6 Questions to Answer Before Selecting a CMS Platform for Your Website
Your businesses’ website is the world’s window into your company and, in many cases, the first impression for prospective new clients. We all want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward for our business, so having a top-notch website that not only looks great and is easy to use but also fits your companies needs, is essential. Every company is unique and what you need out of your website may not be the same as the business down the street. As such, it’s vital that before a dollar is spent or a line of code is written, you’ve researched and targetted your companies web goals so as to select the perfect website CMS for your needs.
A CMS (Content Management System) platform is a piece of software specifically designed for web content. A good CMS will allow you to have all your images and text in one easy-to-edit place, as well as allow you other beneficial features like adding or removing additional users to help you maintain the website or expanding your website’s capabilities with add-on apps/plugins. Some CMS’s also include easy-to-use website builders so you can create a great looking website without ever having to touch a line of code. In the end though, whatever CMS you choose will ultimately depend on a number of different factors. Let’s take a look at the top 7 questions every business owner should consider and answer about before selecting a CMS platform to build their website with:
1) What is the ultimate purpose of my website?
Each company is unique and your companies website needs will be unique to you as well. Are you looking to sell your products on your website and need to be heavily e-commerce focused? Do you provide in-person services and need to promote those services and generate client leads? Each of those questions can lead you to two very different website platforms, so it’s very important that you really dig down to what the end goals of our website needs are and then pick your websites CMS platform with that in mind.
2) Open Sourced or a SaaS (Software as a Service) CMS?
Before going in depth about trying to decide which type of CMS platform category is best suited for you, lets first look at these two terms and define them. If you’ve spent any time researching websites or the technologies used to build the web, you’ll no doubt have seen the terms Open Source and SaaS. An ‘Open Source’ piece of software is simply a piece of software that is free for anyone to download, tweak and extend to their heart’s content without any sort of price attached to it. A ‘SaaS’ platform will be software that you pay a fee each month to use and will come with helpful support staff to answer any questions you may have to provide additional technical support when necessary. Both of these options come with the benefits and drawbacks.
WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are just a few examples of popular Open Source CMS software. No doubt you’ve heard of WordPress. As of 2019, it powers over a third of all websites on the web. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Open Source software is completely free to install and offers a greater level of freedom for customizations to the platform itself than their SaaS cousins allow, however, the drawback to that freedom is it requires a much higher level of technical skills to make these changes. With Open Source software, you’ll usually find a strong community of users and developers willing to answer your questions, but if you don’t feel comfortable digging into and editing code, this may not be the ideal solution for you.
Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify are some of the more well known SaaS CMS solutions available. While these can be a bit more costly per month, they have some distinct advantages over Open Source software that’s important to consider for your business. Commercial CMS’s have a much higher level of oversight by the parent company when it comes to their themes and apps/plugins that the site uses. This means a much smaller risk of potentially website breaking errors due to simple CMS platform updates or conflicts between a plugin and your site theme. These types of CMS platforms also will come with a dedicated support staff that can help answer any question or technical problem you may be experiencing. For someone not skilled with technology or on a limited budget, having that support staff you can reach out to at any time can be invaluable.
3) What resources do I have at my disposal?
Your budget is almost always top of mind. Every type of CMS platform will have some sort of cost associated with it. While Open Source CMS platforms are “free” in the sense of being able to download and install the software, there are additional costs that need to be considered before the CMS can be launched on the web. You first will need to purchase a domain and hosting from an outside party so you have somewhere on the web for your CMS files to live. Some popular web hosting services for these needs that you’ve no doubt heard of include GoDaddy, DreamHost, and HostGator.
The SaaS CMS platforms are generally more all-in-one systems where all the hosting and domain needs are taken care of in the same place. This leads to a more seamless transition from signup to site launch. While you’ll have less access to more technical aspects of your site, these services can be a big plus for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the technical setup required on an Open Source platform.
There are also some overhead costs with either CMS type you choose that are important to keep in mind. You may find yourself using some third-party applications to handle special functionality for the website. Maybe you want to offer live-chat help or you want to collect and send out newsletter emails? While there are some free tiers or options for these solutions, a majority of them will have some cost associated with it.
Outside of money considerations, another resource you have to think about is who you have at your disposal for actually building the website. Not everyone is tech savvy and if don’t have anyone on your staff who’s a familiar with building websites, then you may want to consider going with a CMS that has an easy to use drag-and-drop website builder. If you aren’t comfortable with or just simply don’t have the time to invest in a learning curve, then you may consider hiring a web development studio or freelancer to assist you. Having professionals build your site can take a lot of stress off for a busy business owner.
4) What application integrations will I need for my site?
Your website likely will need to have some integrations into third-party applications. Depending on the size of your website will likely decide how many or how few of these integrations will be required. Are you looking to collect emails for a newsletter mailing list? You’ll want to look into an email campaign and management applications like MailChimp or SendGrid. If you’re using WordPress as an e-commerce solution, you’ll likely be using a plugin such as WooCommerce. You’ll also need to set up a third-party payment processor such as PayPal or Authorize.net to securely accept payments.
These types of website integrations are an important part of the scope of your project. You’ll want to have a very high-level understanding of what’s involved in the scope of building your website. That way you can either take the requirements to your developer or find and set up all these integrations yourself.
5) What kind of maintenance will my site require?
Websites are a living breathing thing for your businesses. Technology is always changing. Even for a simple website, if you build it, launch the site, and then never touch the site for 2-3+ years, problems can arise. Open Source CMS’s regularly release updates to their systems to introduce new features, security fixes or to keep their code up-to-date. When those updates are released, the themes and plugins you use will also release updates to stay current with the platform and the tech.
All these regular changes can create headaches for a small business with no internal developers or no access to a web development agency. If you are on a budget or don’t have the access to a trusted developer, you may want to consider going with a platform that requires less manual maintenance. SaaS platforms handle updates to the system, themes, and plugins/apps automatically, so you can have your focus elsewhere.
6) What is the project timeline from inception to launch?
You may need to get your website live in a hurry for one reason or another. While timelines are important, this is also an issue that can cause problems down the line by making hasty decisions. Spend the time necessary to answer these questions and research the different platforms available.
Once you’ve picked your CMS, consider some of the options available to get the ball rolling faster. A common area of delay for websites is the design phase. It’s important to get the look and feel of your site right. Doing a fully custom design can require a lot of back and forth between you and your designer. Many of the leading CMS’s offer website templates that can greatly minimize the time spent on design. These templates generally come with drag and drop builders to help make organizing your website content a breeze.
Where to go from here?
There’s a lot of things to consider when you say the 4 simple words; “I need a website”. Choosing the right CMS for your business is one of the most critical. If you answer these questions accurately to your circumstances, you should be well equipped to make the correct choice. We’d love to hear what you think! What CMS platforms have you used in the past or are currently using? Are you happy with it or are there issues you’re unhappy with on your current platform? Leave us a note in the comments below!