6 Rules for Picking the Perfect CMS

Joel Farr

December 28, 2012

The short answer is that there isn’t a “perfect” CMS (content management system), but you can find the perfect CMS for you. It’s a big commitment. Treat it like a marriage and don’t rush into anything. Start by getting to know the ins and outs of different CMSs and use these six rules for CMS dating before taking the plunge:

1. Play the field – There are a plethora of options out there from open-source, paid, proprietary, and custom solutions to fit the needs of your site and/or business. Many open-source solutions will let you test drive their CMS before you go to the work of downloading and installing it on your own servers. In every case that you can, try before you buy.

2. Beautiful is not necessarily better – You know those really pretty girls that are just dumb as nails? Be careful because the same can be true for content management systems. The reality is that any good web developer/ designer can make any content management system look beautiful. Don’t get sold on ‘X’ CMS just because of the way it looks. It’s what’s inside that counts. The “personality” of the system is what’s important.

3. Customization – Back in my dating days, I was given some great advice. I was told that you should go into a relationship without hoping for any change out of the other person. Many people get into relationships thinking that they can change the other person, but the reality is that most of us don’t change. Luckily, however, in the world of content management systems, this CAN be done and it must be a requirement when choosing your CMS. You need to be aware of how dynamic and flexible your CMS is. Many open-source solutions are extremely customizable with add-ons, modules, and plug-ins. On the other hand, there are also a plethora of CMSs that don’t offer this flexibility and can be a huge detriment when it comes to adding or changing your website. Be sure there is room to grow and customize.

4. Support & Documentation – Life can be brutal. But it’s a bit easier when you have a shoulder to cry on from time to time. The same is true for content management systems. At some point, you’ll want to tear your hair out because of a problem you’re having with your website. Some systems have fantastic support networks with great documentation while others don’t. Be sure you can get help when you need it and that you won’t get stuck in a dark corner sucking your thumb.

5. Roles & Permissions – Just like in real dating, you want to be sure to set your boundaries. All of us have our rules – no kissing on the first date, no talking about your ex etc. As your business and/or website grows, eventually you’ll want the ability to distinguish who can do what on the site. There are some CMSs that have this functionality built in and others that don’t. Even if this isn’t functionality you need now, it is much easier to plan for it now than try to implement it later.

6. Bloat & Speed – I don’t know too many people who eat huge bean burritos just before taking someone on a date. It surely comes back to haunt them, in more than one way. The same can be true for your CMS. You want to avoid all the bloat you can. Many CMSs I encounter tout a laundry list full of bells and whistles – but who cares about all of that if you’re not going to use it? Anything extra will slow your site down and can potentially cause problems.

It’s important to note that sometimes your needs go beyond what existing CMSs can do. In this case, your best bet is to work with a developer to design and build your own custom CMS. This can be difficult, costly, and tedious, but not as painful as trying to mold an existing CMS to fit your custom needs and failing. It’s much better to have a little pain upfront than major pain down the road. Don’t look back at your CMS in a few years and wish it never happened. CMS divorce can be horribly painful and expensive.