Choosing a Web CMS

With a content management system (CMS), you can quickly and easily create and post new content to your Website as needed to execute your online marketing initiatives — whether it’s an update to a Web page to reflect product enhancements or a modification to a landing page to better promote an event.

But how do you choose a CMS that meets the needs of marketing without giving IT headaches? Here are the key factors to consider:

PRICE/PERFORMANCE As with any software, the more features you add to a CMS, the more expensive the software is likely to be.

When taking cost into account, don’t neglect annual maintenance fees, which can range from 18% to 20% of the base price. Also consider IT labor. Programmers have to write hooks to loosely connect the CMS with other applications — and that incurs charges for IT labor.

ROI According to Forrester Research, organizations should be spending 75% of their online budgets on content and 25% on content management.

But a CMS can more than pay for itself in improved Website performance as well as in time savings for content authors, reviewers and approvers. Ideally, the ROI from your investment in a CMS should pay back the cost of implementation in two years or sooner.

TECHNOLOGY PLATFORM Many CMS vendors build their systems as closed proprietary platforms. As a result, they cannot be modified by the user. This means you typically can’t extend the administrative functionality of the CMS.

Look for a CMS built using industry standard platforms, popular databases and open architectures so you can modify the CMS inhouse if you need different functionality. Systems built on mature technology platforms are also highly robust and resilient, minimizing downtime.

What’s more, the CMS should be able to use standard authentication protocols available in the platforms upon which it is built, enhancing control and security. Use of standard protocols also makes it easier to integrate the CMS with external applications or data.

APPLICATION INTEGRATION Ask the CMS vendor how easily the content management software can be integrated with new and existing applications.

Buying software built with open architectures gives you the ability to modify those systems inhouse. The CMS architecture should be based on open standards, such as XML and Web Services, with the internal programming based on .NET, Java or other industry standard platforms.

You can achieve integration with your other Web applications with prebuilt connectors, custom wrappers or connectors, proprietary APIs, Web Services, or an open or standard development language.

Another option is to implement a CMS that is part of an integrated suite of Web applications. A software suite in which Web applications are deeply integrated eliminates the time and cost of writing your own connectors.

IMPLEMENTATION Purchasing a CMS license is one thing. Getting it up and running is another story altogether. Does the CMS vendor’s involvement end when it sells you a license? Or does it work with customers to install the CMS and get it up and running?

Can the CMS vendor resolve all technical issues? Talk to its customers to determine whether it has a track record of smooth implementations. Look for a vendor that knows the CMS you are buying inside and out.

EASE OF USE The CMS you choose must be simple and contain a set of tools and functionalities empowering users to easily perform content authoring, approval and posting tasks.

Users should be able to access the CMS from any desktop via a familiar browser interface and using all operating systems. Ideally, text can be entered, formatted and previewed in a manner similar to familiar word processing software — no HTML knowledge should be required.

SCALABILITY Look for a flexible infrastructure that allows you to place some CMS components, such as administration screens and databases, behind your firewall for enhanced security. Other components can be placed in front of the firewall.

A scalable CMS can be load-balanced in a Web farm, use external storage devices, and handle database clustering. With database clustering, you have multiple servers that act as a single server; if one fails, the system keeps running.

WORKFLOW CONTROL The CMS must allow employees to work together and collaborate on content creation and projects. The workflow control system should include an approval process for content submissions that includes the ability to make comments and suggestions — not just approve or deny submissions.

INFRASTRUCTURE COMPATIBILITY The CMS must work with existing hardware and software while conserving IT resources. Content objects should be placed in RAM or on the local drive to cache data, ensuring that dynamic pages assemble and serve rapidly.

Keeping the content separate from the presentation templates allows content to be stored in databases for fast and easy dynamic access. Caching enables clustering of database servers, creating load-balance environments with site scalability and server failover for greater Website availability.

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION A CMS needs built-in keyword search functionality and the ability to customize search results by logical grouping. The software must create 301 redirects when pages are renamed, as well as readable URLs that can be controlled by content administrators to embed appropriate keywords and phrases. In addition to automatically generating Web page meta tags, the system must enable administrators to edit the title tag and meta data associated with a single piece of content.

ADMINISTRATION The system should enable administrators to create, edit and delete users and groups; assign users to groups; assign roles to users and groups; set permissions for users and groups; create and edit templates; create links; run reports; and define levels of administration.

FLEXIBLE LICENSING The CMS publisher should offer either a Software as a Service (SaaS) licensing model or a traditional perpetual license option.

SaaS allows users to spread their licensing costs over several years. It also eliminates the responsibilities of supporting the required back-end infrastructure. A traditional perpetual license permits users to bring the CMS application inhouse if desired.

Bob Bly (www.bly.com) is a freelance copywriter and Brett Zucker (bzucker@bridgelinesw.com) is chief technology officer of Bridgeline Software.

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