Selecting a new content management system (CMS), or deciding to use a CMS for the first time, most often occurs in parallel with a website redesign. I shared an overview on how to select the best CMS for your institution recently. The most-nuanced part of the process is defining the “key criteria” — factors beyond typical requirements that have a large affect on the CMS selection. But how exactly do you define your key criteria?

The Current Environment Matters

Key criteria come from your current environment. Do you have web developers on staff? Is programming done in Microsoft.NET? Does your CMS need to be a hosted, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution? Or can you host on campus? Are six different systems already deployed?

There’s a balance to strike between finding a CMS to fit the current context yet not limiting yourself by the current context. A selection process that focuses strictly on CMS features and cost overlooks these questions. A process that only looks at the current context often simply opts for the status quo.

Higher Education Matters

Finding a CMS isn’t akin to finding a spouse. Chances are there’s more than one CMS that will be successful at your institution.

We recommend looking at CMS options that have a track record of success in higher ed. Talented developers can do amazing things with virtually any CMS, but there are too many solutions in existence to reasonably assess. And because resources are limited, higher education typically needs its talented developers doing things beyond making the CMS work.

Website redesign projects in higher ed are long, audiences are varied, sites are large, and content editors are many. The CMS is an area to find the right solution that works and save energy that could be spent tailoring a fringe solution for all the stuff that can make your site great.

Strategy Matters

As my colleague Susan Evans would say, without a strategy, everything seems reasonable. CMS decisions can be made for the right reasons but for the wrong strategy. This is why a CMS selection process couples well with a website strategy project.

Buried in the details of a CMS decision are questions about the role of technology at your college or university. Who does the site need to serve? Who “owns” the web? Perhaps IT owns the servers, but marketing and communications owns the website content. Whose software is it vs. whose should it be? And where does the budget come from?

There’s a balance that keeps key criteria for the institution aligned with strategy, and this balance guides CMS selection to the best interests of your institution and helps keep the evaluation out of the weeds.

Including the right stakeholders is also important. Content editors, IT, web managers, and marketing and communications folks need to have input. Discussing pain points with users of the current environment is both therapeutic and helpful in breaking down the problems that must be solved by a new system. Reviewing the litany of typical CMS requirements is important, so stakeholders have a common understanding of the breadth of available features in addition to the ones they find most important for their areas. While you can complete a CMS selection process without these steps, often the key criteria are where the rubber meets the road.

Choosing the right CMS isn’t just about a laundry list of features, the slickest user interface, or technology that IT already knows how to support. Content editor buy-in matters. Support, hosting, and training matter. Cost matters. In every CMS selection, a context that includes the website strategy helps shape the best decisions.

Greg Zguta

AUTHOR - Greg Zguta

I've been working on education web projects since the late 90's and enjoy visiting campuses and watching how technology has transformed higher education since I got my first email account at Oberlin College in 1992. Back then, I mostly used the web to check weather radar and sports scores . . . I suppose technology hasn't transformed everything yet. Find me on

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