Whenever I host an introductory call with a potential new client, it’s inevitable that the topic of their existing website will turn into a venting session about their content management system.
It’s actually more typical that people will hate their CMS than want to keep it. This got me to thinking about why this is.
It’s definitely true that some platforms are better than others. At NPG, we specialize in custom-built CMSs (though in some cases, we do heavily customize certain off-the-shelf platforms), so admittedly, we are biased. But regardless of what route you take and what platform you choose, we believe that with proper preparation and research, you can eliminate the risks of buyer’s remorse in the future.
So if you are in the process of choosing a content management system or developing your own, consider these common reasons why website owners end up hating theirs. Hopefully, you will be able to avoid the same pitfalls with your project.
Reason 1: You think (or thought) your CMS would give you total control.
This is the most common misconception CMS users have. Unfortunately, there is not a single CMS in the world that can give you 100% control. For that, you’d need a human being who is knowledgeable in design and development to manually code every single stitch of your site.
The Web is a complex place with many variables. Websites now have to render correctly on a plethora of devices, and there are a variety of ways to display content across those devices. There are complex user experience and user interface interactions that make total control difficult. And, of course, there is content organization and taxonomy. All of these factors put together make it very difficult to control 100% of a website via any management system.
When we sell a custom CMS, we shoot for 95% control. This means we’ll do everything in our power to make the most common content areas controllable with no technical knowledge required. We make it easy to change calls to action, organize content, or change navigation structures. All of these things can be accomplished.
But there is always the chance that complex changes will still be difficult. And there is no CMS in the world that can ever accomplish every task you could potentially throw at it.
Therefore, it is essential that anyone undergoing a CMS or website development project comes to terms with the fact that in the future, you will most likely need help to integrate new features into your website, and that help will likely come from a developer of some sort.
Your mission during your project isn’t to shoot for the non-existent ability to control all future features, but rather to garner control over as much content that you plan to change on a daily basis. You can’t predict the future and what features you will need, so don’t waste time trying to make your CMS ready to handle hypotheticals.
Reason 2: You have control, but it is difficult to use.
I believe that CMS usability—or a lack thereof, really—is often cited as a problem is because of two factors. First, there’s the lack of proper planning, which we’ll cover below. And second, because most people don’t think to care—that includes the site owners and content managers, in addition to the developers.
We often see people use multiple sets of tools to control the content on a single page. They may have a checklist or instructions provided to them by the developer, and they follow those steps one-by-one to change content. If they make a mistake, it’s hard for them to troubleshoot because they don’t quite understand how all the pieces fit together. This is a very frustrating situation for someone who just invested in a system to make their website controllable without technical knowledge.
This happens a lot because developers don’t often consider administrative workflows. The developer’s goal is to make as much controllable by a CMS as possible, and if that means simply installing a bevy of plugins to accomplish it, they will do so. They’re not necessarily worried about the content managers’ day-to-day tasks that may be encumbered. And it means that the site owner will eventual rack up tons of maintenance hours to clean up all the mistakes made in content management process.
You can avoid this by taking the time during the development cycle to focus on workflows and how content will be managed. It’s horrible to say, but oftentimes workflows will have to dictate front-end user experience and design. That’s a situation you must carefully consider, and one that may require you to make sacrifices. After all, it’s important to make sure that your website will be manageable and work within the constraints of the CMS you have chosen.
Reason 3: You let it get out of date or become obsolete.
Think about your CMS as a piece of real estate. If you ignore important maintenance tasks, you’re going to run into some pretty major problems down the line. Then you’ll be caught in a maintenance nightmare, having to catch up with many updates, upgrades, and potential compatibility problems. Worst of all, off-the-shelf software that is not kept up to date can have massive security holes, and nothing is worse than being vulnerable to attack.
If I may take the liberty to use up my cliché allowance for the week: Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Take updates seriously and you’ll avoid headaches in the future. Don’t hate a system that you didn’t keep up to date.
That being said, it’s fair to hate a system that requires too many updates, which is something you can determine via proper planning and historical analysis.
Reason 4: You didn’t plan correctly.
Measure twice, cut once. Oh, wait…that’s a cliché too, isn’t it?
As a website owner or content manager, you spend time educating yourself about your options when it comes to a CMS. You have to get a sense of the pros and cons of each platform, how they might help you achieve your goals, and how your workflows will need to adjust or be redefined by the system you chose.
You also have to vet the platforms. What does the update history look like? What are common complaints of other users? Don’t trust your developer to ever tell you all the pros or cons. The truth is, many developers don’t have the business acumen to be able to reconcile your specific business logic and requirements with how these systems work.
Furthermore, most developers are attached to a single platform. It behooves them to convince you to use it or else they may not get your business. Come to the table prepared to ask the right questions about the platforms you have vetted and prefer, and you will avoid future frustrations.
Reason 5: You don’t hate the CMS, you hate the developer.
Like any other vendor/client relationship, how you view the professional you work with will influence your decision to talk to a new agency. It can also influence your perception of how the content management system you have works.
We’ve been in many situations where a potential client says that their CMS is out of control, a “total disaster,” only to find out that it was actually a pretty good installation. In these cases, there was almost always a communication impasse that influenced the client to seek other counsel.
If you think this may be what’s going on in your situation, get a second opinion before you assume you need to rebuild. You may be sitting on a pretty good installation, in which case you can simply find a new partner to help you along the way of maintenance and upkeep.
In the end, it comes down to understanding your needs.
All of this boils down to one core issue: not seeing the Big Picture. Until you have a full sense of your day-to-day content management needs and how they might change in the near future as your website scales and grows, you can’t make an informed decision about your CMS. You may end up back in the same place you are now a year or two from now, gritting your teeth every time you have to update the content on your site, unsure of where you went wrong.
Hopefully, this list has provided some perspective of what you might be missing. Once you understand what you need out of your website from a business perspective, you can start to consider what you will need out of your CMS. And with luck and a lot of research, you’ll be able to pick a solution that you actually love.