Content management systems: a business buyer's guide

How to choose the right content management system (CMS) for your business

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On the web, content is king; if you have a website, then it's content that will drive traffic to your site and your products and services, and it's content that will keep Google coming back for more.

To get that content on your site you will need a content management system (CMS). In truth a CMS is much more than a management system, it's also a content creation systems, a search engine optimisation system, a workflow management system and more, so it's essential that when you choose a CMS you get it right.

CMS systems have traditionally been used by organisations to create, text-heavy sites like an online magazine, or a blog-based website. But increasingly CMS system are also being used to create whole websites from simple "about us" sections thorough to sophisticated e-commerce functionality for selling goods and services, through to Tumblr-like sites that combine graphics and video and text.

This expectation that a CMS system can create every type of site, has however created problems for many businesses, and there are many stories of businesses spending large sums of money on CMS systems, and then finding that a year down the line, they have to rip up what they have and start again.

Many of the problems with buying CMS systems are caused by the IT departments specifying the CMS solution, without consulting the people who will use it on a day-to-day basis to find out what they need. The secret is to instead thoroughly investigate and audit how you are preparing content now – or hope to do in the future - and to include everyone in the research process before you specify anything.

Once you know what you want the next step is to consider the choices on offer.

As with most software the first choice you have is between buy or build. Building the software means you get a solution that exactly fits your requirements. Buying means you get something fast and has the bugs already worked out of it. However with CMS solutions the initial choice isn't that clear-cut, as some of the buying options only deliver a framework that requires some additional work before it can publish any content to the web.

Object v's Template driven

CMS systems come in two basic flavours, object-based and template-based. With object-based CMS systems you construct each page of your site individually from content objects. It's not a solution that works out of the box, you will need training, and creating your first site is going to take weeks or months, rather than hours.

However, you do get something that is incredibly flexible, so you can use content wherever you want. For example, you could have a CMS driven box-out within your e-commerce package and every page on your site could look different.

Typically object-driven CMS systems are best used by agencies, they work well if you need to add content to other systems – although you may need some additional middleware to get this working which adds to the costs - and they're good for design-driven rather than content-driven sites.

Template-driven CMS solutions, are much easier to use, they work out of the box, or online - as many are hosted – with sites created in hours. However by their very nature they aren't as flexible as object-based system. The advantage of template-driven solutions is there are a number of Open Source CMS platforms with vibrant developer communities, which can be modified to add further flexibility if you are willing to pay for the extra development.

Template-driven sites are best for text-heavy, content driven solutions such as blogs, sites with rich product content, magazines and news driven sites, where the text, video and pictures are stored in a standard and rigid structure.