Choosing a Content Management Solution

If you’ve got a website, you have content. If you have content, you need a way to manage it, especially after the recent updates Google has made. Today, content is what attracts traffic. Google has restructured their search to focus on quality content as the basis of returning search results. So all the SEO “best practices”, and tips have fallen behind just having the quality relevant content people are looking for. So if you’re going to be developing content, you need a reliable way to get it on your site, and a way to manage it once it’s there. Which means you’ll be looking for a content management system, or CMS. A CMS is really just a software framework that makes building and managing websites easier for teams of people. At least that’s what they’re supposed to do.

In the last five years, tools like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and many more proprietary solutions have changed the way websites get built. A site can get built quickly, and can use any of the thousands of modules and plug-ins to quickly incorporate very sophisticated functionality. You can build from the ground up, with a fully custom design, or use a theme and some modifications to get a site going quickly.

There are arguments across the web about which of the CMS solutions out there are the best. The fact is, none of them are necessarily the “best”. They all provide different levels of functionality, and a wide range of features and customization. Best is more a matter of need and budget than platform. All of these tools will let you setup and manage a site. When you’re deciding on a solution, ask yourself some questions. What are the skill sets my team will need to support a particular solution? How much customization might I need? What budget do I have for purchasing the tool, and how much will I need to budget to implement and support it? How solid is the company that develops and supports the solution? How often is it updated and patched? Will you have to pay for updates and upgrades?

There are very good proprietary solutions available. Some of these include Sitecore and Adobe CQ5. There are many more at prices ranging from 10’s to 100’s of thousands of dollars. Many of them are very good, and if your needs are well defined, and your organization primarily uses Microsoft, Java, or other proprietary tools, they may be good options. They can be expensive to acquire, implement, and support. So be prepared to fund not just the purchase of the tool, but the development and ongoing maintenance of it. Also, be sure you understand exactly what you need to do with your new CMS . Many of these tools are not customizable, and if they are, you may need a development team experienced with the tool to develop any additional functionality you need. This can take time, and may be costly. But in a large corporate environment with proper funding, a well defined set of requirements and appropriate development resources, these can be good solutions.

The other option are open source solutions like Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, and DotNetNuke, among others. These are generally freely available with no license fee. But there will be a cost to develop and implement them, unless you have the appropriate resources available within your organization. You may also want to get support for the hosting and management of your installation. There are several companies that provide optimized hosting and support services for all of these solutions. Any of these can be good options, despite all of the discussions about which is the best of them. Most of these discussions get caught up in personal preferences and experiences, much like the Mac vs. PC discussions, and they are not generally productive. The key to picking the right tool is to clearly understand your needs and requirements. Open source tools can provide for significant customization, and can extend the life of your implementation because they are updated frequently and provide for rapid development through the implementation of modules, plugins, or similar extensions. There are generally several ways to leverage API’s or web services to further extend these tools.

In the end the answer to which solution is best for your situation is knowing what your situation really is. It’s not a one size fits all world, and the changing nature of technology means its less likely to get easier to pick well defined feature sets. In the last three years, responsive design has dramatically changed how websites get setup. And the increasing traffic from mobile devices will only continue to put pressure on the need for the flexibility to display content across a broad set of devices. Make sure you spend as much time understanding what you need to do and what you have to work with, as you do looking at feature sets.

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