Anyone reading this article in the hopes of finding a cure-all for all your web content management woes, stop here.

Choosing the right web content management system (CMS) is no guarantee of success.

A great implementation of an average to poor CMS will perform better than a great CMS implemented poorly. 

But choosing the right CMS gives you a great start on what we hope will be a long and beautiful relationship

So how do you go about picking the right one for your organization?

Tip #1 Establish Your CMS Requirements

I promised myself I wouldn’t mention this again, but the top of the top-most tips is to invest in developing requirements and scenarios before doing a feature function comparison of what’s in the market. 

Tip #2 Understand the Content Management Market

This vital step can turn into a potential distraction, as some organizations view "understanding the market" as "understanding the art of the possible." What's possible often has little to do with your requirements, and will turn your procurement process into pursuit of an unrealistic wish list. 

Of course your set of requirements needs to include some forward thinking to ensure the platform can stay the five year course. Market research from analysts and vendors can augment the pragmatic needs you have today, and offer some level of future-proofing against trends. 

However, the CMS market can at times offer a hodgepodge of opinions on where the future lies, which don't always relate to the real needs of managing web content. 

I’ve been through the hype cycles over the years. Personalization hit first, with Vignette battling BroadVision over an argument about cookies. 

Then we moved on to enterprise CMS, with promises that Vignette, FatWire or Interwoven/Autonomy would become the SAP of enterprise information management. And here we are today, with the battle of ideas between Adobe, Sitecore and SDL around customer experience. 

Personalization is back in the picture, which brings us full circle to Vignette in 2003.

The rise and fall of the perceived market leader can happen pretty quickly.  

Multiple web CMS vendors have come and gone over the years and clients still face the challenge of publishing web pages. 

So review the market, but use your requirements and try to avoid the more prosaic predictions and distracting functionality. 

Tip #3 Don’t Over-Spec and Over-Buy

One of the common issues I’ve seen with clients is that they have over bought. 

You’d think buying something beyond your needs would be a safe bet. Sure, eventually we may want to manage every content asset in this hub, yes, at some point we may introduce 17 languages, yes, someday we may do multi-channel targeting. 

However, what really happens is that the organization ends up with an unwieldy system that is expensive to maintain and 50 percent of its functionality lies idle. 

An "enterprise" product (however you want to define that) will inevitably be more complex to implement and use. 

This happens to big and small organizations. Just because you are a large enterprise, does not always mean you need a big enterprise product from the top right of Gartner's Magic Quadrant. 

Those features that seemed so fantastic in the demo just get in the way of getting stuff done. 

The complexity of the solution raises the risk of a bad implementation, increases the price for the skills required, the authors hate using it and finance hates paying the maintenance (and those cheeky chaps in the local market are using Wordpress). 

Tip #4 Open Source is Not Free Beer: It’s Free Puppies

A free download of some crowd-sourced IP is not the key to web content management nirvana — the same challenges await during the implementation and maintenance of the solution.

A box full of poorly taught free puppies could result in greater mayhem than those potentially well-trained puppies that you could have paid for. 

Once again, business requirements are key. All of the solutions, regardless of source, need to be judged against those requirements. Being “open source” is not a business requirement, it is just a different way to structure the procurement and servicing of your project. 

The open source market offers some great solutions that will stand up to many enterprise needs, but open source does not equal a free pass on meeting your business needs. 

Judge the solution the same way as any other vendor, including skills, costs, support and risks for the duration of your five year relationship.

Tip #5 Ensure You Compare Apples with Apples

The cloud and new commercial models based on subscription and consumption have also disrupted the standard perpetual software licensing model and commercial relationships. 

At this point, most vendors are offering their products in a combination of these models: offering to host a perpetual software license, offering SaaS or PaaS and folks like Acquia offering open source (Drupal) in the cloud. 

Comparing solutions using these different models is a challenge.

Direct comparisons of a perpetual license that doesn't include hosting and support to a PaaS or SaaS solution won't work. Ultimately you need to consider the full cost, including hosting, support, maintenance, etc., in whatever form that comes.

Once again it comes down to this: does the contract meet your business needs?

Tip #6 Dig Into the Community, Follow Up on References

Community activity is a standard litmus test for open source projects. 

Community activity can signal a vendor’s progressive development and the level of support to expect going forward. If a product has no friends, no buzz in the development communities, you will have a hard time attracting skills to your project. 

It’s not just the developer community. Speak to people that use the product — and not just to the references the vendor provided. Try to speak to the user community or your peers in other businesses who have implemented the solution. 

Some simple online sleuthing and a polite LinkedIn request could save a lot of pain later. 

Tip #7 Imagine Day 365 of the Project

You're sitting across the table from the vendor, ready to commit to this potential partner for the next five years.

This person has to be there with you when you are tearing your hair out at 2 a.m. when the inevitable disaster happens. Will they be there? 

Use the procurement process to get to know the solutions and the partner. You only get one go at this, take your time and remember — you’re in charge. 

Avoid the boring procurement box ticking of RFPs. Emphasize setting tasks, like demoing against scenarios, a proof of concept and a pilot that enables you to see them outside the stage managed pitch conference room

You're entering a two-way marriage which should benefit both of you. Let’s just hope that this time around it’s "the one."

Title image Geetanjal Khanna