coding and an avid fan of Aeroplanes, motorbikes and tennis. @davidsneal