Content Conundrum: How to Choose the Right CMS for Your Business

Recently, market research firm Forrester published their report The Forrester Wave™: Web Content Management Systems, Q1 2017. The report evaluates the top web Content Management Systems (CMS) on the market based on 25 different criteria that help distill the strengths and weaknesses of the top 15 platforms available to consumers. These strategically chosen criteria are structured in a way that prevent the top selling enterprise platforms from hogging the list and allows the smaller, yet worthy, technologies to grab spots on the list.

We were happy to see two of our vendor partners Hippo (a BloomReach company) and Sitecore mentioned as strong performers in the report. We often recommend these platforms because they meet the strategic needs of our clients while giving us the flexibility to execute the creative solutions we need to deliver.

Forrester’s report analyzed each of the 15 platforms based on three main categories:

  • Current Offering – takes a dive into the features and platform architecture
  • Strategy – examines the broader business plan and services to customers
  • Market Presence – how much of a household name they are (this category didn’t have any weight on their total score)

These criteria address the broad range of factors you should take into account when choosing the platform that is right for your business. Viewing the platforms under this lens helps to wrangle the various pros and cons into a structured framework that will help make your research process much less daunting.

Each platform offers a robust selection of different features that can be taken advantage of, but not every platform on the list will be a fit within every organization. Some technologies have feature-sets that are a more appropriate fit than others based on the huge spectrum of needs of companies around the world. So how do you determine which product will best meet the needs of your organization? We often find ourselves helping our clients dig through the details to help answer this question. Every organization has a problem they are trying to solve with the implementation of a CMS platform. Finding the platform that delivers the right solution is not always easy.

To help our clients with the selection process, we apply the following framework of questions (and answers) to build a case for a platform. When narrowing the list of platforms to determine the best fit for our clients, we make sure we have definitive answers for these two simple questions:

Will my organization adopt it?

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At face value, this question is simple. Under the surface, it is perhaps one of the most overlooked concepts in the implementation of content management systems. Your chosen platform must fit the culture of your organization in a varying degree of ways. Its primary users should want to use it. Not only should they want to use it, they should be able to use it easily. The technology stack should be something the IT team is familiar with, the platform should support (or be able to support with configuration and customization) desired publishing workflows, marketing should be able to gather the customer data they need for analysis, the platform should support syndication of content and data, etc. Review and research the key areas below to help form the criteria for a successful platform adoption.

Platform Architecture

Whether you plan to hire an implementation partner or are planning to use in-house resources, take a look at how each platform is architected under the hood. Identify the technology stack (typically Java or .NET) of each of the platforms you are evaluating and note which ones best fit the IT resources you have to implement and support it.

An incompatibility here shouldn’t exclude a platform from consideration. CMS software companies are increasingly moving towards Cloud and API-based architectures that allow a lot of the platform development and support to take place outside of core framework. Once the initial setup of these platforms is complete, much of the future feature development can take place using the API layer, which allows you to develop independently from the core codebase of the CMS. Further, Cloud-based systems don’t require getting your hands dirty with server hardware and software maintenance as this is maintained on the software provider side. This allows for more flexibility when choosing how to support your application and allows you to focus resources on more strategic value-add pursuits.

Within the Forrester report, view those platforms ranking high in both “Architecture” and “Cloud” - platforms including Hippo CMS - when looking at architectural flexibility.

Cloud, On-premise, or Both?

As the business evolves, CMS platforms are increasingly introducing Cloud-based solutions for their customers. Those looking to decrease their capital expenditure budget in favor of more operational expense spending will benefit by moving into the cloud and away from the procurement of their own physical hardware. Maintenance costs will go down, uptime will go up, and many technical challenges will be taken off your organization’s plate.

While moving to the Cloud has a number of distinct advantages over on-premise installations, make sure such an option fits the culture of your organization before choosing to jump into a fully cloud-based system. Companies who handle secure data – banks, healthcare, trade-secret heavy organizations – have often been hesitant to host their data outside their own hardware. If you plan to use your CMS platform for applications that store sensitive data for uses like Intranets and internal business process applications, be sure to keep an eye on any security policies that are in place that might slow your search. However, if you plan to use your CMS for its most common use cases: public facing websites and apps, your barriers will likely be less significant.

Regardless of your security policies, all companies should consider a move to the cloud as a move into the future of the industry. Cloud offerings are becoming increasingly common and the industry is adapting to support all types of businesses - even those with strict security policies.

Within the “Strategy” evaluation category of the Forrester Wave report, a “Cloud” rating will give you a good idea of which platform is going to support cloud-readiness for your company.

Developer Friendliness

All platforms have varying degrees of developer support networks. Generally, the more well-known the platform, the more robust the developer network. This is an advantage to the technical team in that they can quickly find information to complete development or support tasks.

Separately, some companies will find the ability to build custom modules on top of the platform is an important feature. All CMS platforms come with suites of built-in features that may suit your organization out-of-the-box. However, many organizations – especially those looking to power all of their digital properties within this CMS – should look for platforms that allow their development team to easily pop open the hood and write customizations to meet the needs of the business. Look for open source and open architecture systems when searching for this aspect of developer friendliness.


Take a look at your technical maturity as an organization. Are there active initiatives to centralize and streamline your IT systems and back-end data? Look for a platform with a reputation for its interoperability. In recent years, many organizations have begun acting on the need to de-duplicate data and create a tightly integrated enterprise that allows data to be shared from one system of record to another. As companies expand into omnichannel digital ecosystems, the need for this tight integration between systems becomes a necessity.

If these initiatives are taking place at your organization, look for a CMS platform that touts “headless”, API-centric, or open architecture options. This allows data to be shared amongst systems outside of its presentation layer, allowing the application consuming it to display and transform it however the situation requires. Legacy CMS systems often don’t separate data from presentation of the data, making its dissemination amongst multiple systems a technical challenge. Perhaps the best example of an interoperable system we’ve worked with is Hippo. Their open architecture and REST API structure allows you to easily integrate your existing digital marketing products, allowing you to create an ecosystem of applications rather than maintaining disparate systems. This allows you to create an even more relevant experience for your customers, giving you a competitive edge in the digital space. We commonly recommend this system to our clients because its flexibility allows a wide variety of business cases to be accomplished with its implementation.

Content Publishing Architecture

Examine the team who will own the content within the system (see the next section for some more detail on how to best wrangle the primary objectives of that team) Once this activity is complete, determine which platform best matches the content architecture that is required by your team. Platforms like Adobe Experience Manager offer a very robust marketing suite for teams looking to build out their customer analysis capability, but also tightly couple data to the presentation layer, so it may not be the best fit for teams that are managing content across multiple applications.

Take a deep dive into the content publishing features that each platform offers and compare it against the existing or desired workflow. Is there a heavy hierarchical approval process needed? Look for platforms that cater to this functionality so that the IT team can avoid pushing out and maintaining custom modules on top of the platform. Make sure the key goals of your content owners are catered to – or can easily be catered to by a development team when choosing your system. Reference platforms with high “Content” ratings within Forrester’s analysis.

The categories above should get you to a position where you have a realistic view of which platforms will likely be used at your organization. This is the first half of the equation. Now examine the second half:

Will it help accomplish my goals?

Once you’ve developed a short list of platforms you’ve determined stand a good chance of being adopted by your organizational culture, dig into the core business case of the platform implementation. Answer the “why” and “how” of your new CMS. Positioning your selection in this light will prevent you from making a selection based on too narrow of a scope, like a specific feature that you saw in a product demo or a conversation with a vendor.

Answer the “Why?” and “How?”

The answer shouldn’t be “my current CMS is old and needs to be replaced.” While this may be a valid and exceedingly common justification, start out broader than this. What could this CMS implementation solve as it pertains to your company and department goals (particularly in the digital space)? What are you trying to solve? Develop this into a small list of prioritized goals along with ways to accomplish them. For example:

Goal: Generate more qualified leads in the digital space by the end of the year

  • Solution: Begin targeting content to our fastest growing and most profitable segments
  • Solution: Publish double the number of white papers on the website to increase sign-ups

Goal: Enter into the international market by the end of the quarter

  • Solution: Translate existing web content to Spanish and French
  • Solution: Publish region specific content to the appropriate groups on the website

Goal: Build brand engagement by unifying our message in the digital space

  • Solution: Unify all content into one platform to publish public facing content from one place
  • Solution: Launch a retargeting campaign that draws the most interested customers back to the website

Goal: Create a better definition of our customer throughout all stages of the purchasing lifecycle

  • Solution: Begin collecting detailed analytics about the traffic on our site and app.
  • Solution: Begin conducting A/B tests on the website to determine which segments respond to which layouts

Every CMS platform comes with a huge number of features that are sometimes difficult to wrangle. Mapping out the areas that matter to you and your company creates a framework to help focus on what will really benefit your bottom line.

Determine how each platform will help you accomplish your plan Once you have a rough list of goals and strategies in place, dive into the features and functions of each platform. For each strategy, use the Forrester Wave Report along with outside research to determine which platform is most likely to help you be successful. Using feature matrices which compare platforms and their corresponding features helps with this analysis. If no clear standout comes from this activity, prioritize your goals and strategies to determine which will have the most impact on the organization.

When your list is narrowed down, begin contacting the top contenders and scheduling demos. Get in touch with implementation partners to determine which of those will work the best with your organization. While platform selection can be daunting, developing a framework around your search will save time and build a much stronger business case when the time comes to make the final decision.