Selecting a CMS based on... user needs

How to select a Content Management System based on user needs instead of just technology capabilities.

Selecting a CMS based on... user needs

How to select a Content Management System based on user needs instead of just technology capabilities.

If plumbers designed buildings, it wouldn't be hard to imagine that everything would look like the Centre Pompidou. The pipes and all their glory would be on full display and easily accessible if anything was to go wrong. Yet, while the Pompidou is an architectural marvel for its brutalist approach to pushing the inside out, it’s wonderful for its uniqueness. When it comes to selecting user-facing technology, such as for a Content Management System, it’s almost always the technologist who has the largest say in the direction. This isn't to say the technologies are just plumbers but often their perspective carries the most weight in the conversation. These platforms may boast a wide array of features, they also carry an equal amount of bloat.

The selection of a CMS for an organization can be challenging, but the process for choosing doesn’t have to be complicated. The key: focusing on user needs and how the system can empower users to meet those needs.

Pompidou Building in Paris, France


User-Focused CMS Selection Process:

1. Define the users and the problem(s) they need to solve.

2. Create a CMS feature matrix.

3. Refine the list to a limited set and create a series of CMS prototypes.

4. Evaluate the prototype experience against the users’ needs.


1) Define the users and the problem they need to solve.

To start, we want to answer three questions: (1) Why does the content exist? (2) How does it need to be managed? (3) What are the systems we need to integrate and support long term? Inside of each question we also need to consider the overall user experience, which has implications to everything from how authors will create articles and how the design team will create the presentation layer, to how site structure is able to react to market changes and what will need to be considered with regard to long-term technology support.

Why does the content exist?

Individual as Users

The first, most fundamental question looks at the task the content fulfills for users and the organization. Why do we have content in the first place? What’s its purpose and what do we want our users to get out of it or do with it?

How does it need to be managed?

Organization as User

Next, we want to understand the organizational considerations. This includes looking at existing cross-departmental skills and how we might need to define new skills to work with new platforms. Additionally (and most importantly) we want to look at the total cost of ownership. This includes everything from the initial build and license to maintenance and speed to market.

What are the systems we need to integrate and support long term?

Systems as User

Finally, we want to outline the needs of our non-human users. This includes considering how the content needs to work with LMC, CRM or other marketing technology systems.

2) Create a CMS feature matrix.

The list of choices will naturally start to narrow based on the above user needs. The next step is to gather a cross-product list of features. The key here is to not merely skim the surface and include just a binary “has the feature/doesn’t have the feature,” designation, but instead start to define the characteristics of the features themselves.

3) Refine the list to a limited set and create a series of CMS prototypes.

In other words, we’ll trust the feature matrix, but want to verify the validity of the platforms’ marketing claims. We have read enough marketing technology copy to be wary of claims without seeing them in action. Additionally, we have never encountered a perfect, one-size-fits-all solution for any platform. The considerations for a total technology stack are as unique as a fingerprint (and then multiplied by user type).

4) Evaluate the prototype experience against the users’ needs.

At the beginning of the process we identify a core team of cross-discipline representatives and one product owner. This allows us to facilitate a conversation around the needs of the users as they relate to their individual missions and how the systems can empower them.

We walk these representatives through periodic demos and then gather their feedback for the final recommendation. Taken together, all of it forms a map that we can objectively use to evaluate the total needs, opportunities and concessions of each CMS.

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Edgar Allan is an agency in Atlanta, Georgia, that focuses on digital products. We see great products as the intersection of the brand and user story. If you would like to hear more drop us a line.