How to Break the Web CMS Replacement Cycle


Our industry has accepted that it’s perfectly normal to replace your web content management system every three to five years. 

We’re talking about a large capital investment that disrupts your business, that can degrade the digital customer experience as you put projects on hold, freeze content and investment and switch focus to implementing a shiny new platform. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. 

So in this series of articles I’m going to share nine tips to breathe longevity into your next CMS implementation project — so you’re not in the same position in three years’ time. 

Tip #1: Remember the Content Author’s Needs

A CMS implementation needs to be optimized for three primary sets of requirements: the site visitor experience, the needs of the developer and the needs of the content author to maintain that experience. 

Visitor and developer needs often become the focus of a new CMS implementation or a website go-live deadline. But a CMS project doesn’t finish when it goes live.

To remain a vibrant, dynamic, engaging online destination it needs regular updates of fresh content. 

Any friction an author experiences when creating content will quickly erode an implementation’s chances for success. A groundswell of discontent from the content community will eventually influence the business to once again change CMSs, putting the business through another cycle of disruption as they select and implement a new CMS.

In the meantime, the author community ignores the existing CMS, starving the site of content. 

Technically-led implementations make this especially evident, where developers build content models, taxonomy structures and CMS UI components from their perspective (with the occasional workaround thrown in for good measure), resulting in a less than intuitive experience for the content author. 

Making it difficult for authors to find content, apply the correct metadata tags and publish content to the correct location results in friction, difficulty and increases in time, as staff churn and the initial training is lost from the corporate memory. 

An implementation like this is difficult to recover from. Content models embedded in a web application can be hard to change. 

Tip #2: Encourage Author Adoption

Since their inception nearly 20 years ago, content management systems were viewed as a way to democratize content publishing, moving the power from the hands of specialist IT staff to the business user — in most cases, the marketers. 

However, in many organizations this only succeeded in shifting the bottleneck from IT to a core team of marketing technologists who are adept at using the CMS, increasing the organization’s capacity for publishing only by increments. This happens at a time when the consumer need for content has increased almost exponentially. 

Businesses would do well to consider the author experience, not just in terms of the interface that pops out of the box with the CMS, but with things like:

  • How content can be contributed in other forms (e.g. Word, email, blog platforms)
  • How to simplify and enhance the CMS experience through the provision of author tools, for example the auto-complete of metadata items, spell checkers, standard taxonomies, SEO and compliance tools
  • How to simplify the CMS experience though the permission model, hiding advanced features, irrelevant folders of content, etc. from the occasional author. Permission models can be a surprisingly powerful tool in stripping away the unnecessary

Aside from the standard “must be easy to use” RFP question, a good governance implementation — in the form of a carefully considered workflow and permission model — goes far in enabling widespread adoption. Making it clear to occasional content authors that they cannot break the site encourages them to pitch in with content contributions. 

As mentioned in the first tip — happy content authors are key to a happy and long-lived CMS implementation.

Tip #3: Harness User Generated Content

Fresh content is the elixir of life for a CMS. 

We’ve all heard that every organization is a publisher now: Fortunately for them, they’re getting some help in this area as their audiences are creating content too. 

Any content strategy and CMS implementation needs to consider user generated content: how best to leverage it and how best to engage the folks who are creating it. This content ranges from comments, reviews and forums to full-length user contributed articles — as Land Rover does with its Land Rover stories.

These strategies will vary widely according to the organization, but it must align with a social media strategy. 

It’s a subject that could (or should be) explored in an entire article, however, all of the basic points from the previous two tips apply:

  • Build user generated content into the content author requirements from the start
  • Make it easy for people to engage with the brand and for the organization to harvest and re-use that content
  • Consider a governance process for user generated content 

So, those are the first three tips — in short, look after the goose that lays the golden egg: the content authors. In the next article, we’ll look at the platform. 

Ian has spent the last fifteen years working with or developing web content management, personalization and marketing technologies serving as a developer, practitioner, marketer, industry analyst and as a member of the leadership team for various recognized vendors and agencies in both the UK and the US.

His career has included a stint working with Gilbane group as a senior industry analyst, heading up Product Marketing at SDL during a great period for them of growth and acquisition and creating a Content Marketing Strategy practice at US Customer Experience agency Tahzoo.


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