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Although they shouldn't be the sole deciding factor, comparing features of content management systems are a logical place to start when searching for the right system. Unfortunately, people often just don't know enough about the features of a CMS to make an informed decision about what to research. In this movie, I'm going to take a closer look at the core features of a CMS that you should explore when comparing systems. First, explore how a CMS controls page management. One of the most important tasks of a content management system is the creation, organization, and management of pages.
Sometimes it's easy to read through a system's feature set and just assume that the capabilities that you need for page management exist. For example, if you're looking at a CMS that's primarily a blogging system, you may have a hard time separating content into a page structure beyond the automated structure of a blog. In other cases, it might be hard to archive pages or restructure page hierarchies outside the default site structure. Think carefully about how your site will need to organize pages, manage them, and evolve over the life of the site. Any CMS you choose should be able to do this in an organized intuitive way that still fits your specific needs.
You also want to take a close look at how easy it is to add and modify content. How intuitive is the content editor? Is it something that clients of other team members can use intuitively. Or will it require a good deal of training before people can comfortably add content? If you need to upload content, such as images, media, HTML snippets, or other documents, how are those processes handled? Now, ideally they should be simple and should always give you options for organizing or structuring the content as it's added.
That leads me to another important feature, asset management. If your site has specific needs regarding images, video, audio, or multiple document types, you need to carefully research how a CMS manages those assets. In some cases, asset management is either rudimentary or nonexistent. Now for some sites, that's fine. However, if you need to manage PDFs, Word documents, or other document types, and make those files available to users, make sure your CMS can do this in a way that meshes with your requirements.
If you can upload assets, can you also add metadata and categorizations that make those assets easier to find and manage? Does the system have the ability to add alt tags and address other accessibility concerns? If you're building image galleries, are there automated processes for creating thumbnails and organizing images by type. Digging into these capabilities will help you ensure that you won't be working with a system that limits your abilities. Now from a design standpoint, explore how the CMS works with templates or themes. If you're a designer, you're going to want a system that allows you to easily customize the presentation of your pages.
In a larger organization, it might be more important to limit the amount of access users have to the presentation layer. In some cases, CMSs make it difficult to have multiple layouts or to switch from one layout to another. Look for systems that separate the presentation layer and generate clean, well-structured HTML that you can access and change. If you're not a designer, look for a CMS that has a large number of customizable templates or themes, and for a system that makes it simple to migrate from one theme or template to another. If you're going to have a team of content creators working on your site, take a good look at the CMS's ability to create user groups and assign roles and permissions to them.
Now, too often, CMS implementations fail because organizations have to fit their workflow into a system's limited abilities. Make sure that you pick a CMS that allows you to work as your organization will work naturally. In many cases, this might be as simple as having authors and editors, in others, this may require staging points where content is approved before publishing and includes complex roles that control this process. In short, know your team, know your processes, and find a CMS that can make them seamless.
Finally, you may want to explore whether the system you're looking at can handle multiple web sites from a single installation. For a designer, this would allow you to run and manage client web sites without needing to do a new install for every site. This can make updating installations, adding modules, and extending capabilities for your sites much easier, since you'd only have to do it once. In the case of an organization, you may want to run the company's intranet, mobile site, or a smaller branded web site from the same CMS installation. This feature is not as common in CMSs as other features, so you should carefully consider whether or not this is something that you might need now or in the future.
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