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CMS Buyer's Checklist

8
min read

Anthony Garone - Director of Technology
Anthony Garone
CMS Buyer's Checklist


This is the night, it’s a beautiful night, and they call it bella notte. Why? Because we’re wrapping up our five-part series on choosing an enterprise web CMS. (You can still catch parts one, two, three, and four.)

Before we start gazing wistfully over a plate of spaghetti, let’s wrap up our thoughts across the six factors of CMS success.

We’ve put together a convenient CMS buyer’s checklist to help you across the finish line as you select your enterprise CMS.

The Six Factors

When choosing a CMS, we encourage you to strongly consider these six factors: integration, scalability, ease of use, security, workflow, and multi-site support. They’re what matters most (and come up most frequently when we help our clients choose and implement a CMS).

Six Factors Enterprise CMS 5


Integration

You’ll need your CMS to talk and work with other systems, which means you’ll need to think about integrations. Here are key points to consider:

  • How many different integrations are supported by the CMS?
    • The answer should correlate to the number of services you need to integrate with not only today, but as your business needs evolve.
    • Make sure the services you need are supported. If not, you may need a custom integration.
    • Native integrations written by the CMS provider/vendor or by the service provider with which you need integration will ensure support is maintained as technology changes over time.
    • Think about everything you want on the website that you won’t administer directly in the CMS control panel. It could be content for your end users or it could be data for your back-end systems (e.g. a reservation calendar).
    • Think beyond today, too. The integrations you need today may not be the ones you need tomorrow. Find out if there are any larger business plans to adopt other tools/services that will impact your website.
  • What services are natively supported?
    • This is where you’ll need a system that can support common business applications like Salesforce/Pardot, Namely, Google Calendar, etc.
  • What APIs/web service integrations are provided and supported by the CMS?
    • Examples: REST, SOAP, WSDL (pronounced “WIZ-dul”) or integration services like Zapier.
    • If you have an internal dev team, this is a great opportunity to get them involved and have them consult for your effort.
  • Can you control the scheduling, triggers, and frequency of interactions via these integrations?
    • For example, if you post a new job on your third-party recruitment system, how many minutes/hours will it be before it shows up on the website?
    • Does the CMS allow you to check for data updates on a schedule you determine?

Scalability

  • When does your website see the most usage?
    • How long does peak usage last?
    • How many people need access to the site at one time?
    • Where in the world are those users located?
      • You may have usage patterns, such as high usage during certain hours in Europe and high usage during other hours in Asia. 
      • You may have peak usage depending on the time of year (e.g. “back to school season” for education companies).
    • Why does peak usage happen?
      • It could be during product launch, or maybe you have proprietary services or information that is required during specific situations, such as political events or natural disasters.
  • What level of performance do you need?
    • During peak usage and otherwise.
    • Consider any regulatory requirements or product requirements (e.g. credit transaction processing).
  • Who will be hosting your CMS-based site?
    • If it’s being hosted and managed internally, does your team have the knowledge required to run servers wherever that needs to happen?
      • Does your internal team know how to support the CMS, take it offline, get it back online, update the software, and on and on and on?
    • If a third party is hosting and managing it, can they handle your availability needs?
      • Look for a service level agreement (SLA) determining their response times when your site has an issue.
      • Can they handle the peak usage demands?
      • Will they do a usage load test when your servers are online?

Ease of Use

  • Always ask for a demonstration of the admin interface. Watching someone else go through the system can reveal quirks and be an opportunity to learn tips and tricks.
  • See if you can get a private demo instance for your team so you can go in, add/modify content, set up a content workflow, upload documents, and more on a trial basis.
  • If you have access to a UX designer or a usability team, have them review the admin interface for you.
  • Is the admin interface customizable? This goes beyond branding and colors. You’ll want to know whether you can custom tailor menu item titles and workflows to integrate as tightly as possible into your workflows and processes.
  • What can admins do versus non-admins? Are there various tiers of permission for users, such as content creators, editors, and designers?

Security

As we mentioned in Part 4 of this series, there are a lot of questions and considerations around security. SecurityInformation.com has a great, comprehensive list of questions to ask a vendor/agency. Here are our high-level points:

  • No matter what CMS you choose, make sure you follow security best practices for the underlying technology stack and the CMS itself. For some CMSs, that can mean consistently upgrading to the latest version of the CMS and upgrading your plug-ins.
  • Make sure that important data in the database is encrypted and securely hosted in a way that can reduce impact in the event of a hack. If you collect HIPAA- or FERPA/COPPA-sensitive data, there are ways to keep that data encrypted and secure even if your site gets hacked.
  • Make sure any custom software you build or implement is vetted with basic secure web practices, like testing against SQL injection on web forms, using secure forms with https/SSL, and any sort of compliance required in your industry (e.g. PCI compliance).
  • Consider already-secure hosting services (like Acquia or WP Engine) that put best practices at the forefront of their sales and marketing materials.
  • If your company is going to host the CMS, ask infrastructure architects, network architects, database administrators, and software architects to assess the implementation needed for your project.
  • If another party is going to host your CMS implementation, make sure they walk through their best practices with an architect on your team.
    • Ensure usernames and passwords are adequately encrypted.
    • Make sure your login page is hidden and, preferably, not accessible outside your company.
  • If you don’t have access to an architect, considering hiring an objective agency (*cough* meltmedia *cough*) to help you through the vendor selection process. We’ve done this a few times and we don’t always land on the CMSs we sell in our service portfolio. Our experts can advise you on the CMSs we most commonly support in our service portfolio, as well as other systems on the market.

Workflow

If you’re a big-ol’-honkin’ company (to borrow a phrase from my Arizonan cousins), workflow is going to be a major concern. Workflow needs may vary depending on the size of your company. Regardless, there are a lot of considerations around workflow.

  • How would you ideally like to get content published to your website? Map it out. Think it through. Share your drawings with others and make sure they agree. Include everyone who could possibly EVER add content to your website (not just the people involved today) or make decisions about content on your website, from marketing to legal.
    • Remember that content can be created by a variety of people and services. Customers, users, bots, content agencies, and even neural networks.
  • Does the CMS allow for big-ol’-honkin’ workflows and customizations? How many workflows are supported at one time? Can you have different workflows for different content types? Departments? Product teams?
  • Can the CMS workflows integrate into third party tools, like JIRA, ServiceNow, or other ticket-tracking systems?
  • Workflows involve timelines and turnarounds, too! What sort of workflow timeline needs are supported, if any, by the CMS and its workflow capabilities?
  • How granular are the workflow mechanisms? In other words, what level of control can you have over the content being published to the website? And how do those controls flow into your scalability needs?
    • For global sites, you’ll likely need caching and distribution mechanisms, so content deployments may need to go to sites all over the world in various languages. This stuff starts getting complex fast.
    • How quickly can you get content offline if you need to? Whether it's a PR crisis, security breach, or an FDA approval issue, you need the ability to pull content quickly from the site if necessary.

Multi-Site Support

  • Does the CMS support hosting multiple independent websites on the same instance? 
  • How is flexible are the multi-site capabilities in the CMS? Can you have shared templates across multiple sites? How about shared components/modules?
    • For example, you may want a consistent header across all your pages, but different departments may prefer different customizations.
  • How do users, assets, and sites need to be administered in the case of a multi-site configuration?
  • Can each site have its own set of plugins, modules, and components in addition to shared ones?
  • Can metadata be shared across multiple sites?
  • How much configuration is needed to get multi-site going? Is it a crazy technical task or a toggle in the admin interface?
  • Can you migrate from a single-site installation to a multi-site installation at a later date or does that decision need to be made up front?

The More You Know

Okay, that was legit exhausting.

Hopefully you can see why choosing a CMS is a serious task and why companies hire agencies and consultants to help out. It’s an exhausting undertaking with huge implications and potentially huger costs.

The risks are different depending on the size of your company, but smaller companies can get significantly slowed down by bad CMS choices just as larger companies can get bogged down in process, updates, scaling, infrastructure, costs, and more.

You really don’t want to make the wrong decision when choosing because you’ll probably be “stuck” with the wrong thing for several years. If you have a needy CMS with regular platform updates and near-constant plugin updates, like WordPress does, and you don’t have someone with expertise, you can put yourself at risk of getting hacked by some script kiddie or bot network. On the other hand, something more obscure and expensive can have dated, crappy user interfaces.

CMSs don’t have to be painful, but it’s hard to get it right without getting some expert advice. So, if you’re in the middle of choosing something and you’re not sure you’re going in the right direction, give us a call and we’ll help get you sort it out. It’s what we do, it’s what we like to do, and we want the world to just be a better place.

Conversely, doing it the right way can have a tremendously positive impact your the bottom line. Genentech reduced cost by 30% and doubled speed to market by optimizing their CMS. (These stats are getting better every year, too.) There’s no reason your company shouldn’t strive for the same results.

If you’ve been with us for all five parts of this series, allow me to express my heartfelt thanks. I sincerely hope this has been helpful for you.

It’s a lot to take in, and many marketers we work with are still confused (or even more confused) once they understand all of the CMS configurations and options available. Don’t be shy—reach out to us with any questions and we’ll point you in the right direction.