5 questions to ask when comparing CMS options

January 18, 2012

We’ve shown that having a content management system for your site is important. But there are a number of content management systems available for use on sites. Web development companies usually pick one or two they like best; they might develop their own (for example, we built a CMS called datAvenger at Sephone), or they may choose to use an open-source CMS to power the sites they make.

But what should you compare if you’re looking at a few CMS options? Here are five questions to ask.

Is it hard to learn how to edit my site?

If you make a lot of changes to your site (or even if you don’t), the most important piece of the CMS puzzle is feeling comfortable with the area where you edit your site. If it’s a hassle or burden to find the page you want to change, wrangle with an editor, and then stumble to push the page to the live site, you’ll find yourself frustrated – fast.

If, on the other hand, editing makes sense and is easy to do, you can have an up-to-date site that changes whenever you like. There’s no reason why a simple content change on your site should take more than a few minutes. Don’t compromise on a CMS that makes you do more work.

Will my site play nice with search engines?

It’s important that people can find your site on the web. Search engine optimization (or SEO) isn’t all about the content on your site; it’s also about how your site itself is built. A good CMS can help your site shine on search engines.

A good first check is to see how the page addresses (known as URLs) look for your site. Many older content management systems use a combination of codes and ID numbers in the URLs for every page:

http://www.example.com/index.php?pageId=25&section=5
http://www.example.com/directory.php?dirId=25&person=52&view=standard

These kinds of URLs are tough for search engines to understand because they don’t say anything about what’s on the actual page. Look for a CMS that builds URLs using the title of the page, or another set of keywords you can customize:

http://www.example.com/about-us
http://www.example.com/directory/person/jim-smith

These make it easier for both search engines and your visitors to remember your site.

Bonus tip: Ask how a site’s CMS handles mistyped or broken links. In the tech world, we call these 404s. Ideally a CMS should show a screen that tells your visitor that the page is not available. It should also send a special server status code (a 404) so that search engines and other sites can tell that the page doesn’t exist. This helps search engines remove a page from their results after you delete it from your site.

What kinds of content can I have on my site?

Form moduleAs we mentioned in our “What is a CMS?” post, most content management systems allow you to edit text in a rich text editor. This allows you to style text, add links and images, and more. Chances are, though, that your site isn’t only text. What if you want to add a form for visitors to fill out, an image gallery, or a widget from another site? Make sure that the CMS you choose can support the kinds of content you need (or can be customized to adapt to what your site needs to do).

Can I preview my changes before everyone sees them?

The administration area for some content management systems allows you to see how the changes you make will look on your site before you publish them to your live site. This is a great feature if you’d like to be able to tweak what you write before the world can see it.

Bonus tip: See if your CMS saves drafts as you work. If your browser or computer crashes, you don’t want to lose all of your changes!

Are pages for my site ready to be shared on social networks?

A link shared on FacebookFacebook and Twitter make it super simple to share links. Will the pages you share look their best, though? Facebook, for example, lets pages choose what they want for a description and image of a page when it’s shared. Check to see if your CMS can control how this looks instead of posting just the first few words from the page (or just the page title with no text at all).

These five questions are a good starting point when you start to compare your CMS options. If you’d like to know more about how content management systems can help your site, read more on our blog or get in touch with us!

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Justin is a web and mobile developer at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

3 responses to “5 questions to ask when comparing CMS options”

  1. Don’t forget that you want support, nothing is perfect and it is always good to know that you have someone there to back you up when things don’t necessarily work 100% right.

  2. […] Pro has supported search engine friendly page addresses since we launched version 4 in 2006. A normal version 4 address would look something like […]

  3. […] Pro has supported search engine friendly page addresses since we launched version 4 in 2006. A normal version 4 address would look something like […]

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