If developing a website is like constructing a building, then the content management system (CMS) is the framework that holds it together.
Whether you’re starting a website from the ground up or rethinking an existing one, it’s important that the marketing team participate in selecting the site’s CMS. Making that choice may seem like something the IT team should do, but there are many good reasons that marketing should be involved.
The CMS will shape your content workflow for the life of the website. It can empower you and your team to work independently to make updating content quick and simple, or it can leave you leaning on IT for support and waiting until they have time to make updates.
Quick content updates are essential for fast, timely marketing campaigns. Owning the publishing process is often the best way for marketing teams to ensure their campaigns are successful.
Start with a Vision
Start by taking a step back to capture a broad view of the project. Are you building a one-bedroom home or a 70-story high rise? Think through the purpose and scale of the site, the types of content it will have, and how you want visitors to interact with it.
Sites can have a variety of purposes, content, and opportunities for interaction. Here are a few examples:
Informational: A website that’s strictly informational will share what the business is, location, hours, and how to get in contact. All this may be able to be done with just a few pages.
Educational: An educational site may be a practical how-to guide with a few pages or a reference resource, like Wikipedia, with thousands of pages and crosslinks.
Entertainment: Entertainment sites, like YouTube, may have dynamic content that is frequently updated and can be massive in scale. Gambling, sports, music, radio stations, television networks, news sites, and Ted Talks also would be considered entertainment sites.
Ecommerce: An ecommerce site sells products or services online. Visitors will need to easily navigate the products, add items to their basket, and checkout for the site to be successful. The size of these sites depends on the complexity of the product lines.
Service-Based Business: Sites that effectively sell services generally include content that makes a case for how the business’s service stands out from the rest. They’ll establish credibility as a trustworthy expert with blogs that share information of value to the service-seeker. They also may have customer or influencer recommendations for third-party validation.
To keep visitors on your site, website content needs to be engaging and add value. Quality content should address all stages of the sales funnel. Infographics, video, audio files, blogs, case studies, and whitepapers are some of the ways to accomplish this. Quality, in-depth landing pages for products and services are important, as well. Also consider product reviews and testimonials, employee profiles, press releases, and industry news.
As you consider the site’s purpose, take into account how visitors will engage with it. How many landing pages will you need? What about multimedia and interactive elements? All of these considerations will shape your CMS decision.
Map Your Workflow
Your next step in deciding which CMS to choose is to define your workflow. Workflow is the set of tasks that go into creating the content that’s published on the site. This could include web pages, blog posts, and nurture emails.
A typical workflow looks like this:
Topic Selection → Topic Approval → Outline Content → Draft → Review → Edit → Approve → Publish → Track Results → Report Up
Once the workflow is established, identify who owns each step and create a calendar that lays out how frequently content will be published. You may want blog updates three times a week, while fresh landing pages are published once a quarter. If you are only updating content a few times a year, your CMS needs will be drastically different than if you are publishing daily.
Be aware, each workflow step that falls outside of your direct influence is prone to bogging down. Navigating the approval process can be challenging, especially when leaders aren’t on the marketing team. If IT is responsible for publishing content, remember that their top priorities are going to be around IT objectives, not marketing ones.
To prevent marketing efforts from becoming out of date before they go live, own the publishing process and choose a CMS that the marketing team can manage.
Open Source vs. Proprietary
In choosing a CMS, there are two types of CMS software: open source and proprietary. Each has distinct characteristics and benefits.
A proprietary CMS is built and maintained by a single company that owns the code. This company charges a license fee for the use of its CMS, and it provides most of the services and features required to launch and maintain websites on the platform.
The benefits of a proprietary CMS include:
The site is hosted and maintained by the same company that built the CMS. These companies generally offer 24/7 support, and they should know exactly how to fix any issues that might arise, because they built the CMS.
The vendor is responsible for ensuring the software is compliant with standards as they evolve.
Open source means that the source code is open to anyone with the skills and time to modify it to create new features or functionality.
The benefits of an open source CMS include:
The software itself is free and initial setup costs can be very low.
Open source forums and user groups are a great resource for assistance with common issues. Active communities also continually develop enhancements, which helps to future-proof your CMS.
There’s long-term management flexibility with open source software. Data can be exported for a site rebuild or update. There is a huge market of people able to help you and you have flexibility to change service and hosting vendors at any time.
Both types of software have points in their favor, but many companies find that open source is easier to customize and develop, and is more flexible and easier to keep up-to-date.
WordPress or Drupal?
WordPress and Drupal are the two most commonly used open source CMSes. They both offer plenty of customizable modules and plugins to expand functionality. Deciding which one is right for your business and marketing team depends on what your needs are.
Ease of Use
If your marketing team is going to manage content updates, you’ll want a CMS the team can manage comfortably.
WordPress was originally developed as a blogging platform. It has evolved significantly from there, but it's always maintained a focus on making it easy to publish content. As such, it’s commonly used by sites that frequently update content. It’s generally easy for beginners to publish and update with WordPress and easy for those with limited knowledge of website management.
Drupal is more configurable and extensible than WordPress, but that also makes it more complex to setup. It's focus has historically been in structured information and reusing that information in a variety of settings and systems. Broadly speaking, the more content and data you have that you need to create and manage, the better Drupal may be for you.
Capacity for Customization
Both WordPress and Drupal can be customized, but to different degrees.
WordPress offers plenty of templates and a large library of plugins to tailor a site to specific needs. The administrative dashboard interface can be edited and custom fields added, and the templates can be customized. However, your customization options tend to be limited out of the box. If a plugin doesn't do exactly what you need in the way you need it, you may find yourself needing to do a LOT of work to get it there.
Drupal has advanced functionality capabilities and can support a massive number of pages and users. It can handle multiple page templates and content types, as well. Drupal was built for customization, but you’ll need developers to build the site to maximize its features. You can have anything you can imagine, but you have to build and configure it accordingly.
How Much Technology Support Will It Need?
Here’s where WordPress and Drupal diverge the most. Drupal generally requires a developer be involved in ongoing maintenance; and for most larger companies that’s the IT department.
WordPress is generally manageable for the novice and advanced user. More complex implementations will require some IT overhead, but overall WordPress tends to be more beginner-friendly to administer and update.
Drupal typically requires a developer to install and update modules. Routine content updates will generally require working knowledge of more things as the content tends to be more complex and have more different types and pieces of information. The IT team may need to be actively involved in maintaining and updating a Drupal site.
Get IT, Marketing, and Development Aligned on Website Operations
Content Types & Integrations
Drupal and WordPress definitely have different strengths when it comes to hosting different types of content and integrating with other systems.
WordPress is a good choice for simple content types, where the emphasis is on ease and efficiency of publishing. Plugins can be used to integrate with other systems.
Drupal tends to be a better choice if you have multiple types of content that are linked to each other in multiple ways. It also tends to be better for integrating with other systems and tools.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer between WordPress and Drupal; it’s simply which CMS best suits your needs and resources.
Choose the Right Hosting
If the CMS is similar to a building’s framework, the host or platform where it resides is its foundation. Every site needs to withstand a traffic surge or hacker’s attack. It doesn’t matter if your site is as small as a one-bedroom home or towering like a 70-story high rise, the foundation needs to be rock solid.
So what does a strong foundation look like? Some may choose to host their site on their own server, which means their IT team takes on the responsibility of keeping it secure, stable, and swift.
The most basic web hosting is simply rented space on a server somewhere else. Other hosts have a range of services.
At Pantheon, your site isn’t hosted on a server. Instead, your site lives in containers. When your website experiences a spike in traffic, Pantheon can automatically assign more containers to handle the extra demand. When traffic decreases, the software automatically scales back down.
Pantheon in Layman's Terms
How a Web Host Can Support Marketing Workflow (or Not)
The way the traditional website development process works is that only one project moves forward at a time. The more work that’s taking place, the longer the queue. Lower priority tasks, like blog updates, often get pushed to the back of the line as urgent projects arise, like security updates, or worse, repairing damage from hackers.
Some hosts offer a different type of development called feature branching. With feature branching, multiple copies of the website can be created, which enables multiple development teams to work on different projects at the same time. This is called parallel feature development.
When changes are ready to push live, each branch is synthesized into the main site. Every change is marked so that it’s clear who made what updates. Every day, everyone is working on a copy of the same version. When each new project is launched, nothing is overwritten or lost.
In addition, there’s no limit to the number of feature branches or projects that can take place simultaneously.
Marketing is uninterrupted as all this development goes on. The team can launch new campaigns, create fresh landing pages, publish new blogs, or simply fix typos, without unexpected downtime creating delays.
As the CMS conversation moves forward, ask about plans for the web hosting platform and if it has the capacity for feature branching. At the very least, the IT team may think the marketers are tech savvy. At the most, they’ll understand how feature branching will empower them to focus on what they do best, and they’ll make sure you both get what you want in a hosting platform.
Less Dependency on IT
The right hosting platform complements the power of the CMS, amplifying marketing's ability to effectively execute campaigns without leaning heavily on IT.
Marketing should be aware of the additional technical benefits a powerful platform can deliver, like the ability to scale up to absorb traffic surges.
Page caching also matters for speed and reducing bounce rates. You want pages to load instantly regardless of the number of images, videos, or widgets they have. The hosting platform factors into this as well.
Your hosting platform can also help with security. Security matters for peace of mind, customer experience, even SEO. A robust hosting platform ensures swift and secure technical performance.
Marketers Do Care about Website Hosting (But Don't Know They Do)
Build it Right the First Time
The CMS and hosting platform your website is built on will directly affect your ability to run marketing campaigns effectively. That’s why it’s important to make sure the marketing department’s voice is heard when these decisions are made.
Marketers need the freedom to publish new content or update existing pages. They also need a site that performs flawlessly, where downtime is eliminated and customers have a seamless experience. The right CMS and website platform enables all of this, so marketing can focus on results.
Discover additional insights on selecting the right CMS and host with the Wordpress Website Buyer’s Guide and the Drupal Website Platform Buyer’s Guide. For a real-life example, explore how SendGrid went through the CMS and website infrastructure selection process.
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