Regardless of whether you’re an e-commerce start-up, a large business looking to overhaul their current website, or simply running a regularly updated blog on a niche industry topic, a content management system (CMS) is essential in the design, publishing, and overall functionality of your website.
The trouble is there are dozens upon dozens of CMS choices on the market today, and comparing them side-by-side can be somewhat challenging — if not outright confusing — given that so many of them seem to have similar capabilities and features. However, establishing the goals you want to achieve in building a website and asking the right questions about how a CMS will help you achieve those goals can help you cut through the noise and choose the right platform for your needs.
To help you start off on the right foot, let’s look at 9 questions you should ask when weighing whether a given CMS can help you build your ideal website.
Does the CMS come equipped with web hosting?
Web hosting is the ability to store all the files and information you need to facilitate a live website. If you think of a domain name as the address of your home, then web hosting is the house you actually live in, which makes it a required component of building a website anyone can access.
There are four different kinds of web hosting options: self-hosted, service-based, specialty, and single-solution. The first three models put some responsibility on you to either completely manage a server, or at least update the files or certificates needed to run your site. These each come with unique benefits such as complete customization of how your website files are managed, firewall and security updates, and storage space, but you also need moderate to significant technical expertise and support to make these models work.
A single-solution web host differs in that all the files are built, housed, and managed within the confines of the CMS itself. Essentially, the hosting, website files, and content become a unified entity based on the rules of the CMS itself, which can be ideal for companies that do not have the kind of technical or web development teams to facilitate the other hosting models.
How intuitive is the CMS dashboard?
Every CMS has some kind of administrative dashboard that functions as something of an air traffic control tower for your website. The dashboard should allow you to manage any task or action related to your website including content creation and publishing, user activity, roles, performance reporting, and integrations. You want your CMS dashboard to be a centralized hub that can be easily accessed and managed by a number of designated users, where roles can be easily assigned, actions by admins are transparent and trackable, and the content of your site can be easily edited and distributed.
Plus, if some level of marketing automation is part of your established goals, you want a CMS dashboard that can accommodate marketing automation components like email workflows or contact database management.
How does the CMS handle publishing content?
Whether you’re building product pages, pillar pages, blogs, or landing pages, you want your CMS to simplify the process of creating content that suits your needs. This is where understanding how a CMS content editor works and the level of time and resources necessary to publish content is extremely important.
Some CMS platforms use a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) content editor where the content built in the CMS will look exactly the same as what is displayed on the page; other CMS platforms may require you use either basic or perhaps even intermediate levels of HTML coding to write, edit, or publish website content. Plus, some CMSs offer drag-and-drop capability for things like images, videos, and CTAs, while others may require some degree of coding and styling.
In either case, you want your CMS to make it quick and easy to schedule, publish, update, and manage your website content so you can spend less time on backend tasks and more time on creating content that is relevant and useful to your audience.
Does the CMS have built-in SEO tools?
Speaking of publishing content: A CMS with built-in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools to optimize your content for organic search is critical to helping your website rank higher in search engine results and deliver the right information to the intended audience. In short, if searchers can’t find your website because of how the content is constructed, then the effectiveness of that content is compromised.
Ideally, you want to select a CMS with SEO tools that balance technical SEO concerns like site design responsiveness and HTML markups with on-page SEO concerns like page descriptions and keyword use. SEO tools that not only check for these elements but also prompt the optimization of your content through internal linking and image tags will be valuable in helping your site rank better in organic search.
What about a sandbox environment for testing your website?
Best laid plans, right? Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to anticipate every variable or potentiality in designing and launching a website, something still doesn’t work quite right — a page doesn’t load properly, a 401 error is returned, updates don’t sync. This is why it can be helpful to have a sandbox environment to build, launch, and test a website against real-world challenges like security, software integrations, and overall functionality.
Plus, a sandbox environment provides a virtual space to experiment with different design concepts or approaches to website content without impacting the functionality or security of a live website.
Is the CMS designed for easy integration?
No single CMS can help you execute every task or function you need to run your business or achieve your goals. Integrations of additional software or apps are just part of the game, and ensuring your CMS is designed for a streamlined integration process can help avoid any number of headaches down the road. Not only will this help you grow your website based on the scale of your business, but it will also help your website adapt to new and evolving technologies to better engage visitors.
A couple key integrations to think about include:
- The ability to write, publish, manage, and report on social media content from within the CMS
- Facilitating pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns on platforms like Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook
- Building and maintaining an online store to make it easier for customers to learn about and purchase products directly from your website.
Does the CMS provide detailed reporting and analytics?
Is the biggest source of my website traffic direct, referral, or organic search? Is my site being viewed more on desktop or mobile? How are my users interacting with my website, and which pieces of content — website, blog, or landing page — are performing the best? These are the kinds of questions the reporting and analytics capabilities of your CMS should help you answer, be it native in the platform or via a third-party integration like Google Analytics.
Not only is understanding how well your website is performing key to determining ROI, but these insights can also help strategize the improvements and updates necessary to get your website where it needs to be, and to help you achieve your goals.
How is your website performing? Try our free website evaluation tool to see how your site stacks up.
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