24th June 2020

5 Top Tips For Choosing A CMS

Choosing a new CMS

Key considerations for any organisation when it comes to content management systems

The content management system (CMS) is a vital piece of infrastructure for modern organisations. At Deeson, we've been creating transformational web platforms since 2007 using a variety of different CMSs, including Drupal, WordPress, Wagtail, Umbraco, Contentful and Prismic.

But like everything in the digital world, CMS trends are constantly evolving. What's more, Drupal 7, a highly popular tool, will cease to be supported in November 2022, forcing many organisations to rethink their CMS strategy now.

So what should companies look for in a CMS? Whether you're currently using Drupal 7 and need to migrate, or just want to learn more about key features and considerations for this technology, we've got the know-how to help. Here are the top 5 things you should be thinking about when choosing a CMS.


1. Choose your model (open source, licensed, as-a-service)

CMSs come in three main categories: open source, licensed, and as-a-service. They're not necessarily mutually exclusive (you might find a licensed model with as-a-service features, for example) but they do each come with their own benefits and disadvantages.

Open source CMS software such as Drupal, WordPress, and Umbraco is freely available, free to use, and usually maintained by an online community. This has obvious cost benefits – you don't have to pay anything to use the tool, so your funds can be directed towards developing your website, app or service.

Open source tools are also highly flexible. In popular CMSs such as Drupal, you might find that the features you need have already been built, but the option is always there to build your own. The flexibility to develop anything is useful for organisations wanting to integrate the CMS within a large estate of other tools. It allows for a high degree of bespoke development options - a characteristic that is particularly valuable when a unique online solution is an organisation's USP. It may also be the only option when needing to integrate with custom backend or legacy systems which have no defined solutions.

 (This could of course have its drawbacks – if you're trying to build something for a CMS that no one else has wanted to, there may be a very good reason for this...!)

In the licensed CMS model you'll find big names such as Sitecore and Kentico. These companies own and develop their CMS software, charging a fee for its use. If you go down this route, you'll have to pay what can be expensive licensing fees, but you may get a bit more of a polished service in return.

Recently, the CMS as-a-service model has become increasingly popular. In this context you'll contract a platform provider such as Prismic or Contentful to store and maintain the back end of your content, leaving you free to design it as you like. This gives content editors a place to log in, view, and edit their posts, with setup and maintenance responsibilities and hosting costs passed on to the platform provider.

2. All in one, headless or decoupled?

Traditional 'all in one' CMSs are comprised of three software layers: a database, in which the content and relationships are stored; a graphical user interface, for composing and organising content and tweaking settings; and a presentation layer (typically a website).

Today, however, most organisations publish content across a far greater variety of digital channels than just the web. We've therefore seen the emergence of so-called 'headless' CMSs, which allow businesses to use whatever front end system they like on whatever channel they like - website, app, digital signage - to determine how content is displayed.

Decoupled CMSs, on the other hand, sit between these two extremes. They offer a headless approach to serving content but with a built in web presentation layer for your websites. 
You'll need to think about what kinds of channels you want to publish on as to which of these three formats you choose.

3. Think about user need (and governance)

Often, organisations dive into selecting a CMS before carefully considering what their approach should be. They might be keen to stick to familiar technology that they have used in the past, to switch to open source software as a way of recouping costs on licence fees, or to use the same tools as their industry peers.

Yet when choosing a CMS you should not start by focusing on the technology, but rather by asking what your user need is. This involves thinking about your front end audience but also your administrative users – those members of your organisation who will access, edit and publish content via the CMS.

Here, it's important to consider your governance model. Is content going to be managed by a small team of trusted individuals? How will you control different levels of access and permissions?

Different CMSs can deal with this in different ways. For example, platform CMS providers may charge based on how many editors you need, whereas open source tools are indifferent to organisational structure. In addition, if an off the shelf tool doesn't offer the governance model you need you won't be able to add one in, but in an alternative model you may be able to build one.


4. What's the roadmap?

When choosing your CMS, cost is a big factor. You'll need a rough idea of what your costs are likely to be based on different models and service providers, but you should also think about how these costs might change in the future.
Some organisations decide to change their websites or apps on a regular basis, and don't therefore need a CMS tool with a long shelf life. Others on the other hand prefer to stick with their preferred model for as long as possible. For example, Drupal 7 was released in 2011 and some sites built at this time are still live today. Changing CMSs clearly has cost implications, so it's worth bearing your roadmap in mind when making your choice.


5. Delve into the design

The final point in our 5 top tips is to think about the level of originality and creative flair you want in your content. If you're creating a marketing driven page, for example, then it will likely require a lot of attention from a designer. Will your CMS give you the flexibility you need for these design requirements?

Conversely, there are plenty of other sites which don't need to provide dynamic or engaging experiences, and which instead serve as a basic repository for information. These can be well served by templates – easily obtainable from a licensed or open source CMS model.

Summing up

Whether or not you're currently thinking about changing your CMS, it's always worth considering if the technology you use in your business is fulfilling its brief. The functions of a CMS should be closely aligned with business goals – if they're not, then it might be time to look elsewhere.

If you'd like more information about the right CMS for your organisation, or if you're using Drupal 7 and are looking to migrate, then we've got the expertise and experience you need to make it happen. Get in touch and we'll be more than happy to chat things through.