choosing a CMS -- the issue of control

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Content management systems (CMSs) are certainly popular. It would not be accurate to say that they are Internet-wide, but they are prevalent enough to be considered a core technology for web development – whether you are simply using the systems and their associated software “as is” or are customizing them.


Before we talk about ideas for making the choice of a CMS, let’s look at context by talking a little about the history of this technology. Finally, we will close by touching briefly on infrastructure since that is also an important piece.


  • A brief history of the CMS
  • How to choose a CMS – 3 basic steps
  • High-performance cloud hosting to drive your site


A brief history of the CMS


It helps to put a technology into perspective by looking at its history. For the content management system, the best place to start is the 1990s, as indicated by a short history put together by Emory University web development instructor Ivey Brent Laminack.


In the mid-90s, developers were still having difficulty getting proper display for their HTML pages. E-commerce sites were just about the only dynamic pages. Coders who were working to help build e-commerce sites were using ColdFusion or Perl. There was not yet a real established basis for online transactions or for the integrated management of content.


The web continued to progress of course (as it has been known to do). By the late-90s, there were languages such as PHP that were a better fit for the Internet. Industry professionals were beginning to realize that it was actually a wise idea to allow owners of websites to update and manage their own content. Because of this increased understanding that website owners needed that type of access (in other words, that this type of tool would have value), coders started writing content management systems; and, in turn, the CMS became a prevalent technology. The CMS made it possible for users to bring images from their own desktop computers online; create informational pieces and narratives; and boost the general engagement of web pages.


Things have changed quite a bit since the late-90s though. Initially, coders were coming up with their own software. That was basically the emergence of the custom CMS. The diversity at that time was nice, but people like ecosystems that can be standardized to an extent – and the business world wanted to monetize these types of systems. Hence, firms were created to build, sell, and support content management systems.


Some web-based CMSs were actually derived from document management systems. These systems were a way to keep a handle on all the files within a desktop, such as word-processing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. Those systems were starting to get more widely used at about the turn of the millennium. Document management system software was particularly useful to large newspapers and magazines; in those organizations, full adoption was typically a six-figure project. Soon after the turn of the millennium, open source CMS choices started to become available and proliferate. Mambo and Drupal were two of the chief ones in the early years.


“For the first few years, they were only marginally useful,” noted Laminack, “but by about 2004, they were starting to be ready for prime-time.”


As emergence years for each type of CMS, Laminack lists 1997 for the custom CMS, 2000 for the proprietary CMS, and 2004 for the open source CMS.


How to choose a CMS – 3 basic steps


There are plenty of articles online arguing for one CMS over another. (As we know, WordPress has plenty of adherents, which is why it is the king of the market.) This is not a popularity contest, though. Let’s look at advice for choosing the best CMS:


1.) Consider why you want a new CMS.


As you start the process, think about your own goals. Consider the problems you want to address with the technology. Is there something about your current system that you particularly don’t like? Think about the negatives, too, advised business intelligence software-as-a-service firm Siteimprove. Are there elements of your current environment that you really want to leave behind? Try making a Requirements Matrix (aka a/n Features or Evaluation Matrix), to get a better sense of how well the different CMSs measure up against one another.


2.) Prioritize, above all else, usability and control.


The most important two things you want to look for in a CMS, as a general rule, are user-friendliness and the extent to which you have control, according to Chicago-based website design firm Intechnic. These two elements are intertwined. You want it to be easy to make updates to content; publish at the times you want; updates important parts of your site such as the terms of service; and create new pages. You need to have the control to be able to easily complete these types of tasks; they are central to the role of a content management system.


It is common for a CMS not to support many elements that you want to be able to integrate into your site. “This is unacceptable,” said Intechnic. “A good CMS needs to adapt to your business’ standards, processes, and not the other way around.”


3.) Look for other key attributes of a strong environment.


CMS Critic discussed the topic of CMS selection in terms of the characteristics that a user should want in one – and that they should see are present when they’re exploring options:


  • Usability: Note that this feature, discussed above as one of the pair that should be the underpinning of a CMS choice (per Intechnic), is listed first by CMS Critic.
  • Mobile-friendliness: You need a CMS that offers strong mobile capabilities since access from phones and tablets is now so much of the whole pie.
  • Permissions and workflow: There is an arc to content, running from its production to its editing, management, and auditing. A good CMS program will give you the ability to create workflows and otherwise simplify content management.
  • Templates: You want a system that has the ability to easily create templates. These templates should make it simple to copy content and to reuse the same structural format.
  • Speed and capacity to grow: The system you choose should have great performance (both strong reliability and high speed), along with scalability related to that performance so that you will not hit a wall as you grow.
  • Great search engine tools and on-site searchability: One of the most critical aspects of a CMS is its ability to get your message to potential customers through the search engines. Make sure the CMS offers tools, as with plugins, that can boost your SEO. You also want the ability to have visitors to your site search your site for great open-ended navigability.
  • Deployment agility: You want it to be possible to serve the CMS either on your own server or in an external data center (including cloud).
  • Broad & robust support and service: You want to know that you can get support and service, whether through the CMS provider or through the broader tech community.


High-performance cloud hosting to drive your site


Are you deciding on a CMS for your business? Beyond the process of figuring out the CMS that makes sense, you also need to figure out its hosting.


At Total Server Solutions, our cloud hosting boasts the highest levels of performance in the industry. See our High Performance Cloud Platform.