By Robert Rose published September 16, 2010

How to Choose a CMS for Content Marketing: Don’t Hammer with a Screwdriver

My college roommate used to hold up his giant screwdriver and say – “this is the only tool I’ll ever need.” And, he’d hammer nails with it, open boxes with it, open beer bottles with it (yes, college was like that for me). It was everything he needed. Sadly, the same can’t be said for different web content management software.

So, if you’re neck deep in a content marketing strategy, it’s a sure bet that you’re also, in some way, wrestling with a web content management system (CMS). Whether you’re publishing a blog, a web site, multiple web sites, landing pages or just throwing press releases up on Marketwire, chances are it’s not hand-coded HTML being FTPd by Dreamweaver.

And if it is. . . well, read on friend, because you need a web content management system in the worst way.

There’s a good chance that – despite how much you love or hate your CMS – it may be a time bomb in your back room, bringing all of your hard, creative content marketing efforts to a dead stop.

What is a CMS?

A web CMS the application you use to publish and manage web content.

Is WordPress a CMS? It’s a question that many in the CMS community can’t agree on, so is it any wonder that marketing folk have a hard time distinguishing between the thousands of products on the market?

For the record, I argue that WordPress is a CMS – if only because a blog is web content, and WordPress is a way to manage that content. But then I’d also argue that if you have someone named Bob or Mary transforming your Word doc into HTML and putting it up on your site, that you have a CMS called Bob or Mary.

How do I know which CMS is right for my organization?

Decide what you need your CMS to do
Any decent CMS (including Bob or Mary) will enable you to publish content to the web. The key is to understand not only what you are trying to manage, but how it is you’ll manage it. For instance:

  • Is it a blog? Will it have private membership?
  • Is it a corporate Web site that will have multiple authors across the business, where content is targeted to different personas?
  • Is it a multi-language e-commerce platform?

Don’t under-buy or over-buy
There are real differences in what you can (or can’t) do with Bob or Mary, or with a blogging tool like Movable Type or WordPress, and what you can (or shouldn’t) do with an enterprise-class web content management solution. The trick is not to under-buy or over-buy technology just to escape the “IT Bottleneck.”

Consider using multiple systems
Understand your process and the kind of web properties you are about to publish before you go out looking for tools. And, certainly don’t be afraid to use different tools for different types of content.

Blogging tools are really good at what they do. If you’re happy using WordPress for your blogs and microsites but you need to add more rigorous workflow to the corporate site – don’t succumb to the idea that EVERYTHING has to come out of one system. CM systems are almost always geared toward publishing different kinds of sites, and it’s now very easy to integrate content in and out of different CM systems.

Choose a tool that aligns with your process
The key to aligning your shiny new web content management system to your content marketing strategy is to understand that the tool is just the facilitation of the process. Like any tool, it’s just leverage. In Joe Pulizzi’s August post, “How To Effectively Manage the Content Marketing Process,” he identified these key tools:

  • A content management system
  • Listening posts
  • The Project Manager and the Managing Editor
  • The editorial calendar
  • The dynamic budget

The right CMS for the job – one that provides you with control and facilitates YOUR process – is one that both talks (publishes) and listens (ingests) content. It enables the Project Manager and the Managing Editor to establish editorial calendars and manage workflow – and provides insight into how that content is performing so that you can keep budgeting effectively.

Don’t be afraid to add tools to your toolbox as you need them. Having a screwdriver prevents you from failing. Having a whole box full of the right tools to manage the job correctly is what makes you successful.

What other tips do you have for finding the right web CMS? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Robert Rose

Robert Rose is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory - the consulting and education group of The Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with more than 500 companies including global brands such as Capital One, Dell, Ernst & Young, Hewlett Packard, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert is the author of three books. His latest, Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has been said to “rewrite the rules of marketing”. His last book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, was called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” Robert is also an early-stage investor and advisor to a number of technology startups, serving on the advisory boards for a number of companies, such as DivvyHQ and Tint. Follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

Other posts by Robert Rose

  • Scott Frangos

    Hi Bob – Good article, thanks. I agree with you that WordPress is a CMS, and anyone that hasn’t recognized that yet either isn’t up to speed, or just doesn’t want to admit it for some reason. In 2009, WordPress won Best Open Source CMS, over the likes of Joomla and Drupal, from independent, PAKT Publishing. And before that, it was being used as a CMS by the likes of Ford Motors, CNN, and other Fortune 500 companies… who are tuned into its benefits. Of course, I’m biased towards WordPress — we’ve been using it for years to build out absolutely any desired website solution for our clients. But because it began as a simpler blogging platform, as it transformed to a CMS about three years ago, it managed to keep its simpler UI on the backend and also its strong SEO features — a perfect solution as a “large screwdriver” of a CMS that does it all.

    – Scott

    • Robert Rose

      Scott…. Yes… definitely good for you guys – and thank you for the kind words. Although I have to make sure that I make clear that while I too believe WordPress is a CMS – it definitely has its limits… I’m a huge WordPress fan for blog sites (e.g. reverse chronological focused content presentation) and small (e.g. <100 pages) sites. But, for example, using WordPress to manage a large (10,000+ pages) corporate Web site with distinct work teams across the globe is not an effective use of that "screwdriver". Yes, Ford and CNN and big companies use WordPress… But they use them either for micro-sites or for blog focused sites. Things like managing site-wide link integrity in the WYSIWYG across multiple pages, workflow, approvals, multiple page types and granular access controls for users – is just stuff that WordPress is not built to do. I’ve seen companies hack WordPress to do many of these things – but then that breaks upgrade paths and causes a big mess. Trust me, I’ve had to clean them up.So, yes WordPress is a CMS – and so is any tool that leverages the function of moving content from your desktop to the Web. Just make sure that you’re bringing the right tool for the right job.

      • Mike Schinkel

        I’d be interested in hearing about what keeps WordPress from being able to manage larger corporate websites in your opinion? Is it a case of “If it had ‘X’ is would be usable”, or not?

        The reason I ask is I’m currently specializing in developing plugins for strategic use of WordPress, and maybe there is an opportunity there…

        Thanks in advance for sharing.

        • Robert Rose

          Hi there… sorry for the delay…. So – as you can see from the comments there is definitely debate over whether I’m right or not… So, that notwithstanding – and having done this for as many years as I have – here are some thoughts….

          It’s less about “size” of the site (although that plays a role as you’ll certainly see) and more about the types of features that a large enterprise (or larger site) will have vs. those that don’t. Here are just a few examples:

          1. Link integrity… When you have multiple team members making links in the WYSIWYG to other pages in the Web site – you want the CMS to manage the link integrity of all the pages you link to. WP treats all links as external hard-coded links. Larger enterprises have sometimes 50,000+ pages and if you delete a page – finding all the pages that link to that page would just be impossible in WP….

          2. Complex Workflows – Many enterprises have cross-functional teams and have needs for sophisticated workflows. Parallel workflows, serial workflows, approval processes that change based on the attributes of the content – WP just doesn’t have any of that built into it – so a WCMS that supports multiple (and complex) workflows are more appropriate.

          3. Digital Asset Management – Most enterprises will require some level of digital asset management, inclusive of versioning, rollback and check-in check-out features for not only Web content – but also unstructured assets like WDocs, PDF’s etc…

          There are many others – but I won’t belabor them here… In short – I think the short answer to your question is actually “yes”. I think there are plugins that could/will be developed to make WP more “enterprise-friendly”. Among these is that link integrity one. I mention that one quite selfishly actually… If you could figure out a plugin that manages to make all links ID based – so that wordpress manages them – and automatically changes them if that target page (or asset) is changed – that would be a huge one for me (grin). Hope some of that is helfpul.

  • Summer Huggins

    My heart dropped a bit when you said “consider using multiple systems.” But I calmed back down when I read your reasoning about blogs and corporate content living in different CMSs. 🙂

    I’m working with a client right now utilizing a “system” (and I use that term loosely) where a single piece of content has to go through THREE different platforms before it goes live. It’s a bit of a challenge and I dream of a single CMS for them.

  • Robert Rose

    Summer…. Sorry to give you such a jolt on a Thursday morning 🙂

    Indeed, just to make sure I clarify – what I’ve seen over my last ten years of implementing CMS systems for clients is that all too often the perceived need for “1 System To Rule Them All” outweighs common sense for managing content. Then, what happens is that a simple blogging tool that’s doing perfectly well for the marketing and product teams gets replaced by an ECM system that takes all the flexibility, usability and (quite frankly) joy out of blogging. The blog goes stale – and ultimately the marketing team starts sending their “blog posts” down to the IT group to go through the ECM workflow… And we end up right where they started before they had anything good…

  • Scott Frangos

    Hi Robert –

    Hi Robert –

    We use WordPress as a CMS solution typically for sites with less than 700 pages, but often more than 100 pages, and never touch the core programming. The Ford Motors Site shows pages totaling several hundred when you follow the site index through to content areas listed. I hear you on “cleaning up” poorly programmed sites that do not respect core parameters. But since WordPress has a robust plugin interface designed to separate the plugin programming from the core and thus avoid the problems you list, I can’t agree with you that WordPress does not operate smoothly at workloads higher than the numbers you presented.

    WordPress continues to evolve. For example, a couple of iterations back version controls were added that speak to the approval process you mentioned, so I just don’t think you can rule it out as a robust solution for larger sites. It works with MySQL which, as you know, handles tons of records. I would also note that the recent WordPress 3 upgrade added “Multi Site” functionality into the core — a major feature addition that both affords efficient departmental segmentation in larger corporations, and adds another example of scalability.

    WordPress CMS solutions that do not “hack” the core and break upgrade paths are available to handle any of the situations you listed. But, we agree that such solutions must be programmed properly as plugins that operate independently from the core program.

    Bring the right tool to the job — sure — but a screwdriver is the wrong analogy because they don’t evolve. WordPress is like a Leatherman multi-tool, which when you consider its ability to manage a robust database, is more like a Leatherman tool with a toolbox of thousands of attachments (plugins) coupled to a strong power grid.

  • Glenn

    Oh, I thought the answer was WordPress. I guess that’s just my bias. 😉

    Great post, and I’m really enjoying all the phenomenal content here. See you around!

  • ruchi

    need more information about content management systems can u specify about the tools of the cms that particularly use and their working

  • WordPressians

     I am using WordPress as a CMS system. It is best for me. If there are any best than WordPress then please let me know. I wanna try once.

  • Genna Carbone

    My organization currently uses HubSpot for a CMS – truthfully it hardly does what we need it to do. My biggest issue is that all of our links seem like spam and our emails go straight to the spam box because it comes from hubspot — help – advice needed! We are a b2b management consulting firm in the security industry what do you recommend