Content Management Systems for small businesses – finding the right software

Today, there’s less and less of a debate about the values of getting a web presence for your company, and more and more about which web presence is right for you. Depending on your industry and your concept, a corporate homepage can serve a wide range of purposes. In its classic function, a website operates as a sort of comprehensive online business card, presenting all general information like opening hours, directions, contact details, and more. Almost all websites nowadays also feature simple dynamic elements like contact forms, designed to allow the site visitor to request appointments, book services, or purchase offers. And the recent phenomenon of offering added value to users in the form of a company blog, useful web services, social media feeds, or user forums has emerged as an integral part of modern websites too.

But when it comes to creating your company’s online web presence, the question isn’t just about which elements the company website should contain: it’s also a question of which software is best suited to your needs. And due to their low costs and impressive scalability, many companies today are opting for the quick and easy solution of content management systems. But even this decision doesn’t necessarily narrow things down right away: there’s a wealth of CMS programs out there, and some smaller businesses may find the complex systems with large ranges of function to be too much for their needs. Since company website requirements aren’t universal, the question of which CMS is right for small or medium-sized businesses can be difficult to answer. But there’s a number of things to look out for when making a decision about which content management system would best suit your needs.

Point 1: What budget do you have available?

The material and human resources that you’re able to make available for your web project are the first thing to consider when deciding on the right system for your website. Small businesses don’t usually have the same financial resources as large corporations and so will have to make precise calculations in order to stay within budget. Depending on the concept of your website, there’s a wide range of possible financing solutions that might be right for your needs. If, for example, you’re planning on running your entire web project internally then you can save a lot of money on external developers and designers, but you’ll need to make sure you have the right staff on hand to be able to do a good job. This can quickly reduce the selection of eligible content management systems available to you if your own in-house developers can only work with specific programs and scripting languages.

It’s also important to factor in the costs incurred during installation, administration, and maintenance of your CMS. And you’ll need to decide whether you want to handle the hosting of your CMS and website internally too, which means buying the necessary hardware and software, or whether you want to rent hosting space from an external provider. While hosting may seem stressful, it’s important to consider that content management systems don’t usually place overly high demands on server structure, which is why this selection factor won’t be such a big issue for most systems.

Point 2: What type of website are you planning?

The type of content that you’re planning to publish on your company homepage is arguably the most important decision-making criteria for selecting a CMS. In general, you can make simple static pages as well as more complex websites featuring dynamic elements with almost any system, but the flexibility and simplicity of doing so is closely linked to the modular structure of the CMS. And many content management systems also offer a wide range of extensions and templates in their standard installation, meaning that you really have a more functions and options available to you than most websites will ever require. But some of these are more sophisticated than others of course, and it’s possible that a basic CMS may not have enough complex features for your needs, or that an expensive, fully functioning CMS may be out of budget or unnecessarily difficult to use.

Point 3: Does the CMS offer the required usability?

It’s important that the CMS you choose offers your site visitors the comfort they need. If the employees involved in programming the system can’t use it properly, then this is likely to be reflected in the quality of your internet presence. So the functions for the development of your web project should be as user-friendly as possible: if your team of developers can’t make the website smoothly and how you want it, then the CMS you’re using isn’t right for you. Another equally important factor is the options for administration. It’s important that the admin area is both clearly separated from the editorial area and also allows assignment of user roles and user rights, so that you can determine exactly which employees are able to use which functions.

A high level of usability is also an important factor when it comes to content implementation. Authors, editors, and other employees responsible should be able to add text, videos, images, and more intuitively. Help tools like pre-built content forms and a well-functioning WYSIWYG editor that automatically converts text fields into HTML should be considered compulsory programs for websites that rely on regular content updates.

Point 4: how can you ensure the accessibility of content?

When your web presence is designed, published and newly available, you also want to make sure that it is accessible to as many users as you can – and that as few users as possible are stopped from enjoying your content by language barriers or which device they’ve chosen to use.  Since more and more users are searching the World Wide Web on their mobile devices, you need to ensure that your chosen CMS enables you to create a mobile version of your company website without too much difficulty. One solution, which is admittedly more effort to program but much less trouble to maintain, is a responsive website. This website type will automatically adapt to the display screen size of any device being used, but if you want to go with this option, you’ll need to ensure that your chosen content management system allows you to do so.

If you want to offer your web presence in multiple languages, it goes without saying that you should choose a system with a multilingual function. This gives you the advantage of being able to manage content in different languages in parallel as a single project, rather than having to develop multiple separate pages for each language. Another important aspect is the implementation of barrier-free pages. For official guidance on how to make sure your website is barrier-free and accessible to all users, check out our digital guide to the WCAG. Taking the time to make sure that all of your content is accessible to everyone will greatly improve the user-friendliness of your website. 

Point 5: does the CMS offer enough security for your data?

There’s no program that offers complete protection from hacking attacks. But there is a range of useful functions that some content management systems offer that can limit access to external sources. Systems designed to target small businesses offer the following advantages over the typical programs used by larger projects and corporations:

  • they’re not such a target for cyber criminals because of their limited reach and distribution
  • they have fewer vulnerabilities because of the smaller community and lower number of plugins or modules

You should also ensure that the developer of the respective content management system you choose checks the trustworthiness and functionality of all modules offered by third parties, for example tracking tool plugins. A CMS that automatically indicates available updates to the system software as well as any extensions in use is also a plus, because regularly updated software is much harder to hack. And in addition to the standard password protection, some content management systems offer additional security access via a secure connection.

But your web project’s private data isn’t just under threat from the outside: it’s just as important that your chosen CMS responds in the right way to user errors and system or database crashes too. The most important things to ensure here are:

  • individually definable user roles, so that inexperienced or unauthorized employees aren’t able to make misconfigurations that are critical to the system
  • the ability to version documents so as to quickly and easily undo human error
  • automatic backups of both the CMS and the database

Point 6: does the CMS help in search engine optimization?

Even though most content management systems built for smaller websites are characterized primarily by a limited and specifically tailored range of functions, SEO modules remain essential and cannot be neglected. At the very least, it should be possible to improve your search engine optimization through manual upgrades in the form of extensions. When choosing the right content management system for you, you should make sure that you have the following SEO options:

  • meta information (title, description) can be defined
  • alternative text for links and images can be created
  • an XML-Sitemap can be generated
  • search engine-friendly links can be produced
  • the HTML code can be resolved
  • rich snippets can be created

In summary: the perfect CMS for your small business depends on your preferences

Not all of the criteria listed above will be relevant for every small business when it comes to picking the right content management system, and the weighting of the individual areas and preferences will vary from company to company. But as a general rule, small businesses will benefit best from a less complex system. The current trend for content management software is to offer more and more functions in standard versions, limiting the need for plugins and expanding flexibility for designers. But many of these features are only useful for creative and challenging web presence ideas, not simple corporate homepages. For many smaller businesses looking to set up a simple, manageable web presence, this extra range of options is a negative: the different CMS users, especially ones concerned with content like editors, can become quickly overwhelmed and this increases the risk of a potential security gap.

The following is a neat checklist for all the most important things you need to consider when choosing the perfect content management system for your small to medium-sized business:

  1. Decide whether you want to look after the CMS yourself, or leave the task to an external service provider.
  2. Define the type of content you have planned and the main aim of your company homepage.
  3. Make sure that your chosen CMS is easy to use for all users (including editors, developers, programmers, admins, site visitors, and more).
  4. Check that the CMS offers all the technical prerequisites you need to make your website accessible to as many users as possible (e.g. users of mobile devices, site visitors from other countries, handicapped users, etc.)
  5. Be sure that the content management system offers you the data security you need.
  6. Check that your chosen system supports search engine optimization.