4 technical things you should know about CMSVegard Ottervig on
On the lookout for a new and better CMS? Here are some technical considerations you should make, including installation, search, modularity, and support.
When choosing a CMS there are also somewhat more technical aspects to consider, best left in the competent hands of your organisation’s developers or IT department. Let’s first dive into a logical starting point: installation.
Are your digital experiences lacking? Make sure you at least have the right CMS:
1. Install and upgrade wizards
Whenever you are going to install a new piece of software, you stand before two choices:
- Download, install and configure the files manually
- Download, install and configure the files more or less automatically, with a so-called “wizard”
A wizard, also known as a setup assistant, is a form of program with a user interface that presents a user, that is you, with a sequence of dialogue boxes leading you through a series of well-defined steps. Tasks and processes that may be complex, rarely executed, or unfamiliar are usually easier to perform with the help of a wizard.
Depending on how tech-savvy your team and/or organisation is, consider if you need a wizard for installing and, more importantly, upgrading your CMS in an easy and safe matter.
Most of the time, your developers or IT department will be the ones responsible for managing installation and upgrading your chosen CMS, but as this may not apply to every organisation, it is well worth to consider this aspect when looking for a new content management system.
A wizard might also be used for other tasks than installing and upgrading your CMS. For instance, tutorials and the creation of new articles, uploading new images, etc. can be made easier with a wizard. As always, what you need is up to you, and there are no universal rules for when you should opt in for a wizard – it all depends on the context.
2. Modularity and extensibility
We all love Lego: Who doesn’t admire the ability to build whatever you want, from castles and ships to trains and robots, all based on simple modules – literal building blocks. The open-ended and modular nature of Lego is what gives the toy brand its freedom and appeal, and every CMS or software in general should learn from the Danish firm and make their products and solutions with the same principle.
A great CMS should be modular by its nature. This means that you ought to be able to add, remove and change whatever element you want from the content management system, of course within reason. A CMS should provide you, or more likely your developers, with a framework that enables you to create exactly what you want, either if it’s a website, intranet, mobile app, or a combination.
Some CMSs primarily aimed toward people outside of the programmer environment solve the quest of modularity by providing a foundation, then opening for third-party plugins that fulfill whatever you desire. However, plugins do pose a security problem in the form that they add several new gates at your CMS stronghold – which malevolent invaders know to exploit.
An alternative to plugins are verified marketplaces, where users and developers alike can browse and install applications, libraries, and starter kits that are approved by the CMS vendor, just like Google Play or Apple’s App Store. This might prove a more secure option than third-party plugins with weaknesses that can be exploited. Also, libraries and starter kits are meant for developers to speed up the development of your digital experiences, making it both a tailored and safe solution, as it was made “in-house”.
Whatever your choose as your CMS, make sure it’s modular friendly and that you can extend it by need, say, if your organisation’s portfolio grows and you need to build upon your existing website or expand to apps.
3. Search, index, and retrieval
You might have noticed that many a website features a search field … for searching among the various pages and other content on the domain. No surprises there, but the search function is actually an important one, as it makes it easy for both your visitors and your own team to easily find content that is not readily available in the menu. With a search tool you should be able to decide what content shows on the result page and in what form. For instance, you can decide to display only pages and not images, PDFs and other content, or you can choose to include all content types.
Search is not only for “external” purposes like this, but also for “internal” purposes, i.e. searching in the CMS itself. When you are looking for a previously uploaded image to your article or are looking for a specific asset, the internal search will help you in your quest. Also, a great search and database function, like for instance Elasticsearch, makes it easy for your system to retrieve and use various code and content, across levels and tags.
Find out more: How Norway Post built their search function with Enonic XP »
Indexing and retrieval are topics that are closely related to search and database. In technical terms, a database index can be said to be a data structure that improves the speed of data retrieval operations in a database table at the cost of additional writes and storage space to maintain the index data structure. Or said in layman’s terms: indexes are used to quickly locate data without having to search every row in a database every time. This makes searching faster and less demanding for the system.
Retrieval is the obtaining of data from a database management system, with a structured and non-ambiguous presentation of the data. In order to retrieve the desired data the user presents a set of criteria by a query, and then the database management system selects the demanded data from the database. Retrieved data may be viewed on the screen, stored in a file, or printed. Queries are managed by query languages, such as “structured query language” (SQL).
These technical aspects of a CMS may be hard to fathom for humans of flesh and bone, but they are nonetheless specifications that your developers love to consider when your organisation will decide for a CMS. Having a cursory knowledge about the topic is therefore an advantage for both you and your organisation.
4. Service and support
Oh, that feature didn’t work as you expected? Or that nifty function that were present as late as yesterday are now nowhere to be found? Or you’ve encountered a plain, old bug in the system? These are daily occurrences in the world of digital experiences, and they will happen to you sooner or later in your CMS, no matter the size, price and scope of it, just like you sooner or later will get the flu in real life.
The question is: Who will fix the bug? If you work for a large-scale, international enterprise, you probably have a dedicated support team somewhere that will solve your troubles, some hours or days after going through the tickets treadmill. If you work alone, you must go through support forums or search for the right documentation. Or if you work in a small or medium-sized company, you might source in support from the vendor, an agency, or something else.
In either way, you better read the fine lines of any contract you’re supposed to enter with a CMS vendor or the like: This will tell you whether or not you can expect help from the cavalry if or when something goes wrong.
Choosing a supported or non-supported CMS is entirely up to you and your organisation, but you will need to consider the pros and cons of both approaches, as well as including several other factors in your equation, like pricing, availability of the support team, functionality, and safety.
If you value a cheap and easy to manage CMS, you might steer clear of a deal that includes support and technical complexities. However, most organisations value risk mitigation and custom solutions, making support and service a must. Choose wisely together with a team of stakeholders, involving IT, legal, operations, sales, and marketing.
Whether you or your developers are looking at installation, modules, search, index and retrieval, or service and support in a CMS, always keep in mind the purpose of your organisation. What are you trying to achieve, and how can these technical aspects help you reach that goal?
Frequently asked questions
What is a CMS?
How does a CMS work?
A user adds information to a database through a GUI, which are fetched by template code and published as e.g. a web page.
What types of CMS exist?
How to choose a CMS?
Consider the requirements of your organisation: your audience channels, your budget, self-hosting vs. cloud, and the UX of the CMS.