How to evaluate a new CMS or web development platform

Question from a long-time client and friend, who runs a web agency: “I’m getting a demo of SalesForce’s new SiteForce CMS next week with a client in the SF Bay Area. In order to evaluate it properly, what questions do we need answers to? ┬áCan you please put together a list for me?

When evaluating a new CMS with no particular project or client in mind, the questions that come to mind are:

  1. Is it easy to use, can I hand it off to a non-technical client and have them update it themselves, or will it require a developer to maintain (or more like, how much can the client do themselves before they call us)
  2. What platform does it run on? (Hosted/SaaS, PHP, Ruby, etc)
  3. What functionality is available out of the box, is it focused on a particular use case or market (eCommerce, landing pages, car dealers, web applications, etc)? Are there things I can’t use the platform for?
  4. Does it provide basic CMS functionality and user authentication out of the box – how much time to spin up a new project? Will I need to do a lot of duplicate work to get started with each new project?
  5. What’s the licensing model?
  6. Will it add fixed costs to my project? Can I resell work I produce on/for this platform?
  7. What’s a rough time and materials estimate for creating a simple 5-page custom CMS-driven brochure website on this platform? What’s a rough estimate for creating a complex eCommerce or web application project? How does it compare to other platforms?
  8. Is it extendable? How can I add functionality if I need to? Is there an API and is it well documented?
  9. Are there architectural constraints on scale – this can work both ways (eg. is it too simple or slow for a large complex site, or is it too large and cumbersome for a small project)
  10. Can I export my data from the CMS?
  11. Can I import data from third parties? (even if that’s just being able to write a script to do raw SQL queries)
  12. Is there a community of developers and users who are innovating and building useful functionality or attractive themes?
  13. Is it white-label or does it present it’s own brand? Will that brand help or hinder the project (ie. WordPress is trusted and known for being easy, most clients recognize the name and have a positive association with it)
  14. Why is it better than building my own CMS?
  15. Why is it better than using competing CMS products? (Usually compare against WordPress for low-end and Drupal for mid/high-end)
  16. How will this help my clients achieve their business objectives?
  17. What provisions does it provide for SEO?
  18. Can I easily add a custom theme? Do I have full control over every aspect of the output if I want to, or are there certain parts that I cannot change?
  19. Can I add custom data structures (content types)? If I can, am I able to expose them to the plugin architecture or am I building a standalone system inside the CMS?
  20. What provisions does it provide for spam protection?
  21. What provisions does it provide for authorization/permissions? Can I have multiple levels of user with different permissions? Content workflow?
  22. Does it have a security release history with a track record of fast responses, or a dedicated security team?
  23. Is there a portfolio of high-quality sites built on the platform, or is it untested in the real world?
  24. Is it easy to find other people who can work on the platform? Will it be easy to find someone to take over the project, either as a subcontractor, or if the client wants to use a different developer, or wants to hire a full-time employee to work on the site.
  25. What’s the scalability like? At what traffic levels do I need to start caring about scalability/performance? Does it have any provisions for increasing performance inside the software? (eg. caching or aggregation). Are there smart people working on this issue?
  26. How can I run more than one site on this platform? Can I maintain a shared codebase or run multiple sites from one instance, or would each install need to be maintained separately?

Add a comment if you think I missed anything important.

1 Comment

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One Response to How to evaluate a new CMS or web development platform

  1. Thomas

    Excellent publish, I seriously enjoy messages from you.

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