Selecting an enterprise content management system (CMS) can be an overwhelming task, similar to choosing your first present on Christmas morning.
With so many options available, it can be difficult to determine which CMS platform will offer the most value without unwrapping them all and spending time examining them closely.
Choosing the right provider has become even more challenging in recent years due to the increasingly sophisticated offerings from CMS providers.
To assist in your decision-making process, we've compiled a list of key factors to consider when choosing an enterprise CMS platform.
A good starting point is to consider the size of your organization and the scale of your digital landscape. There is simply no point in purchasing a multi-million dollar solution for a bootstrapped startup, and vice-versa.
- Small businesses – As a small entity with limited resources, your goal is to simply publish content online and share information with your customers. You have little desire to play with complex integrations to offer a fully interactive solution to your users. A simple and cost-effective off-the-shelf solution is probably your best guess.
- Medium enterprise – You may have already outgrown your current CMS and are looking to grow your business in the long term. You are looking for a more versatile solution and want to introduce more sophisticated forms of marketing and user interactivity. Here, you are still looking for a fully-managed solution at the higher end of the spectrum.
- Large enterprises – For your organization with a multi-million dollar turnover, it's crucial to have a high level of customization that can match the complexity of your business. Therefore, switching to a new CMS platform requires careful consideration of migration costs and multi-tenant CMS. You are seeking a CMS that empowers your developers to maximize the platform's potential, supported by a dedicated team of experts.
Type of content
Every CMS platform can help you push content to the web. But not every platform is made equal when it comes to dynamic content, multimedia files or pushing content to multiple end-points.
- Basic content – if your business only needs a simple website solution with little interactivity, then an easy-to-use CMS that doesn’t break the bank is all you need.
- dynamic content – If some of your website content is likely to be repeated across multiple pages, manually updating it on each page can quickly become a frustrating task. However, with the emergence of dynamic content, you can reuse content pieces from a single source of information across your website. While the most basic CMS may not provide an easy way to achieve this, it's essential to consider dynamic content when your website grows to over 100 pages.
- Images, videos, and media – When dealing with a significant volume of images, videos, and audio, it's crucial to have a robust built-in media management solution in your CMS. Your CMS should facilitate seamless uploading, organizing, and managing of your rich media content at scale.
- Multi-channel content – if publish the same content across multiple digital channels (i.e., multiple websites, emails, social media, web apps, etc), then you need to consider a headless CMS solution. Designed on the “create once, publish anywhere” concept, the CMS lets you ‘push’ and update content to multiple end-points at the click of a button.
As your business expands, your CMS requirements will also increase. Select a CMS that can accommodate your growth, with adequate resources to handle rising traffic and content storage needs. Nobody wants to switch CMS platforms due to outgrowing their existing ones.
To get a sense of how well your CMS supports scalability, consider:
- Architecture – Your CMS should be modular and flexible, allowing you to add/remove features easily. In the high-end of the market, large enterprises have now moved to sophisticated Digital Experience Platforms and unify their entire business onto one single platform.
- Integrations – you want a system that plays nicely with other tools in your tool belt. Prioritize CMS that offer out-of-the-box integrations to other tools or via third-party. For more complex integrations, ensure that your CMS offers a strong API.
- CDN caching – While you can always hook your server to a Content Delivery Network (CDN) service, using a built-in CDN service will ensure an optimized solution that will save you time and many headaches.
- Updates – in some instances, simply upgrading your CMS core system to the new version can simply break your entire website (ahem WordPress), if they happen at all (Drupal famously leaves users of older versions without support, forcing businesses to rebuild their tech stack each time). Not every update and system upgrade is made the same, opening the door for security concerns if they happen too far apart. Make sure your enterprise CMS of choice offers regular updates with backward compatibility.
- Extensions – how easy is it to add functionalities to your website without the need for a developer? If your organization requires (and can afford) a high level of customization, this might not be a concern for you. However, if your enterprise has a more limited budget, do consider off-the-shelf plugins to achieve the result that you want - WordPress is often a popular solution for enterprises for that very reason.
- Staging and backups – if something goes wrong, can you easily revert back to a previous version of your website? Can your developers build and test code without impacting the live website?
- Multi-tenant – a multi-tenant CMS allows multiple users or ‘tenants’ to use the same CMS but maintain their own customizations, configurations, user permissions, integrations, etc. This is typically something to consider if you are a large organization or want to improve efficiency and reduce costs by managing multiple websites from a single platform.
Cybersecurity threats are here to stay, and not a day passes without a prominent website getting hacked. Don’t make the same mistake, but do choose a solution that fits your needs and your budget.
- User authentication – This comes as a standard for all CMSes, but one authentication method growing in popularity is Single Sign-On (SSO) – a user authentication process that enables a user to access multiple applications with a single set of login credentials managed by the organization. Some data-sensitive industries do require SSO for all online applications.
- Infrastructure – how are your data protected? Most providers outsource the security of their infrastructures to a larger player hosting their servers like AWS or Azure. You just need to ensure that your provider is ISO27001 compliant at a minimum and regularly run penetration systems to test their applications.
- Access control – Most CMS offer different levels of access to the application. However, some remain basic (administrators vs users) with few customization options. For small organizations, this is not a problem - but for larger organizations that employ dozens of hundreds of contributors, you will want a more granular solution, with multiple layers of access and system management.
- Updates/patches – an enterprise CMS that rarely releases updates should be an immediate red flag. Vulnerabilities are found every day, and the faster patches are issued, the more secure will your system be.
- Vulnerability scanning – This area of security is growing, especially around what’s known as ‘Insider threats’ which often involve employees accidentally introducing vulnerabilities by downloading and using unauthorized applications. Your CMS may not have built-in capability for this but look for those that can support integrations with third-party solutions like Invicti for example.
- Recovery plan – Does the CMS offer a disaster recovery plan? Whether from natural disasters, cyberattacks, or hardware failures, you want to know there is a clear plan for the protection and recovery of data. Some CMS platforms also carry out Disaster Recover (DR) Drills, as part of a wider Platform Health Check.
- SSL Certificates – again, most CMS support secured communication protocol using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or TLS (Transport Layer Security), just an updated, more secure, version of SSL certificates. In both cases, the CMS will automatically redirect users/web traffic to the secure HTTPS version of the website. But beware, some CMSes have been found disabling SSL/TLS certificate validation on purpose, putting users and your organization at risk.
Ease of use
You shouldn’t have to rely on expensive web developers for any trivial change you want to make to your website. Not only will it cost you a lot of money in the long run, but it will also impede your ability and desire to build anything.
Moreover, making sure that your CMS is intuitive and easy to use, even for non-tech-savvy individuals, is crucial as it enables your staff to leverage your content more effectively, breaks down information silos, mitigates risks, and eliminates the need for complicated code solutions.
- An intuitive interface – Is it visually appealing and is it instantly clear for all user types how to use different aspects of the CMS? Look for a CMS that offers WYSIWYG editing capabilities, so you can ensure strong version control and clear and simple content governance. It also helps you remove the age-old headache of costly onboarding procedures.
- Customizable – For many organizations, it’s crucial to customize their CMS so different teams can work together more effectively. Can you choose what is displayed to a user in the backend? Can show/hide features for a segment of your users?
- Integrations – Look for built-in integrations with your favorite third-party tools to quickly and efficiently access functionalities beyond what your CMS offers.
- Time-saving features – Does your CMS help you get more productive? An internal search bar to sift through your content, or a media manager to manage all your photos can be invaluable to your team.
- Accessibility – As the population ages, the pressure to comply with accessibility regulations on digital platforms will only intensify. It is preferable to utilize a CMS that facilitates the presentation of content to all users, including the 20% of the population who have disabilities. Trust us on this.
Customer support can make or break an enterprise CMS development project. Look for a CMS with comprehensive support, including:
- Training – off-the-shelf CMS providers often let you on your own when it comes to skilling up. More advanced - dare we say more expensive? - CMS providers will offer you anything from self-paced online training to on-site workshops for your staff. Training will undeniably help your organization speed up toward adopting a new technology solution, but it might come at a cost, particularly when you have a large number of users.
- Documentation – Be mindful of the comprehensiveness and clarity of the documentation. Evaluate whether it adequately addresses your queries and provides actionable insights. Relying solely on support services may prove to be expensive, thus equipping your team with easily understandable documentation may be a more cost-effective alternative.
- Tutorials – An image is worth a thousand words, right? Video tutorials are a must for end-users to quickly visualize what is possible and how to implement a solution. It is a must to onboard new, non-technical staff in large organizations.
- Community forums – The best CMS platforms empower users to create a community where problems are solved and new solutions are proposed and voted on. Also look out for admin replies, as it shows the CMS provider is listening.
- Online support – Phone, email, and chat support are still what most customers need and expect for an enterprise CMS. Where would your support team be located? Anything outside of your region, and you should only expect overnight answers. Is there also a cost associated with support? How long does it usually take to get assistance? What if this is a critical matter? While this might be difficult to evaluate ahead of any purchase, do talk to current users on forums to get a better understanding of the situation you are about to walk into.
- Account management – Having a dedicated person for all your problems will definitely streamline your support process, but don’t expect such a service unless you are paying for a large solution.
The expenses associated with a CMS can vary from costless open-source options to expensive proprietary systems. In addition, switching to a new CMS may entail supplementary expenses that frequently deter organizations from doing so. It is advisable to assess the benefits of being able to accomplish more with your content against these costs. While keeping your budget in perspective, contemplate:
- Setup costs – Check for what setup costs come with either migrating your content to a new CMS or starting with a clean slate. Beware of the hidden cost of bringing in a specialist just to set your system up.
- Migration costs – Switching to a new solution might require you to terminate your contract with your current provider early, which might come with some financial penalties. Also, “lifting and shifting” your content to a new system will require the help of SEO specialists to ensure that you don’t suddenly lose visibility on search engines.
- Maintenance costs – Are there any costs associated with upgrades and maintenance? A good solution should not charge you for this.
- Customization – We mentioned customization earlier. Do built-in integrations require additional costs? Or will you require the help of a developer to integrate your systems?
- Licensing and hosting – Are you required to pay for additional fees hosting fees and licensing fees for using your CMS? Organizations with a global footprint might need servers in multiple regions, quickly adding up to the initial costs.
- Implementation – Unless you are implementing an off-the-shelf template, chances are you will need to pay for designers and web designers to implement your vision. Does your CMS work with agencies to help you speed up the process? What are the market rates for developers for each particular CMS? Widely adopted CMS solutions will have a larger pool of specialists to tap into, often at a lower rate.
When selecting a CMS, it's essential to ensure that it can seamlessly integrate with other tools and systems employed by your business.
Monolithic CMS only let you integrate with their own solutions or a specific list of agreed vendors. More flexible CMSs will let you integrate freely with any vendor, but it might come with some security and usability risks.
Always assess the CMS's integration capabilities and verify that it can integrate with your current tools or any new tools that you intend to include in your stack.
Once you’ve shortlisted a few possible solutions, it’s time to trial them and test all those features.
Depending on the size and nature of your organization, consider some or all of the following options:
- Set up a test environment where you can simulate different scenarios.
- Bring in other stakeholders to test the usability of the CMS. Make sure to include a wide variety of backgrounds (IT, marketing, content editors, etc), especially those who will end up using the system itself, not just managers.
- Test the performance of the CMS under different conditions in a load environment. Tools like Apache JMeter, LoadRunner, or Gatling can help you test platforms in simulated environments.
- Have your security team test the platform’s user authentication, data encryption, and backup capabilities.
- See how easy it is to integrate 3rd party tools and platforms.
- Finally, test out the support ecosystem of that enterprise CMS – from forums to the call center.