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Emily ShineOct 5, 2021 12:00:00 AM8 min read

13 Considerations for Choosing a Content Management System

How can you select the right CMS for your organization? Here are the keys you need to make the best decision.

You can incur exorbitant costs and unforeseen issues if you don’t select the right content management system (CMS). But these headaches are avoidable through adequate planning.

Ultimately, the best CMS for your association depends on how your teams need to use the system, your business goals, skill sets, and how you want your members to interact with your various websites and channels of engagement.

Sounds straightforward, right? Truth is, there are hundreds of CMS products today—from open source to proprietary systems. With all the options available, how do you know which CMS is right for your organization?

Based on our decades of experience in CMS implementation, we’ve identified the critical factors to keep in mind during the selection process and listed them below in no particular order.

Let’s get right to it.

1. Budget

Implementing a new CMS can cost $30,000 to over $500,000. While there are many factors that determine how much you’ll spend, the CMS system itself is by far the largest cost component.

You should also consider the resources involved in website maintenance. You’ll want a streamlined and centralized CMS that minimizes ongoing expenses, time requirements, and heavy developer reliance.

Plus, if the CMS you select fails to meet all of your organization’s needs, then you risk:

So the first thing you’ll want to do during the CMS selection process is to walk through your organizational needs, priorities, and goals, department by department, stakeholder by stakeholder. This can help you start excluding and including different systems based on your requirements and budget allocation.

2. Cloud vs. on-premise

Going with a dedicated cloud solution vs. on-premise infrastructure provides significantly better efficiency, flexibility, and security for your association.

Cloud-based CMS services also take care of the issue of hosting and allow you to scale your storage space and the associated costs up and down based on demand.

Conversely, when you opt for an on-site CMS, you have to figure out your own hosting separately. You may also have to pay for and maintain traditional data storage, in-office server rooms, and system admins.

In other words, deploying and hosting a CMS on-premise isn't ideal for remote access and scalability. At Brightfind, we recommend a cloud-based CMS when budget allows.

3. Tech stack

Consider which software applications are supported. What applications do you need based on your business requirements and goals? Are you able to unite the branding and user experience across these technologies?

You also want to think about the capabilities of your IT staff when considering the tech stack of different CMS software solutions. Are the right skill sets in place to accommodate all the technical requirements of the CMS? Which CMS demands the least amount of in-house tech resources?

Evaluating the tech stack through the lens of your IT team is particularly important if you’re resorting to an on-premise CMS. In comparison, managed cloud providers typically include varying levels of support in their CMS licensing options.

3. Third-party integrations

Your organization needs a CMS setup that works well with all of your third-party software and applications. The more outside vendors involved, the more complex your integration requirements.

Planning ahead is vital to minimizing unanticipated issues down the line and keeping pace with your budgeting projections and financial expectations. You don’t want to end up with integration challenges such as your transactional and analytics data being unable to talk to each other across systems.

So when planning for CMS integrations, start by compiling a list of all the outside integrations you have and/or will require based on your organizational needs and goals.

Consider all technologies from your association management system (AMS), learning management system (LMS), and events management to your advocacy, email marketing, community engagement, and e-commerce systems.

The goal is to achieve tight, strong integrations with your CMS in order to:

  • Facilitate the flow of information between your systems and reports.
  • Deliver a fluid online experience in which users are able to get the information they want, when they want it.
  • Provide integrated user recognition, login efficiency, and ease of use by enabling single sign-on across your internal and member-facing technology systems.
  • Create personalized, user-centric experiences across a unified digital landscape.

4. Administrative needs

What level of out-of-the-box administrative capabilities are you looking for?

For example, do you want publishing workflows and data governance processes? Would you like to know who controls what information across your ecosystem of sites and platforms at a quick glance?

Having such oversights and structured processes natively a part of your CMS helps to streamline operations, promote collaboration and information sharing, preserve the integrity of your data, and improve content execution and accountability.

5. Structure of license requirements

The differences in CMS licenses and packages are profound.

Some licenses are based on page views, some on the number of active users or those designated as admins, while still others are based on the number of unique URLs. And that’s just scratching the surface in terms of the range of differences in licensing structures.

What CMS license structure would work best for your association?

6. Content requirements

Is your organization looking to publish content across multiple sites and channels?

If so, you’ll need a CMS with the right capabilities to streamline this process. You’ll probably also need a CMS that offers centralized and unified search functionality.

Multi-platform search capabilities would allow your site visitors to easily find the content they’re looking for, no matter where it’s published. Users should be able to sort through and filter all relevant search results and personalized recommendations across platforms.

Also, think about any multi-lingual requirements you may have to accommodate your diverse user base.

And what about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Are comprehensive SEO features throughout the CMS system?

Again, eliminating unexpected disruptions, costs, and outsourcing is essential. So think about your content and asset creation, delivery, distribution, and optimization needs wisely when comparing CMS systems.

7. e-commerce capabilities

Does your organization have e-commerce needs? If so, you’ll want to select a CMS with powerful e-commerce capabilities.

Look for a CMS that will allow users to purchase something on your website through the e-commerce platform and then relay and record that transactional information in your AMS, accounting platform, and reporting systems.

Ideally, this transaction could be automatically communicated with other systems like your events platform and LMS as well. This would give you an intimate and comprehensive view of your individual users. And, in turn, you can provide personalized experiences based on engagement signals, individual preferences, and purchase history.

Website interactions and e-commerce purchases should essentially feel like an uninterrupted, harmonious, and user-centric experience from the end-users’ perspective.

8. Personalization

Speaking of personalization, how unique do you want individual user experiences to be? Most users, constituents, and members alike expect personalized online experiences today.

Providing incredibly personal and contextual messaging, calls-to-action, and product recommendations whenever and wherever possible should be a top priority to feed a successful association for years to come.

So select a CMS that delivers automated content based on individual engagements. Or, at the very least, you’ll want content segmentation and customization capabilities based on your user personas.

9. Reporting requirements

What kind of tracking, reporting, and analytics requirements does your organization have?

Do you want to be able to track user behaviors and engagement across your websites, marketing channels, and various applications?

Do you want a clear picture of campaign performance and product launches?

If so, you’ll want to choose a CMS with robust reporting.

10. Scalability

What are your association’s plans for the future? You’ll need a CMS system that is flexible to grow with your organization.

A managed cloud-based solution is great for scalability and mobility. It also allows you to leverage the latest technology and software upgrades.

You’ll also want to consider the license structure when comparing the scalability of different CMS options. Look for a licensing model that you can modify down the road as your needs change.

You don’t want to pay for what you don’t need today, but at the same time, you want to invest in a CMS that you can count on long term to support changing demands and organizational growth.

11. Accessibility

Complying with ADA Website Accessibility and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requires you to make your websites as accessible as possible for individuals with disabilities.

A CMS with the configuration flexibilities and ease of modification will allow you to remove barriers that hinder access to your site content and products.

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Websites for Associations

12. Language needs

Does your organization have multi-lingual requirements? Then you’ll want a CMS that accommodates diverse audiences and languages.

Rules of CMS Selection

There are two key takeaways or “rules of CMS selection” that we cannot stress enough:

  • Walk through each of these 13 considerations with all decision makers, key users, and stakeholders in each department of your organization.
  • Be sure to see a live demo of potential CMS systems as early in the selection process as possible.

When deciding on a CMS for your association, you want to choose wisely the first time. So do your due diligence. Take time to weigh all your options before making any decisions.

At Brightfind, the CMS software solutions for associations that we implement include Optimizely (formerly Episerver), Sitecore, Progress Sitefinity, and Higher Logic. If you want a demo of any of these systems or to discuss the best CMS option for your organization, contact us. We’re here to help.