In over a decade, we’ve evaluated content management system feasibility for over 450 companies as we’ve redesigned their websites. The purpose of this article is to break down several content management options, considerations for choosing a content management system, associated costs, and what you need to consider from a maintenance perspective.
We know you have a lot of options, so our hope is that this honest assessment will help you evaluate your options and choose the right software for your business.
Summary How to choose the right content management system
For purposes of this article, we are looking at Web CMS that are currently rated “above average” in terms of customer satisfaction according to G2 Crowd’s “Best Web Content Management Software” rating. This means that you won’t find information about popular choices like ExpressionEngine and Umbraco since they fall in the “below average” quadrant of G2 Crowd’s customer satisfaction rating.
Our experience is that you can make almost any content management system work for posting digital content for your business, but the "right fit" really depends on how you plan to use your website to generate sales and the level of user friendliness you'll need during the process of updating your website.
We also are covering content management systems here that work particularly well for small and mid-market companies. Enterprise content management software is much more robust, and often requires a team of in-house developers to maintain. The licensing costs alone often make enterprise content management systems unaffordable for the small to mid-market company.
Are there any licensing fees?
Open source content management systems are free to download, install and use on your small and mid-market website.
While there are no licensing fees for open source content management systems, there may still be costs to take into account. Open source content management system software may be free, but you’ll have to purchase or lease a web server (called “web hosting”), which can cost anywhere from $10 - $300 per month depending on capabilities and bandwidth. There might also be fees associated with updating or upgrading your software, or adding extensions or plugins if you need specific functionality that the content management system doesn’t offer “out of the box.”
Proprietary content management systems, on the other hand, cost money to use. Some charge monthly fees, while others charge for the license. Sitecore and HubSpot, for example, have licensing or subscription fees.
Make sure you ask what fees apply to the CMS solution that you're considering. Also ask about hosting costs, installation fees, etc. that might impact the overall cost of your project.
Is editing content easy? Can non-technical staff update and maintain it?
Once you have a new website, you’re going to want to keep it up to date by editing content as your products or services change, and you'll need to add new content like blogs and landing pages for lead generation. As you’re talking to providers, find out how easy it is to do things like add a blog, update text, edit a form, insert an image or upload a document. Also, ask what the process for adding or removing web pages is like.
We recommend asking for a thorough demonstration of a content management system before making your decision. You’ll be able to get a first-hand look at how you will accomplish tasks like adding/removing pages, editing pages and adding images or documents.
Remember: you want to make sure the CMS is user-friendly and intuitive for tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy staff members alike.
In our experience, the key to a user-friendly content management system is the company that sets it up for you. A provider that has experience working with a particular system will have a process for learning about your needs and developing the content management system with those requirements in mind.
Can web analytics be integrated?
No matter which content management system you choose, you should make sure you can have the ability to track key performance metrics. You'll want to check to see how the CMS integrates with analytics tools like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
We work with companies that want their websites to generate leads and new business, and so marketing automation and CRM integration becomes critical. Most content management systems can hook into a marketing automation platform or CRM, but some offer turnkey integrations which feed contacts directly into the CRM along with web visit history.
For some companies, measuring phone calls from their website is important. If that's true for you, make sure your content management system will work with call analytics solutions.
How well does the content management system perform from an SEO perspective?
The last thing you want is a CMS that has a negative impact on your search engine optimization efforts.
At a minimum, the content management system should allow you to do the following:
- Create search engine friendly URLs: For example, those that look like this… www.example.com/page/subpage, not goobledygook like this.... www.example.com/page124xyz_54?id=abc.
- Allows you to secure your website with an SSL certificate (HTTPS browsing)
- Allows you to write unique, appropriate, informative titles and descriptions for pages
- Create redirects for old, unpublished pages
- Render a sitemap file automatically for Google Search Console
- Render a responsive, mobile friendly website
One often overlooked SEO consideration when evaluating a content management system is page load time. Slow-loading pages not only create a bad experience for your website visitors, but also contribute to bad search engine ranking. Content management systems can slow page load times, so you need to be sure to ask about this as you’re considering platforms.
Is the platform secure?
Security of your CMS is important to your business. If your website is breached or attacked and your website is down for a day or a week, it can cost your business thousands of dollars in lost leads and business.
It’s prudent to do your research about platform security. Some platforms are secure, but require regular updates which can increase cost of ownership. For example, Wordpress is a free, open source CMS that powers over 25% of the world’s websites. But it's also responsible for a huge number of website breaches. Wordpress has to be upgraded regularly, including themes and plugins, to remain secure.
The point here is to know your risk, and take steps to prevent security issues by not ignoring regular updates and other security measures.
Will the CMS work with my IT configuration or server?
You need to check whether a proposed CMS will work within your IT and server constraints.
For example, some website hosting providers aren't compatible with certain content management systems. Check with IT or have your designer do some homework to make sure you don't end up with a website that doesn't work with your web server or hosting account.
You may also need to check to see what access limitations IT has set for your organization. Some IT departments are notorious for blocking anything and everything that looks like a "blog" or a "personal site" or a "social media site." Sites that utilize the Wordpress platform sometimes get caught in this filter, as it's a popular platform for blogs as well as full websites. The web designer and the general public may be able to access the site, but your team won't unless they're outside of your office network.
Can I have multiple users and set up different roles/permissions?
Naturally, more than one person may need access to manage content on your website. Multiple user accounts and roles come in handy for a number of situations.
In a midsized organization, you may have a number of people that need website admin access. For example:
- The marketing team may need access to change website copy and add blog articles
- The sales team may need access to collect lead intelligence, like what web pages a specific person visited
- Your administrative professionals may need to add news or press releases
- Your product/service delivery may need access to change product specifications and upload documents
- The IT team will need access to upgrade software and support the content management system
If you have outside vendors that assist with design or content production, you may want to limit their access as needed, or restrict them from sensitive information or features, like a client email or lead database.
Take into account who will be using your content management system and how much access you anticipate they’ll need, and work with your web designer to find a CMS with multi-user and multi-role support.
Can the CMS platform support multiple websites?
If your business or organization runs multiple websites, find out if you can easily consolidate and manage those websites from one place. Multi-site support is great because:
- You can access and edit your websites from one dashboard. You won't have to log into 2 or 3 or 4 sites (or more).
- Content can be shared across multiple websites. You only have to add or edit something once, and then it will update across all sites.
- You can set your users' roles and permissions once, and they'll be in place for every website.
So, be sure to check if you can manage multiple websites through your CMS.
Can I generate e-newsletters to send out to my customers?
A content management system may also make it easy to facilitate marketing and sales activities.
For example, your CMS could enable you to publish an email newsletter to your subscribers. Some content management systems make it possible to create the email for archival purposes on your website and send it via a third party tool. Other systems will even send the email for you, eliminating the need for another third party tool.
Can I integrate my CRM system with my CMS?
In our professional opinion, your website should be connected to your CRM via a marketing automation platform. This means that your website should feed your CRM with basic contact information like name, email address and company for all contacts, but should also score leads and provide contact web visit history data so sales reps can do their jobs more effectively.
You want to be sure that your CMS can integrate with customer relationship management tools like Salesforce, so that your website leads are fully accounted for. You want your CRM data to be as complete and as accurate as possible, and it should all start with the data you collect from your website.
Can my CMS help me with my online lead generation efforts?
In order to generate more leads through your website, you’ll need to be able to identify companies that are visiting, easily publish new content and set up both forms and landing pages to collect visitor contacts.
Many companies use third party tools for this, but this is not best practice. An integrated content management system will allow a non-developer to create forms and landing pages, and have the capability to feed lead and visit intelligence to your CRM in a way a third party tool simply can’t.
W3Techs tracks content management system market share and usage monthly, so it’s worth doing some research on their website to understand the popular choices.
At the writing of this article, the top 5 most popular content management systems (non-ecommerce) are:
Note that Magento and Shopify are the most popular e-commerce platforms for companies that sell products online.
Wordpress is an open source content management system that is the most popular in the world. At the writing of this article, Wordpress powers a staggering 30% of websites. It’s free price is likely the driver of this success. Many small and midsize companies use Wordpress for their websites.
Because Wordpress is a popular CMS, it is also the target of hackers and spammers. Companies that don’t update Wordpress core, the themes and the plugins on a regular basis risk having their sites compromised. We don’t feel that this is a reason not to use Wordpress, but it’s something to be aware of.
Wordpress can also be integrated with your marketing automation and CRM, which makes it a good option for companies that wish to use their website to generate new sales leads and gather sales intelligence.
Wordpress is full-featured, but does lack a workflow/approval feature, so if multiple people need to use the system to review and approve content before going live, you’ll have to find a workaround.
Wordpress receives high marks from G2 Crowd, where it was named a “Leader” as recently as the fall of 2017. Eighty-six percent of users are likely to recommend Wordpress to a peer, and it receives a 4.3 out of 5 rating on G2 Crowd.
Wordpress is most popular for small businesses (fewer than 50 employees), but is also used by a fair number of midsized companies and enterprises. Industry usage is all across the board.
From a cost perspective, you’ll still need web hosting, an SSL security certificate, and you’ll need to schedule regular Wordpress upgrades to keep the software running smoothly.
For more information, see https://wordpress.org.
Full disclosure: At Whittington Consulting, many of our client websites run on Wordpress.
HubSpot’s Content Optimization System may not be an obvious choice, as it runs just 0.2% of websites currently, but it is a market leader according to G2 Crowd. HubSpot started as a marketing platform, but has become an integrated system with marketing automation, website and CRM capabilities.
HubSpot is a proprietary system, which means that you’ll pay for a license, ranging from $200-$2,500 per month (most small and midmarket companies are on either HubSpot Basic or HubSpot Pro, both with the Sites add-on). This includes hosting and security certificate, and because it is a proprietary system, HubSpot engineers upgrade the software continuously for you. It’s also a supported software, so if you have issues, you can call HubSpot’s Massachusetts-based customer support team.
HubSpot actually has a higher rating than Wordpress (4.4 out of 5) on G2 Crowd. Eighty-seven percent of HubSpot users would recommend it to a peer. HubSpot shines in the small business and mid-market space. We find that HubSpot is a great choice for companies that are serious about generating leads and business opportunities from their websites, since marketing automation and CRM are seamlessly integrated (including a built-in Salesforce connector). HubSpot will also personalize website content based on several visitor characteristics.
Generally speaking, marketing/advertising, software and tech companies use HubSpot, but usage is common across several diverse industries.
In terms of disadvantages, HubSpot still doesn’t have certain features you might expect in a content management system, such as event management. For developers, it also uses a proprietary template language, though documentation is available.
For more information, see https://www.hubspot.com.
Full disclosure: Whittington Consulting is a HubSpot partner, and many of our client websites run on HubSpot.
Drupal is another open source option that’s been gaining share in the last few years. Drupal is free, which means that you’ll still need website hosting and regular updates to the software.
Companies of all sizes run Drupal, but it is slightly more popular with small businesses. Drupal is a “high performer” on G2 Crowd, and has a rating of 3.8 out of 5. If there’s a knock on Drupal, it’s that has a steeper learning curve and is more difficult to use than other systems (namely Wordpress).
Drupal is also used in a number of diverse industries, and is considered a powerful, flexible CMS.
For more information, see https://www.drupal.org.
Joomla is another popular open source (and free) content management system. This system is more popular for midsized companies than for small companies and enterprises.
Joomla is slightly more difficult to set up than average, has a lower quality of support, and companies generally find it harder than average to use. Even so, this content management system is popular among companies in the IT, marketing/advertising and high tech industries.
This CMS has all the features you might expect, but does not have a workflow approval process which would be necessary if your company requires a content workflow or more than one person reviews and approves content before it goes live.
Joomla receives 3.8 out of 5 on G2 Crowd, but many people do complain that Joomla is not user friendly.
For more information, see https://www.joomla.org.
A serious developer would question the inclusion of Squarespace on this list, but it is a viable solution for many small businesses that want simple websites with little custom functionality. We would not consider this a true content management system, but it does currently run nearly 1% of websites (7th overall).
This CMS is a proprietary system, and you’ll pay a monthly fee to have your website on Squarespace.
Squarespace is a “high performer” according to G2 Crowd, and rates 4.4 out of 5. Squarespace is mostly a small business platform that features customizable templates. The advantage is that you won’t need to know coding to create a website. The disadvantage is that your website may look like many others.
Many diverse industries use Squarespace for their websites.
Common complaints for Squarespace include the lack of advanced capabilities and features that other content management systems have.
For more information, see https://www.squarespace.com.
Like Squarespace, Wix is a proprietary system (and Squarespace’s main competitor). It’s a website builder, not a true content management system, thus is used mainly in the small business market. You’ll pay a monthly fee to have your website on Wix.
That said, Wix is a “leader” in the website builder space on G2 Crowd. It’s popular across a diverse industry set, but like Squarespace, the main complaint you’ll get with this builder is the lack of advanced tools a business might expect.
Wix rates 4.2 out of 5 on G2 Crowd. Like Squarespace, Wix is popular for template availability and not needing code to create the website (or needing to hire a developer).
For more information, see https://www.wix.com.
Sitefinity is the first ASP.NET web content management system on our list. Sitefinity is a proprietary content management system, and its usage is more common among midsized companies between 50-1,000 employees.
Sitefinity currently runs about 0.3% of websites with content management systems.
To cater to its mid-market audience, Sitefinity has smartly included more advanced marketing features in its content management system, such as a contact database, personalization, lead scoring, conversion tracking, A/B testing and a Salesforce connector.
Midmarket companies will also like the fact that Sinefinity is supported, so you can call the company if there are troubles.
Sitefinity doesn’t publish pricing on its website, but the cost of the content management system is in the mid-range of similar proprietary content management systems. In terms of ratings and reviews, Sitefinity receives 3.7 out of 5 stars on G2 Crowd.
For more information, see https://www.sitefinity.com.
Kentico is an ASP.NET proprietary content management system that is likely a close competitor to Sitefinity. Kentico features enterprise-level features like ecommerce ability, marketing automation, lead scoring, email marketing, personalization, mobile marketing and A/B testing.
Because Kentico is proprietary software, you’ll pay for a software license. At the time of publication, the price for a license ranges from $4,449 to well over $400,000. Keep in mind that the price doesn’t include design or customization, and you have to supply hosting for the platform. That might make this system out of reach for small businesses under 50 employees.
Kentico is rated 4.2 out of 5 stars on G2 Crowd, and is run mostly by midsized and enterprise level companies. The main complaints with Kentico seem to focus around a difficult to use user interface for those people who will be managing the website.
For more information, see https://www.kentico.com.
We included Sitecore in our list because even though it rates low on satisfaction, it is a somewhat popular content management system. Sitecore is primarily intended for enterprise and midmarket companies, and not commonly used by small businesses.
Sitecore is a proprietary ASP.NET content management system, and is a direct competitor to both Kentico and Sitefinity, among others. The cost for Sitecore is not published on their website, but G2 Crowd rates the CMS as “high cost” software.
With the high cost comes a plethora of enterprise features, though, like ecommerce capability, marketing automation, personalization, as well as add-ons and connectors to help you integrate with other software platforms.
Sitecore rates 3.4 out of 5 stars on G2 Crowd, but rates as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant report.
For more information, see https://www.sitecore.com.
Most small businesses and mid-market companies are likely going to want to choose between Wordpress, HubSpot, Drupal or Joomla in our experience. Those are the systems we run across the most.
What’s right for your company depends on many of the considerations above, but should focus around:
- Cost, not only to buy the content management system (if proprietary), but also installation, support and maintenance. To get a good idea for cost, you must consider the total cost of ownership and upkeep, not just the cost of the software.
- The importance of lead generation and the ability to integrate with a CRM. Of the more popular low cost options, HubSpot is the only software that includes marketing automation, marketing capabilities and a CRM. If lead generation and lead intelligence is important to your business, it’s worth a look.
- Expertise needed to implement and update. You may need external help setting up your content management system, or you may have internal employees who can do the job. Consider who will be updating the website and demo software to understand how easy it will be to maintain and update content.
I hope this explanation has been helpful. Since this is such a technical topic, it can be difficult to understand. If you need help sorting through your options, we invite you to contact us and have a discussion.