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The Problem With “Choose a CMS” Articles

If you have been reading along chapter-by-chapter, you may have realized our preference of staying away from specific links in favor of guiding you through a series of steps or questions to ask, so that you can come up with custom solutions – regardless of time. This chapter will be the one major exception. As we discuss choosing a content management system, there will be no way to avoid looking over current offerings in the marketplace.

What's in this article?


Truth be told, technology has a way of getting bored with the status quo and moving forward at speeds that people are not particularly comfortable with; you didn’t think your website would last one-hundred years, did you?

Our task in this chapter involves defining what you want your CMS to do, what a CMS actually is, what it is perceived to be, and ultimately, how you and your design team can decide on the right platform. If there was a mission statement for this chapter, it would be:

Here is a workflow to reduce CMS misinformation clutter, define our core corporate website categories, and systematically find the optimal content management platform for our needs.

What is a CMS

The term CMS has grown to encompass many meanings. What it is meant to depict is a system that manages relationships between different types of content and layouts, including text, multimedia, lists, data, etc. A proper CMS can help you organize information into groups that can be displayed with different layouts, depending on the data type.

As your data type needs become more complex, a proper CMS should be able to naturally handle increasing demand with layout flexibility and robust data options. The prevalence of WordPress has changed the perception of a traditional CMS, mostly because of its user-friendliness.

About WordPress

The popular Wordpess platform, which boasts over 60 million installs, has proven that common data types and relations can be lumped into blogging activities, while support for extras can come in the form of plugins that are not native to the platform.

This bootstrap CMS model has proven so successful that companies large and small have been able to implement CMS-like results by taking advantage of a vast plugin network, powered by a thriving open source community. With such a large, consensus network of users, good support, open source software, and high CMS flexibility, it should take a highly-skilled development team, an emphasis on ecommerce, or another darned good reason not to use this platform as your CMS.

Flowchart: How to Choose a CMS

How to Choose a CMS

The above flowchart should serve as a guide to help you make decisions concerning which CMS will best fit your company goals. If it does nothing else, it should make you aware of the larger deciding factors that could serve as potential obstacles to the streamlined digital face of your organization. Let’s walk through the graphic.

Whether or not you have an on-site or remote design team is one of the major deciding factors when it comes to which CMS you choose. Choosing a CMS that requires a significant investment in time and technical know-how is one mistake that often does not bear a healthy return.

The next big deal-breaker is whether or not the main goal of your site is ecommerce-related. Your answer to this question usually has a big impact on which CMS you choose. If you plan on having products and product descriptions serve as the bulk of your content, then you may not need a traditional CMS at all.

If the goal of your corporate website is mostly ecommerce-based, without the need for custom business logic and advanced data relations, a popular platform such as Shopify, Magento, or SquareSpace should be at the forefront. Currently, each of these platforms manages major ecommerce obstacles such as security certificates (SSL), hosting, and merchant account/payment gateway integrations. While none of them offer the flexibility of a fully-custom ecommerce CMS, the ease-of-use tradeoff often trumps the drawbacks.

If you have ecommerce needs on top of additional business logic, you will most likely need the help of a skilled design team. Infusionsoft may be another option in this situation. Their added business logic and sales automation integration could be a nice fit on top of a custom website.

The rest of the options require a trusted web development team. There is currently a trend towards the static file or flat file CMS. This style of CMS uses no database, and allows you to link to files that contain multimedia and text. While a few of them are user-friendly, you still need adequate skills in HTML, CSS, and basic design if you want a custom look. A search for static CMS or flat file CMS will bring up a number of popular platforms, with names like Statamic, Perch, and Kirby.

If your design team is comfortable programming in Ruby, the combination of Alchemy CMS plus the Spree Commerce platform is at the top of its class in terms of ecommerce/CMS flexibility and functionality. With a platform like this, you could integrate products into an article layout, and pull in a graph or table from a database; the options are endless.

Other robust CMS platforms that have proven to scale well with a skilled development team are Expression Engine and Craft CMS. However, speaking about scaling does help bring up our next point about growing with your CMS.

Growing With Your CMS

No one wants to have to totally makeover their CMS every year or two. Ideally, your company can grow gracefully with your chosen platform, making minor changes and upgrades along the way. One of the ways to help solidify that your CMS decision won’t be a short-lived one, is to analyze trends and decide if a licensed or open source platform is best before you test the water with both feet.

Using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner or Google Trends can help prevent costly mistakes before they happen:

  • Navigate to the Keyword Planner
  • Click on Tools
  • Click on “Get search volume for a list of keywords..”
  • Enter a list of potential CMS platform keywords
  • Turn “Compare” to ON, under the Date Range option

search volume

While these exact steps may change, the basic gist will remain the same. What you are doing is comparing the change in search popularity for a given CMS platform over a period of time. While total search volume can reflect popularity and ease of use, the most important factor is the percent change over a time period.

keyword research

In the example above, Craft and Ghost blog increased significantly in popularity, while Expression Engine and Joomla had noticeable drops.

While differences in search popularity will not be the only factor in choosing a CMS, it indicates quite accurately the platforms that are experiencing major network growth, resulting in better plugins and support in the years to come.