One of the most critical decisions to make when rebuilding a website is choosing the CMS technology that will underpin it. It’s a decision that will impact all of the marketing department, subject matter experts, and IT staff of an organization. They’ll likely interact with this system every day for as long as a decade. Sounds like a big deal, right?
Ten years ago, most websites could only be edited by programmers or with tools like Microsoft FrontPage or Adobe Dreamweaver. The state of the art has improved greatly in the last decade with the rise of Content Management Systems (CMSs), which allow any person who can view a website to edit a website.
The most popular CMS is WordPress, which we covered in an article last month. However, WordPress isn’t the best solution for a lot of websites, and there are a lot of other options to choose from—by our estimates at least 50 CMSs have an installed base of 200,000 websites!
We at iFactory are technology agnostic: we have launched sites on 13 different CMSs in the past three years. We are dedicated to having our clients’ desires dictate the technology rather than the reverse. Indeed, often we are asked to compare CMSs and recommend a solution for our clients. That gives us a sense of the different options and the situations where we advocate one CMS over another. Read on to see our recommendations.
Our Favorite Open Source CMS
Our favorite open source CMS is Drupal. We find that for a website that requires significant custom development, Drupal has the most flexible and the most stable architecture to build on. We prefer Drupal to other open source CMSs, such as WordPress, Joomla, TYPO3, etc.
What does open source mean? It means that the code that runs the CMS is available to read, change, and repurpose. Often times, it also means that the code has been written by programmers from around the world with different priorities, which leads to the system being extremely modular and able to adapt to different uses. Basically, if there’s something you don’t like about the CMS, it might be easy to change or it might be hard to change, but it’s always possible to change. Open source also means that you’re not locked into one vendor—there will always be people who can host or modify your Drupal site.
In addition, Drupal has enterprise-level security, scales well to many users, can be employed as a decoupled system, and has a very large community of developers expanding the features of the system in a sensible and secure way.
For many websites—if not most—Drupal is a great choice.
Our Favorite Licensed CMSs
Many of our higher education clients do not have technical staff, do not require the flexibility of an open source CMS, and are looking for a CMS that out-of-the-box has many features and is easy to use. In these cases we tend to recommend OmniUpdate OU Campus or TerminalFour Site Manager. We have long-standing partnerships with both CMS vendors and have successfully launched sites with both. OmniUpdate and TerminalFour do a great job for their clients, launching full-featured, easy-to-use websites quickly and inexpensively. Cascade Server would fit in this category as well.
If you’re making a small website or one that needs to be launched quickly without much custom development, WordPress is a great option, but so are Squarespace and Weebly. All three are inexpensive and can be made to look attractive. Additionally, all three can be launched without a domain name, external hosting, or custom development.
If there are developers in your organization who have experience with .NET development or your technical environment is based on Microsoft technology, you may want to consider a .NET CMS. We have launched successful projects on DNN (formerly DotNetNuke), Ektron, Kentico, SharePoint, Sitecore, and Sitefinity. DNN and Ektron are rarely used these days and SharePoint is not exactly a CMS, so we would recommend Kentico, Sitecore, or Sitefinity for a .NET project.
Our most recent Kentico project was Colorado State University College of Business; our most recent Sitecore project was Community College of Baltimore County; and our most recent Sitefinity project was New England Law.
The previous four sections cover the most frequent CMSs that we see, but there are still quite a few more. We have completed development or worked with clients who were using specialized systems like eZ Publish, HubSpot, or Spotlight on Blacklight; large enterprise systems like Adobe Experience Manager, Episerver, or OpenText (formerly RedDot); other systems like Craft CMS, ExpressionEngine, Ingeniux, or Plone; or homegrown systems created by our clients or by other vendors.
Choosing to build your website on a Content Management System is the best practice on today’s web, and the choice of which CMS to use is based on the website being built and the organization building it. There are great choices out there. If you need any help selecting one, feel free to give us a call!
Ben Guaraldi is a Solutions Architect with iFactory. He loved computers before it was cool and learned four versions of Basic before falling in love with Perl. When he’s not coding or helping folks navigate the ever-more-complex digital landscape, he makes movies about Quakers and plays sick tunes on his baritone ukulele.