How To Build The Best CMS For A News Or Publication Website

By Pete Czech

How To Build The Best CMS For A News Or Publication WebsiteNew Possibilities Group

If you are the proprietor or content manager of a business that is focused on news content or some other similar type of publication, the choice of a content management system (CMS) is critical.

Unlike many other websites that are aimed at marketing, sales, or other types of information distribution, your online presence serves one purpose: to disseminate massive amounts of content that changes on a regular basis. In this way, your CMS isn’t just what controls your website content; it controls your entire business.

In many ways, building the best CMS for your news or publication site is the most important decision you may make, as it impacts your day-to-day workflows and overall user experience.

The first thing to consider is what your current situation is. Do you already have a website? Do you already have a publishing system? If so, how much content lives there? Or are you a start-up? In this case, do you have an outlook on future plans? What growth you are planning for? What is your upfront budget and your estimated budget for ongoing help and maintenance?

In this post, we’ll look at how to build your CMS from two different common scenarios. First, we’ll look at the organization that already exists and has a CMS they are considering upgrading or replacing. Second, we’ll discuss start-up organizations that are making an initial commitment to a CMS system. These are the two most frequent case studies we see when news or publishing companies are considering updating their infrastructure.

Approach 1: Existing Website, CMS Replacement

In a lot of ways, switching from one CMS to another is a scary and frustrating experience. Website owners must consider some very important questions:

  • When you change from one system to another, will your content port easily or will the transfer of your most important assets be difficult?
  • Will your SEO rankings be impacted negatively when you make the change, or will they stabilize?
  • How many different channels do you distribute your content to?
  • Is your business committed to the workflows the previous CMS had or are you looking to customize your next CMS to meet your internal needs?
  • What were the pain points of your previous system? Was it maintenance? Security? Scalability? The ability to customize (or lack thereof)?

Based on the answers to the above questions, you can narrow down the most important concerns that must be addressed during your next CMS development project.

In some cases, an off-the-shelf platform may serve you well. It may even be a matter of simply upgrading the system that you already have in place. However, if you suffer from multiple pain points, it’s consider a change.

Pain points should ultimately drive you in your decision on the future of your content management platform. If you are experiencing difficulties with upgrades, customization, scalability, and security, chances are you have outgrown the available off-the-shelf platforms.

Remember, these off-the-shelf platforms are built for a broad audience. Your favorite restaurant probably powers its website on WordPress. Why should your entire business be pigeonholed into the same exact solution simply because the platform is ubiquitous? Is that a good enough reason to marry your business to a platform?

Ask yourself one key question: “Are our current problems the result of the particular CMS we have already in place, or are they due to our inability to customize it?”

If the answer is the latter, then what makes you think another off-the-shelf platform will solve your problem?

It’s time to seriously consider what parts of your current framework are obstructing your ability to achieve goals. This is the primary reason to change to a new system. And in considering a new platform, be prepared to think outside the box. If you are looking for complete customization and development of a valuable asset, then a custom CMS platform could be the way forward for your publication. The creation of a long-term, flexible solution that can distribute content to many channels must be considered so you can avoid a repeat of this entire process one or two years down the line.

Approach 2: Start-Up

The Internet is helping disruptive news organizations deliver their message to users in easier and faster ways than ever before. Has it ever been easier to start a media empire? Every year, more and more publications and news websites are being developed geared to a particular niche or presenting news in innovative new ways.

In developing a start-up publication, business owners and content managers need to spend significant time and effort creating a content management portal that will serve them not just in the beginning, but throughout its growth in a scalable fashion.

For the most part, starting a news or publication website from scratch is easier than converting an existing property to a new system. During the start-up phase, you can develop your own workflows for creating and managing content. You have the freedom and flexibility to utilize any number of platforms or custom build a CMS that makes sense for you. But you have to consider several factors along the way.

First, consider scalability. Many start-up news organizations simply install WordPress or Drupal since they are well-known platforms, but put zero thought into future traffic considerations. It turns out that scaling these platforms is very difficult.

Secondly, consider security. Many off-the-shelf platforms require frequent updates due to security holes that are discovered over time. Worse, they become vulnerable to attack. It’s important to spend time vetting platforms against these concerns and consider if this is a liability you want to deal with in the future. Each security update could break your customizations, resulting in fire drill after fire drill to restore previous functionality.

Who wants to worry if their content management system will break with almost no notice?

Thirdly, it’s most important you plan for the future of your company from the perspective of assets. For a publication, you have three assets: your team, your content, and your system. The largest media companies in the world are focusing heavily on technology as a large component of their acquisition plans. Do you want to make a real go of creating a valuable publishing asset? Or is it just about building out content and awareness?

Finally, will your content be distributed just on your website or to multiple channels and partners? The common CMS platforms don’t build this functionality in by default. They instead rely on plug-ins and extensions to accomplish this task. This is risky in the long run.

Common Considerations

In either of the above scenarios, there are two common and critical scenarios that must be considered.

1. Will your CMS enable you to accomplish your monetization goals without destabilizing the platform?

This is the most important point you should be worried about. We’ve seen plenty of customers approach us with a CMS that has been updated and “hacked” together to enable them to monetize properly, only to lead to technical debt or destabilization of the platform over time.

The best CMS for your news or publication site will be tailored around how you plan to create revenue. You must never, ever change your revenue plans based on the capability of your system. Remember, your business has two problems: revenue and everything else.

2. Will you dictate your workflow to your CMS or will your CMS dictate your workflow to you?

This issue arises more often than you would think, and it always starts small: a benign issue where your CMS prevents you from accomplishing X, Y or Z, which leads to a workaround. Over time, workarounds beget more workarounds, and before you know it, your workflows are held together by tape and glue.

In no other industry is it more important to build your system around your workflows than news and publication. Your CMS shouldn’t just be a website content management system, but an editorial management system as well. Most off-the-shelf platforms are not built with this in mind. And the CMS frameworks that are branded for news and publication sites oftentimes don’t consider security or scalability. Do your research.

Conclusion

In deciding how to build the best CMS for your news or publication site, the decision comes down to sacrifices. If your chief concerns are scalability, security, and customization, realize that finding all three of these in an off-the-shelf platform will be difficult. Likewise, if you are interested in longevity and creation of an asset, custom CMS solutions will be a great fit.

Ultimately, again, you have to decide what items on your wish list you can live without. If you are keen to use an open-source, off-the-shelf platform, be agile and flexible to make the solution work for you. If you want 100% of your list to be realized, custom CMS platforms will be your best bet.

At NP Group, we work with clients to determine what their goals and objectives are for any new content management system. We analyze business logistics such as revenue generation tactics and content management workflows to recommend which approach makes the best sense for customers.  In many cases, the question comes down to this: Do you consider your CMS as an asset for the company at large or simply a system modified to handle the necessary day-to-day management of your website?

If the answer is the latter, then off-the-shelf may be the way to go. However, if you are interested in developing an asset for your company that can serve you for many years to come in a methodology tailored to your organization, then a custom built CMS may be the most beneficial choice in the long run.

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