5 Questions to Ask When Choosing an Ecommerce CMS
This guide gives you 5 burning questions to answer about must-have features, flexibility, scalability, and integration requirements before you pick the best CMS for ecommerce.
For the past ten years, blogs have transformed from content-oriented platforms into marketing tools that are widely used by ecommerce companies. Content marketing proved that it can create brand awareness, build trust and loyalty, as well as generate leads and increase revenue for B2C companies.
Considering these promising payoffs, it doesn’t come as a surprise that last year 81% of B2C companies invested in creating quality content for customers, and 57% of the surveyed organizations planned to increase content marketing budgets in 2019, according to CMI. Among the respondents, 52% used a CMS to assist with their content marketing efforts, and the figure will only keep growing in the future.
The market of ecommerce CMS systems offers a great variety of options from ecommerce platform modules to full-fledged CMSs. There are tools that are said to run without developers’ work, as well as the ones that require expert ecommerce development services.
So how to identify the best CMS for ecommerce for your needs? Which one to opt for? Let’s figure this out together.
1: Ecommerce CMS or Ecommerce Platform—What to Choose?
To begin with, let’s clarify the difference between an ecommerce CMS and an ecommerce platform:
- A content management system (CMS) is designed to create and deliver different types of content, including blog posts, guides, press releases, and quizzes. WordPress and Joomla! are popular examples. Though CMSs are not made to sell, some of them can be upgraded with the sales functionality to satisfy basic ecommerce needs.
- An ecommerce platform is an online shopping system that provides a catalog, cart, inventory and shipping management, as well as other tools for e-retail out of the box. Magento, SAP Commerce Cloud, WooCommerce, and Drupal Commerce are the examples (check our ecommerce platform comparison to navigate between the options). Content management features are not normally included, but they can be added with the help of paid plugins.
So, the choice of an ecommerce CMS vs. an ecommerce platform will depend on your business needs. Let’s consider three possible combinations.
A. Ecommerce platform plus content management modules
Imagine a company that has an extensive product catalog and customer base, requires multiple payment providers, and wants to ship products to several countries. It definitely needs an ecommerce platform.
In most cases, using out-of-the-box features of a robust ecommerce platform or building a blog module into the web store environment is enough to cover the content management needs. As an example, look at the blog section of Oliver Bonas, a Magento-powered apparel web store. They have a large catalog and a simple blog section to promote their brand.
An obvious advantage of this approach is the ability to get both the selling and telling tools under one roof while dealing with one backend platform. The disadvantages are limited content types and lead generation tools, as well as the lack of advanced features.
So, combination A is good either for the online stores taking the first step in content management, or the brands that don’t need to use content marketing to the full.
B. Ecommerce CMS (CMS plus ecommerce plugins)
Consider a company that sells a limited number of items mostly in one country and has a story to tell about their products. The best option for such a brand is to choose a CMS and complement it with several ecommerce plugins.
Let’s take the House of Spices as an example. This web store is driven by WordPress (WP) and the WP ecommerce plugin WooCommerce. They ship only around the US, and have three content sections (story, recipes, products) and a small catalog.
The main disadvantage of this approach is the lack of selling features as no plugin can substitute a full-fledged ecommerce platform.
C. Ecommerce CMS plus ecommerce platform
If a company has a large catalog and needs a powerful blog at the same time, it can choose an integration of an ecommerce platform and a CMS. In this case, the online store (the ecommerce platform) will be secured from the attacks and issues that can happen to the company’s blog (run on the ecommerce CMS). For this reason, many big companies go for this option. A popular combination is a Magento store plus a WordPress CMS as both platforms are leaders in their domains.
Takeaway: the first thing to do is to find your ideal balance between selling and telling, and choose combination A, B, or C. Whatever option you pick, you will still have to answer the following four questions.
2: How Flexible Your Ecommerce CMS Need to Be?
Readers’ expectations keep changing all the time. Several years ago, it was fine to publish plain text-only articles. Now the internet turns increasingly visual, and this requires blogs to include interactive and moving images, colorful infographics, embedded video, tweets, and quotes. Overall, readers expect a different approach to content design.
Without thoroughly exploring the shifts in ecommerce customers’ psychology, you can easily grasp that content management tools have to support changes in content templates as today’s blogging standards will definitely change tomorrow.
For this reason, before you choose a CMS or a content management plugin for your ecommerce platform, analyze how easy it is to customize the blog layout per se. Also, check how many essential elements you can create, including landing pages, blog articles, press releases, and ad banners.
Customization capabilities should cover a range of backend features, such as setting group permissions, creating custom forms, and directly editing code without negatively affecting the entire system.
As content marketing teams don’t typically possess any software development experience, look for the ecommerce CMS that follows a low-code approach or at least has plugins for drag-and-drop configuration. Using built-in elements with no need to code makes content layout changes a lot easier. The Divi theme for the WordPress CMS is a good example of a codeless page builder.
As new types of content are gaining momentum (for example, quizzes), you should get ready to equip your ecommerce CMS with advanced content plugins. Consider open-source platforms, such as WordPress or Magento, to leverage fresh content management modules that your CMS partner network will be releasing.
The point of using a full-fledged ecommerce CMS with a content management plugin is to get the power to configure different versions of content and find your own recipe for high conversion via testing. That said, pay attention to the flexibility of the tools while making your purchasing decision.
3. What Are Must-have Features of Ecommerce CMS?
CMS solutions and ecommerce plugins provide different content management capabilities. The following 10 groups of tools are required to equip your content management team with the full functional set to assist in their daily tasks.
1. Administrative features. Administrative tools make content management transparent and are crucial for speeding up and simplifying content production and delivery. They include role management (admins, content editors, content writers, etc.), email alerts about content status changes (outdated, in review, published), plugin support, etc.
2. Publishing tools. This group should include a convenient editor (WYSIWYG) with templates for different content types, a versioning system that enables content managers to roll back changes if needed, automatic workflow generators that allow scheduling publications, and tagging that helps you organize content.
3. SEO tools. Content should help your online store get higher positions in search results. So check the inbuilt SEO tools or available plugins that can make your content more attractive for search engines. This includes tools for adding metadata and alt tags with accessibility guidelines, as well as features for generating SEO-friendly URLs. Considering the growing popularity of voice search, the support of microdata optimization also becomes a nice-to-have feature. Video content is also essential for your online store. Converting static images to video could be a good idea.
4. Social media integration. 75% of customers use social media as a part of their buying process. That’s why it is so important to purchase an ecommerce CMS that connects well to social media out of the box or can do so via plugins. The toolset should at least include social sharing buttons and automatic formatting of content for social networks.
5. Personalization capabilities. Opt for an ecommerce CMS that has or can include personalization features with plugins. For example, WordPress and Magento can capture a visitor’s location and automatically change the online store language. Other crucial personalization features include recommendations of related content or products from the catalog based on the browsing history and data gathered from third-party tools (social media, clicks on ads, quizzes, etc.). Though in most cases such tools should be purchased as extra plugins, they drive more customer engagement and are definitely worth investing in.
The required level of personalization is also an important factor when choosing an ecommerce platform. Today, some merchants excel in personalization by letting shoppers customize their products online (like Nike, Vans, or RushOrderTees). Such functionality requires a robust ecommerce platform since a CMS plugin can hardly provide it.
The perfect ecommerce platform provides all the tools you need to build and run your online store. Check this ecommerce SEO guide, with all you need to know about ecommerce SEO strategy, SEO tips, and SEO tools.
6. Email marketing integration. To exclude manual compilation of content batches for your subscribers, make sure that the ecommerce CMS connects to your email marketing tool. Complement it with personalization features and start delivering tailored content to your loyal customers.
7. Reviews and comments. 88% of shoppers say that reviews influence their buying decisions. User-generated content can increase conversion rates by 270% and for this reason many online stores add reviews sections to their product pages. Whether you use an ecommerce CMS or an ecommerce platform, make sure you tick off this box with relevant plugins.
8. Split testing. Split, or A/B testing implies trying different design or content versions live to see which performs better. This allows constantly improving online store content and get more traffic and leads from it. For example, you can find your own ideal length of the page header, identify which color schemes of the banners get more clicks and what content types increase conversion. Some CMS products feature A/B tests out-of-the-box or can provide them with plugins. The key is to take a CMS that has enough layouts and templates to manipulate content versions.
9. Analytics. Integration with Google Analytics or inbuilt analytical tools−these are nice-to-have features for measuring engagement and enhancing content strategy. Though these tools won’t replace robust analytical solutions for ecommerce, they will let you know what content is popular and converts well, how many shares and likes it brings, how people engage with it, and what devices they use for this purpose.
10. Security. As web stores deal with sensitive customer data (credit card details, personal data), security should be a priority for online merchants. Before choosing an ecommerce CMS or upgrading the ecommerce platform with content management plugins, check that the new features can’t put customer data at risk. Look at the security features and plugins available out of the box, as well as consider how frequently the security patches for these tools are released.
4. How Well Do the Ecommerce and Content Management Tools Connect?
Whether your case is closer to option A, B, or C above, you have to think about a smooth integration between the ecommerce and content management tools.
For options A and B, installing plugins into a working CMS or ecommerce platform environment is not an easy task. You have to carefully choose extension vendors, check compatibility and system requirements, and only then run add-ons in the test mode. Our recent article explains in detail how to prevent, detect, and solve module integration issues on Magento. If you run ecommerce extensions on a CMS platform, the algorithm of checking plugin providers and running the add-ons is almost the same.
So, is there a rule of thumb?
Choose the extensions that gained popularity for their smooth compatibility (such as WooCommerce for WordPress), and in most cases you will avoid issues.
Option C, a combination of an ecommerce platform and a CMS, works better for large brands. Such companies definitely choose the products based on their reliability and functionality, and only then check how well they integrate.
Today, there are ready-made integration plugins that are supposed to connect the most popular ecommerce platforms to CMSs (e.g., Magento to WordPress, or Shopify to WordPress). However, it is much safer to consult professional ecommerce developers here.
Most merchants customize their CMSs and ecommerce platforms to meet their needs. In this case, ready-made integration solutions may not suit all particular customizations. For this, developers check any inconsistencies and this way can guarantee a smooth and secure data exchange between the two systems.
5: How Scalable Is the Ecommerce CMS?
While choosing an ecommerce CMS, plan for the future. When your ecommerce business gets bigger, you will most likely want to attract customers from other regions and countries. This means you will have to support multiple versions of your online store, or speaking the language of ecommerce, multiple store views.
These store views should be written in different languages, provide actual stock data for particular regions, and manage payments and shipping by regions separately. In technical terms, this means they should have different content, integrate with different warehouses, and acknowledge the differences in taxes and delivery costs by country.
This is when business growth becomes a headache if you don’t plan for 12 or even 24 months ahead. If you are considering expansion, then opt for a scalable ecommerce platform, such as Magento, or at least a solution that can be upgraded with plugins to support multistore functionality (say, WooCommerce).
Picking a cheap and poorly scalable option is a bad idea if business growth is what you are aiming for. Although such a strategy will help you launch an online store fast, it is most likely to result in having to manage several websites. In turn, this will drive your admin workload up and lead to inconsistencies in prices and offerings. Sooner or later, you will have to migrate to a more powerful platform to manage all the stores, so it is much better to start with a quality solution from day one.
What is the best CMS for ecommerce? As you see, the answer depends on the content management efforts that your company plans to make. Think carefully about your content-based engagement strategies and then look at the functionality of available plugins and CMSs.
Contact us for expert guidance on the optimal solution in your case
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