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I’m often asked which content management system (CMS) is best? Choosing a CMS can be challenging and there are many considerations.

At Visible Logic we find that we are developing web sites in a number of different CMS platforms. We have used WordPress, ExpressionEngine, and Joomla extensively, and have a project that is just getting started that will be developed in Drupal. In addition, we have worked with developers on fully custom-built tools.  Therefore, we are using many of the major content management tools that are available.

WordPress vs. Joomla vs. ExpressionEngine vs. Drupal

Our top 3 considerations when recommending a content management system

There are a number of considerations that go into helping us determine which platform we will develop in. But these can be boiled down to these three key questions:

  1. What are the major components and content of the site? Pages, blogs, forums, calendars, news listings, portfolios, photos, e-commerce capabilities, etc. What type of content will the web site display? Will it have a login area for content only available to certain users?
  2. What are the functional requirements of the site? The content may be presented in a fairly page-centric way, which is very straightforward. Or there may be content or data that needs to be triggered by date or by the user’s login information, etc. Are there databases, APIs, or other software tools that need to integrate with the web site?
  3. Who will be updating the site and what is their comfort level with computers and the web? Frequently we have a handful of key personnel who get trained to use whichever CMS we develop. They are willing to invest some time into learning the platform and understanding the tools. Other times, it may be just a business owner and he or she may be short on time and/or not very comfortable on the computer. In that case, we want to make sure we are creating a very easy-to-use tool. One of the key benefits of a content management system is the ability to update your web site yourself, but if you don’t understand how to use the tool you’ll either avoid making updates or end up paying someone to make them for you.

The bottom line for us is that the CMS needs to be able to handle the content and functionality demands, and still be usable by our clients.

You’ll notice that design needs are not addressed in the above considerations. It is our strong belief that design should remain separate from the content management tool. Our short list of preferred platforms will adapt to whatever design solution we think is best. As long as you have talented developers working with the tools (and we do) worries about compromising the design are not part of the question.

How do we choose?

In general, our clients and potential clients do not have a Content Management System picked out when they ask us for an estimate, although it occasionally happens. Rather, they are looking for our expertise in helping them to select the right tool.

The reality is that there is no magic bullet CMS. Usually more than one tool could get the job done.

  • WordPress: If you expect to have frequent, small changes WordPress offers an editing platform that is not intimidating and has been compared to working in Microsoft Word. If you plan to have a blog, it is arguably the most popular and widely used blogging platform available. The presentation of content is generally what we call “page based” which works for many marketing types of small business web sites. Because of the simplicity of the tool, WordPress sites can be set up quite quickly, but do have the potential to handle more robust expansions.
  • Joomla: Compared to WordPress, the capabilities of Joomla allow for less of a page-focused presentation of information. If you want to be able to easily present different content types and have content in more than one place on the site without maintaining that content in duplicate forms, Joomla makes that easy. We find the learning curve is steeper with Joomla, but once people spend time with the tool they like the more robust functionality of it.
  • ExpressionEngine: ExpressionEngine is not free, but the low licensing fee is generally not a a show stopper. In addition to handling regular page-based content it can easily expand to host a blog and a forum. Because ExpressionEngine is a paid product some people feel the support is superior to open source choices.
  • Drupal: Drupal is extremely flexible with the type of content it can handle, which makes it a great choice for complex projects but may be overkill and potentially more costly for smaller, more simple sites.

At Visible Logic, we’ve made a decision to use the best tool for each web site and not limit ourselves to only one platform. We do some development work directly in-house and have built great relationships with development partners such as Dunkirk Systems and Transit ID for more complex work. With that combination of resources we can offer the best solution for each individual client or project.

We have a full arsenal of tools at our disposal. And we find that we add value to web design and development projects with our ability to help our clients sort through the choice of a content management system.

Universal choices

We prefer to use tools that are widely available and economical. With so many free open-source tools and low-cost options there is nearly always a way to develop your web site without having to pay large upfront or recurring software fees.

We also want to ensure that our clients “own” their web site and its content. That is why we would never recommend a tool that essentially leaves you at the mercy of an outside vendor. Using open-source and other commonly used tools, we are able to promise to our clients that should something happen to us (God forbid) someone else could step in and take over the site. We also have enough confidence in our work to bet that our clients won’t go elsewhere unless something does happen to us.

How did you choose your CMS? Did you do your own research, or did your web designer or developer help you with the decision?

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