Nowadays content management systems (CMS) have become not just publishing tools, but also a powerful means for automotive management of a web-project. CMSs allow display, edit, indexing and publish content easily, make the adjustment of the interface and functional features flexible.
There are a number of systems that require being a high-qualified web-master to work on the project successfully and this article deals with how to choose the right CMS that would be the best match for a project in terms of design, programming and usability.
The choice of the CMS could turn out to be a backbreaking task because the choice is extensive. However, a structured approach towards evaluating of the existing systems could make the choice easier.
Thus, let us talk over the criteria and what we should sharp our attention on, while taking a decision.
Below you could find 8 characteristics, that a good CMS should have:
1. Intuitiveness (easy in mastering and use)
Your CMS should have pretty simple and easy graphic user interface (GUI). A good interface means that the publishing of the content will be fast, will save a lot of time and increase productivity.
It is also vital from the end user point of view; I mean that if you develop a CMS that requires deep technical knowledge for an IT illiterate customer, he unlikely will be able to use it; therefore, it will abolish the whole idea of the CMS- to widen the customers’ opportunities.
2. Flexibility, easy adjustment
While choosing a CMS make sure that, you are not obliged to use your own templates. A number of CMSs allow using custom design with no limitations. In case a CMS gives you a limited template library, you are deprived of creative freedom and your site will not look individually.
Some of the adjustable CMS in accordance with the selected templates: Expression Engine, WordPress, Joomla, etc.
3. Module and plugin adjustment
A good CMS will allow you to add its useful features to your project, increasing the standard configuration with the help of plugins.
Plugin/ extensions/ modules (a various terminology is used for each platform) allow users to improve their project with useful parameters for interaction with the site.
It is better to select a CMS with powerful Application Programming Interface (API) in case you need custom extensions. Make sure that your CMS has an extensive list of the applied plugins. Though in the beginning you may not require a lot of them, still this need could arise later and it is vital that plugins are available for you in future.
4. No Need in Coding Knowledge
If you are more «design-oriented» than anything else is, make sure you select a CMS where you will not need to have extensive programming abilities to publish and maintain your site.
There is a wide selection of CMS’s that have WYSIWYG editors, letting you edit content without the need for code. Having to edit text through HTML markup can be time consuming and takes you away from other aspects of your managing and building your site.
Complex sites, however, can require a CMS that will let you type in some code, edit files with extensions such as .php, .css, .html, and make changes without that need for a third-party source code editor.
5. Optimized for Performance and Speed
Taking into consideration the speed your pages load on the browser, and how fast your site can make a connection to a server, is vital. Choosing a CMS that is bulky will drive away visitors rather then bring them in. By visiting examples of live sites, you will be able to gauge somewhat how fast pages load.
Keep in mind that you can increase the load time of your site by choosing a good host, and adding plugins that cache/compress/minify feeds, CSS, JS and also caches your database objects.
A simple and free tool that you can use to evaluate page response times of your CMS candidates is YSlow. Install it and head on over to demo sites of your CMS’s to see how well it’s front-end performs.
Adequate security for your site is very important and must be in place in order to protect your content. There are CMS’s that allow you to install specific plugins and edit files/permissions in order to increase security levels. Make sure you choose a management system that offers modules to protect the integrity of your site. You can also protect your site by selecting a CMS that allows you to assign easily a different username and password to each user. This will let you view and control what each user has access to.
7. Documentation and Community Support
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to figure out how to do something, and not have references online that you can take advantage of. One way to ensure that you will not be running into this problem is by reading through the documentation of your candidate CMS’s. In addition, a quick Google search will tell you how popular and well documented a content management system is.
The availability (or lack thereof) of support from users of the system can be a dealmaker or deal breaker. When users are active and proud of being part of the community, you not only have access to individuals that are more familiar with the system, but also, you can be assured that the project will be developed continually. Nothing is worse than investing your resources and effort on a dead (or soon to be dead) project.
8. Emphasis on Web Standards and Best Practices
Content Management Systems developed under web standards guidelines and best practices will ensure that you won’t get burned later down the road. When applications are designed with best practices in mind, you can be assured ultimate cross-browser compatibility, lean-and-mean code, and ease of maintenance.
Look for content management systems that promote the use of web standards, and those that put it at the forefront of their development and design philosophy.
Some Key Content Management Systems to Consider
Now that you know the key characteristics of a good content management system, let’s take a look at a handful of major CMS’s that excel in most, if not all, of those areas.
ExpressionEngine (EE) is a flexible CMS for any scope of project. Within a few minutes, you’ll understand how to easily begin creating content. EE’s templating system lets you quickly see instant changes live. EE also has a multi-layered caching system to try and minimize the database usage. In addition, EE lets you embed and run PHP directly within its templates, very similar to WordPress.
ExpressionEngine has various features such as allowing you to have multiple sites with just one installation of their software. Just as we spoke in the above section dealing with connections and load times, EE has a unique template caching, query caching and tag caching keep the site running at a quick pace by storing database queries in memory to reduce database connections when generating web pages.
Nowadays WordPress is one of the most renowned publishing platforms.
It is widely known as a great blog-platform. WordPress is an open source product, could be downloaded, and installed unlimited number of times.
WordPress installations are very quick and easy. It only takes a few minutes for your admin panel to be operational. If coding is not your strong suit, then no worries, WordPress offers its users a WYSIWYG editor (called Visual Editor).
Business Catalyst/Goodbary (owned by Adobe) is a powerful ecommerce CMS for developers. This content publishing platform has an array of useful features such as email marketing and in-depth site analytics. Business Catalyst gives you an easy way for your business to gain an online presence in no time. GB allows you to easily keep track of a customer’s actions, build and manage a customer database of any size, and sell your products and services online. Business Catalyst integrates well with a lot of popular payment systems such as PayPal, Google Checkout and pre-integrated gateways.
Joomla! is an advanced CMS with excellent function and content management. The installation process is pretty quick and easy. Joomla! is a complete CMS allowing you to build simple to advanced sites. Joomla also has super support for access control protocols like LDAP and OpenID, and can interface with popular and open API’s such as Google APIs.
With Joomla!, you’ll have more than 3,500 extensions at your disposal along with the support of an entire community. With a simple extension, you can add almost any needed functionality to your site.
One downside to Joomla! is that their heavy-artillery list of extensions often require you to purchase them. Hopefully, in the future, they will make their plugins free in order to aid users on a tight budget.
Drupal, a great open source CMS supported by a very active community, lets users publish content through any time with very little restrictions. Once the installation is finalized, you will discover features such as forums, user blogs, OpenID sign-ons, profiles and more. This CMS was written in PHP/MySQL for ease of customization and has one of the highest-regarded API’s in the open source content management system field.
Cushy CMS is a hosted and free content management system that is lightweight, though powerful enough to jumpstart your site in a moment. With Cushy CMS, you have to add CSS styles to the sections that you will eventually change or edit. This CMS allows you to access and store content while it uploads this same data to server.
Cushy was built for content editors and designers and so it is very simple and easy to manage. Being a SaaS, you do not need to install or self-maintain the CMS.
TYPOlight is a great match for assembling and support of several site simultaneously. Thus, it is an ideal solution for web-developers. With the help of TYPO CMS you are able to create a simple-designed site as well as a complex one with extensive functionality.
RadiantCMS is a Ruby on Rails app. Radiant has a very active community for core support and updates. If you are a RoR developer, it is right up your alley. Radiant has concentrated on making things much more user-friendly for end users and web designers. RadiantCMS also contains an innovative custom tagging language (called Radius) that is easy to pick up.
SilverStripe is an open source application written on top of PHP and was designed with emphasis on flexibility. SilverStripe has many configurable options and is geared towards content-heavy websites.
This CMS was completely built on its own PHP framework, called Saphire. SS offers content version control and great SEO support. All users alike are welcome to customize the administration area for their clients or themselves.
The only downside with SS is that the default templates are garbage; however, that is nothing a little hard work would not fix.
Textpattern CMS is a very popular system for many designers due to its simplicity.
Textpattern strives to provide great content management that produces quick, easy, and desirable web standards-compliant pages. There is no WYSIWYG editor because Textpattern utilizes textile markup for content generation.
The backend is very easy to use and follow. New users will learn the administration section with super speedy ease.
Alfresco is a JSP enterprise content management solution that is quick and easy to install. Alfresco lets you drop files into folders and convert those files into interactive web documents. This CMS is not as easy to become familiar with when compared to others, however, with a little bit of time investment, you will definitely get the hang of it. Alfresco could be targeted more towards the intermediate developer, although its pure functionality allows it to become very usable. The administration GUI is very organized, well maintained, and easy to navigate.
Thank you for your attention!
I hope that this article will help to make a reasonable decision on what CMS suits your particular project in the best way.
If you have experiences (good or bad) with the content management systems shown here or any tips on how to evaluate the right CMS, feel free to share in the comments, I will highly appreciate!