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What to Look for in a CMS

As mentioned in last weeks' blog post How to judge the usability of a CMS, this week we'll take a closer look and go into more in depth. Today there's a myriad of options available when you’re looking for the right CMS to build your website. In this post we want to share some advice on what you should consider when choosing a CMS.

Look at your CMS requirements

First of all, you want to take a note of what your requirements are and what goals you want to achieve. Go from fuzzy, general goals like “we want to have a website” to clearer defined goals like “we want to give our customers the opportunity to buy our products online”. From there onward, write down must-have, should-have and could-have criteria for your ideal solution.

  • Does your website need to be responsive? (Probably yes.)
  • Do you need integration of third-party software like Payment providers, Product Information Management (PIM), Marketing Automation (MAS)?
  • Do you need a content migration from your old website?
  • Do you need social integration? (Login or share via common social networks, blogging functionality…)
  • Do you expect your website to grow - for example in pages, visitors or languages? (Choosing a solution too small can be a roadblock if you plan on growing.)
  • Do you have own developers knowing a specific programming language?

Once you have that list, you can start to filter systems on the market. Don’t whittle it down too much at this point, just reduce the list of CMS solutions until you have those that fulfill at least your must haves. Use the questions in the following sections to rate your list.

Choose a CMS that’s reliable, stable and secure

The CMS market constantly changes, old systems are taken off the market and new players emerge. When choosing your CMS, you don’t want to decide on a system that’s taken off market during your websites lifetime. However, with a system too new, there's no data available on its’ stability or continued development - additionally the ecosystem is smaller and there are less potential support partners. If you can, you should take a look at the history and the potential future of the CMS you’re looking at.

  • Is there a security guide available?
  • How many security issues were there in the past?
  • How were those security issues handled?
  • Are the release dates reliable?
  • How long are the release cycles, do they fit my working mode?
  • Is it actively maintained? Are there regular updates?
  • Is there a road map?
  • How long are the support periods?
  • How long has it been around?

Check out the ecosystem

While the CMS itself is an important factor you should also look at its ecosystem.

  • Is there professional support for the system?
  • Is it only one vendor providing support or can you choose?
  • If you have a problem, how do you get support?
  • How many users does the system have, is it well established?
  • Are there case studies for projects like yours?

Choose a CMS that’s usable for everyone involved

When choosing a CMS there's significant focus on the design and usability of the website you will build with it. That is understandable as your visitors are your primary focus. Read more.

Make sure the CMS allows any type of design.

But you should also focus on two other parts of the system - usability for editors and usability for developers.

  • Does the CMS provide easy workflows for your editors’ common tasks?
  • Does the CMS integrate well with other tools your editors are using?
  • Is the CMS extendable by your developers?
  • Does the CMS allow any design or is it limited to certain themes or skins?
  • Is the CMS - if it’s Open Source - written in a language your developers know?
  • Does the CMS implement widely used concepts or packages?
  • Is there documentation for both editors and developers?

Take your ROI into account

After defining your goals and requirements do a projection on expected gain. For example calculate how much value your CMS will yield in one, two, three and four years. To get a reasonable time frame define a point in your future where you think the solution you will implement now will not return significant profit anymore and calculate your profit until that point. Read more.

Now that you know how much profit you estimate on making, you have a baseline for calculating your ROI. On the cost side you have to consider at least the following questions:

  • How long should your system be up- and running?
  • How much is the license fee?
  • Do you need to pay a recurring license fee?
  • How often do you have to update the system?
  • How much do you have to spend on a stable hosting setup?
  • How much do you have to spend for maintenance and support?

These are all pretty direct cost factors, but there are also some indirect ones, for example:

  • How many potential implementation partners are there? Is there enough competition to allow a switch later on?
  • How complex is the CMS? Is it hard to use for editors or developers?
  • How flexible is the CMS? Is it flexible enough to grow as you grow?


After answering all these questions for the content management systems you are considering, you should get a ranking. Weigh the answers according to your priorities and you’ll have a pretty good idea which system is the right one for you.