Finding the right CMS for my project

Content Management
Photo by ravennce

Sorry about the lack of proper blogging over the last few days. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing: I’m looking for the right content management software for a website project I’m working on.

So I’m spending the evenings either trawling through web pages of documentation, trawling through pages of books about specific content management systems, or trying them out for myself either at or on the vendor’s own website.

What I’m looking for

Ease of use
The clients that I’m working with are not technically-minded — they are ordinary human, sentient, non-geek beings like you and … well, like you (probably) — so the CMS that I pick has to be easy to use.

So that rules out about half the opensource CMS applications out there just now.

I need to be able to completely customize the site, as though it was a traditional, static site. I don’t want it to look like a portal with limited blocks of content. Also, it would be great if it could be fairly easily customizable using a combination of mostly XHTML and CSS. I don’t want anything that I have to use an unnecessary amount of PHP just to generate an XHTML document, or translate swathes of code into XLST or YYZ or whatever before it works.

So that rules out about another 25% of systems!

Site structure
I need to easily build the information architecture in it, and (preferably) have the CMS manage and automatically build the sub-navigation lists. It would also be great to be able to see the site structure in some visual form.

There go the rest!

Ideally, I’d like to build it in TERMINALFOUR SiteManager — I could have it built and finished in a couple of days with SiteManager. But unfortunately my clients don’t have a spare £50k lying around to spend on web software!

My current short-list

At the moment my short-list comprises of (in alphabetical order):


To be honest, Drupal is currently on my list simply because I haven’t yet ruled it out! But I’m attracted to Drupal and have heard good things about it.

I also own a book about Drupal: Building Online Communities with Drupal, phpBB, and WordPress and Drupal is the only one of the three that I’ve not properly delved into yet.


This came as quite a surprise to me, because ExpressionEngine (or EE) is a commercial product, with a very reasonable pricing plan: free for the blog edition or US$99 for the full version if you’re building a non-commercial, or non-profit, site.

I also really like the documentation (there’s lots of it, and some of it is video). But most importantly the back-end looks simple enough to use, and it appears to have the customization features that I’m looking for.
I look forward to checking this out some more …


And of course: my beloved WordPress. WordPress fits almost all of my criteria … and with the creation of some cunning templates I think I could get my customized navigation to work. It may need some cunning PHP tweakery but I know that it would almost immediately fit the bill.


But that’s the thing … I know that I could most easily build the site that I want, with the features that I want with WordPress — it just gets better and better — but I didn’t want to simply take the easy road: I wanted to take a step back and evaluate the opensource CMS scene once again to see what else is out there, and have their back-end interfaces got any better.

Sadly, I think on the whole the answer is a resounding no. WordPress absolutely rocks … I’ve yet to fully understand the CMS model that Drupal uses, and if I end up not going with WordPress then it looks (at the moment) that ExpressionEngine is the way to go … and that’s a commercial product.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Former Scrum master at Safeguard Global, Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

4 thoughts on “Finding the right CMS for my project”

  1. What I didn’t realise while I was writing that post was that the unused letters on the Content Management image are:

    D for Drupal
    E for ExpressionEngine
    T for Typo3 (which I looked at today, but didn’t mention in the post)
    W for WordPress

    … it’s a sign!

  2. uses Drupal Website Relaunch

    15:23 PM on Aug 9, 2007
    A team of volunteers is currently working on a new website, to be powered by the Drupal content management system. Look for a new, more dynamic website in the near future

    I came across this when I signed up for Twitter, and saw that it didn’t support MSN but it did support Google Talk and Jabber, and I’d heard people talking about Jabber. (I think I’m getting Gaim when I go to Ubuntu. )

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