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How to choose the best CMS

A content management system (CMS) is the tool that companies use to manage and display content marketing. Depending on where you are in your digital transformation — and, more specifically, in your digital marketing journey — you might think of a content management system (CMS) as the place you put the copy for your website or the platform you use to launch email campaigns. If you’re like most people, you think of a CMS in narrow terms of what you’ve seen one do before.  

That view might have served your company well for years. It might work today. But, as you think about the ways your company might scale or shift over the next several years, in a digital world that changes more and more rapidly, it might be worth giving your CMS another look.

Why your CMS matters >>

Choosing a CMS: 8 things to bear in mind 

Whether you’re in the market for a new CMS to support an upcoming initiative, or you simply want to make sure your current solution is still serving your goals, we’ve identified eight key factors to think through as you identify the best CMS. 

1. Content complexity

Because the primary job of your CMS is handling your content, be sure that the platform you’re using or choosing can handle the complexity of your content landscape — both current state and where you’re headed in the near-term.  

Part of the CMS selection process includes envisioning where you want to be in the future. Technology advances fast, and customer expectations are not far behind. As your target audiences incorporate technologies like wearables, voice assistants, and AI-enabled interfaces, your content may need to evolve to reach them. While your content may not be complex today, will that direction remain sustainable for your business? 

If your content primarily exists on a single website, you may be able to use a simpler CMS. But if you use content across multiple interrelated sites, reuse content across digital properties, or support video, audio, or other media, you might need a more robust system. Planning ahead for a flexible, scalable solution may make more sense in the long run. 

Get help with your content marketing strategy >>

2. Storage needs

Another factor to consider when choosing a CMS is storage. Once again, the types of content you need to support and the diversity of platforms where you need to display it play a critical role in this decision.  

  • If your internal policies or regulatory requirements require the CMS to be your system of record for auditing purposes, your solution will need more capacity than if storing legacy content archives elsewhere is a possibility. 
  • Depending on use cases, volume, and user experience needs, some media-rich content such as videos could be stored on an external channel like YouTube or Vimeo. Be sure to get internal input before making that decision, however, as UX for embedded video may be compromised depending on how your digital properties are structured. 
  • For organizations that rely on printable content, such as brochures, one-pagers, and other PDF content, interfacing a document management system with the CMS might make more sense than storing a large content library directly in the CMS. 

Storage needs can also be influenced by your organization’s cloud strategy. Where your business intends to host the CMS — on-prem, in the cloud, or with a SaaS provider — matters when it comes to your storage decisions. 

Cut through cloud complexity >>

3. Workflow automation

Regardless of the size of your IT and marketing teams, smart workflow automation can be a force multiplier. As you evaluate your current CMS and move toward choosing the right CMS for your business, think through how that tool may impact existing workflows. 

If your content creation, editing, review, and publication process has many steps, automating some parts of the workflow probably makes sense. Some CMS solutions can handle step-by-step hand-offs, which frees your team from the need to shepherd pieces through to publication — and eliminates the risk of a task being dropped or forgotten along the way.  

4. Ease of use

When it comes to CMS selection, functionality requirements balance against ease of use. If you don’t have on-team resources who can handle in-the-moment development or ongoing maintenance, you might need to opt for more of a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) content editor so that your marketing team has the flexibility to create needed assets in a timely manner. 

To weigh your needs for self-service content creation, think about which team members might be entering, editing, and approving content, and what skillsets might be required to use and maintain your chosen CMS. How your team is structured, existing competencies, and the ability to upskill or cross-skill those team members can also be important factors in your decision. 

5. Ease of integration

While there may be an edge case or two of a CMS operating as a sole solution within a business, chances are you need one that can function as part of an existing or evolving tech stack. As you choose the right CMS for your business, take the time to map out all of the other marketing, sales, project management, and other business-critical technologies you’ll need it to interface with. Some examples of tools you’ll need to interface with a CMS might include: 

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) 
  • Email systems 
  • Social media marketing
  • Marketing automation 
  • Project management 
  • Forms  
  • Analytics and data dashboards 

Most of these tools will either send data to or receive data from your CMS, so once you’ve identified the tools, systems, and platforms that need to connect with your CMS, you’ll need to determine if APIs are available or if you’ll need custom API development. Different CMS solutions offer different options for built-in integrations, and some make it easier to customize integrations than others. 

Find out more about API strategy>>

6. Amount of customization required

Customization concerns extend beyond API options to encompass everything from the user interface, workflows, security, and functionality of your CMS. When it comes to choosing the best CMS, customization is a Goldilocks evaluation. You don’t want too little or too much. 

  • If your CMS requires significant customization or workarounds to achieve basic customization, you may be introducing too much risk. It might be easier to find a CMS that more closely fits your needs. 
  • On the other hand, if your CMS restricts code access and doesn’t allow enough customization, you could find yourself locked into a solution that holds you back when you need to scale or change. 
  • Instead, look for a CMS that hits the “just right” balance between meeting your needs and allowing creativity and control over the customer experience.

7. Costs

When it comes to technology, the sticker price rarely equals the actual cost of the solution. To get a more accurate view of cost when you’re choosing a CMS, factor in: 

  • Ongoing subscriptions if you choose a SaaS CMS
  • Licensing fees if you choose a proprietary CMS software 
  • External vendor time if you choose an open-source CMS and don’t have a dedicated development and maintenance team 
  • Internal team efficiency and infrastructure if you choose to handle maintenance, security, and development in-house

8. Service

Related to overall cost throughout your CMS lifecycle, remember to think through your service requirements — both in terms of implementation or upgrade and the ongoing support you’ll need.  

Your CMS vendor may be a great partner for implementation or might suggest that you choose a third-party implementation team. As you think about implementing or upgrading a CMS, also consider: 

  • What kind of data migration support you need 
  • The level and duration of support you’ll require for the shift 
  • If you need help with cut-over planning 
  • The time and resources you’ll need for system testing 
  • Training needs 
  • On-site support 

Choosing a CMS: next steps

As you consider how to choose the best CMS for your business, remember that well-defined needs make for better-fitting solutions, and don’t try to tackle the requirements, system audit, and vendor selection process on your own.

Getting key stakeholders involved early on in the process can help you make better decisions and give you the perspective you need to choose the right CMS. At a minimum, that group should include leaders from IT, marketing, and sales, but you may also want to include customer service, data, and key business units as well. 

If you have the right people at the table, a half-day workshop could be enough to set your project up for success. Key points to cover in that sort of meeting include: 

  • Getting a big picture view of how the CMS will fit into your existing technology ecosystem 
  • Aligning goals and requirements across the business 
  • Outlining a budget 
  • Designating project owners 
  • Agreeing on how to prioritize requirements in light of available resources 

Next, your project team can evaluate potential solutions against the agreed-upon criteria. You might use your organization’s vendor selection matrix, or develop a new one to fit the project. 

Finally, plan for the transition. If you aren’t sure what that might entail, consulting with a team of experts can make sense — saving you significant time and expense. 

Ready to get started? We help organizations navigate the process of choosing the right CMS from start to finish, but we’re also happy to jump in with a quick consultation if you’re feeling stuck.

Set up a 30-minute consultation >>

Learn more about martech strategy >>

Find out how a CMS fits into your overall customer data strategy >>

About the author

New Era Technology

New Era Technology creates powerful digital, data, and technology solutions that keep companies moving forward in a rapidly changing world. Our 500+ consultants use data insights, experience design, and tech innovation to help you reimagine your business for whatever comes next.


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