Choosing a New Small Business CMS: A Digital Strategist Solves Her Own Problems
Last week I groaned and admitted that I need to redesign my website, sooner rather than later. The last design from 4 years ago really isn’t hitting the professional spot where I’d like my web presence to be. My internet aesthetic ideal has evolved. My business has completely evolved.
Most of the major content and SEO projects I’ve led over the past six years have involved either preparing for a redesign or cleaning up after one. Right now I have two in-progress redesigns for clients. And yes, if you ever meet me, I will earnestly say, “I love a good redesign project.” I do: I love the potential to make something new, something that users will love, a project that will fix broken taxonomies and create innovative navigation systems! A CMS that will surface the right content in a way that makes sense to users! And so many technical hurdles for which we can devise solutions! And sure, a fresh coat of paint never solves an underlying business problem, but with each redesign I see an opportunity to iterate and use the web for something new.
So why am I so annoyed that I have to redesign my own website? Shouldn’t I see it as an opportunity for web reinvention, another chance to create surprise and delight?
In pursuit of perfection: A history of CMS experimentation
My mission as a content technologist is to explore new software and tools that assist users in making amazing content. And most people are familiar with the foundation of a website, the Content Management System. At Confab a few years ago a CTO from a major hotel chain (and I truly don’t remember which one) posited, “There is no perfect CMS. There is only the right one for your situation and your needs, and even then it won’t do everything you need it to do.” It’s been guiding wisdom for me in my content tech choices ever since. However, the knowledge of a lack of CMS perfection causes immense anxiety when I’m starting a new website for myself.
I remember hard-coding websites and FTPing each .html page of my high school blog/diary onto my website. (It took so much time! I had so much time!) Even then, the advent of LiveJournal, Blogger and WordPress was a godsend to a teen blogger with a lot to share. By the time I was through college, it was super easy to spin up a blog! People were making blogs all over the place! Blogging became a word and a legitimate profession and there were tons of content management systems!
When Tumblr came along, I rolled into its ease of use. And as I built my own writing career, I moved onto WordPress because from the late 2000s until, hey, now, it has been the easiest solution for a personal website CMS. It’s easy to install, easy to whitelabel.
Today’s (and every day’s) content tech question: old faithful or the new hotness?
But professionally… I know what a content management system can be. I’ve built a fluency in really robust content management systems with lots of functionalities and customization (hi, Kentico! hi, Sitecore!). I’ve seen demos from all the new fancy headless CMSes out in the world and I see their promise. I also know that the cost of an enterprise-level future-proof CMS is far too high for my fledgling consultancy website.
I also know how slow and clunky WordPress can be. I see how slow WordPress can be on my own website (and I know there are a number of other factors for my slow site speed but I’m blaming WordPress). Even with the new writing experience… WordPress is old faithful. I know it will work, it’ll integrate with literally anything, and I will be able to construct it quickly.
And I’ve built in Squarespace. It’s sleek and svelte. But hey! It’s days of being the new kid on the block are over. I know about Wix — but the old-school FTP expert in me shakes my head at any WYSIWYG or that much promised ease-of-use. (Ease of use means fewer opportunities to customize.
But I’m a digital explorer, so is it time for me to explore something new?
My CMS dreamboat of the future
Truth be told, I have big plans for this redesign. It frightens me because I have to make decisions and commit to a solution that needs to last at least two years. For the first time, I have to account for real scale on my personal website and potentially another business website that I’ll be super cagey about telling you about.
Here’s a cagey and vague but fairly complete list of my requirements for choosing a CMS (which I will actually write out in a plan to myself because dammit, I’m going to follow my own process.
In my dreams, the authorship experience will be sleek and fast, hyper-custom but still intuitive. It won’t be too much work to identify a template that I can tweak a little bit but not too much. I am not a web designer nor a developer. I need something that’s out-of-the-box and fairly low cost. But I also know what a CMS can do, and I want all the bells and whistles I’ll need for anticipated growth. Really, I’d love to write my own chatbot scripts and develop automation flows for both art and business and have them integrate into my web CMS. I want to personalize to the extent that it makes sense for me. I am a one-woman client of my own expertise and I want to bite off as much as I can chew… but not more.
Without further ado, here are the new-to-me candidates I found from some light Google searching and the old familiars I’m looking into for this process, listed with no commentary.
Creating my own business case for a website redesign
When evaluating new technology, it’s helpful to create a rubric! As I evaluate each of these systems, I’ll be following a rubric of some sort based on the below:
- Cost: How much is this gonna set me back from a total cost of ownership standpoint?
- Resources: How much time will this take me, given that I am my own primary resource and I’m supposed to be getting clients and doing client work? And will it be creative learning time or horrible frustration time?
- Scale: Is it going to be easy to create multiple feeds of posts? Videos webapps podcasts polls and forms oh my? Can I live my content dreams with this CMS?
- Authorship: What’s the writing experience like? After all, I have to use it every day and as a writer BOY do I love simple markdown.
- Template/design options: Are there out-of-the-box templates that look good? Is design going to be challenging for me?
- Distribution: Gotta optimize for social.
- Future proof: Is this CMS going to go out of business or get swallowed up by some larger company? One day will all of the resources for this CMS just disappear?
- Security: This is a thing.
- Speed/hosting: Is this new CMS going to be lightweight to access?
- Fun: Am I going to have fun building something new?
It’ll be a journey. Yes, there’s a 50% chance I’ll go back to WordPress. But I’ll keep you posted on the decisions I’ve made and some rationale. I’ll also try to keep the frustration out of it and loop you into the fun/nerdy parts.
May 28, 2019 / Deborah Carver
Categories: Content Technology