Getting maximum longevity from your Content Management System

On average, Content Management System (CMS) powered websites have a shelf life of just two to five years before they’re ripped out and replaced by a new model. Is this because people are choosing the wrong CMS? Or just because we aren’t using the CMSs effectively to cope with the changing needs of our customers?

It stands to reason that your CMS must be flexible and scalable enough to grow and to cope with the demands you’re going to put on it. You don’t want to be constantly patching it up, fighting fire and wondering why it’s getting more expensive to maintain the older it gets; it should be built right first time and able to grow with your business.

So with such a big choice of CMSs out there, and over 1200 CMS providers and partners, which system should you choose?

What are the different types of content management systems?
Let’s look at the three different types of CMS before we evaluate how best to utilise and deploy them.

Type 1: Open source plug-in

The most well-known vendors in this category include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. They have some key strengths: they’re fast to market and have hundreds of pre-built feature plug-ins and modules that can integrate directly with other business platforms. However, many of these plug-ins and modules are version dependent, causing issues on upgrades. Also, the fact that they are so simple to get up and running means they don’t offer many long-term opportunities to improve performance and flexibility as your business grows. This means they’re usually best suited for quick, tactical, ‘throw away’ use.

Type 2: Open source framework

Vendors including Umbraco and Contentful fall under this framework category. Products in this area are fully customisable, reliable CMS frameworks created, maintained and evolved by a passionate community. To implement an open source framework, you will need to invest in development skills on top of the framework to deliver a website/platform. The usability is very strong, with good language options and content approval workflows built in. They also have hundreds of pre-built feature plug-ins and modules that can integrate directly with other business platforms; however, again many of these plug-ins and modules are version dependent, which can cause issues on upgrades.

Some of these vendors offer a cloud-based approach and ultimately can evolve their offering as they’re able to focus on technical evolution over delivering marketing features.

Type 3: Enterprise framework

Sitecore, Adobe and Episerver fall into this category – they provide an all-in-one marketing solution that allows for a high level of marketing automation and personalisation, and have rich customer features, solid CMS workflow, multi-language support and clear marketing feature roadmaps. However, there are significant licensing costs which could effect how you scale as you grow. In addition, there isn’t the same architectural freedom as the open source framework as the business and products are driven by marketing requirements and less by the technical market trends.

Which CMS should you use?

The reality is that many content management systems are a great solution for any business; I think the issues that are causing us to change our website so often are much more fundamental than the CMS we are using.

Whatever CMS foundation you choose to build your digital business upon, it’s imperative to bear in mind the total cost of ownership of your website/platform at the outset. Figure 1 below demonstrates how, over time, a lower cost per change ‘project-based’ website becomes more expensive as things need updating and begin to break (the grey line). The chosen CMS in this case prevents ease of reengineering to support business growth and customer change. These products are initially very appealing due to the lower price point at the outset, but within six to 18 months, the ability to adapt to changing market factors results in an increasing cost per change, high risk slow updates and high total cost of ownership as the site can no longer scale or adapt to the demands put on it. The website partner is fired and a tender goes out for a new one to begin again. Sound familiar?


Total Cost of Ownership
Total Cost of Ownership

By contrast, a site that has a higher cost per change at the outset, but is constructed iteratively with the customer in mind is flexible and can be adapted easily to changes in the business (the black line). Over time, this pays dividends as it grows with the business, can be scaled, is flexible to react to market changes and still has the customer experience at the heart of it through constant feedback. It’s takes on the attributes of a product that is continuously updated and forms the digital corner stone of the business. Total cost of ownership over its long life is much lower as there is no need to start again or materially re-engineer the entire website/platform in any way.

Back to our original question; why do our CMS’s have such a short shelf life? Surely we aren’t all using the wrong CMS? No – the real problem is that we aren’t building our systems to last; we tend to go for short term quick cost wins over long-term productivity and efficiency gains.

So what is the solution? I’ve recently written a white paper that talks through this topic in a lot more detail – read more about how to put an end to the build and bust cycle of content management systems here.