A general overview of Content Management Systems and how they fit into your business technology landscape.

What to Consider when choosing a CMS

Whether it’s an article, an image, a video, or a product listing, if you’re trying to publish anything to your website, you’re going to need a system that allows you to do so. Enter the content management system, or CMS. In most cases, a CMS will act as the backbone of a good website, allowing users to publish their quality content with ease. But how much do you really need to know about content management systems, and what’s the best way to select a CMS to fulfill your needs?

With so many viable options on the market, it’s essential to put some serious thought into finding the right system for you. Here are five things to consider when seeking out your ideal CMS.

The Purpose

When deciding on a CMS, the very first thing to figure out is your overall purpose in having one. Create a mission statement, outline key features, list out your priority requirements – whatever it takes, make sure you have a clear and concise explanation of what you want your CMS to accomplish. With an end goal in mind and a set of priorities at your side, the rest of your decision-making process will play out naturally.

In revamping the CMS for Gannett Co.’s wealth of publications, Gannett Digital Vice President Mitch Gelman said the most important step of the process was planning:

“We had a clear, simple endgame in what we wanted to achieve,” Gelman said. “We established the objective first and then put the plan in place to develop the design, create the code, and establish the back-end that would get us there.”

To determine your CMS’ primary purpose, try to pin down what kind of content it is that you’re looking to publish. In working with the New York County District Attorney’s Office, Icreon had to build a CMS for a diverse range of content, from press releases to image galleries and event calendars. In this case and in many others, we’ve been partial to Drupal for its quality and flexibility.

The Editor

The first aspect to examine in a potential CMS is the editor. This is the same interface your content creators will be working with, so make sure it’s something they’ll understand and can use with relative ease.

Be especially careful when considering CMSes that implement “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editors. Even though they’re simple, inexperienced users tend to go overboard with layout and design decisions of their own. This can compromise a site’s design consistency, and should be taken into account at a very early stage in the decision process.

As a quick point to guide you along, the top CMS options currently on the market are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla!. These platforms are known for their flexible editors and high customizability options, and are worth considering for almost any type of site. Of course, this is just a guideline: Even though these are the most popular systems in use, it’s up to you to decide if something else might work better for your site.

Take advantage of product demos, user forums, and site previews to help determine whether a CMS’ editor meets your needs.

The Design Aesthetic

Once you’ve outlined your CMS’ overall intent, try to hone in on the design aesthetic you hope to achieve with your website. At the highest level, you’ll want a unique site with interactive elements, elegant typography, and high-resolution images to back up every piece of content. This will require a high amount of customization options, and you should set a large budget accordingly.

The second approach is to use a template. As a one-time purchase, the template will dictate the look and feel of your site without requiring any design or coding expertise from you personally. This approach is best for smaller sites that value design, but don’t necessarily need their site to be unique. The main flaw with this approach is that it’s not open to high-level customization; if you’re looking to alter the cookie-cutter design or layouts, you won’t find too many options.

The CMS as a Product

As you get caught up in the blitz to figure out what you want from a CMS, it’s important to remember that a CMS is, at the end of the day, a product. Whether you’re working off a pre-set template or hiring a crew of designers to build your site, try to get a feel for the product itself. If security is your highest priority, you might want to consider something like ExpressionEngine over other options. It might not be as feature-rich as WordPress or Drupal, but it’s built a good reputation for its quality security and commercial support.

You’ll want to make sure that your CMS has a support base, just in case something goes awry. Since most content management systems derive functionality from plug-ins made by other developers, you should get a feel for the development community. An active support community can help to ensure a comfortable long-term experience with your CMS.

The Future

A CMS shouldn’t just do what your site currently needs; it should also account for what your site is going to need in the future. Try to plan ahead, and allow room for your site to grow over time. After all, you never know what can change over a small period of time.

Just because you aren’t currently publishing a ton of content doesn’t mean that won’t change in the future. If it does, you’ll want to make sure your CMS offers sufficient search functionality so that your site doesn’t become an unorganized mess in a matter of a few months. Other features to keep in mind when accounting for future site growth are multi-language support, multiple website support, customizability, and user management.

Use Cases for CMS

Browsing around some of the biggest sites on the internet, one thought that may pop into your mind is the question of “How did they build this?” Sometimes it’s easy to tell—Squarespace, for instance, has a plethora of site templates that provide a similar look and feel across different company sites.

But the truth is, this kind of infrastructure isn’t necessarily the standard across the internet. In fact, a staggering 61% of websites don’t use a CMS at all. Considering the impact a CMS can have on a website, there’s a bit of a problem here. A CMS, after all, enables businesses to create, manage, and optimize business-critical assets to distribute across a variety of channels like web, mobile, and social.

There are thousands of Web CMS solutions to choose from, from open source options like Drupal and WordPress to enterprise-grade solutions like Adobe CQ and Sitecore. However, deploying a CMS only makes sense if it’s helping your business achieve its goals. If you’re managing or developing a website today, you may find yourself wondering if you need a CMS.


As businesses place greater focus on utilizing content assets to attract and engage prospective customers, ensuring content goes from creation to published as efficient as possible could be a major competitive advantage.

In today’s business environment, websites need to be updated almost on a daily basis, with different teams contributing content as it becomes available to them.  With non-technical team members playing a major role in how the website is used, it’s critical that they’re able to complete necessary tasks within their own knowledge comfort zone. A CMS will allow all members of your team across various departments to quickly and efficiently make changes to the website, without relying on the IT team.

Massive Traffic Growth

When your website only handles a few hundred customers a day, it runs at a blazing speed, and users can quickly navigate the site to find what they came for. But as your website starts to receive thousands of customers a day, the overwhelming amount of visitors accessing your site all at once could cause a devastating increase in the amount of time it takes to load individual pages.

Relying on one server to host all of your content can quickly become inefficient and you may begin losing customers to slow page load times.  With a CMS, you can utilize page and module caching so that browsers can quickly load previously visited pages, and even go as far as setting up web farms that’ll disperse data storage across multiple servers, enabling your website to run at optimal speeds.

Employees Using Their Own Tools

When employees aren’t provided the right tools to efficiently complete their necessary tasks, they’ll find their own ways.  Maybe they’ll use Excel sheets to create reports to send to their team, Word documents to update copy for individual pages on the website, and Evernote to keep the team in sync.

This process quickly becomes inefficient due to the lack of content and data visibility across departments, which can ultimately result in duplicate efforts and lost data.  A CMS keeps all documents and information in a centrally located place, allowing executive management and all departments to be able to access all business-critical assets in real time, reducing duplicate efforts and enabling quick data retrieval.

You Want to Utilize Dynamic Content

Your website may need to deliver certain content, to certain people, at certain points of the day, in certain locations.  Without a tagging system in place to determine what’s considered relevant for the current user, you miss out on an opportunity to connect with individual users. A CMS gives you the ability to utilize smart tagging, where you can make sure your users only see what’s relevant to them.

You Need Quality Control

There are a variety of team members involved in creating and updating content, and it’s not ideal that everyone has the same permissions. For example, there might be a situation where you only want your sales team to have access to edit offer pages, or publishers to only have access to publish blog posts. A VP of sales and a sales intern should not have the same permissions to make changes. A CMS allows you to set up permissions and account roles, granting certain users only the necessary privileges for them to complete their tasks.

Regular Content Upload

If your website requires frequent additions of new offer pages, blog posts, case studies, landing pages – it can become extremely tedious for your IT team to develop individual pages.  With a CMS, you can create templates for specific page layouts that are design-once, use-everywhere.  Templates allow you to use already formatted layouts that will save you a ton of time in uploading new content, while keeping the branding of your website intact.

You Want Permissions and Version Control

There are many teams and individuals involved in updating and changing the website. When something goes wrong, it’s important to pinpoint the issue so you can quickly correct it, ensuring that it never happens again.

Version controls allows you to see the changes that were made in any process – whether it was finding out who published the blog post about a discount offer a day early, or who uploaded the wrong copy on a landing page, or who approved the changes made on the homepage – you know who was responsible for each task throughout the process.

Version Control allows you to quickly act on mistakes, as you can revert back to a previous version of a page at any time. Through Version Control, a CMS essentially gives you a detailed roadmap of tasks completed to enable you to quickly identify and fix mistakes.

Improve Your Website’s Search Visibility

With an overwhelming amount of people using search engines as the starting point of their buying process, you need your website to be extremely search friendly.  Instead of manually changing the meta tags, image alt texts, and URL structure of every page on your website – it’s all done for you in a CMS. As your website scales to hundreds, or even thousands of pages, automatically optimizing your pages for search is a huge time saver.

You have a Multi-Domain Setup

If your company operates in different locations and there are websites set up for each location, it can be extremely difficult making large scale changes across domains. Instead of having to make changes on individual websites, you can create modules that will instantly update all domains.

A CMS can manage dozens of websites from a single backend so you can update multiple websites on a regular basis without having to rely on your local teams.

Mobile is a Priority

According to Juniper Research, mobile transaction users are expected to hit 2 billion by 2017. While it’s understood that mobile is no longer an option, it’s important to understand the true value of mobile. Mobile is not how a website looks on certain devices, it’s how it operates.

As we see a greater importance placed on delivering mobile content assets, it’s essential that the functionality of your website remains consistent across all devices.  Whether it’s properly displaying results of an internal site search, or downloading product manuals, or dynamically serving content – a CMS will allow you to deliver the same user experience across all devices.

What your Marketing Team Wants in a CMS

Marketing is no longer just about delivering piles of content that are passively received by prospects and customers; it’s about delivering solid, cohesive customer experiences. To do this, many marketing teams are prioritizing their Web Content Management Systems, which have become an integral part of their overall strategies.

Your marketing team is defined by your company’s growth, so it is imperative they’re able to grow your online presence on an independent basis. If you’re in the process of revamping your website, or rethinking your current CMS, it’s crucial that your marketing team is directly involved.

Here are the main CMS features that your Marketing Team Wants:


Marketers want to provide different content to different users based on their locations, devices or previous actions. Delivering a personalized experience increases engagement, satisfaction and loyalty – which ultimately leads to increase in revenue and conversions.

For example Hubspot, a leader in Marketing Automation, knows which blog posts visitors have read, the resources they’ve downloaded, and if they’ve signed up for a free trial – giving them a better understanding of where the individual is in the buying process.  This allows them to continue to provide the appropriate resources to the prospective customers to guide them during their buying decision.

Marketers want a CMS that will allow them to deliver the right content, to the right people, at the right time.

SEO Capabilities

One of the prime components of inbound marketing strategy is website visibility via search engines like Google. By appropriately structuring your website, properly outlining the content of each page, and submitting sitemaps to search engines, your website can be more easily discovered by target audiences.  But doing those tasks manually is time-consuming, and presents an opportunity cost for marketers; the more time they spend on SEO tweaks, the less time they have to focus on their core tasks.

Marketers want a CMS that will automatically optimize their websites for best placement results in search engines.

Mobile Optimization

As mobile devices become more and more prevalent in the web browsing landscape, site visitors will increasingly access the website via mobile devices. Marketers understand the importance of providing the same experience and functionality across all devices, and that mobile content isn’t all about looks, but about how their site functions across devices.

Following Google’s recent announcement that mobile optimization will soon be a factor in search rankings, marketers are increasingly opting to responsive web design to make their sites mobile-friendly.

Dynamic Templates

‘Never Run a Marketing Campaign Without a Landing Page’ – a phrase many marketers live by. Whether it’s a paid search campaign directed toward the e-book they just released, a discounted offer page for customers who attended a webinar, or a dedicated page to download their most recent whitepaper, marketers depend on a variety of landing pages.  Building each page from scratch is inefficient for both IT teams and marketing teams.  The ability to use ready-made templates for these pages will allow your marketing team to quickly deploy marketing campaigns.

Marketers want a CMS that will support page templates so that they can quickly create landing pages for campaigns.

Full Funnel Analytics Capabilities

While all of the previously discussed CMS features provide high-value functionality, they’re worthless if marketers can’t effectively measure their impact. Viewership, engagement and conversions—all are crucial metrics for gauging whether or not your CMS is impacting your website’s efforts.

Marketers want to calculate ROI and measure effectiveness of various online campaigns and content. They want a CMS that will not only provide built in analytics and dashboards, but which can also integrate with third party applications like Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Optimizely.

Marketers want a CMS with the ability to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.

Speed & Scalability

Marketers want to know that their website is always performing at an optimal speed.  Not only is the page load time of a website a ranking factor within search engines, but it also determines whether visitors will continue to engage with your brand.  For every extra second it takes your website to load, you’re losing customers.

As their websites scale, marketers want to know that speed and performance will never be sacrificed.

Intuitive Interface

A CMS quickly becomes useless if it’s too difficult to use. In an ideal situation, everyone on the marketing team would have programming knowledge, but that’s rarely the case.  Between content writers, social media specialists, and PR – the programming experience of the typical marketing team is usually minimal. The problem comes with the fact that these less programming-savvy team members are the ones most involved with the website. They need to quickly put together blog posts, landing pages for social campaigns, or press releases.

With this in mind, marketers want a CMS that will allow their teams to create content without relying on IT teams.

Social Sharing

It probably goes without saying, but marketers want their website content to be easily sharable via various social networks. They want to easily turn their site visitors into brand champions and social advocates for their content. With the amount of social media sites available, it’s difficult to manually share your content.  A post-once, share-everywhere ability will allow marketers to dramatically increase the reach of their content.