Shortlisting Content Management Systems

In the market for a new Content Management System? Trying to work out how to shortlist?

I’ve said before that the actual CMS used makes very little difference in the outcome of your website, but it’s critical when selecting your platform that you get something you and the organisation are comfortable with.

All too often, I have seen organisations embarking on a CMS selection process with a long checklist of features: “Does it have an editor?”, “Can you make text bold?” Obviously, all Content Management Systems have a bold button. Just ticking the boxes isn’t going to tell you anything you actually need to know.

Core fit

In reality, there are only a few major areas you need to focus on when picking a CMS; technology, content and costs.

When working with organisations on CMS procurement, I recommend first focusing on these areas to get a core fit for the organisation. Something that works well with the skills, resources and the way the organisation works.


Like it or not, a CMS is primarily a technology choice – what you do with it is a business choice, but if you pick the wrong technology it will hamper the business.

The most important thing to look at how any potential product will fit with your current skills and platforms. Selecting a CMS that cannot be supported by your ICT department, or that requires development skills that your current development team do not have, is only going to cause you issues down the line.

I firmly believe you don’t lose anything by aligning yourself to a specific technology stack. There are CMSs at every level using every technology stack you might require. Picking the stack only makes the selection process easier, and stops you from inadvertently choosing something you cannot support.

Editors and governance

It’s a whole other topic, but you really need to understand your content management model before you go anywhere near picking a CMS. Again, it’s not a technology choice – the business drives how you will use the system, and when and by whom it will be used. If you’re not sure of this, then you’re probably not ready to go into a CMS selection process, not least because the one you already have might actually be best suited to the content management model you’ve yet to choose.

If you do have an understanding of your management model, then how you are going to manage the site should form a significant part of the basis to your selection process. If you have 160 content editors,then the management of the editors is much more relevant than if you have two.

If you are considering workflow for your content, then this, too, needs to be a factor. You can see how these basic variables significantly change the type of CMS you might select.

Total cost

It’s very easy to get carried away with a CMSs list of features, only to realise that most of them are optional extras, or to get excited about open source, and then see just how large the implementation cost to the organisation will be.

When considering the cost of a CMS you should look beyond the capital costs of licencing and much more towards support both internally and externally. That may sound like a thinly disguised, “don’t ever pick open source” statement, but it’s not, because I think you should consider your internal costs differently.

If you already have developers in your team, then they are going to be there if you choose an open source product or not. The full cost of those developers cannot be part of the true cost of a product. If you have staff irrespective of the platform, work out what those staff will be doing. Then, and only then, will you able to see the real costs. Don’t, for a moment, think that picking the all-singing, all-dancing CMS will remove your need for developers – it won’t.

Nothing beats hands on experience

Using these factors to get a core fit will enable you to shortlist Content Management Systems that will actually work for you and the organisation, but once you have done this you are still going to have a list of systems, so what do you do next?

Well, that’s where the fun begins. There are many ways to evaluate the Content Management Systems and a lot will depend on where you, your team and the organisation are, but there is one thing you should do: get hands on with them. No amount of slick sales pitch or fancy brochure can actually show you what it would be like to use the system every day, so get an installation of the system. Use it, build with it and then evaluate it, and if the vendor won’t do that without licences? Well, that’s their loss.