Content Management Systems are supposed to make life easy. . .

Content Management Systems (CMS) can make life easier for businesses with large sites, sites with no webmaster, or smaller companies that require easy editing and posting of pages without any technical knowledge.  Investing in a CMS means you are marrying your site to it and “breaking up with it” can cost big bucks. I’ve had lots of experience with large and small CMSs over the years and they can be a real challenge to properly optimize.

In the interest of keeping this somewhat short and not a soapbox rant, I will stick to a bullet-pointed list of things to think about when selecting a CMS.

  • Look for hidden fees for:
    • Page Editing
    • Title and Description Customization
    • New Page Creation
    • File Uploads
    • Image Creation
    • Phone Tech Support
    • Email Tech Support
    • Yearly Licensing Fees
    • Software Update Fees
    • Bandwidth Overages
  • Do not work with a company that refuses to give you full admin rights to your own site.
  • FTP access is very important. You need access so your own IT guy can work on the system if needed.  The only reason they wouldn’t give it to you is to lock you down with them.
  • You must be able to edit the HTML of the pages and the page components. Period.  The only reason they wouldn’t want you to is so they can charge you to do it for you.
  • Can you create AND manage multiple section templates?
  • You need to be able to control title and description tags at the page level. Period.  Accept nothing else because your rankings will be nuked with by templated tags.
  • If you create a static page, how do you upload it and how do you edit it?
  • Do they own the artwork they create?  You need to have licensing information on file for any images used on your site.  Oftentimes CMSs will come pre-loaded with stock images.  You need to have a copy of the licensing for those images. If you don’t have good records, you could face a steep fine.
  • Can you continue with your Google analytics? Many CMS companies will sell you their version of analytics and say it’s better than Google.  Go ahead and let them install their analytics, but you must make them install Google Analytics too. If you use their analytics system and want to leave them for some reason, you lose of all your data and have to start over blind.
  • Ask for examples of current clients and have an SEO inspect the sites.
  • Test the page-load times of the example websites.  If you don’t know how, your SEO will.
  • Don’t sign anything unless you get everything you want in writing up front.  Salespeople promise the world to get a commission and let the dev guys worry about fulfillment.
  • Remember, if you design a site in a custom CMS, they’ve got you. There’s no leaving without a complete recoding of the site and potential loss of database information.
  • If your CMS is a hosted solution, make them give you a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
  • Beware of built-in SEO packages. They are usually createdd by a programmer that has “some” SEO knowledge but is not a true expert.  Built-in “SEO” never really works well.
  • Ask for a demonstration of their product as you would see it and in a working environment. A CMS company will often let you test a feature-rich version of the software on their fastest server. The version and server you get may be significantly different.
  • Do you really need a CMS or are you being sold a CMS? Ask a professional SEO.
  • Have an IT guy check out their system. If you don’t have an IT guy, get one. A real one. Not your nephew.
  • You should have contracted a professional SEO by now, get them involved before you buy.
  • Ask about guaranteed response times to support issues. If they don’t guarantee a resolution time, your issue may languish in tech support for months.
  • Ask who your main point of contact will be. It won’t be the salesman you’re talking to. Ask to speak with that rep and see if you can understand them. You know what I mean.
  • Ask about the project workflow for the site design.
  • Get a guaranteed completion date.
  • Ask to see their designer’s other work.
  • Make sure you know the number of design concepts you can go through. You may only get two, and if two isn’t enough, you will have to pay more.
  • Ask how their testing environment works. You need a production area to test pages before pushing them live.

There are good CMSs out there but as a layperson they are hard to identify.  A CMS may be a very good fit for your company, but too often the decision to buy a CMS is made without consulting anyone “technical.”  If you are relying on the CMS company to be your technical person, remember, they are selling you a product.  You need an independent opinion.  When you’re talking to the CMS company you’re not talking to a technical person looking out for your company’s best interests, you’re talking to a salesman working for a commission.