12 Experts Reveal Six Criteria to Choosing a CMS

6 Criteria to assessing a CMS

All companies use some type of content management system (CMS) whether they realize it or not. In fact, it’s often an integral tool across teams. It may go by the name of WordPress, MODX, Drupal or Joomla, but the goal behind these CMS platforms is to help make managing content easier.

Then why is it so hard to choose a CMS?

When each team member who uses the CMS has a different purpose and preference for the tool, questions and conflicts often arise: Is it easy to use from a non-technical standpoint? Is it flexible and customizable? What are the risks? How easy is it to switch?

There are more than 1,600 CMS out there, but only a handful have brand recognition. To help you determine right platform for your needs, we enlisted 12 experts to shed light by asking, “What do marketers need to know when selecting a CMS?”

We found a consensus around six criteria:

  • Goals – Identify your objectives for the CMS
  • Capabilities – Balance technical capabilities with ease of use
  • Security – Ensure security on the back-end to prevent attacks
  • Collaboration – Help marketing, IT and users identify key metrics and understand how the tool helps them work together
  • Scalability Plan and anticipate for the future needs
  • Integration – Streamline processes and check compatibility with essential marketing and IT systems

What do marketers need to know when selecting a CMS?

Jay GilmoreJay Gilmore, business strategist, MODX


Marketers need to consider their content strategy, editorial and site management teams and technical requirements.

Many marketers go with the CMS they know or have used personally but this is not always the best choice—especially for growing organizations. There are more than 1600 CMS projects spanning both open source and proprietary vendors and many of these CMSs can offer significant benefits a marketer might not be aware of.

If an organization is working with a web team to build out their website, the ease with which the CMS can be customized is fairly important. However, WordPress + dozens of 3rd party plugins is not always the answer.

One thing marketers often do not consider is performance of the CMS. Many CMSs do not consider page delivery a priority at all, though Google seems to factor page performance into search rank because people visiting your site will not be impressed if the site goes down or is extremely slow.

Marketers need to consider:

  • Ease of use for content creators and site managers to use the site and to manage and maintain content.
  • Ease of use for their web developers and designers to implement their designs and customizations.
  • Integration of marketing tools and automations.
  • Performance and speed – MODX for instance has caching built in, however many CMSs do not consider this at all.
  • Whether access to certain areas of the site can be restricted to specific users or departments.
  • Multi-site or multi-language support
  • Whether it’s possible to implement contemporary future web technologies into the website without waiting for a release or Plugin.


Meghan CaseyMeghan Casey, lead content strategist, Brain Traffic


I’d encourage organizations to consider two important concepts when choosing a CMS:

  1. Your new CMS, no matter how awesome, will not fix your content problems.  

I’ve seen client after client have stars in their eyes, thinking that once their new CMS is in place all their content problems will go away. There are a few reasons why this isn’t the case. The most obvious is that if you migrate content from your old CMS (or no CMS at all, egads!) without actually figuring out if it’s the right content–the content your users need or want from you–you end up with a garbage in, garbage out situation.

Another common reason is that a new CMS doesn’t solve the internal politics around or processes for content, such as, who gets that prime spot on the home page or who is empowered to say an item of content doesn’t belong, or who gets to publish what content. Your new CMS is going to be great. But, only if you do some work ahead of time to figure out what content goes in it and how you’ll make those decisions.

  1. Writers, editors, reviewers, and publishers are users, too.

One of the benefits of a bright, shiny, new CMS is that people without a coding background can actually create and publish content. Make sure your new CMS considers their user experience. Do that by bringing them into the selection process. And ask your potential vendors what kind of user research they’ve done with internal users like yours. Another consideration is making sure that you can build in editorial guidelines and requirements to your content templates. Many CMS options today allow this. So, rather than a field that says “intro” on a product page, you can have one that says “product intro: one to two sentences that clearly states who should consider this product and for what purposes.” Your internal users will appreciate the guidance and your audiences will appreciate content that serves their needs.


Brian HonigmanBrian Honigman, CEO of Honigman Media


Marketers need to consider the following elements: the level of control they want over their website and content, how often they will publish content, the budget they are working with–in the beginning and on an ongoing basis–and what capabilities do they currently have to administer maintenance.

With an understanding of those key considerations, they’ll quickly be able to understand what levels of features they need, what types of software to invest in and their level of expertise with using a CMS platform.


Chad PollittChad Pollitt, cofounder at Relevance; Huffington Post & Guardian contributor


First and foremost, marketers need to know their team. One person’s beloved CMS is another one’s nightmare. Here’s what I mean: some less technical folks might perform their job much better and with greater efficiency using a very simple “drag and drop” type CMS. However, you put someone with some development experience in front of a CMS like that and they’ll likely hate it.

Sometimes having all of the bells, whistles and functionality isn’t a good thing. It depends on the team’s level of comfort in a complex CMS. You have to balance the advantages of more powerful CMSs with the abilities of the team.

David LauferDavid Laufer, managing partner of BrandBook LLC; author


Every organization has some sort of content management from the moment they begin. A folder on Dropbox with stuff in it is a simple CMS. A WordPress web site is a form of CMS. The Library of Congress is a CMS. So, choosing a CMS that helps any given enterprise is a quest for appropriate scale, functionality, and price.

5 crucial marketing influences on CMS decisions:

  • Speed: You as a marketing advocate have a great handle on what to automate. Automation is an upfront cost, but if it cuts time to market and makes salespeople more responsive, it earns out that investment very fast.
  • Searchability: Marketers understand the value of tagging, tracking, and reporting. Make sure your CMS includes meta tagging and easy searchability of assets that customers and sales staff will most want.
  • Simplicity: People will use—and adore—a system that is intuitive, simple, and eliminates mindless repetitive tasks. Your CMS implementation is far more likely to go poorly if it takes too much training to use. Engineer for the most immediate needs, not for a future that isn’t here yet. You can always come back and add a new module later that gives you additional functionality.
  • Brand: Your CMS is a tremendous branding opportunity! A CMS that is easy to use and fulfills customer needs is a very tangible and memorable brand experience. The user interface is a great place to deliver the look, feel, and ethos of your organization.
  • Timing: Work on the assumption that your system needs pay for itself within 18 months, and that progress and competitive pressure will most likely to force you to replace it with a leaner, meaner CMS within 36 months. 

Marketers are always looking for a seat at the management table. CMS, if done well, is a strategy decision. Come to the table with good information for senior management and your enterprise will prosper!


David LeeDavid Lee, systems software specialist, Emory Healthcare

When working across multiple teams, there are often many stakeholders and criteria involved.

To ensure your team selects the best solution to meet everyone’s needs, examine these seven elements when setting up a secure content management system:


  1. Price
  2. Social networking integration
  3. Flexibility
  4. On premise or cloud options?
  5. Ease of use
  6. Speed
  7. Quality of templates


Geoff HoeschGeoff Hoesch, principal, Dragonfly Digital Marketing


When looking for a CMS, there needs to be a balance between convenience—both for developers and users–and security. Platforms such as WordPress are extremely convenient, both for developers and users, but can have security issues; whereas platforms such as Drupal or Joomla are better for security, but far less convenient to use.

From a marketing standpoint, WordPress is probably your best bet for a typical B2B site, as plugins make content sharing easy and it’s a very content-friendly CMS. However, it’s extremely important for your developers to understand how to create a secure WordPress site: which plugins to download, how to implement https, how to backup the site frequently, etc.


Jason CooperJason Cooper, marketing technology manager, PGi

Before selecting a CMS, marketers need to know if it will integrate with other marketing technology. Your website is a critical component in your marketing plan, and it cannot operate in a vacuum. The website must gather information about your visitors and share it with your other systems to help nurture a relationship between your brand and your visitors.

Integration can be as simple as a one-field subscription form that passes email addresses to your email platform or a web-to-lead form that creates leads in your CRM platform. Or it can be as complex as identifying visitors from previous activity and then presenting relevant, personalized messages. Research the marketing technology you are using or planning to use and learn which CMS they integrate with and how.

Mark HamstraMark Hamstra, founder of modmore; web developer specialised in MODX Revolution


Selecting a content management system is a decision that should be taken by everyone involved. Unless you’re willing to be restricted to a handful of predefined templates, your technical team should be involved to determine if a system is flexible enough to meet current and future demands.

There’s an abundance of software and tools that can be used to manage a piece of content, but not all of them will be right for your organization.

One way to figure that out is to work together to determine objective requirements first, and to then make a short list of matching tools. Based on costs, features, flexibility, available extensions and support, and ease of use for all involved parties you can then start experimenting, leading up to an informed decision the entire team can get behind.


Robert RoseRobert Rose, chief strategy advisor, Content Marketing Institute; senior contributing consultant for Digital Clarity Group


The world of Content Management has fundamentally changed, and so too must the selection process for tools that help facilitate publishing. It used to be that CMS systems managed one channel (our Web site.) Now they are expected to do much, much more.  It’s just no longer productive to simply publish content in some static way. Today, content is contextual. Consumers want and expect context-rich web experiences that use location, device, presence, behavior, the social web, and other information to anticipate their requirements.

In short, consumers expect content when, where, and how they want it, exactly meeting their personal needs.

Terms such as web engagement management (WEM) and customer experience management (CXM or CEM) have found some favor among both content marketing practitioners and web content management (WCM) vendors. But whatever the acronym, the point is that the business need has changed from simply managing web content to managing user experiences and supporting a buyer’s journey across multiple channels.

Here are three core things for businesses to consider:

Real Ease-Of-Use: It’s not just about WYSIWYG editors, or drag and drop components any longer. New solutions that help to manage digital experiences are much more complex than established WCM systems. In the end ease-of-use has to mean easier to get the desired business outcome, not just easier to write content.

Agile Solutions:. Today’s enterprise technology environment is a patchwork of best-of-breed solutions, enterprise vendor platforms, and custom legacy applications. Marketing and IT must be aligned in order to create a system that can be implemented, integrated, and supported over time.

Move Beyond the “Page”: The web is no longer measured in pages. With multiple social and mobile platforms, globalization, and the need to deliver contextual experiences, savvy enterprises are preparing for much more dynamic content delivery.


Andy LeAndy Le, IT director, RIB U.S.COST

Content Management System is a vital system in any organization when you’re dealing with clients and the bottom line. When embarking on a project to select a content management system that will manage your business, business leaders and IT Management need to consider some very important aspects:

Scalability – The ability to scale based on content, volume, users, and growth. The CMS could be operating at a normal level and suddenly, your traffic and user base have doubled or quadrupled in size.  Your infrastructure and CMS need to be able to handle the load of traffic hit and growth. It’s probably good to stick to familiar products or vendors that enterprise companies have put through the pace. These vendors have been thoroughly tested by other companies for growth and stability.

Usability – How easy is it to use and manage? Your user base could include technical, nontechnical, business leaders, and clients. How will they navigate the CMS system and be able to get the job done if they’re wasting their time figuring out how to do simple tasks? User acceptance training is vital to the successful implementation of a CMS system. Demoing a system is important to find out if it meets all business needs and is also user friendly. Implementation is considered a failure when no one uses it.

Digital security – Security is very prevalent now due to increased attack vectors. All programs and systems need to be safeguarded and religiously maintained, otherwise it’s vulnerable. If a CMS vendor doesn’t have a security aspect in their system, RUN!

Support – What kind of support system is available through the vendor? Is it just email or phone as well? If your system is down, do you have to wait until someone emails you back? If you ask any IT professional to choose between mediocre software with the best support or best software with mediocre support, they’ll probably pick the former.

One good place to do research is http://www.capterra.com/content-management-software/. On there, you’ll be able to narrow down a lot of vendors based on features such as: number of users, cloud or onsite, document management, indexing, SEO management, version control, templates, and many more. There are many popular vendors such as Drupal, Atlassian, and Alfresco that have stand the test of time and utilized by several large enterprises. They also work well for SMB.


Tomer TishgartenTomer Tishgarten, client engagement director, Arke

Since a WCM is the “backbone of digital experiences” (according to Forrester), clients selecting a WCM should determine if they’re looking to purchase an all-in-one platform, or select a solution that they plan to integrate with other marketing technology platforms.

While some clients may want to create a “Franken-Cloud” (aka a cobbled together Marketing Technology solutions), others are keen on purchasing an enterprise WCM platform that possesses all of the modern Marketing Technology functionality that one needs: content management, workflow, personalization capabilities and user behavior-based analytics/reporting.


What does this all mean?

Everyone has their preferences and agendas for their organization, but we uncovered the following consensus among our experts:

  • Identify your objectives with a CMS first
  • Balance between technical capabilities and ease of use
  • Ensure the tool meets the necessary levels of security
  • Collaborate between marketing, IT and users
  • Plan for the future needs of your business
  • Check compatibility and integration capabilities with existing marketing tools

A big thank you to everyone who contributed. We sincerely appreciate it!

So what do you think are the most important things to know before choosing a CMS? Did we miss anything? Sound off in the comments below!

If you’re looking for more marketing and technology tools, check out the “Five Must-Have Technologies for Marketers.”

By Cody Burkhart – August 15, 2016

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