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Not All CMS Features Are Created Equal

What to Look for When Choosing a New Content Management System
By Rick Fessenbecker
December 11, 2020

What to Look for When Choosing a New CMS

Choosing a content management system for your organization is a huge and daunting undertaking. It’s a big investment of time and money and is critical to your long-term success, especially as more and more consumers rely on digital channels for engagement and commerce.

Here’s a look at some of the most requested CMS features and functionality our clients and prospective clients ask about, what to consider with each and a few pro tips, to help you start your search.

Most Requested CMS Features and Functionality

By now, most organizations have some form of content management system powering their website and have a general understanding of CMS features and benefits. Many CMS solutions have the same basic feature set, so how do you decide which CMS best meets your needs?

The real question is not whether a feature exits in the new CMS you are evaluating, but how the CMS handles a given feature considering your requirements.

To help you get started on your own requirements evaluation, we made a list of our own based on the features and functionality our clients and prospective clients most often request. However, we’ve taken it a step further by breaking down a few ways various CMS systems implement these features. We’ve also included some tips on how you can prepare for your own evaluation.

1. Simple Administrative Interface

Basic Feature List

  • A modern, intuitive admin interface for easy day-to-day site management:
    • User-friendly dashboards to manage tasks, monitor administrative activity and receive alerts about performance issues
    • Single Sign-on (SSO) and user management to create internal efficiencies

What to Consider

  • The admin interface is how your site admins, authors and editors will start each day, so having a dashboard that highlights what tasks need your attention is critical, especially for larger sites. 
  • Since users will have a wide array of tasks, it is important that he or she can configure their own dashboard. For example, users who manage workflow and final approval of webpages will want to see what pages need to be reviewed and approved. Those who manage large intranets or extranets will want to see who has recently joined or been added to the community and may need to allow access.
  • If an admin interface cannot be easily configured for each unique user then you will experience reduced internal efficiencies, no matter how intuitive the CMS is.

Pro Tip

  • Build a tentative list of your website administrators and determine what responsibilities you expect them to accomplish daily, weekly and monthly. Larger organizations can extend this exercise to roles, such as webmaster, department content manger, etc.

2. Powerful Content Management

Basic Feature List

  • Easy-to-use publishing tools to help authors and website managers push varied content types (media files, PDFs, images, text and more) to your webpages
  • The ability to preview content before it’s published
  • Workflow management that allows authors to submit content for review prior to publication
  • Ability to create and manage metadata for links, images, videos, SEO page properties, etc.
  • Consistent templates and themes that both ease new page development and uphold brand standards
  • Responsive design to adapt all content to display well regardless of the user’s device and screen size

What to Consider

  • The list above is just the tip of the iceberg of all the available needs for content management. This is where understanding your digital strategy and big picture can make a significant difference. For example:
    • If you are a federally funded organization and need to comply with accessibility standards, having a built-in accessibility checker will be essential. 
    • If you have a great deal of data powering people finders, product catalogs, document libraries, etc. your content management needs will require easy important of excel spreadsheets.

Read more about the importance of digital strategy here.

Pro Tip

  • Develop several use cases for how you would like to create and manage pages and request demonstrations for how the task is accomplished within any given CMS. The more specific the task, the better the demo.

3. Configurable On-Site Search

Basic Feature List

  • An accurate site search tool that get users to their desired content easily and quickly
  • Ability to customize search results, to both improve user experience and give the organization control over search results. For example, Titan CMS’ Smart Search functionality lets site managers feature select pages and documents in search results and lead users to critical pages through visual cards for specific keyword searches.

What to Consider

  • Any website of size and scale needs to provide two forms of search:
    • Organic On-Site Search Results – Organic site search relies upon software to index (spider) your website to read available information and present best matches to pages and files based on their algorithms. You can influence results by massaging your metadata and webpage content, but to a large extent you are relying upon the on-site search software to read and present search results automatically.
    • Managed On-Site Search Results – With managed results, site admins typically have access to a dashboard that reports on what keywords are being searched on your site and what pages are being served up by your organic on-site search software. In some cases, you may want to override or control the search results, and managed search gives you that power. This feature is especially handy in the case of adding new content that has not yet been indexed by your on-site search tool.

Pro Tips

  • Determine how many searches are currently being conducted on your website on an ongoing basis and understand what is currently being served up in the results. If you’re unhappy with the results, you will want to understand if they are the result of poor content and missing metadata or if the search tool is deficient.
  • Regardless of what on-site search tool a CMS uses, you will need to ensure your content and metadata are in great shape when you migrate to any new CMS.

4. Security

Basic Feature List

  • Ability to set up roles for content administrators. Typically, a system will allow a webmaster role which can access everything, editor roles with workflow for those managing content authors, simple basic authoring and a light role for those updating very discrete pages like personal profile or location information.
  • Ability to control user permissions. Your CMS should empower you to limit access to content, data and folders for any given user. For example, you should be able to restrict access, by permission level or lockdown, to specific groups or categories of users. ​In Titan CMS, site admins have page-by-page control over access and security.

What to Consider

  • The ability to create easily managed and flexible roles across the entire website is perhaps the feature that will vary the greatest across CMS platforms. Some CMS options are extremely robust and can point to numerous portals and intranets with large user bases, while others will require plug-ins or customizations. It’s true that not everyone will need complicated admin roles and workflow but once you go down the path with a CMS it is very difficult to add security in as an afterthought.

Pro Tips

  • Map out your content authoring and editing roles to determine if you need roles and workflow to manage your website.
  • Also review your users to determine if you will need to secure content for specific use cases. If you do have a need for a private or secure pages, work out the different roles and determine what content is needed. 
  • Another important question to ask is if users will need to access other systems with a Single Sign-On (SSO) option.

Developing a requirements list can greatly simplify selection of a CMS. They key is to build one based on your digital strategy as a solid starting point, then match CMS functionality to help you select the best solution for your unique needs. And don’t forget that in addition to features, you’ll want to look for critical vendor attributes, as well. Read more about those here.  

If you need assistance choosing a CMS, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re happy to help.

By Rick Fessenbecker

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