Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Top 10 things to look for in a Content Management System

by Ken Richards

In this article we will list the most important things to look for in a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is crucial for small businesses and hobbyists looking to quickly create a professional looking website with advanced features such as site-wide search, article directory, blogging, document management, frequently asked questions, and message boards. Plus, a CMS usually provides regular updates and new modules to extend the features provided by a website.

1. Theme Management

Ability to swap themes is a major consideration for any CMS. This will allow you to change the look and feel of the website whenever you like. In most cases, once you decide on a theme, you will stick with that team for many months or even years before changing.

So even though switching your theme may not seem important, the ability to customize a theme becomes very important. This bring us to our next important item...

2. Theme Customization

Ability to tweak the themes is usually provided through the following processes:
  • Ability to update the CSS for the theme
  • Ability to modify the HTML templates the theme uses
  • Ability to modify the media used by the theme (images and Flash animations)
With theme customization, a user is not limited to just the standard themes offered by the CMS. They can customize the theme to suit their purposes and really make their website look unique. Another possibility is creating a fusion between two different themes which combines the best elements from each theme together into a completely new one.

3. Adding Custom Pages / Navigation

Ability to add custom pages is at the heart of what a good Content Management System is all about. A content manager has lots of ways to add content to your website including: Articles, Blog, and Documents. However, sometimes, you just want to add your own standalone web page. This may be a page which has custom scripting that cannot be added using the standard content modules. Or it may just be a top-level page that is relevant to your business and you want to make sure it is optimized and search engine friendly.
Whatever the case, adding a new custom page should not be difficult. Once you have added the new web page, you will need to link it into your site navigation so that people can find it. Make sure that the CMS you choose has the ability to easily incorporate new pages into your website navigation. Preferably, this should be done through the main web-based administration.

4. Document Management

Ability to store and manage documents. This feature is more common in Intranets but it is extremely useful for coordinating work with others. Another popular alternative to having this feature is to use Google Docs and Google Apps for Domains.

5. Site Search

Ability to search for content on the site. The administrator should have the ability to configure which areas of the site are searchable.
This brings up another good point is that all content-based modules on the site should have the ability to be integrated with a site search. An example of content-based modules would be a frequently asked questions, articles, documents, and blogging module.

6. Media Management

One of the more overlooked aspects of a CMS, is the ability to upload media and associate it with your content. Media can be images such as GIF and JPeg, animations (usually created using Adobe Flash), audio files such as MP3 and WAV or video files. Having the ability to incorporate video into your CMS makes managing your website all that much easier.

7. Collaboration Tools

A content management system is often thought of as the ultimate collaboration tool because it lets multiple users coordinate together in creating content for one website. Blog software is a very specific type of Content Management System where its very common to have more than one administrator managing content at the same time.

Some examples of collaboration tools you should look for in a CMS are:
  • Project and Task Management
  • Bug Tracking (a Task Manager could be used for this purpose)
  • Message Boards
  • Event Calendar
  • Private Messaging / E-mail System
8. Rich Text Editor

I guess it should come as no surprise when I say that all administration should be done through a web browser. This is pretty standard for Content Management Systems today. One of the key aspects of this browser-based administration is the ability to edit documents directly through your browser.
A rich text editor gives users the ability to edit content as if they were editing a document in a standard word processor. Besides styling text, this type of editor should allow the user to create the following types of text formats:
  • Bulleted lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Indented text
  • Insert images and media
Of course when it comes to rich text editors, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more content-editing tasks which can be performed.

9. Database Storage

Nearly every content management system out there uses some type of relational database as to store content, certain types of media, and configuration settings. There are really only two big players for small sized businesses, these are:
  • MySQL (from Oracle)
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008
Both are very capable database systems. Most people would only consider Microsoft's solution to be enterprise-ready. However, MySQL has the benefit that it is freely available and widely supported on Unix and Linux architectures.

10. Backup and Restore

The ability to backup and restore a content management system is crucial to disaster planning. A CMS
  • All content and user-generated content (such as message forum posts)
  • Theme Customizations
  • Any configuration settings
  • User accounts and permission settings
  • Any media uploaded to the server
Conclusion

We hope that this guide has helped you to make a better decision when choosing your next Content Management System platform. There are many good choices out there so take your time before making the plunge. Remember that choosing a CMS is a long-term commitment, so you will want to make sure you find the best software that suits your needs.

About the Author

Ken is the founder of Orvado Technologies, a San Diego Web Design company building custom web apps using search engine optimization and intuitive user interfaces.