This is a tough question for most communicators. Sometimes it’s because they are unfamiliar with the technical aspects of a CMS. Sometimes it’s because there are too many choices out there. At ND, we have tons of different CMSes and it’s difficult to know which one will be the right one to choose. I know because I’ve had to help them make the choice before – for my past clients and for current clients.
So what are some good questions to ask yourself when you are picking your CMS? I’ve got five questions that you should answer before buying one.
1. How easy is it to use?
This may seem like a silly question but if you want other people than yourself to put content on your website (which you should – there should never be a bottleneck of one content person), the CMS better we crazy easy to use. It should be “log in”, “select the page”, and “type into the content”, then “save” or “publish”. If you make it too hard or give people too many bells and whistles available, they won’t login again and they won’t help you load content.
BTW, if you have a system where only one person in your office can use the system at a time – that’s not good. Make sure the interface is easy and clear for someone who doesn’t play on the internet all day.
2. What are special content needs for my website?
We get this a lot. People want a website but don’t know exactly what they’ll put in it. You’ll save yourself and your team a ton of time, money and frustration if you just do some homework and get your content together first.
This way you’ll get a really, really (that’s two reallys) good understanding of what content is for your audiences. If you don’t have a good idea of the content, then you need to stop your CMS buying process and go back to the whiteboard. Laying out all your content will help inform your decision the best.
Well, what if you don’t know what all your content is. What do you ask yourself to help you find all your content. Here’s what I do.
Write down all the content you currently have, what it is and where it is. Text, video, photos, audio, pdfs or word documents, etc… Is digital or in hard copy form?
Once you have it all down, think of how you’ll want to display it.
When it comes to video, do I want to use YouTube and embed it on the page or do I want people to download them and play them locally on their machine (I don’t recommend this)?
When it comes to photos, do I want to have them access to my flickr account? Do I want a photo gallery where they can see all the photos on my website? Do I want to make a slideshow? Or maybe display all photos in a lightbox? What is best practice for displaying a photo?
Do I want an automatic news feed so I don’t have to index news items? Do I want it to be shared with other sites on campus? Do I want an RSS feed?
What about forms? How will people contact me through the website? Can they sign up of a newsletter? Do I want to have a newsletter? (Which I recommend)
What we usually find is that people make a selection of a CMS without really looking through the content or structure or audience or any of that. This should be done before you move forward.
3. Is the code up to standards?
Now, this can be difficult to understand sometimes but there are a lot of content management systems that generate bad code or too much code. Now there are lots of different languages out there but they all do basically the same thing. The code generate should be efficient and it should render your website to look the same on all the different “major” browsers (i.e. Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Google Chrome) and their latest versions. If you don’t have an idea if the code is good, reach out to our web developers here and we’ll look it over for you. We’re not biased against other CMSes but we do dislike bad code and we’ll tell you if it’s generating crap or not.
4. How much can I afford?
There are lots of little costs besides just the main one of just buying the right CMS. So make sure you take those into account. Most of the time a company will hype the inital cost of the set-up and throw in the small costs later (after the project is already started). Don’t let them do that. Make sure you understand where and how is the website is going to be hosted, what kind of maintenance plan is provided, who provides upgrades and is there a cost involved to upgrade to the next version, what’s the development roadmap for this CMS, is it open-sourced (no one owns the code) or is it proprietary? How much does web support cost at an hourly rate? If it goes down, who do I call? If I break something, who can help me? What kind of back-up is there if something goes wrong? What do they consider their “up” time? What if I want to add another website or web page? All of these things have costs involved and you should understand that before buying anything. Also remember that if you are buying something, procurement will need to be involved as well.
5. Future proofing my website. Will the CMS provide mobile CSS or Responsive Design? Do I need a separate mobile website?
The CMS should have the ability to go mobile with your website via CSS at a basic level. If not, then don’t buy it. If you were at the mobile summit or attended Erik Runyon’s mobile brown bag, then you’ll understand that mobile is growing by leaps and bounds. Don’t lock yourself down to just a website when the rest of the world is going mobile.
Finally, what’s available on campus for Notre Dame.
Well, there are several options for website content management systems. The university has decided to support two via Marketing Communications but you don’t have to pick them if they don’t meet your needs.
The two systems are:
Conductor Content Management System:
http://conductor.nd.edu built, supported and maintained by Marketing Communications: Web Team
WordPress Content Management System:
http://blogs.nd.edu built by WordPress, install and maintenance by Marketing Communications: Web Team
Other Content Management Systems:
Some individual colleges/schools/departments have implemented their own CMS solutions after conducting evaluations.
There is Drupal, Joomla, Ektron, and Plone to mention a few but I’m sure there are several that I don’t know about. If you want to contact the depts that have these CMSes, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck with your CMS selection.
And if I missed something here that you would like me to add or talk about, then drop me a line.