Content Management Systems (CMS) are vital for anyone who’s hoping to be a great website webmaster, or an ecommerce entrepreneur. Then again, people often simply jump on the most famous platforms without knowing what should be the best for them or their goals for their website.
Choosing a content management system then becomes a whole lot trickier. Without a clearly defined set of requirements, you can be seduced by fancy functionalities that you may never need, or be attracted to dozens of themes without the features that you actually want.
That being said, here are the most important factors, features and functions that you should be look for when choosing a CMS.
Functionality and Usability
Content Management is more than just creating, deleting, editing and organizing pages. Most people assume that all content management systems just do is to edit content – so much so that they would take functionality for granted. While almost all content management systems out there provide the basics of those features, they don’t guarantee that such functionality may be presented in an intuitive way.
For example, not all blogging platforms allow the owner to manage and organize pages in a tree hierarchy. Instead, individual “posts” are automatically organized only by minimal criteria, such as date and category. In some cases, this limitation is adequate and can actually keep the interface simple and easy to understand. However, more often than not, the limitation can be frustrating.
Consider carefully the basic functionality you need. For instance, even if you do not require the ability to structure and organize pages now, you may do so in future. Be wary of any system that does not allow you to complete these core tasks.
Also, ask yourself how easy it is to complete these tasks. There are literally thousands of content management systems on the market, the majority of which offer this core functionality. They vary hugely in usability. Always test the system for usability before making a purchase.
Since you’re mostly using the CMS editor, this is another core feature that you should pay attention to. The editor is the interface through which content is added and amended. Traditionally, it has also allowed the content provider to apply basic formatting, such as font and color. However, developers have recently moved away from this type of editor to something that reflects best practice.
The majority of content management systems have a WYSIWYG editor. A WYSIWYG (pronounced “wiz-ee-wig”) editor or program is one that allows a developer to see what the end result will look like while the interface or document is being created. (FYI, WYSIWYG is an acronym for “what you see is what you get”.)
Despite the fact that it is the most used feature within a system, there is a lot of things that people ill-conceive due to the fact that it can have too little or too much control that it can be detrimental to the overall look for the end-user.
There are dangers of traditional WYSIWYG editors. First, content providers are given too much control over the design. They are able to customize the appearance of a page so much that they undermine the consistency of the design and branding. Secondly, in order to achieve this level of design control, the CMS mixes design and content.
The new generation of editors, like WordPress, takes a different approach. Content providers use the editor to mark-up headings, lists, links and other elements, without specifying how they should appear.
Make sure that your list of requirements when choosing the CMS to use includes an editor that is designed based on this principle and that does not give content providers control over the appearance. At the very least, look for content management systems that allow the “editor” role to be replaced with a more appropriate solution. The editor should also be able to handle external assets, including images and downloadable files.
Management of Assets
Management of images and files is badly handled in some CMS providers out there. Badly designed systems can frustrate users because of their poor accessibility and usability.
Also, not all CMS can handle images as well as others. Ensure that the content management system you select forces content providers to add attributes to images such as captions or timestamps. Some CMS’s would even force you to strictly follow a dimension restriction, and this is not what you might want. You may also want a CMS that provides basic image editing tools, such as cropping, resizing and rotating. However, finding one that does this can be a challenge.
Consider also how the content management system deals with uploading and attaching PDFs, Word documents and other files. Have a closer look if their displays are pleasant to end users. It would also be good if descriptions can be attached to those files, as well as a search function to properly index every file you upload.
How content is presented in the end user should never be dictated by technology. It is simply not necessary now that we have techniques to separate design and content. Unfortunately, like some Web designers, many CMS developers have not adopted best practices and have created systems that produce horrendous code. This puts unreasonable constraints on the design and seriously impacts accessibility.
You need a content management system that allows flexibility in the way content is retrieved and presented. Ask yourself these questions and see if the CMS can answer with a yes: Can you retrieve news stories in reverse chronological order? Can you display events in a calendar? Is it possible to extract the most recent user comments and display them on the home page?
For example, if you’re already choosing between say Bigcommerce vs. Shopify, you’ll know that they almost have the same prices, same functionality, but one of them (Shopify) offers more customizability in almost all its features. While Bigcommerce can provide more themes, there’s not so much you can customize with these themes.
Roles and permissions
Having to manage roles and permissions across content providers and editors is important when choosing the CMS to use. As the number of content providers on your website increases, you may want more control over who can edit what.
For example, one group may need to be able to post job advertisements but not add content to the home page: this requires a content management system that supports permissions. Although implementation varies, permissions normally allow you to specify whether users can edit certain pages or even entire sections of the website. (This factor can also be tied up to the customizability of a CMS provider)
In many websites, the number of content providers still grows. Because of this, you may require one person to be able to review content being posted to ensure accuracy and consistency in tone. Sometimes, content may be inputted by a junior staff member who requires the approval of a more senior person before making it live.
In both cases, you would need a CMS that supports multiple roles. This can be as simple as having one “Editor” and one “Approver” role, or more complex – e.g. Higher Editor Role with editor and approver permissions) – with customized roles and different levels of permission.
Finally, enterprise-level content management systems support entire workflows in which page updates have to go through a series of checkpoints before going live. These complex scenarios require the ability to roll back pages to previous versions.