There’s a common misconception that content management systems (CMS) are exclusively about content: that they’re important if you’re a business that lives and dies by its blog, but if you’re an ecommerce store, you don’t really need one.
Yet many ecommerce businesses now depend on content just as much as a SaaS or a news site.
As ecommerce sites and mobile stores have changed and grown more complex, the systems used to manage and serve them have also become increasingly multi-faceted.
In the modern online space, e-tailers need a CMS that can deal with a range of complex functions. It has to integrate into marketing and enterprise management tools, sync easily with your ecommerce platform and offer the range of features that users have come to expect – without becoming too difficult to use.
So what’s the difference between a CMS and an ecommerce platform?
Some examples are obvious: WordPress is a CMS. Using plugins, you can turn a standard WP install into a respectable ecommerce solution, but its primary purpose is to make it easy to create, host, change and promote content.
On the other hand, Magento has some CMS features, but they’re very rudimentary: it’s primarily a tool for selling online. In between there are many systems that straddle the gap in various ways.
This article will try to help you navigate your way through this and come out the other end with a good match between your business needs and the ecommerce CMS marketplace.
Whether you’re looking to integrate ecommerce software with a separate CMS or intend to go with a full package, here are five key questions to keep in mind.
1: Is It a Go-to Marketing Tool?
With this question, you should be asking about split testing, integration with other marketing tools, one-to-one marketing functionality and extensive content options.
Split testing – sometimes called ‘A/B testing’ – is about trying out different versions of a page to see which performs better so you can constantly improve your website and your content marketing game.
Some CMS systems come with split testing built in; others allow you to use plugins or integrate with third-party split testing tools easily. But some don’t really give you a lot of content and page layout options, and many that are relatively new don’t come with many plugin options either.
At that point you have to make a judgment call: the one that’s quick and easy to implement, or the one that’s cohesive and powerful? When you make that call, think about your business two to three years from now, not today. Ultimately, more flexible and powerful solutions will allow you to grow seamlessly.
One-to-one marketing refers to CMS functionalities that enable an ecommerce portal to tailor its content to specific users. This personalization is based on data gathered by tracking on-site behavior, like browsing habits, and from third-party providers such as ad companies.
Because this practice is now so pervasive in the practice of ecommerce website development services providers, it’s not a matter of whether or not these features are included, but rather how extensive they are. Evaluate personalization capabilities based on the added benefits they can give you over competing products. Remember that there are still significant challenges to effective personalization and your CMS can help you overcome many of these.
Closely linked to one-to-one marketing is the facility to offer interactive elements, like feedback forms and surveys, and automatically tie these into customers’ experiences.
There should also be some kind of functionality for user-generated content like comments and reviews.
In particular, look for the ability to auto-generate content in unique on-page locations based on user preferences, streamline and refine displays, and send updates and emails in response to certain behaviors.
Finally, you need to consider how well your CMS integrates with the rest of your marketing efforts. Does the CMS you’re opting for enables easy social sharing? That would shave hours off a marketing schedule.
Does it give you in-platform analytics tools, or tightly and easily integrate with standards like Google Analytics? What about third-party tools like heat mapping or social analytics?
If you choose a CMS that doesn’t link up with your email tool, you’ll be making that link by hand. If it doesn’t integrate with your marketing automation platform, you’ll be ferrying content across by hand.
That’s doable when you have fifty pages, five hundred subscribers and post a blog once a week. But a thousand-page site with a multi-author, multimedia content hub?
Again, shop for the long view and don’t get caught out.
2: How Customizable is the Frontend?
With this, you should be asking about customizing blog post templates, landing pages, product page templates, navigation layouts and conversion elements.
The level of customization that is on offer through a particular CMS should play an important part in your decision-making process. The whole point of using a CMS is to give you the power to configure your content and the pages of your website the way they work best for you. Customization should go beyond manual input of SEO data.
That means customization should encompass a range of backend features that would otherwise have been under the exclusive control of a developer. This includes, but is not limited to, the ability to set group permissions, create custom forms, and directly edit code where possible without negatively affecting the entire system.
Can you customize blog post templates? Look back just a few years at how the standard blog post has changed – it’s much more design-forward than it was in 2015 or 2014.
A more visual Internet and several years of visitor behavior data mean that the expected standard for a blog post now includes multiple images, sometimes including interactive or moving images, embedded video, a greater diversity of typography and a different approach to the way the post is laied out.
If your CMS leaves you stuck with a 2015 blog in 2018, you’re not going to prosper in your content marketing efforts. And your visitors will behave differently from everyone else’s: your CMS must give you the ability to change your blog post templates in response to your analytics data.
If blog posts need to be changed in response to visitor data, how much more important is it to have customizable product page templates? Some CMS providers deliver simplified, one-size product pages that you can implement very, very quickly. That’s great, but a website that sells bouncy castles and one that sells gold and platinum jewelry will simply require different product pages. If you can’t customize from the ground up, and respond to new incoming customer and visitor behavior data, you risk being left behind.
While landing page templates can spare you a lot of time, and there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when all you need is a good image, a CTA and a form, even small alterations in landing page design and layout can create large changes in conversions.
You need to have the level of control required to move elements about, change imagery and conversion element position, appearance, copy and individual elements of landing pages so that you can use CRO techniques to tweak them for best results.
Don’t opt for a CMS that locks you in to just a few landing page templates, even if they superficially look like the ones your best-in-class competitors use: the devil’s in the detail. You need granular control, even if you don’t need it yet.
It’s also important to evaluate how well a CMS can integrate with third-party applications, like project-management software and, for larger companies, enterprise management systems (EMS). The number of third-party ecommerce tools on the market has risen drastically and it’s important that your chosen CMS integrates with those that you want to use. Making use of these new technologies can provide a major competitive advantage.
3: How Well does It Integrate with Your Ecommerce Platform?
Some ecommerce businesses will get by with ecommerce platforms alone without CMS. Their content needs are small and simple enough that they can be met by the inbuilt CMS capabilities of ecommerce platforms like Magento.
Others will approach things from the opposite direction, working with content-first systems that integrate ecommerce functionality as a secondary consideration. Drupal arguably fits this description.
But most will use both an ecommerce solution and a content management system. The question then is how well they integrate with each other. You should also remember that other factors such as budget and expertise will come into play too.
For instance, opting for Craft Commerce gives you unprecedented content options right out of the box. But you’ll need a developer to build it for you and there’s no tech support, and third-party plugins are limited.
At the opposite extreme is Shopify for WordPress. Both platforms are free, so the only cost you face is hosting. Themes can be bought for low cost, and some of the most versatile ones are free anyway.
Shopify for WordPress is a WP plugin that lets you add Shopify buy buttons to any page – but it leaves you doing a lot of the legwork yourself in terms of creating the site. Little cash outlay, and you can do everything on your lonesome if you’re just starting out, but the time investment required is significant.
Most ecommerce businesses will fall in between these two extremes in terms of their CMS requirements. But the issue of integration between CMS and ecommerce solution is still crucial, so it’s vital to choose solutions that are known to integrate well.
4: Does the System Integrate with Your Backend?
Broadly speaking, content management systems are made up of two parts: a content management application (CMA) and a content delivery application (CDA).
The CMA is the interface through which content is managed. If you visualize a basic WordPress interface, then you’ll have a fairly good idea of what they tend to look like.
Your CDA is the backend system that is responsible for delivering your content to your ecommerce portals. With ecommerce in particular, certain pieces of content like stock levels and new product variations are subject to quick changes. It’s important that you make sure that your content delivery application (CDA) is able to automatically deal with these changes, particularly if they’re automatically updated based on information from other parts of the supply chain. This might be part of the core functionality, might require integrations, or might be managed through plugins like Shopify’s Stock Sync.
5: Can I Scale and Run Multiple Portals from One Interface?
Many medium and large-scale ecommerce enterprises need the ability to run multiple portals from one interface. That’s true if your operation is big enough to span Europe and the Middle East, or UK and US operations with different products, pricing, shipping and currencies.
This requirement isn’t just limited to managing different websites, however.
The widespread use of smartphones and tablets, along with the growing adoption of devices that make up the Internet of Things, has led ecommerce retailers to come face-to-face with the issue of managing a range of uniquely designed stores.
This point is even more important when you consider the fact that taking an omni-channel approach to ecommerce helps boost sales and retain customers.
Even when talking exclusively about websites, it’s common for ecommerce companies to own several different properties that each fulfill different purposes. The problem gets bigger when you consider that some CMS solutions will require you to basically run two sites – one for your blog and one for your ecommerce site. That’s not ideal SEO-wise, and tends to duplicate work too.
This speaks to the long haul again: if you’re looking for a CMS that works for your single website now, you’ll save some dollars today. But think about the price you’ll pay, tomorrow or the day after, to migrate to a more powerful, versatile solution.
A good CMS isn’t one that just manages your content. In the modern ecommerce space, a range of other capabilities are called for, from third-party integrations to the ability to perform split tests.
By closely evaluating the features of the main CMS providers in the context of your own ecommerce business, you will be able to find a solution that meets your needs perfectly. Whether you’re looking for a small-scale package or enterprise-level solution, the right option will be key in giving you a competitive edge.