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When Selecting a CMS, Focus on Features

Selecting a web content management system — more commonly referred to as a CMS — is a complex technical task. Successfully navigating it is therefore best undertaken in partnership with your corporate IT/IS group or a trusted technology partner. But once that relationship is in place you should focus on features, not technology.

The end goal is a technology solution your IT staff can endorse and a feature set that will allow you to be a successful content manager. The key to making this happen is for marketing to drive the selection process, not IT/technical. Many current CMS solutions require little or no internal IT/technical support. That said, it’s still in everyone’s best interest to utilize technologies your IT resources are familiar with, but don’t let this be a final driver.

There are five main steps in selecting a CMS:

1. Identify and build a team.

Build a small team of decision makers. Try to cover each group within your organization that has some responsibility for creating and updating your website content. Key people might include a project manager (it’s critical to have someone leading the project, even if they do not have specific web CMS knowledge), marketing head, webmaster, primary content contributors, and an IT/IS or technology partner. Note that the bulk of the team are marketers, not technology people.

2. Identify specific marketing-related needs.

Think about how you use your current system and what a new and improved CMS might feel like. It doesn’t have to be technical. There’s nothing wrong with “I’d love a system that could do this” or “I hate the way our old system does that.” Tell a story, write it down and be prepared to discuss your scenarios in detail with your team and eventually with the vendors you may demo.

Some common features you may want to consider:

  • Editing
  • Image manipulation and management
  • Workflow
  • Template creation and management
  • Built-in integrations with other marketing technologies such as CRM and marketing automation

Keep a list of desired features in a spreadsheet or other shared resource that all reviewers can contribute to. During demos and reviews, focus in on those features that are most critical to your use cases.

Don’t get caught up in the “shiny object” syndrome. CMS vendors try to differentiate their products with new and unique solutions, but just because something looks cool does not mean it should be added to your core criteria.

3. Identify specific technology-related needs.

In this step you’ll be looking at issues such as CMS hosting, open source vs. paid software license, platform and security. You’ll need to rely on your internal or external IT team for this, but again, the user features should drive the process.

4. Identify candidate solutions.

Look to your team’s previous experience, Gartner Research’s Magic Quadrant for web content management solutions, and of course Google.

5. Review/demo/sandbox candidate solutions.

Once you’ve gotten your list down to five or less, take some test drives and play with the finalists in a sandbox environment (use a spreadsheet to track how well each solution meets your must-have criteria), and review the providers’ references.