How to choose your next web platform

Written by Stephen Carpenter - 10 Jan 2019

Once upon a time, in the darkest depths of the office, the Head of Marketing leapt into the air: “OK team, the day is here – we’ve finally got approval and budget signed off to build a new website!” (The team breaks down in tears of joy).

Content editor Sarah jumps straight in: “Great! Are we going to think about content approval workflows?”, followed by Marketing Manager John, who asks about marketing automation and A/B testing. Then Tom from finance pipes up – he’s not sure about any of this but has heard this kind of thing is very complex and expensive.

Hearing their concerns, the Head of Marketing gathers her brood and says in a soothing voice: “Ah yes, now starts the even harder work of choosing the right web platform for our brand new website. But first, coffee”, and she hurries to the kitchen.

How to focus your thinking – what does your website need to do?

With a world of choice available for content management/marketing/experience systems, it can be hard to know where to start with choosing the right web platform for your business.

The magpie mentality of getting seduced by new shiny features and functionality is an easy path to take but thinking ‘technology first’ when choosing your web platforms can sometimes equip you with a sledgehammer to crack a business-critical nut.

Adopting a more considered approach to uncovering the needs of both your business and your users is the first step to making good decisions.

1. Start with discovery – set out your goals, audiences and integrations

At Fresh Egg we run a simple Q&A workshop to discover top level requirements of a new digital project. We encourage our client teams to invite anyone who may have a stake in the site – so heads of department, the MD, sales team; anyone who can bring something to the table.

It’s important not to limit attendance to just the marketing team or whoever is tasked with delivering the site to make your new site work across all aspects of your business.

Example questions from the workshop:

  1. What are the objectives of the new website or platform upgrade? Involve all stakeholders and discuss their specific needs and objectives.
  1. What are the KPIs for the new website or platform upgrade? Decide how success will be measured.
  1. Who are your audiences? Think of everyone from customers to content editors.
  1. What are your key user journeys across the site?
  1. What content types must the platform handle? Do you want to upload regular video content, for example?
  1. Are there any required Integration with other systems?
  1. As a company/organisation, what are your accessibility commitments?
  1. What are your data, analytics and measurement requirements?
  1. What are your SEO needs?
  1. Do you have any content or data migration requirements from an existing website or platform?
  1. Do you have specific security requirements?

2. Involve your customers

Just as important as discovering your business requirements, is understanding the needs of your users. Only once you have visibility of both of these will you be able to make an informed technology choice for your business.

Embarking on a user-centred discovery can seem like a daunting task but It doesn’t have to be months of work. You can adopt some of the tried and tested methods of audience analysis that we use as part of our Customer Experience Mapping here at Fresh Egg.

Audience Interviews

Simply reaching out to a selection of different types of customers, from potential to loyal is a good place to start. Ask them a series of questions about how they interact with your current website, and what they’d like to see from your new one from a usability and functionality point of view.

Learning about their experience with your digital product and services will give you priceless insight into the functionality that’s needed for your new website – and therefore the requirements of the underlying web platform.

User testing

Where possible ask your customers to complete tasks using your existing site and record their actions. Having an existing website to use while talking about your business can often focus their feedback and provide detail about the things they like and what frustrates them.

This is all valuable insight that can be incorporated into your web development project plan and help towards choosing the right web platform for the site.

Read more about when to do user testing on our blog: https://www.freshegg.co.uk/blog/web-design/ux/when-to-do-user-testing

3. And the nominations are… making a solution shortlist

Once you’ve completed your business and customer research you should have a shopping list of requirements to refer to when finding your chosen web platform.

And as if to demonstrate the power of user feedback, you can start to compile your shortlist by using sites such as www.trustradius.com. Here you’ll find un-biased reviews, feedback and pros and cons from real users of many solutions.

Booking a demo

Once you have your shortlist, it is essential to start a relationship with the chosen vendors. Remember this is more than just a first date – the CMS platform you choose for your website is one you’ll use for hopefully many years so you want it to be easy to use, scalable and fully capable of meeting the needs of both your business and customers as outlined in your research.

And just like with internet dating, you can only find your true match when you meet them face to face. So invite a member of your shortlisted platforms’ sales teams to your office to give a face to face demo. This will give you a good chance to see the platform in action and get a feeling for whether they are the right fit for your organisation – both functionally, and culturally.

4. Decisions, decisions… choosing the platform

Choosing the right web platform for your business is a decision not to be taken lightly, so we’re going to suggest you take a different approach – and list your doubts to aid your decision.

The obvious thing to do would be to compile some sort of decision matrix where each solution is scored against a set of criteria. The problem with this is that it can often be inaccurate as the ratings and weightings end up being very subjective and arbitrary. Also, the final score could hide information that’s important to the team. A typical example is where a team member finds a critical (to them) feature totally unusable but that is overshadowed by excellent ratings in a majority of less important features.

And lastly, criteria tend to be of unequal granularity. How can a broad criteria like “usability” be compared with something as specific as “SSL on the login page?”

5. So what’s the answer?

Think about a different approach to the decision-making process. Instead of forcing the selection committee into making numerical ratings, ask them to list their doubts with each solution.

Examples of doubts are:

  • a concern that the feature would not support a specific user need
  • unnecessary complexity or awkward behaviour in doing a specific task
  • an unsatisfactory explanation by the supplier about how a feature worked
  • doubt about the vendor’s stability or ability to support the customer
  • a potential technical incompatibility with the legacy infrastructure or third-party integration

Each of these doubts are investigated as to whether they are valid - that is, if it was a misunderstanding or oversight, if there is a suitable workaround, or if there is a reasonable compromise.

Work through comparing the weaknesses of the competing solutions and determining what is tolerable. Follow-up demos and calls with the vendors should be scheduled. The solution with the fewest legitimate and significant concerns wins. Facilitating this method is not as easy as simply reporting matrix scores but it is good that people put some real energy into making such an important and complex choice.

In short: Best = Set of Least Painful Compromises

At first glance, this system seems designed for selecting the lesser of evils and to some extent that’s true, there is no such thing as a perfect system. There will always be compromises involved in the final decision.

Ultimately being as informed as possible to make the final decision is the most important factor. Spending the time to research your business, your users and the solutions available is a crucial first step toward that shiny new solution.

Credit: Seth Gottlieb for his article “CMS Selection - Death to the Features Matrix”

Are you still struggling to find the right CMS solution for your business?  Feel free to get in touch and we will gladly share our thoughts on your shortlist.