1. Technology

How to Choose the Best CMS for Your Website

There are Many Content Management Systems to Choose From

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stacks of CDs

Many websites look like these CDs--hundreds of pages just put anywhere in any pile. At least they're neatly stacked, right?

Image courtesy Snap Decision / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Often, when trying to decide what applications to use on your web server, price is the first thing most people think of as a deciding factor, but I don't agree. Price is, of course, important, but you can pay thousands of dollars and not get the features you need, or you can pay nothing and get features that are useless to you. Choosing a good CMS should be more than about how much it costs. 

What Features I'm Looking For in a CMS

  • Dynamic, database driven
  • Runs on Linux with Apache
  • Supports multiple authors
  • Supports access control (authors can only edit certain areas)
  • Allows plugins and other additions to the code beyond what the base software supports
  • Provides templating that is completely customizable
  • Supports HTML5 and CSS templates

I've done a lot of research on different CMS tools. One of the first things I did was eliminate software sources that were more expensive than powerful enterprise CMS like Interwoven TeamSite and Documentum. Those tools are powerful and much beyond what a small personal site and small business would need.

Nukes

There is a CMS for portals called a "Nuke" that many small businesses use. I looked at these first, because they are very common. But Nukes work by putting content into blocks and putting the blocks on the page. What I noticed in looking at sites that use Nukes is that they all seem to look essentially the same (Header and 3-column main body). Since I want my site to have a layout that fits with my style, and is not limited to what the CMS dictated, I knew that I didn't want a Nuke.

Blog Tools

Then, I thought, because I was using MovableType before, I would look at some blog tools. After all, if I could use a blog CMS originally, then perhaps I could use a new blog CMS now. But blog tools have a very specific use - creating weblogs. I run much more than a weblog on my site - I have a photo gallery and a news site and my resume and other things. So, while Bloxsom and other blog tools are great, they don't meet my needs.

Finding the Perfect CMS

I realized that I couldn't just go randomly scattershot to various sites looking at CMS tools. Instead, I decided to form a prioritized list of my requirements. This would include what I do currently with my site, as well as the things that I want to do.

I've narrowed my search down to four:

  1. WordPress
  2. b2evolution
  3. drupal
  4. typo3

They all seem to have the functionality that I want, so now I need to install them on my test bed and try them out. Since they are all offered under Gnu Public License, I can test them wilthout spending any money. And once I've tested them, I'll know which one I want to use as my next CMS.

If you're looking for a CMS for your business or personal Web site, I recommend the following three steps to make sure you find what you want:

  1. Determine your requirements for the CMS. Be as inclusive as you can, and be sure to rank the priorities. I actually ranked them in two ways: first the priority and second the urgency. That way if I couldn't find a CMS that fit all of them I would be able to determine the priorities.
  2. Find as many CMS tools as you can to evaluate. Do your best to evaluate them. I used the Web sites, documentation about the tools, forums and support boards, and Google searches to do my research.
  3. Narrow it down to a small number that you can afford to evaluate on your own system. If you've included commercial tools, then talk to their sales team about getting an evaluation copy. If you've included GPL or other freeware and downloadable versions, then install them on some location on your server so that you can test them in your home environment.

I expect to take between one and two months to decide which system I want to use. It's not worth rushing.

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