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Time to move – things to consider when changing your website

When it comes to “moving” your website, normally that means changing what server the site actually resides on.  In college media, “moving” is also tends to mean “let’s change everything how our website operates because there is some really cool stuff we just need right now dear Advisor and we MUST have this to do good journalism because, ya know it is the best thing since Twitter  Pinterest!”

In college media, moving a website can mean actually moving what computer runs your website or changing what content management system (CMS) you use to run your site.  Sometimes, it is both.  In either case, moving a website is NEVER easy or simple.  It can be frustrating and technically challenging as a college media organization while also crucial to your presence.  Add a dollop of poor customer support or lack of student know-how and you may wish for the old letter press days.

This article will examine five areas you should consider if you are changing your content management system (CMS).
When it comes to CMS options there are many free systems and some paid solutions.  As with many things, you get what you pay for, or at least you should.  That being said, hosting your own website and using an open source CMS isn’t as daunting as it was 5 years ago.  The important part is finding what works for your organization.
5 Things to Consider when looking at changing CMS:
  1. Price – make sure you can afford it because transferring is never fun and you could run in to some problems moving content to a different system.   See this for more info about CMS options: Web options for college publications, 2012 edition
  2. The back end.  Forget the tech stuff – how easy is it for your staff to post something?  DEMAND a live demo.  Spend a few HOURS demo’ing it by asking for a login to a test site where you can really kick the tires.  Get your students to do the demo as well because they will be the ones using it every day/week/month.  No system or support is worth it if students get confused by the backend.  The back end should be very simple to post an article and add a photo or two.  This should be almost stupid simple and require few tech skills, even when it comes to things like managing users or adding a poll.
  3. Ask about features that exist TODAY and look ahead.  Features they are “working on” always seem to push deadlines back and never live up to any sales pitch.  This includes WordPress/Joomla and plugins needed to add features, if they aren’t working TODAY, the likely won’t be when you move.  Don’t buy on a promise, buy on what they have now that works.  Make sure they have all the features you want NOW and features you want to use in the next year or two for sure.  This means you need to think and create a feature list of things you really have to do now and in two years.  For example, if you are starting from nothing you would want the ability to post photos and stories.  In two years you may need to have the ability to embed videos.  Make sure those exist now.
  4. Content format.  This mainly applies if you are getting a proprietary CMS, but is good to know if you use a free solution as well.  Find out what format the content is stored in should you want to leave and transfer to another host or platform.  If you are using a paid CMS provider, ask if they support this and how does it work?  With tight budgets, this is especially true and you don’t want your archives to disappear because it is in some proprietary format.  Make sure there are terms in the contract for how you can terminate and get your content and how they will help transfer your site content to you or the new host.
  5. Make sure you OWN your domain name.  The domain name should be listed as owned by you but controlled by the supporting company and they can be the point of contact.  No matter if you are using a free CMS or a paid provider, your website IS a key part to your college media organization.  Someone else can be listed as the “registrar,” and another “technical contact,” but your organization should be listed under “administrative contact.”  You can find this information by doing a whois search.
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