This essay was originally sent as an email newsletter on April 15, 2021 with the subject line "CT No. 77: How to choose a CMS" and a review of best-for-small-business website builder Squarespace.
So you want to build a website, app, intranet or other digital content product? You're gonna need a content management system (CMS).
In other phases of my career, CMS has stood for Chicago Manual of Style or the Center for Medicare Services. Here on The Content Technologist CMS stands for one thing only: the content management system that organizes and structures your digital presence, from entry to eventual migration.
Why do you need a CMS in the first place?
Not every website requires a CMS. If your site is under 10 pages and does not need to expand or quickly change information, you can build a static website, wherein your content is coded differently into each page. There are tons of static website builders and landing page software, as well as creative web developers, to help you build that static site.
But if you're building a website where you want to change or add information without the help of a developer, a CMS is necessary. The content management system, or your website's "back end," adds crucial structure and metadata to your content dynamically. With a CMS, it's far easier for algorithms, search engines, APIs, etc., to decipher and organize your content.
Your CMS is also why creating a website can be described as "too difficult," an opinion that elicits a massive eyeroll from content professionals (or maybe just me). Selecting and structuring a CMS requires time and care, the same type of time and care that should be put into selecting a printer for your magazine, hiring a crew for your commercial, selecting camera equipment for your social livestream, or producing and optimizing a podcast.
Professional content—no matter the medium—means considerate and intentional publishing operations. For web publishers, your content management system will support, maintain, and structure that content for your readers, as well as support monetization and data acquisition for your business.
So how do you intentionally select a CMS that supports your current and future content? Whether you're redesigning an existing website (most likely) or planning a new digital content project (lucky you), start here:
1. How much content do you have?
Volume and frequency are the biggest determiners for CMS selection. If you have an existing website, you can use this tool to determine how many pages you have.
If the your web content library is:
For paid supporters only. Upgrade to access.
Become a paid supporter to read this content. Supporters can opt in to every issue of the newsletter and always have full access a growing library of essays and instructional guides. Supporters also ensure The Content Technologist's continued publication.