What does your website need?
The right place to start when it comes to choosing a content management system for your website is by assessing the needs of that website.
What are the goals (or initial single goal if you are using a phased approach) for your website?
By identifying measurable goals for your website, you are also starting down the path to identify the features and functionality that your website will need in order to achieve those goals. Make a list with your website developer of those features and functionality. Once you have them all written down, prioritize your list items based on which directly help you achieve your goal(s), and which do so indirectly.
Your website’s goal is to increase your email marketing list. Having a newsletter signup will directly grow your list. Maintaining a blog will indirectly grow your list by giving your visitors a taste of the content they will receive by signing up for your newsletter.
You are now starting to form a list of requirements for your website’s content management system—both that you will use immediately and features your website will grow into down the road.
Do you have a website with a hosting plan?
This is critical to know when choosing your content management system. Even if you are open to moving your website to a new host, it is important to understand what that means up front. There will be additional costs. Plus moving from host to host is not an automatic process, meaning very potential (albeit temporary) down time.
If you already own a website that you are updating/replacing, then the answer to this question is ‘Yes.’ Have your website developer take a look at your current hosting package. The following details all need to be included in your growing list of requirements for your content management system:
- Database and version. Content management systems will have a minimum requirement for the database in order to be installed. WordPress for example, requires a MySQL database with a version of 5.6 or higher.
- Available disk space. Content management systems will take up space before you even enter your content, and not all hosting packages allow you unlimited hard drive space for your website. You will want to make sure the content management system you choose does not take up too much of your hosting space out of the gate before you need to upgrade your package.
- Programming languages available. You will want to make sure you are limiting your search to content management systems that are built using a language your website’s server supports.
- Host recommendations. It is important to consider content management systems that your hosting environment is optimized for, especially if you are not willing or able to move hosts.
If you do not have a website with a hosting plan, I recommend selecting your content management system first. This gives you the advantage of purchasing a hosting package that is optimized for your website as it will be built.
Does your website currently have a content management system?
Typically, website owners fall into one of two categories when it comes to their current content management system:
- You feel locked in to your content management system because it would be difficult to start again with something new.
- Your website is not meeting your goals because it is missing functionality your content management system currently does not have.
In either case, you are not necessarily doomed to stick with or abandon a failing content management system. Here’s how you can work through either scenario:
You feel locked in to your content management system because it would be difficult to start again with something new.
If this describes your website, it is important to keep in mind the goals you need your website to achieve. Is it possible to achieve them with the content management system you already have?
If not, then it is worth the extra cost at the start of the project to truly solve the problem and move your website forward. In the long run, you will save your business from a second (or third) costly redo that will involve migrating to a new content management system later.
Your website is not meeting your goals because it is missing functionality your content management system currently does not have.
Before you throw the system out with the bath water, do some research. You may find that the functionality exists for your current content management system in the form of a plugin.
If not, and the issue could be solved if your existing content management system only did X, you may find it is worth your investment to create a custom plugin vs. migrating to an entirely new platform. This would be worth pursuing if you are missing out on one or two fringe functionality options. Not so much if the platform itself is a roadblock in managing your website.
What can you afford?
Once you determine your website’s needs, it’s important to understand the various costs that come with running different content management systems. These can be determined by considering the following:
Does the content management system itself cost money to install?
While there are many content management systems that are free to install and use (apart from paying your website developer to install it), some come with a price tag. Either way, you will need to factor in installation cost. Talk with your developer, as the price to install should be included in the overall design and development project price.
What about additional features/plugins?
If you require any additional blocks or plugins to be installed in order to have your content management system truly meet your needs, factor in how much those cost when you are weighing your options. Again, talk with your developer. Many (myself included) have already purchased developer licenses to a selection of premium plugins for a particular content management system. This means you will not need to pay for an additional license to install those on your website.
Are you moving from one system to another?
Migrating content management systems is sometimes a simple process, and sometimes not. You should know which yours falls into before pulling the trigger so you can plan for the additional cost.
How easy is the backend to use?
Keep in mind that the purpose of using a content management system is so that you do not need a developer as part of your ongoing publishing workflow. If the learning curve of one system is too steep to actually remove your developer from that workflow, you will need to be prepared to pay them for ongoing additional services.
How will the platform be maintained?
All content management systems and their plugins experience code updates. In addition, your hosting servers will also experience periodical operating system, database, and supported language updates. In order to keep all these moving parts working in harmony together, you should factor in the cost of hiring your website developer to perform routine maintenance. Packages and prices will vary, usually based on the average number of hours your website requires per month. Plan for a couple hundred dollars monthly as a starting point.
You are ready to shop for your content management system!
You now have compiled a comprehensive list of requirements for your website’s content management system. This list includes the following:
- Features and functionality your website needs in order to achieve its goals.
- Your current hosting package’s specifications and recommendations.
- Whether or not your current content management system can include the features and functionality needed to achieve your website goals.
- The cost of installing, running and maintaining the content management system after your website launches.
You are ready to use this list to start comparing the options available to you on the market. Best of all, you have done the groundwork to make a solid decision based on what your website needs and what you business can afford.
Did you end up with WordPress?
You’re in luck! I am a website developer who has spent the past 8+ years specializing in custom WordPress websites.