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Help I need a CMS! Things to Consider When Choosing a CMS

As a digital product studio we spend a lot of time talking about websites, designing user flows, developing site-maps and, of course, selecting content management systems.

Though there are many variables inherent in creating a site, choosing a CMS is probably one of the most important.  There are many options available— WordPress. Contentful, Prismic, and the list goes on.  Each one is a strong solution depending on your needs. While there’s no foolproof way to choose a CMS, there are some key factors to consider.  Below we’ve outlined how we approach thinking about CMSes here at Big Human.   If you’re thinking about building a new site, refreshing an existing one, or changing your CMS, use these as a starting point to guide your decision-making.  Of course, it’s always smart to call an expert, so hit us up!  We love talking to other humans.

At Big Human, we are platform, system and solution agnostic.  We build on a variety of CMSes, but what we recommend and ultimately build upon really depends on our clients’ business and brand goals and structure.

Do you have an existing CMS?

If the answer is yes, unless it’s an absolute nightmare, or you absolutely must have specific features unavailable in your current system, it’s probably best to stick with your current CMS.  Migrating from one system to another can be costly, time-consuming, and a headache for both content and development teams.  We like to think of it this way: if you compared both CMS’s side-by-side, the new system must  be significantly better, not just a little better, to be worth the effort.

If you do not have a CMS or must change it, consider the following:  

Resources - Do you have Engineers?

Is there a programming language the team prefers?  Some engineers love WordPress because is both a front-end and back-end stack. It’s easy to get up and running, and there are hundreds of third-party plugins and integrations to expand functionality.    

Other engineers prefer Contentful (and other headless CMS platforms).  Headless CMSes are only the back-end (hence “headless”), which allows engineers to custom configure the front-end.  Figure out what your engineers like and know best and go with that—by using a language they’re more proficient in, chances are they’ll be able to build a (much) better site, in a shorter time span.     

If you don’t have an internal team of engineers or your team doesn’t have the capacity to take on a web development project, then it’s important to consider who will be building the site and how proficient they are at programming.  

Urgency - How soon do you need the site? 

If you needed your site yesterday (a common occurrence), or more realistically,  within the next few weeks or so, consider WordPress.  Being comprised of  both the back-end server and front-end pages, WordPress requires minimal coding for its basic capabilities. In just a few clicks  you can have a website up and running. By leveraging some of the many third-party plugins available for WordPress, you can get some fairly advanced functionality without ever touching a line of code.

However, if you have a more relaxed timeline and want a more customized website (and have the development capability, be it internal or external) Contentful or Prismic are great choices.  A headless CMS gives engineers the freedom to create a front-end that best suits your content, editorial, and marketing teams’ needs.  

Functionality - What is the primary purpose of the site?

If your site is a blog, or primarily a blog, or even just has a very significant blog component, WordPress is great.  WordPress was designed initially as a blogging platform and remains at its core, a blog-first CMS.

For businesses whose primary function is to frequently push a significant amount of new content across multiple devices—tablet, mobile, desktop— Contentful is a good option. A headless CMS allows you to consolidate all of your content in one central location and distribute it instantly using APIs.  If you’re using more than one CMS for the same content but with different destinations, you may want to explore Contentful.

As with everything else in life, there really is no simple answer to the proverbial CMS conundrum.  Be honest about your team and its abilities and call an expert for advice!

June 03, 2019TIL