It feels like there are a million decisions to make when redesigning a website. What will the site look like? What colors and fonts should we use? What about photography?
Don’t let one of the most important decisions get pushed to the side: How will we manage content? Selecting a content management system (CMS) can be a daunting task, but it’s ultimately one of the most important decisions an institution will make. Whether it is an institution’s first CMS or an upgrade to a more capable system, a website redesign is one of the best times to take a step back and evaluate the CMS.
In our work at mStoner, we no longer find ourselves convincing clients of the benefits of a CMS. But we still see people struggling with finding the best fit: For content editors, for IT support staff, and, ultimately, for the bottom‐line budget.
The process of selecting a CMS can vary but, in general, it follows a 10‐point path:
- Talk to content editors. If the editors are happy, they are more likely to keep website content in good shape. Listen to your content editors and what they say about their web publishing needs. Discover their pain points. Understanding their needs lays an important foundation for any CMS decision you make. Whatever the CMS, it is important that content editors will use it far into the future.
- Form a selection committee. Typically, a selection committee has 10 or fewer members, with representatives from marketing and communications, the web team, IT, and perhaps key content owners with a large stake in the website. It’s a mix of technical and content‐oriented folks focused on the website. Someone needs to lead this group and give them a charge — to evaluate and select (or recommend) a CMS.
- Discuss requirements. The committee should meet to discuss requirements for the CMS, ranging from technical and practical to wishes, hopes, and dreams. Sometimes a committee’s priorities establish these requirements; at other times, these discussions are an opportunity for committee members to educate themselves about available CMS options.
- Prioritize requirements. Ask committee members to rank each requirement in terms of importance. Aggregate this list to identify the top priorities of the group. Prioritized requirements help build a scorecard to compare systems, provide a reference for when participating in demonstrations, and act as a guide for vendors looking to ensure they show you what you want to see.
- Consider key criteria. The technology platform, budget, or hosting model often have an outsized impact on the decision, and the committee needs to account for these factors. The committee also needs to understand how the decision or recommendation will be made — via scorecard, committee vote, consensus discussion, or by a specific decision‐maker informed by input from the group.
- View demonstrations. There are a seemingly endless number of CMS solutions in the marketplace. Develop a short list. mStoner has a core group of systems we feel work well in higher ed. Ultimately, the committee should agree on two to four systems it wants to investigate further. Schedule demonstrations for those systems.
- Play in the sandbox. Content editors and developers often want an opportunity to get more hands‐on with a system before making a long‐term commitment. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sandbox — a place to play with a system’s features and functionality — before selecting a CMS.
- Conduct due diligence. The committee should conduct any due diligence on the candidate CMS before a decision is made. Keep an open mind. This due diligence includes talking to other institutions using the system; conducting a financial analysis of the software and support costs; planning for system architecture; understanding training and support; and following up on questions about features or functions that need additional evaluation.
- Make a selection. Finally, the committee meets to make its final selection or recommendation based on the agreed‐upon process. Consensus often emerges within the group on a best choice, but that isn’t always the case. Regardless of the ultimate decision, it is important to decide on a way forward based on a process and input from the key stakeholders.
- Celebrate and move on. Selecting a CMS is no small task. Acknowledge the work that went into getting this far and prepare for the next step — actually implementing it.
Following this proven path generally takes around six to eight weeks. In the end, a CMS is the key technology used to deploy an institution’s website. Sticking to a well‐thought‐out process creates comfort and support necessary for long‐term success, and results in greater buy‐in among the people who matter most: the site’s users.