Best tips for selecting the right CMS

Best tips for selecting the right CMS

The wrong CMS means your organization won’t realize the promise of return on investment (ROI) that justified the project in the first place. So let’s talk strategy for an effective WCM selection process. Here are some Best tips for selecting the right CMS when it comes to the Web Content Management selection process.

Table of Contents

Recognize These Four Key WCM Pillars

Seth Gottlieb, a 20-year veteran of the web content management industry and former CTO for global offerings at Lionbridge (he’s now a software development manager for Alexa at Amazon) gave us information in 2018 that Web CMS buyers must still remember. It includes his four key pillars of a web content management selection process:


This may be limited to basic product patches and may include services like hosting, user mentoring, strategic guidance, or even web development.


“The way the vendor sees the market and the role of the product will determine the product roadmap. If the customer and the vendor are aligned, then desirable features will continually be added, and the product will grow with the customer. If they are not, then the new features will probably be unwanted and clutter the product,” says Gottlieb.


Look at your existing customer community for vision and for references from people or organizations who have similar challenges and goals.

Stability and focus:

If you have an “overly large emphasis on growth,” it may suggest an exit strategy that may leave you stranded. “In case of large enterprise software vendors, make sure that this product is core to their overall strategy,” Gottlieb says.

Validate the Need for CMS in First Place

With the proliferation of marketing technology and its crossover capabilities, many don’t, but should, validate the need for a new CMS, according to Cathy McKnight, VP strategy and consulting for The Content Advisory, the consulting & education group of the Content Marketing Institute.

Ask questions such as:

  • Do we have a technology problem, or is there something else going on?
  • Could we solve our problem by fixing our content, assets, and/or adjusting our processes?
  • Could/should we update, rather than replace, our existing technology?

“Implementing new technology or migrating from one solution to another is incredibly disruptive and time-consuming,” McKnight said. “It can take a company up to two full years to select, implement and migrate content onto a new platform, and then the challenge of user adoption and training begins. So making sure a new tech is needed is a vital first hurdle to jump.”

Build a Shortlist of Potential Winners

This part isn’t easy. Ultimately, you want to select a content management system that does two things. First, it supports your requirements and second, is easy to use. But evaluating Web CMS software for functionality and usability takes time. So the last thing you want to do is waste time getting intimate with the wrong product.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Filter for relevant technologies.
  • Filter for your budget.
  • Filter for business functionality.
  • Consider the proximity of your partners.

Think Holistically About Content Operations

Jeff Cram, partner at PK Global, told CMSWire that it was simpler when content managers thought about a CMS as a single technology purchase that would manage and publish all their website content.

Now, in 2020 and beyond, before racing to evaluate new content platforms, organizations should take a step back and look at their overall content operations process.

“Many of the pain points are often upstream in the collaboration and creation processes – areas of need that aren’t often served well (or at all) by CMS vendors,” Cram said. “The roles of digital asset management and content marketing platforms are also now overlapping more with traditional CMS solutions. Most organizations will need multiple content solutions to fill these needs, and these requirements should be guided by the content strategy and not the features of specific vendors. Hiring the wrong technology for the content job at hand can be a recipe for disaster.”


Lean Heavily on Usage Scenarios

You need to dig deeply into your requirements to find the product that will be the best fit for your organization. But don’t rely entirely on spreadsheets for this.

Spreadsheets are great for naming features, but they won’t guide you to the point of understanding exactly how these products might work with the specific users and the specific content that your organization needs to manage. This is where usage scenarios pick up the slack and raise interesting questions.

A scenario is a short story — written in a language that regular people understand – that describes a user’s interaction with the system to achieve a business objective. A scenario encapsulates lots of specific requirements and gives them greater meaning and context.

These are the four attributes of an effective scenario:

  • It is written with specific users in mind.
  • It addresses an important and commonly executed task.
  • It references the content that you intend to manage.
  • It is open-ended enough to expose the difference in product design and approach.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of scenarios in the selection process.

Don't Abuse Your Features Matrix

If you’ve ever had to evaluate an enterprise software platform, then you probably know about the requirements matrix. It typically comes in the form of a spreadsheet and consists of a list of capabilities – or requirements – a given product must have to meet your needs.

The capabilities are listed, usually by high level category, down the first, left column. Across the top, one lists the various products being evaluated. In the body of the document you note whether requirements are met or you score each product for fitness in the respective area.

Examples of requirements in a typical Web CMS features matrix include:

  • Strong separation of content & presentation.
  • Flexible content type definitions.
  • Back office support for Mac & Windows.
  • Version history with rollback.
  • Mobile authoring & approvals.
  • Strong multilingual support.
  • Mobile content delivery.

Some would tell you to throw away the requirements matrix completely, but we disagree. There are some good ways to use this matrix that make it a beneficial tool longer term.

Features Don't Implement Themselves

Many CMS features need additional work to make them fully functional, according to Travis Warholic, delivery manager for Avantia. The software may have extensive personalization capabilities or can support the most complex of author approval flows, but they do not just happen.

“Know that for almost every feature the software offers, an implementation effort is typically needed,” Warholic said. “This is not a failing of the software; it is just something that is often not accounted for and should be. Know your company and what the right-sized solution is for your company culture.”

The CMS may support complex workflows with multiple levels of approvals, but is that right for your company? Or is that just going to introduce crippling delays in content being published? Is the content that sensitive that it needs that many levels of review? Do you have that many people in the system contributing content? Or is your content really added by a small handful of resources? “If yes,” Warholic said, “simplified workflows are probably more appropriate.”

This Is Only a Framework

Finally, recognize that this article provides a framework for heading off on your selection process. But as with any enterprise project, the considerations and complexities of selecting a new Web CMS platform are many. Getting professional help in this process is nothing to be ashamed of — that’s an option worth considering seriously. Best tips for selecting the right cms, Best tips for selecting the right cms, Best tips for selecting the right cms, Best tips for selecting the right cms, Best tips for selecting the right cms.

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