You shouldn’t choose a CMS by painstakingly comparing lists of features. There are too many unique factors specific to your business.
Instead, the best starting point is to assess your current digital maturity and work upward, to ask questions like:
- What do we want to use content to achieve?
- Where are we starting from, and how far (and how quickly) do we want to advance?
The digital marketing tactics and metrics you adopt will evolve as you advance in digital maturity, as will the requirements for your CMS.
Say your current web content operation consists of a brochure-like website, supported by a few people—and it’s working for you. You don’t need complex workflows or integration features. But if you intend to grow and get more sophisticated with your digital experiences, you might.
Alternatively, say you’re a highly regulated, multinational organization, and you regularly distribute personalized, mission-critical content. In this case, you’ll need a CMS that supports a robust content governance framework.
8 features that you need to keep in mind:
Feature 1: Robust editor
As a minimum requirement, a suitable CMS should give you the tools to easily create, edit, and deliver content.
An intuitive user interface
A simple, accessible user interface lets even inexperienced content teams complete tasks with minimal training needed. Look for features such as drag and drop, drop-down lists, and in-context help to complete tasks.
Content preview (WYSIWYG)
What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) functionality ensures you can preview the content before publication. Look for multiple preview modes for different devices—fully functioning device simulators provide the truest sense of what the experience is going to look and feel like.
And if you plan on delivering personalized content, it will be handy for your content teams to see what specific audience profiles will experience.
Easily customizable CMSs include tools that let designers create and update site experiences without coding. Look for features that enable easy design for different audience devices.
In-context help and documentation
Even after training, it’s unlikely your content team will understand all the nuances of your CMS. In-context helps systems reduce inefficient workarounds and refresh knowledge of seldom-used features.
Search and indexing functions
A flexible and scalable built-in search engine will help your content team (and your audience) find the information they need faster. Look for search functionality that includes:
- Predictive search
- Suggested fill-in of fields
- Search-filter functionality
- Matching misspelled words and verb variations (such as write, wrote, and writing)
- Full-system searches at any level of the content hierarchy
- Boolean (AND, NOT, OR) query logic
Content storage and accessibility
Well-designed storage and intuitive folder structures help your content editors work from the same pool of approved assets. They also make it easier to rationalize what’s being stored by getting rid of duplicate or retired content.
Well-designed page and component templates act as a guardrail to keep web content production smooth, consistent, and aligned to best practices.
They help writers and editors create content faster and with fewer mistakes.
A template might contain a headline field, summary field, a body field, and image containers, with the right fonts and colors for each—all based on a pre-determined style guide.
Good version control increases visibility across the whole content lifecycle, from first draft to post-publication edits. It can also act as a safety net for editors, making it easier to catch mistakes by keeping a record of who’s done what, where, and when.
Scheduling and reminders
Scheduling functionality ensures pre-written content goes live at exactly the right time—maybe an article has an embargo, or a piece of financial information can’t be released until a certain date and time.
Scheduling is also integral to dynamic marketing strategies that react to time-based events. So, for instance, in the run-up to Christmas, you could launch a product page advertising one price on Dec. 15, and then apply a 20% discount on Dec. 26, before reverting to the original price on Jan. 2.
Feature 2: Content and workflow management
Workflow and approvals
Workflow describes the overall flow of content through various stages of publication, usually authoring, editing, staging, approval, translation, publishing, and promotion.
A CMS with an adaptable workflow system can save your users time and safeguard your team from publishing the wrong content at the wrong time.
Automated workflows can also smooth multi- stage approval processes, progressing edits from writers to senior editors via text or email notifications.
Intelligent reporting tools and dashboards can help you keep tabs on different categories of content
in your system. The types of reports you generate might include: content on hold, content awaiting approval, available images for a certain topic, articles in your workflow, and how many articles your business has published this month.
Link management helps content teams automatically preserve the integrity of in-content links when moving pages around the CMS.
Say a bank’s content team moved a “home equity loan page” from “personal banking” to “lending services.” A link management system would automatically update all the links that point to the “home equity loan” page throughout the system.
Likewise, if someone deletes that home equity page, the system should issue a warning about deleting a piece of content that has references pointing to it.
CMSs use metadata to intuitively understand the differences between different content types and apply rules to them accordingly. Content types could be a blog, product description, press release, or otherwise—they each have metadata that describes their nature.
Feature 3: User Administration
Tailored user (and group) permissions
Some CMSs have simple and limited permissions systems. For example, someone can:
• Change page design (or not)
• Edit text (or not)
• Edit metadata for SEO purposes (or not)
Meanwhile, others can flexibly tailor permissions around both groups and individuals based on criteria like content type, job type, rank, and geography. For instance, the person who manages your website’s metadata for SEO might not be the same person authoring the pages.
If you have a choice, look for a CMS with granularity down to each individual field.
While granular user administration is primarily useful for larger content teams, smaller teams may opt for a CMS with more customization functionality than presently needed to leave more headroom to grow.
Any prospective CMS should be agile enough to accommodate new content policies or regulations required by different jurisdictions. For instance, your industry may have regulations that require you to prove what content was live on your website at a specific date or time.
Feature 4: Robust Security
Good versioning functionality, the right approvals process, and granular user administration all help prevent mistakes and reduce errors.
But you’re also going to need tight security controls around access to specific documents and information—so content is only seen by the right people and released at the right time.
Furthermore, some CMSs integrate with strong authentication mechanisms to prevent illegitimate access. If security is a high priority for you, look for a CMS that integrates well with your chosen enterprise security provider and/or third-party authentication systems such as Azure AD, IdentityServer, OpenID, and Oauth.
Feature 5: Omnichannel scalability
If you’re going to be delivering content to multiple channels and devices, your CMS will need to help you do it efficiently.
Creating once, delivering everywhere
Instead of uploading the same piece of content multiple times, your CMS should support delivery across different form factors and screen sizes from a single action.
Pulling this off typically requires a CMS with an object-based (as opposed to a page-based) architecture. Object-based architectures store content in a presentation-neutral format and render pages in a form that suits the visitor’s device, context, and personal preferences.
Adding new channels with ease
New devices and channels—some not yet even invented—will continue to emerge within the lifespan of your new CMS. So, buying a simple, less customizable CMS might seem sensible today, but you will likely have to rip and replace it in a few years.
Choosing an open and extensible CMS means developers (and integration partners) can help you adapt to new channels as they emerge.
A vendor that keeps up
You don’t just need an extensible, flexible platform. You also need to know your CMS vendor keeps up with trends and regularly updates its software development kits (SDKs), application programming interfaces (APIs), connectors, and pipelines. If they don’t, distributing content on the latest devices, apps, and other platforms will be challenging at best.
Your CMS should also help with search engine optimization. As SEO algorithms change regularly, there’s always the potential need to supply additional or restructured metadata that you manage alongside your content without having to alter or, even worse, re-enter all existing content.
Feature 6: Globalization and Localization
To consumers, globalization has made the world feel smaller. For content publishers suddenly addressing audiences overseas, the challenges have gotten bigger.
The right CMS can make multi-site, multi-national, multi-lingual challenges far less complex and
If you’re managing multiple web properties for different brands and audiences, choose a CMS with multi-site support. Managing content, presentation, and modules centrally is by far the most efficient way to distribute the same functionality across multiple sites.
If your organization has foreign-language sites, or might in the future, look for CMSs that can
natively support content and websites in multiple languages as well as provide content editing
tools that operate in the languages your regional marketing teams need.
Integration with localization and translation services
Tight integration between your CMS and a good localization provider makes it faster and cheaper to provide consistently high-quality content
experiences across different territories and cultures.
The automated movement of content through workflows—in, then out, of the translation service— means marketers can translate content without ever leaving the CMS. The right localization integration increases productivity, reduces time to market, and ensures translation accuracy and brand consistency.
Multi-lingual editorial functionality
Quality assurance is a critical editorial responsibility with content translation. Fortunately, there are many CMS tools that can help, including:
• Editorial interfaces that provide side-by-side views of original and translated content
• Permissions settings that ensure any content team members unfamiliar with a certain language can’t make changes to content in that language
• Preconfigured workflows to ensure pages created in the mother website trigger an automated translation request
• Intelligent link management to ensure any links in the original language page or component are replicated in the foreign-language website
Feature 7 : Scale, speed and elasticity
Your CMS going down is just as bad as your website hosting provider going down.
Your CMS needs to be resilient, highly available, and scalable enough to support different types of growth—whether that’s organic visits over time, seasonal spikes, entry into new countries, or anything else your business strategy demands.
Cloud deployments offer more flexibility, scalability, and faster time to market. You can spin up new websites and campaigns in hours instead of days and weeks, and respond to spikes in demand automatically, even if they’re unexpected. Deploying your CMS in the cloud is
also more cost effective, reducing high initial capex costs and moving to a usage-based opex model.
Regardless of your deployment needs, you’ll want to make sure you have a choice of options with your CMS—whether that’s on-premises, IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS (or a combination of all four).
If you’re working with several different brands (or within different geographies), you’ll most likely want a CMS that supports the deployment and management of multiple sites from a single system (and by a single content team).
Practically, this means sharing and reusing components, testing practices, and analytics across multiple sites in support of global management with local execution.
The extensibility of your CMS—the degree to which it can be integrated with the ever-expanding martech stack—is a huge indicator of its lifespan.
Even if your current content ecosystem doesn’t touch that many other systems, it’s wise to plan around future integration flexibility. Look for solutions with pre-built integrations into other leading business software like databases and marketing automation services.
Alternatively, look for CMSs that use open standards (like OWIN, OData, JSON, and XML) and that incorporate a framework for exchanging content data among systems. Vendors should always be optimizing future releases around extensibility, with clear points for integration.
Where extensibility often requires development work, connectors are out-of-the-box solutions with no (or very little) development requirements.
They’re designed with usability, consistency, and painless maintenance and upgrading in mind, and they’re built on a framework that provides a
blueprint for how to deliver data and functionality to your CMS. But bear in mind, compared with more flexible APIs, individual connectors may be too specific to meet your exact requirements.
You’ll want to make sure your chosen CMS comes with an extensive set of modern APIs. Finding people or applications that speak ancient API languages is difficult.
APIs increase the potential reach of your content by helping your CMS integrate well with other systems, applications, channels, devices, and cloud services.
If your CMS doesn’t have APIs, you’ll want to ensure it has a healthy developer or partner ecosystem for integration help.
Feature 8: Data and personalization engine
Some of the leading companies in the world have grown at incredible rates precisely because they deliver personalized, relevant digital experiences.
Now businesses everywhere are beginning to realize they have to offer content tailored to who their visitors are, how they’ve interacted over digital channels in the past, and what they’re doing right now, in real time.
The importance of data
Personalization requires a CMS that can collect, connect, and process interaction data in real time— information like inbound interactions, browsing behavior, geolocation, profile, and past purchases.
Your CMS should be able to collect interaction data from every channel—even from external sources and applications—to measure and report on every customer interaction and journey. This is foundational to your future personalization efforts
A unifying experience platform
Customer insights are mutually informative— the more you bring together, the more potent the end result.
The returns on personalization
In its 2018 Trends in Personalization survey, Researchscape International and Evergage, Inc. found that 87% of marketers are seeing a measurable lift in conversion from personalization. Half (54%) experience a lift of more than 10%, while 13% report a lift of over 30%.
That’s why content consumption data is invaluable. When combined with things like demographic and behavioral data, it paints a much clearer picture of individual customer interests, motivations, needs, buying readiness, and their overall journey.
This kind of personalization is much more straightforward if your CMS integrates with a wider, digital experience management platform that unifies all your channels, campaigns, and analytics into one integrated ecosystem
Bonus Feature 9: Content + Commerce
As content increasingly influences purchase decisions, it’s getting more important to integrate content and e-commerce systems. Without this integration, the user experience of your brand feels disjointed. When investing in a CMS,
you’ll want to ensure it supports the following e-commerce features.
A unified interface for e-commerce
To stay on top of everything, you’ll need a single pane of glass for inventory management, catalog management, order management, customer profile, pricing, and promotion management.
You’ll want to be able to import customer profiles and product catalogs from disparate sources.
Seamless inventory management
This depends on the scale of your operation, but you’ll likely need to manage online-to-offline, multi- store, multi-warehouse, and multi-site inventory.
Adaptable inventory handling
Your CMS should make it easier to define rules for stock outs, pre-orders, and back orders. And crucially, it’ll also need to integrate with your back-end ERP system.
Automation with flowchart-based rules You don’t want to compromise on the fundamentals of e-commerce. So, you’ll need an intuitive way to automate next steps for
actions like cart abandonment, customer nurture, and purchase follow up.
You’ll want to set up personalized offers, products, or even digital access (to things like exclusive content) for different customers. And look for additional capabilities like location-based targeting.
You’ll need to make sure your basket and orders can be configured to integrate with all major payment, shipping, and tax solution providers.
User-generated content creation
The biggest e-commerce players aren’t just selling products on a site. They’re building communities. So, make sure your CMS lets your users engage with your products through things like social media and product reviews.
The biggest difference between old-school brick-and-mortar retailers and e-commerce players is that online players can use testing to continuously optimize shopping content. Make sure your CMS makes that easier to do, at scale.