Choosing the right CMS

As the digital world rapidly evolves every day, higher ed must also evolve with it. This not only means being where your students are (online), but talking to them in the right way with the right messages. We know the majority of prospective students use a university’s website to research whether to apply, according to a Pew Research Study. But wait — before you dive into your new website, it’s imperative to first choose the right content management system (CMS). There are many things to deliberate, but here’s five initial considerations to start us down the right path:

Cost of ownership
It might seem like a no-brainer, but in the long term, cost of ownership is one of the most important things to consider when evaluating any content management system. Some systems are open-source (freely available, easy to modify and customize) and have no associated pricing to implement. Others are proprietary, and have substantial up-front costs or expensive maintenance implications. These two options alone can be overwhelming, so it’s crucial to be clear on what you want your CMS to do from the get-go.

Functionality and usability
Who internally will be responsible for managing and executing within your CMS? Who has the time and know-how? How many users will need to be trained on the platform? Knowing these answers and more before choosing a platform is vital not only to ensure the right team has input, but to assess the usability of the program in accordance to the team’s time, resources, and proficiencies. Having the right people in place from the beginning makes it possible to customize your selection to meet your specific challenges and goals.

Workflow needs
If you need publishing or approval workflows for your content creating process, it’s important to consider what processes come out of the box and how easily custom workflows can be created. Are there notifications and alerts? Can you have parallel workflows?

Editorial features
Each CMS has its own way (sometimes multiple ways) of crafting content within the interface. We’ve seen many situations where a system’s authoring and editorial features can confuse writers, so it’s important to assess what helps the team feel most comfortable editing and authoring. Is flexibility paramount, or is simplicity?

Future extensibility
Many content management systems can be easily enhanced with plug-ins for extensibility and integrations. As you plan to iterate and evolve the site over time, you’ll want to consider up front what integrations are readily available for a CMS, how easily they can be created within the system, and how this will be implemented for future growth.