Selecting a CMSThe good, the bad and the …wrong content management system (CMS). Nobody wants that last one.

Hastily selected Web CMS platforms will create plenty of adventure and excitement for you and your team. It just won't be the sort of excitement you expected.

Get into bed with the wrong CMS and easy tasks become hard and leverage turns to roadblocks. Ultimately, your organization won't realize the promise of return on investment (ROI) that justified the project in the first place. So let’s talk strategy for an effective Web CMS selection process.

1. Vendor Selection is Like Choosing a Spouse

Seth Gottlieb, a 15-year veteran of the web content management industry and chief marketing technologist for Lionbridge Global Marketing Operations, tells us CMS buyers should look for a vendor capable of building a "mutually beneficial partnership."

Specifics will vary based on the buyer’s needs and resources, Gottlieb said, but the requirements will generally fall into the following dimensions:

  • Support: This may be limited to basic product patches and may include services like hosting, user mentoring, strategic guidance, or even web development.
  • Vision: "The way the vendor sees the market and the role of the product will determine the product roadmap," Gottlieb said. "If the customer and the vendor are aligned, then desirable features will continually be added and the product will grow with the customer. If they are not, then the new features will probably be unwanted and clutter the product."
  • Community: Look at your existing customer community for vision and for references from people or organizations who have similar challenges and goals. "A community of a sufficient size will increase the likelihood of finding talent that can help you," Gottlieb said.
  • Stability and focus: If you have an "overly large emphasis on growth," it may suggest an "exit strategy" that will leave you alone. "In case of large enterprise software vendors, make sure that this product is core to their overall strategy," Gottlieb added.

“Depending on your needs, the vendor to partner with may be an agency or integrator, not the software supplier,” he said.

Select a Web CMS vendor with (nearly) as much scrutiny as selecting a spouse, said Irina Guseva, senior analyst at the Real Story Group, which specializes in technology research and strategic advisory services.

“And I am only half-joking here,” Guseva told CMSWire. "Prospective buyers should look at cultural fit, along with the technological fit. It's also a good idea to evaluate the vendor's professional services — to see who would be implementing the product and what their qualifications are — as well as the partner network/channel."

Analyst firm Digital Clarity Group places such weight on the integration partner that they went so far as to create a whole report on integration partners.

2. Know Thyself (What Makes Your Business Tick)

Get a handle on your strategy before investing in any software, Guseva said. "By strategy, I do not mean a checklist of desired features and functions, but a holistic look at overall information management practices and business goals in the organization," she explained.

Do not approach the CMS selection without thorough research and understanding of the market.  "Buyers who are educated about the ways different CMS tools operate and the potential drawbacks are in better positions to make this investment in technology," she said.

The most important and hardest question to ask, Gottlieb said, is whether the problem you are solving is software-related in the first place. Do you have sufficient staff and processes? Do you have a strategy in place? 

"If your site is under-performing because of neglect or dysfunction, a software selection will divert resources and attention from the real problems," Gottlieb added. "You will wind up right where you started but with a lot less money."

Get in touch with your strategy and execution before looking at software because it will help you understand your requirements and get the most out of the platform when it has been deployed.

3. Building a Short List Ain't Easy

Ultimately, you want to select a content management system that does two things: supports your requirements and is easy to use. But evaluating Web CMS software for functionality and usability takes time.  So the last thing you want to do is waste time getting intimate with the wrong products.

Here's how to get started.

  • Filter for Relevant Technologies
  • Filter for Your Budget
  • Filter for Business Functionality
  • Consider the Proximity of Your Partners

In conversation with Scott Liewehr, President and Principal Analyst at Digital Clarity Group, he emphasized the need to identify what he described as focal needs and to use these needs to pare down your list of potential vendors.

According to Liewehr, focal needs fall into one of two categories:

  • Idiosyncratic Requirements: Those that are highly specific to the business and therefore a distinguishing need -- such as the need to support digital properties in 25 languages in a decentralized manner while keeping them all in sync
  • Extreme Priority Requirements: Those that may appear standard in nature, such as "ease of content editing", but are considered high enough priority that they deserve special focus and thus help you quickly filter candidate products. For example, if you have hundreds of content contributors that use the system infrequently, the intuitiveness of the content editing process might take on heightened importance.

In Liewehr's estimation most organizations have no more than six to 10 focal needs. And when building your Web CMS shortlist, it’s preferable to focus on these to identify a few options that will meet your needs, saving the longer list of requirements for the features matrix as we describe in Rule No. 4 below.

To dig deeper into this area, read: Selecting a CMS: How to Build a Short List. And if you haven't visited our product directory, then pop over and check out our big list of Web CMS products.

4. Use, Don't Abuse Your Features Matrix

If you've ever had to evaluate an enterprise software platform, then you probably know about the requirements matrix. It typically comes in the form of a spreadsheet and consists of a list of capabilities —or requirements — a given product must have to meet your needs.