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Selecting the right CMS and digital experience platform for your website

  • By 3chillies

What is the right content management system (CMS) or digital experience platform (DXP) for your website and your organisation? This is not necessarily a straightforward decision, or one that should be made lightly. You can expect to be working with your technology platform for between three to five years, or perhaps even longer, and it’s something your digital team will be using every day. You want to make the right choice.

You also want to make sure you are working with the platform that suits your particular needs; there is no perfect solution that will be a good fit for every organisation. One organisation may be successfully using WordPress, another Sitecore and another Umbraco; in fact, there are some 3Chillies customers who use more than one platform for different websites.

Customers sometimes ask us what criteria they need to consider when deciding on the right CMS or DXP. In this post, we’re going to list some of the key attributes to look for.

  1. User experience
  2. From the outset, a key requirement will be whether the CMS or DXP you introduce can deliver the kind of user experience you want to achieve for your website or digital project. Given the maturity of many platforms, the answer to this will usually be “yes”, but in our experience, most teams who evaluate a platform want to see some examples of output.

  3. Platform features mapped to your requirements
  4. You’re likely to have a set of detailed requirements for your website or digital project, with an idea of the core features your CMS or DXP will need to support. These can range from just a core CMS, to an e-commerce engine, to forms and workflow, to personalisation, as well as a range of other digital marketing and content management solutions such as a digital asset management (DAM) solution. The suitability of your platform will depend on it possessing the feature set to meet your requirements.

    This is not always straightforward, however, as you can often rely on another solution – such as an independent DAM platform – to meet requirements; if a DXP doesn’t include a particular feature, it might not rule it out. Here, carrying out a MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have) process can support a platform evaluation.

  5. Admin experience
  6. A fundamental aspect of any CMS or DXP evaluation and selection should be the administrator and publisher experience. This is fundamental, but is not always given the prominence it deserves. Fundamentally, most teams want a solution that is relatively easy to use. This is important when you have administrators and editors who are inexperienced and lack confidence using a CMS, and becomes even more critical if you have a decentralised content community who are contributing to the CMS on an occasional basis and are probably not marketers.

    A system that is very difficult to use makes it harder to take a sustained or scaled approach to decentralised publishing without extensive support from the central team.

  7. Costs
  8. Costs are always going to be a significant factor for any platform-related decision. Here, it’s important to go beyond just licensing costs, and look at the total cost of ownership too. Are there any other investments you’ll need to make because of your choice of platform? What are the hosting, maintenance and support costs? What will the implementation costs be? Are there extra development costs? Do you need to recruit any additional roles or procure extra services from your agency because of your platform choice? Are there any upcoming costs further down the road, such as an upgrade? Do the costs considered over three years make this a viable choice, if the costs are high in year one?

    There are many variables to consider, but looking at all the associated costs beyond just the first year will help you make a more informed choice.

  9. Your existing platform
  10. Your existing platform can have a huge influence on your next platform choice. You may have fallen out of love with your existing platform and desperately want a change, are looking for an upgrade or are trapped in a licensing agreement so you’re effectively stuck with what you have.

    One thing to bear in mind, particularly if you want to avoid your existing platform at all costs, is that this may be to do with the way your existing CMS or platform is configured, or the version of it you are using. There may be configurations or upgrades that can completely change the way you use your current platform, and your perceptions of it.

  11. Security and compliance
  12. Security, compliance and regulatory issues are often a deal-breaker in any platforming decision. If your CMS or DXP doesn’t meet the standards of your IT function or compliance team, it will be a non-starter, so involving the right people and performing some early due diligence on any technology decision can save a lot of time further down the line.

    Security and compliance for a website can span a range of different variables, from the granularity of admin rights to which territory your data resides in. It can also entail working with other security and compliance solutions which provide an extra layer that reduce risks.

  13. Licensing and contract arrangements
  14. Licensing arrangements for DXP and CMS solutions generally tend to gravitate towards more flexible cloud-based SaaS options, with less lock-in than the older multi-year licensing options. Here, open-source solutions provide a different model.

    The flexibility and granularity of licensing across different offerings can be a factor in any technology decision. For example, is there an offering or licensing arrangement that allows you to pay for just the features you need, or do you need to also pay for features that you are unlikely to ever use or are probably largely aspirational? Do the licensing options offer the ability to easily add new features to expand your offering if required? What are the exiting options?

  15. PaaS, SaaS and hosting arrangements
  16. Another factor for your DXP or CMS will be the basis on which you access the platform – it could be on a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Software-as-a-Service basis (SaaS). There will also be a range of hosting options – it could be a more managed service provided by the vendor or it could be hosted on Azure or AWS. You might have special security, regulatory or compliance needs that need to be taken into account, here.

  17. Support and maintenance options
  18. Having the right support and maintenance contract is essential This may well come from your digital agency, but can also come directly from your vendor. Here, there are some practicalities to consider, not only around the details of any SLA and the costs, but also their time-zone and the way they communicate with you.

  19. Speed of implementation
  20. The speed at which you need to implement your digital project will have a significant bearing on your chosen technology solution. For example, a new enterprise-wide digital experience platform like Sitecore might not be your platform of choice if you need to launch a site in the next two weeks. Here, a more agile solution like Umbraco might be a better fit, or even an accelerator platform like Umbraco Uno.

  21. Team preferences
  22. Although it shouldn’t be the overarching or defining element which dictates your technology decision, the existing experiences and preferences of the team who are going to be using your platform every day are important. Their buy-in and input can help you reach the right decision, and if you’re introducing something they already know how to use, this can give you a head start. Introducing a solution that your team already hates might lead to a few “interesting” conversations!

  23. Partner network and development
  24. If you don’t have an existing digital agency, it’s always worth considering any existing partner networks, or the development resources which will be available for you to deliver your project. The major digital experience platforms like Sitecore and Optimizely have extremely broad and mature global partner networks, while an open-source solution like Umbraco has both a large partner network and a fiercely loyal development community. This only tends to be an issue with an obscure or new CMS or DXP, where you may end up being reliant on a particular agency or limited developer pool which can push up costs and risks.

  25. Existing digital agency experience
  26. You might already have a preferred digital agency, or one that you have partnered up with before. Depending on your relationship, the level of experience they have with a particular platform can certainly be a factor in your technology decision. For example, our work tends to focus on three leading platforms – Sitecore, Umbraco and Optimizely – that provide different options for our clients, as well as the ability to deliver excellent websites. We have deep knowledge and expertise across all three.

  27. Vendor 
  28. The suitability of the vendor of your software can also influence your buying decision. There may be certain criteria that any vendor needs to pass, and you might also be looking at elements such as financial independence. For example, you don’t want your solution to be acquired, but its future to be unsure (although an acquisition can also be positive.) If you are relying on the vendor for support and you will have a lot of contact, then the chemistry and “vibes” you get from the vendor team may also be a factor. Testimonials from existing customers can be a good indication of reliability, here.

  29. Roadmap 
  30. The future roadmap of your technology platform is also a consideration. Is there a good release cadence? Is it clear the vendor is investing in the platform? Are there upcoming features that align with your own plans? Do customers have any influence on the feature roadmap and backlog?

  31. Compatibility with your MarTech stack
  32. Another key attribute for your preferred solution must be its compatibility with the rest of your MarTech stack. Does it integrate with your CRM system? Will it harmonise with your ecommerce solution? Does it work with your analytics package? If you’re also working towards a more best-of-breed ecosystem – sometimes called a composable DXP – or want to work with a headless solution, then the compatibility issue becomes more important.

  33. Apps and tools ecosystem
  34. Some DXPs and CMSs will come with an ecosystem of apps and tools that can extend the functionality of the platform and provide further options for the future. This can sometimes be a factor if a team wants to extend a solution to a wider range of features going forward. Some platforms also offer their platform as a series of microservices, allowing you to effectively add apps to your stack as you go.

  35. Flexibility and scalability
  36. Depending on your website needs, you want to make sure your platform is suitably flexible and scalable to meet elastic changes in demand, facilitate future projects and support the necessary agility levels.

Selecting the right technology for your website

There are a lot of functional and non-functional requirements to consider in any platforming decision related to your next website or digital project. If you’d like to discuss which technology is right for you, then get in touch!

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