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Choosing the best content management system for your organisation can make all the difference in increasing or decreasing efficiency, accuracy and productivity. But what exactly is a content management system, and why is it so important to an organisation's success in the digital age?

An Overview of Content Management Systems

At its core, a content management system (aka CMS or content management platform) enables organisations to create, publish, manage, distribute, search for and archive digital content. Typically it is used to manage content on websites, intranets, portals and learning management solutions, and controls the appearance, structure and navigation shown to end-users.

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An effective CMS can bring your organisation the following benefits:

  • A more streamlined web content authoring process
  • Increased consistency across the system
  • Faster turnaround for updates, changes and new pages
  • Better site navigation
  • Improved flexibility
  • Reduced errors and duplication of information
  • Decentralised authoring
  • Increased security
  • A greater capacity for growth
  • Reduced system maintenance costs

It also provides additional benefits depending on the type of solution deployed. For example, a website managed via a CMS allows marketers to easily push new marketing campaigns, empower customers to self-manage their accounts online, optimise webpages to increase sales and much more.

Remember, your website evolves and changes from year to year. Campaign, products and services and other information is added and deleted. Styles and structures are updated. Without a CMS, corporate websites can quickly become disorganised, inaccurate and out-of-date. It can become harder to find things, and its overall appearance can become stale and dated.

Similar issues are encountered for an intranet, portal or learning management solution.

How to Choose a Content Management System

There are several CMS options on the market, each with their own strengths and capabilities.

The best approach to selecting a CMS is to undertake a detailed discovery phase to understand exactly what your organisation needs from a CMS. This generally involves interviewing administrative users, as well as end-users. For example, you might interview managers from each department to get a better sense of what features their teams would be interested in using. Use this intel, along with what you like and dislike about your legacy system, to compile a list of must-have features vs. nice-to-have features (features that may or may not be included depending on cost).

The following are some elements and features to consider when selecting your CMS:

Optimal Usability. The system should strike a balance between being user-friendly but not too oversimplified. It should have drag-and-drop WYSIWYG layouts for non-tech users to easily create content, but also enable more advanced users to modify CSS and HTML.

Web Standards. You’ll want a CMS that can produce accessible content and clean, semantic HTML.

Documentation and Support. Your CMS should be backed up with user guides, accessible technical support and appropriate documentation.

Multilingual. Your system should be able to handle any software or system language at the front and back ends.

Customisable. The best content management system doesn't simply offer a standard one size fits all solution, but is also flexible and able to be customised by the vendor according to your needs. For example, if you need a school management calendar with specific features that don't come with their out-of-the-box platform, the vendor should be able to custom develop the feature.

Reusable Content. The ability to reuse content offers a template effect that saves time when maintaining and creating new content. It also minimises duplicate content and related search engine penalties. Master Pages and Nested Master Pages are just a couple of examples. Other features that can help with reusing content are elements like Content Tags and Embedded Articles.

Multi-site Capabilities. The best content management systems are also able to run intranet, portals, multiple websites and more all from one central platform.

Scalable Architecture. The system should be load balanced and spread across multiple web servers, cluster aware and able to perform under pressure without faltering. It should also be scalable with your needs, allowing for the addition of new functions, features and users as your organisation grows.

Dynamic Search Function. If a high quality, comprehensive search engine isn’t already ‘baked into’ your system, you’ll probably have to purchase a (potentially expensive) third party tool. 

Migration Tools. Your CMS should have methods and tools that allow for easy migration of tens of thousands of content pages (or more if required).

Security. The system should be formally accredited and up to your enterprise’s security standards.

Version Control. It isn’t just about audit trails and traceability; an optimal version control system can save a tremendous amount of time and effort if a current round of work is lost or saved in an incorrect manager, as you can revert back to previous versions of a document.

Extensible. Your CMS should have a mature SDK or API allowing it to be easily integrated or extended with your existing systems including CRMs, marketing automation and business intelligence systems.

Built-In Best Practices. The best content management systems are also optimised for SEO, compliant with accessibility standards and allow for the rewriting of URLs. Your content should be underpinned by a robust automated metadata framework that replaces manual information management.

While not all of these elements are essential for every business scenario, considering all of these areas will help you to determine if a CMS product is stable, mature and able to meet your needs now and in the future.

Larger vendors can excel in many of these areas but fall short in areas like usability and web standards. For smaller vendors, the opposite can be true. Strive to find a content management system provider that offers the best of both worlds. 

If you’re still unclear about the ideal CMS for your organisation, click here for a copy of the free Content Management System Buyers Guide.

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