Choosing the right CMS for your business: A best practice guide

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As spending on digital real estate and marketing grows, businesses must adapt their traditional models to make sure that their investment is worthwhile.

Where that budget should be spent is widely debated but what’s undisputed is that every business, small or large, private or public, needs a website – the most important digital asset of any organisation. And the backend to that website is the content management system (CMS), the unsung hero, where digital content can be managed and edited.

Whether you’re a fledgling start-up or a multi-national, choosing the right CMS could save a lot of time, pain and money. So where do you start? Here's a best practice guide of six CMS tools to help facilitate your decision in choosing one that is right for your needs.

WordPress

As a cloud-based CMS, WordPress is one of the most popular systems available and is a reliable website builder. Its resilience and portability means it is often a hit with designers, developers and clients.

Pros: Content-centric: WordPress lends well to content marketing purposes - increasingly important for small-to-medium-sized businesses. Inexpensive: With free domain offering and themes, WordPress can be an easy solution to getting your website live and published quickly. Vibrant community: One in four websites are powered by WordPress, which means there is a strong community to help support challenges that materialise.

Cons: Security challenges: As an open-source CMS, WordPress is vulnerable to security challenges, which means users can modify the existing source and potentially make mistakes. Limited in scope: Above all else, WordPress is a blogging platform and this limits the complexity of the user experience design (UX). Plugin dependence: The more plugins that are installed, the more a website suffers and simple plugin updates can crash your site. Scalability: WordPress caters more to small businesses than it does to larger-scale enterprise-level web development and organisations.

Django

Django is an open-source, versatile framework used by some of the world’s biggest and most reputable brands and is a better fit for more demanding website development projects. Recently voted as the Best Open Source CMS, it was conceived by developers previously frustrated with the limitations of existing systems ten years ago.

Pros: Front-end editing is easy-to-use and quick: Django is a CMS that comes with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, so it’s easy to update content. Well-known social networks, including Pinterest and Disqus, a global blog comment hosting service, use Django. Secure: It is built in Python - an easy-to-learn programming language - and is as secure as any web framework on-the-market. It comes with templates that help protect against security problems. Brand equity: Django is used by well-known brands such as L'Oréal, Ubuntu, NASA, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network and prestigious travel magazine, National Geographic, and the $1billion photo-sharing app, Instagram, so it comes with a powerful reputation. Flexibility: Django can be used to tailor to your own needs. The parts that are needed can be installed and what isn’t needed can be disregarded. The system is designed to perform well, whilst models and administrative screens can be modified to your needs easily.

Cons: Complexity: The platform comes with a variety of templates and features and so the platform’s true potential will need to be unlocked in conjunction with a Python developer, as well as a marketer. Requires development: In order for the Django CMS to completely replace an existing CMS, it will need some development work.

Umbraco

Umbraco is an open source cloud CMS and is used by some of the world’s biggest companies, including Microsoft, Peugeot, Costa and Heinz - and more than 250,000 others. Automatic upgrades, unlimited hosting and smooth deployments, make Umbraco a powerful contender in the CMS market.

Pros: Easy content management: You can be a tech novice with Umbraco, as it’s fast, easy-to-use and comes with a sleek user interface design (UX). Online media management: A built-in media library means Umbraco automatically scales your photos, reduces cropping to one-click functionality and offers responsive design. Straightforward integration: Umbraco can integrate with any third-party tool, so external data and content can be leveraged effectively.

Cons: Steep learning curve: The CMS has been designed with developers in mind, and with no plugins, some extra work is required to make it an effective investment. This may also mean additional monthly cost client-side. Performance: Loading times and general speed have been noted to be quite slow. The quicker a CMS, the less money will be spent in maintenance fees. Costly hosting: As Umbraco is hosted on Microsoft, it isn't supported by all hosting servers - and it’s therefore more expensive.

Contentful

An application programming interface (API) - not browser-first - intuitive, CMS-as-a-service content management developer platform, boasting a strong technical support and positive user reviews. Contentful is referred to as a “headless” CMS - where the frontend is stripped from the backend – leaving a backend delivering content via an API.

Pros: Content-centric: Contentful comes with an easy-to-use web interface, which creates an environment where non-technical, content-focused users can operate via a simple API. Libraries and frameworks: With significant access to libraries and frameworks, uploading media from content apps, text or media, is made easy. Heavy traffic: Contentful can support tens of thousands of users simultaneously with little effort. Multi-purpose & multi-site: Contentful comes into its own when integrating multiple sources of content into the CMS, such as web, mobile apps, other devices and channels.

Cons: Free for small projects only: Following basic custom upgrades, version upgrades become more challenging. Content-based API can be confusing: Although the API allows for search-based content management, this can be unusual to users used to tree-based CMS structures. Past experience important: Prior content modelling is necessary to make full use of the system.

Drupal

Drupal is an open-source CMS software used by many of the websites and apps that we use on a daily basis: from small businesses (ethnic clothing) to large sports brands and events (2015 Canada Winter Games) to news publishing (The Boston Herald) - and everything in between.

Pros: Strong brand name: More than one million websites are run on Drupal, from global Governments like Bermuda to Greenpeace and The Economist. Its reputable brand is often favoured by global corporations. Flexible: Because of its building block foundation, Drupal can be used to build any kind of website. Performance optimisation: After proper configuration, Drupal comes with a series of optimisation features that will enhance performance, including anonymous page caching and page aggregation/compression.

Cons: Often incorrectly recommended: Drupal’s strong brand name can precede it and it is sometimes put forward as a solution, when less complex solutions could be used instead. Internal expertise limited: Drupal developers are not always easy-to-come-by and are in demand, so projects can be passed from an external developer to developer, becoming increasingly complex and costly. Difficult to install: As with managing content modifications, installing Drupal will require technical expertise. It’s a good choice for companies with experienced technical developer teams, but it’s not for everyone.

Magnolia

Magnolia is an open source, Java-based, web CMS. As a flexible, integration-ready and enterprise grade headless CMS, it can integrate existing IT and business systems for your digital transformation needs. That it boasts powerful and agile enterprise content management, as well as being available in the cloud, means it can serve as a central hub for web, mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives.

Pros: Flexibility: Magnolia is built for multi-channel, multi-language, multi-site digital experience situations. Used by Airbus Group, Sony, Avis Budget and Virgin America, it is a robust and reliable CMS. Integration-ready: Magnolia can be connected to your choice of eCommerce and digital marketing tools using custom or pre-built integrations. Enterprise grade: Magnolia has the robust features needed for enterprise-scale multi-everything digital experiences.

Cons: Limited visibility of workflows: Magnolia lacks an administrative dashboard displaying teams’ workflow, which could be better displayed in a graphical representation of their status. Configuration challenges: Arranging templates and components can be laborious. A widget would be a welcome addition. Customisation challenges: Adding customisation into the administrative user interface or in the dialogues isn’t simple and the developer must know Vaadin.

Conclusion

There is no such things as the best CMS. Rather, businesses and entrepreneurs need to ask the question: what is the best online solution for my needs? Qualifying questions with experts or agencies, will help establish what CMS your brand and business requires.

Installing a CMS is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: publishing quality digital content that excites is one challenge; grappling with the functionality is quite another. Brands should reach out to agencies and experts who can walk them through the journey,  offer training and workshops, so you can focus on your core objective - to publish quality content and drive your business’ online growth.

One thing is certain: the need for creative technologists in a world of barely-there attention spans, with consumers’ growing appetite for content-as-infotainment, requires a robust backend, or CMS, to support it.

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Roger Jin
28 Jun 2017, 9:11 p.m.

This is a great overview Kevin! I've put together this buyers guide to help illustrate some other factors to consider when choosing between headless CMS vendors: https://buttercms.com/blog/headless-cms-buyers-guide

Note: I work for https://buttercms.com

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