Choosing the Right CMS for Your Higher Education Institution

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With education budgets getting tighter and tighter, and the number of responsibilities and possibilities available for university web departments growing, the typical work load for higher education web professionals has dramatically increased over the last few years, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon. On top of that, the newer applications like mobile web marketing and social media are continuing to become more popular and education websites are under more pressure than ever to compete.

Most universities know that to stay competitive on the web today, an institution needs a dynamic website with significant social media functionality to ensure that your website is up-to-date, that your content is fresh, and that you provide web-savvy students the information they need in a format they like and recognize.

More often than not, the answer to getting your website to the level it needs to be at is to introduce a web content management system (CMS). An effectively implemented CMS can help you create and edit your content quickly and easily, keep your website relevant and the distribute the content development workload so it is no longer in the hands of and over-worked IT or communications department.

Sounds like a good idea, right?

If you think a CMS might be right for your higher education institution, here are a few tips on how you can choose the right CMS to meet your needs:
  1. Define organizational goals. Once all the stakeholders in your institution are ready for the change to a CMS, it’s important to define the key goals of each department, faculty and the institution as a whole and  to communicate those goals between the future CMS users. Once these goals have been established, you can start deciding what functionality can help you reach those targets, and how you will track them to measure your success.
  2. Prepare a new content strategy based on distribution. Your new content management strategy will be based on a distributed model rather than a centralized one.  One of the most beneficial features of a CMS for education is that it puts content creation into the hands of multiple individuals rather than one web or communications department. However, this will affect your content development strategies and plans, and will require communication/training on proper content development so that you can ensure you have proper brand consistency in place and that you understand how you are going to define workflow and approvals across departments and how you will maintain scheduling ownership.
  3. Do your research, and understand what you need. It is important when you are evaluating vendors that you are looking at solutions which have the core functionality that you actually need. Many CMS vendors offer products that are much more complex, or too simple for the goals that you want to accomplish. Before looking at possible solution, it is a good idea to do a comprehensive analysis of what your needs are as an organization based on the goals you defined earlier. Choosing a solution that has the correct functionality to meet your website’s targets can ensure that you end up with a product which effectively meets all of your organizations needs. 
  4. Don't focus solely on the technology.  The most important feature of a CMS is that is allows non-technical users to edit and create content more easily. To focus solely on the technological aspects of a CMS rather than the user experience it provides, is counteractive to your goals and the benefits of implementing a CMS in the first place. Make sure that when you’re choosing your CMS you focus on the product's user interface, support system, help and the overall user experience, rather than the more technical aspects (although those are still important).
Bonus tip: another final point that I'll add that can be beneficial depending on the size of your institution, is to choose a vendor that offers a solution which is targeted specifically towards the higher education industry. These CMS products can have additional education-specific features that more general content management systems don't provide,  which can help make your site more appealing to your target audience and lower implementation costs.