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In CMS Fundamentals, James Williamson defines content management systems (CMSs) and explains their role in web site development. The course demonstrates the different CMS solutions available today, including WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla; reviews CMS terminology and best practices; and shows how to develop a content management strategy. Guidelines are also included for evaluating a potential CMS, whether hosted or self-hosted, open source or proprietary, and choosing a CMS based on a specific need or focus.
In the last movie, I talked about some of the core features that you should consider when picking a CMS. In this movie, I want to talk about a few equally important features that are often overlooked until a CMS is installed and in use. Now unfortunately, that's usually the wrong moment to realize you have a problem on your hands. So be sure to pay close attention to these when comparing systems. First, take a close look at the security offered by your CMS. Having your site hacked is the last thing you want, especially if e-commerce is a component of your site and you're storing sensitive client information.
Now the main problem here is that accurately judging the security features of a CMS can be pretty difficult. Now I'm betting you won't find a single CMS that doesn't list security as one of their important features. If you lack the technical expertise to test this yourself, read the user forums carefully to see if security issues are common. This is also one area where bringing in a professional will pay off in the long run. Hiring a consultant to evaluate the security level of your candidate systems, and even assisting you in setting up the security settings of your install is a good idea.
Be sure to closely examine your CMS's search capability. Search is one of the most awesome baked-in features of any CMS, and it's often the most overlooked as well. If your web site is driven by content, people need to be able find it in an intuitive manner and through multiple options. While demoing a CMS, pay attention to how well the search feature works. Is the search fast and responsive? Can you perform basic searches as well as more advanced filtered searches to help narrow down the results? How well those results displayed, and can you customize this? Dig into the documentation, and find out how the CMS indexes your content.
Does it index the entire page or just the categories? Do you need external documents like PDF and Word files indexed, and if so, do those capabilities exist? Another thing that you want to carefully explore is the code that the CMS generates when creating pages. Is it lean, standards-compliant, and accessible? Often people will look carefully at a system's feature set but pay no attention at all to the code that the CMS actually generates. Bloated code, inaccessible links and content, and coding errors can result in poor site performance, and lower page rankings on search engines.
Make sure the links are search engine friendly and don't end in long string of generating characters. At this point, there is simply no excuse for a CMS not to output clean, well-structured, standards-based HTML. If you don't see this, consider using another CMS. You should also closely examine the license you agreed to when selecting a CMS. If you're paying a license fee, this fee is often per seat, so make sure you understand how this can impact your overall cost upfront.
Proprietary CMSs also often limit what you can do with the system in terms of extending or changing the internal code. If you have a development team that plans to make changes to the system, you might be agreeing to a license that prevents you from doing that. You should also explore the license even if you're using a so-called open-source CMS. Well, many of these are covered under the very generous new General Public License, there are many, many licenses that are considered open source that have varying degrees of restrictions.
Bottom line, understand what you are and what you're not allowed to do under your license agreement and find one that works for your needs. Finally, don't overlook the documentation available for a CMS. Documentation can be sparse or often unorganized, especially with open-source content management systems. Find one that has detailed documentation that is organized and written in a style that's clear to you, or whoever will be implementing your system. Look for install or quick-start guides that will walk you through the process of becoming familiar with the system.
No matter which CMS you choose, you're going to have a learning curve that will take some time. Well-written documentation can greatly lower this learning curve and make it easier for you to handle any problems that might crop up down the line.
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