Oops! … 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a CMS

Posted: May 14, 2015

Matt Walters Chief Services Officer

Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein. If there is one thing we can learn from the stories of people who accomplish extraordinary feats, it’s that failure might be the world’s greatest teacher. It’s not just that we learn specific lessons about the thing we failed at (though that’s certainly part of it) – it’s that failure itself is instructive.

Failure implies we tried something. We exercised some creativity and initiative. We took a risk, staking our confidence and our resources on an endeavor that was never guaranteed to succeed. Also, failure hurts, and the pain of it ensures that the lessons we learn are lasting. As an old baseball coach of mine would say, “that’s character-building stuff right there.”

One of the most painful mistakes we often see institutions make involves a critical decision at the start of a website redesign project: the choice of a CMS.

Your CMS selection can have significant long-term implications for your website’s success or failure, influencing everything from your website’s information architecture, design and development to the ease of use for your content contributors, the strength of your marketing infrastructure and the reach of your governance plan.

Given that the CMS selection should happen relatively early in the redesign process, it can be tempting to make your decision too quickly, without enough information or for the wrong reasons. However, making the wrong choice can cost thousands of dollars worth of time and money, the sting of which you won’t soon forget.

Factors That Should NOT (solely) Influence Your CMS Decision

Character-building and baseball aside, some lessons are better learned the easy way. In that spirit, here are five motivating factors that should NOT (solely) influence your CMS choice. If you find yourself or your team saying any of the following during your CMS selection meetings, you may be flirting with a mistake of epic proportions:

1. “The school down the road uses this CMS and it works great for them.”

A good reference from a friend or colleague in your industry can go a long way, but it should be one among several considerations that influence your decision. Every CMS is different, just like every organizational culture, every team, every set of goals is different. Choose the CMS that best aligns with your goals and your strategies, rather than assuming what works for another school will automatically work for you.

2. “We’re not sure how the marketing team plans to utilize the website, but the tech guys are really high on this CMS, so let’s go with that.” – OR – “We’re not sure if our tech team has the capacity to support this CMS, but the marketing folks love it, so let’s go with that.”

Far too many institutions think of the CMS as just the “back-end” of the website, the property and domain of the technology team. We often see instances where a technology team picks a CMS that has all sorts of amazing tech features but, for whatever reason, isn’t well-suited to serve the marketing team’s goals for engaging target audiences. Likewise, allowing the marketing team to pick a CMS that provides for a robust marketing infrastructure but that the technology isn’t prepared to service (or one that doesn’t integrate well with other systems the institution already depends on) can be a critical mistake. The bottom line: allowing any one group to make the selection in a silo is dangerous. Seek collaborative input from all the key players before making your choice.

3. Mike, the guy downstairs who’s been here for years, has tons of experience with this CMS.

As self-evidently dangerous as this may seem in theory, you might be surprised how tempting it can be to make a decision based on a single individual (or group of individuals’) background, expertise or personal preference. Still, your website (and the CMS that supports it) will should ideally outlast the tenure of any particular individual on your team. Make the right choice for your school and your audiences, not for any one member of your team.

4. “At a conference last week, I had a drink with the sales rep from ______, and he was just so nice. If he’s any indication, they’ll be fantastic to work with. We should definitely go with that CMS.”

Just as we encourage our clients to consider VisionPoint alongside other potential marketing partners before making the right choice, it’s always a good idea to vet any one CMS company’s sales pitch against what other companies say and what your research turns up. When you have opportunities to meet with CMS sales reps, by all means, have the conversation. Ask good, specific questions. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming that any one interaction at a conference is proof that a certain CMS perfectly suits your needs. With a decision as important as your CMS selection (or your integrated marketing partner, for that matter), you want to know you’ve considered multiple options and you’re making the best possible choice.

5. “We can afford a high dollar CMS (this year), so let’s go with that one.” — OR — “We could never afford a high dollar CMS, so let’s just go with one of the free, open source ones.”

Your budget is one of the most important considerations when choosing a CMS. Enterprise CMS options vary widely in cost, and there is no direct correlation between cost and quality. In other words, just because one CMS seems more expensive than another (we say “seems” because of this article) doesn’t mean it will automatically be a better fit for your organization. If you’re in the rare position of having the budget capacity to afford one of the more expensive CMS solutions, still do your homework with an open mind. You may find that there are advantages to choosing a powerful open source (and free) CMS and using your resource capacity to staff a team that’s qualified to get the most out of that CMS.

On the other hand, if your budget is limited, it’s tempting to immediately turn to one of the many free and open source CMS options without considering enterprise solutions. That could be a mistake, especially if you don’t currently have the internal expertise to fully utilize the CMS long-term. For schools with limited budgets, it can be both wise and comforting to invest in an enterprise CMS with a company of support personnel ready to train your employees, troubleshoot your issues and help you make the most of your website.

Lessons Learned

The bottom line is that no matter which CMS you choose, selecting a CMS is an investment into the strength and vitality of your website and your organizational culture. It’s a decision that should be made early, but not quickly and definitely not for the wrong reasons. There are dozens of considerations that should factor into your decision, the most important of which are your specific marketing, business and website-related goals and the strategies you plan to employ to achieve them.

We’ve consulted with numerous schools in selecting the right CMS for them and would love to talk with you if you’re on the brink of such a momentous decision. To learn more about the CMS selection process, check out this blog or reach out to us at info@visionpointmarketing.com.