Need a CMS? How to Choose the Right Platform the First Time
Content management systems are cornerstones of both article-based websites and e-commerce sites. While platforms often have migration options available, switching to a new platform can be time-consuming and expensive; making the right choice the first time is a great way to get up and running promptly. Here are a few facts about CMS platforms and some guidelines for making the right decision the first time.
Defining Your Requirements
CMS platforms typically have one thing in common: Excellent blog and article capabilities. Although platforms have their pros and cons, all are capable of delivering professional-caliber text and images.
However, it’s worth finding any advanced or uncommon features you want to include on your site. If you want to include advanced image hosting capabilities, for example, a more popular option might be better due to plugin availability. If you’ll have several people submitting content, an easier interface might be preferred.
If your website is going to be used for sales, a sales-focused platform might be the best way to go. However, nearly all popular CMS platforms offer e-commerce capabilities, so don’t dismiss other options simply because they don’t place sales capabilities front and center. Determine what you want to drive your website. If the primary purpose is to drive sales through pay-per-click advertising, using a well-established sales-focused CMS might be the way to go. If articles you host will drive sales of a relatively small number of options, content-focused CMS platforms are likely preferable.
Finally, investigate how users will interact with your website. If they’ll create accounts simply for placing orders, standard CMS sales platforms or plugins can be sufficient. If, however, your aim is to build a community, focus on platforms that offer more comprehensive community-building capabilities. Forums, comment sections, and other interactive elements can be powerful tools for building an audience, so make sure to strongly consider user interaction.
Open-Source vs Closed-Source
Open-source CMS platforms offer a unique advantage: Their source code is available for you to change. For most businesses, there’s little reason to change the source code, but unique requirements might lead your business to change the platform not through plugins but through source-code changes. Popular open-source platforms also typically offer high levels of security, as the open nature of the code means users can run their own security audits and implement fixes. However, the open nature of the code also lets malicious actors find potential bugs in the code to exploit.
Closed-source platforms almost always cost money, but this typically comes with a benefit: Support. Some open-source developers offer paid support, but many rely on community support or paid third-party support. For situations where even a small amount of downtime can lead to lost sales, paid support offers reassurance. Furthermore, closed codebases can be more difficult to hack in certain scenarios; conversely, bugs may go undetected, only to be exploited by malicious actors.
Choosing between open- and closed-source code is important, but both types of software have excellent options available. If your business prefers one option over the other, it’s still worth taking time to investigate both open- and closed-source platforms going forward.
Self-Hosted or SaaS
The most well-known CMS platforms are typically the self-hosted options. Among these, WordPress is the most popular. Sophify, Joomla, la and Drupal, provide somewhat more flexible approaches and large ecosystems of their own. For sales-focused platforms, Magento is perhaps the most popular. Self-hosted options provide a sense of control over the website. Furthermore, they typically provide the most customizable experience, especially when the code can be modified.
The cost of web hosting is fairly low, and even busy websites can be run at a low cost.
The Software-as-a-Service model competes with self-hosting. SaaS delegates many of the challenges of self-hosting to a third party, and the cost premium is fairly low. For sales-focused CMS platforms, BigCommerce and Shopify provide powerful interfaces that allow businesses to list and sell products easily. In addition, SaaS means companies don’t have to worry about security or data backups. SaaS providers have the resources to hire experts, and they have an excellent track record for preventing intrusions.
People comfortable with technology can often learn how to use content management platforms without too much difficulty, especially when choosing WordPress or other popular platforms.
However, just getting a site up and running isn’t enough; installing security updates promptly, for example, is essential for preventing intrusions. Still, companies willing to take on the challenge, especially those who already employ tech experts, might find the self-hosting option to be best. However, the cost of SaaS platforms is fairly low, making them great value.
Investigating the Community
The popularity of CMS platforms means many have thriving communities, and platforms that foster these communities stand to benefit tremendously. Take a look at plug-in databases; are the plug-ins easy to install? Are most free, or do they cost money? How frequently are plug-ins updated? Do they require specific versions of the platform, or do they migrate well between updates?
Take a look at support options as well. Forums are a mainstay of many platforms, so check out how active their forums are and if they provide a helpful community. Investigate if developers offer support as well. Active forums can help ensure you get your platform up and running promptly, and they’ll help you overcome problems you encounter, especially if you’re hosting your own CMS.
What to Look For
Some elements are all but mandatory for content management platforms.
At the top of the list is mobile support: Mobile devices are becoming more popular every year, so ensure your platform looks as good on mobile devices as it does on traditional computers. Your platform should be easy to use as well. Even if your current employees can handle a more challenging platform, businesses evolve over time, so make sure new employees can get up to speed promptly.
Bare-bones CMS platforms don’t tell the whole story, so make sure to see what themes and plugins are available. WordPress, for example, initially looks like a fairly simple blogging platform, but plugins can result in a radically different look. Check out the basic SEO features of the platform, and look for SEO plugins. You’ll want to try out new features on your site, and analytical tools are essential for testing results. Integrated analysis tools are great for tracking your results over time, and plugins can be great for visualization.
Although tabulating features is a great way to narrow down your choices, the only way to really find out if a platform is right for you is to try it out. Fortunately, there are plenty of demos available, so give them a shot. In some cases, demos will let you tweak features and find out your platform’s capabilities. Trials are a valuable option as well, as they let you explore various features at no cost.
Your content management platforms will serve as the centerpiece of your online efforts. Although you should feel comfortable with migrating to a new platform in the future, making the right choice can save you time and effort over the long term. Take your time when making your decision, and feel free to try out all of your options. Time spent early on will help you get familiar with the platform, and you’ll be more poised to take advantage of all your CMS has to offer.