What Matters More: Your CMS/DXP or the Implementation?

High-quality content management systems (CMS) and digital experience platforms (DXP) are the backbone of modern websites, helping you deliver powerful, personalized user experiences. The catch? You have to pick your platform first. 

At Oomph, we have a lot of love for open-source platforms like Drupal and WordPress. Over the years, we’ve also built applications for our clients using headless CMS tools, like Contentful and CosmicJS. The marketplace for these solutions continues to grow exponentially, including major players like Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore, and Optimizely.

With so many options, developers and non-developers with a project on the horizon typically start by asking themselves, “Which CMS or DXP is the best fit for my website or application?” While that is no doubt an excellent question to consider, I think it’s equally important to ask, “Who is going to implement the solution?” 

CMS/DXP Solutions Are More Alike Than You Might Think

I recently attended the annual Healthcare Internet Conference and spoke with quite a few healthcare marketers about their CMS tools. I noticed a common thread: Many people think their CMS (some of which I mentioned above) is hard to use and doesn’t serve them well. 

That may very well be the case. Not all CMS tools are created equal; some are better suited for specific applications. However, most modern CMS and DXP tools have many of the same features in common, they just come at different price points. So here’s the multi-million dollar question: If most of these products provide access to the same or similar tools, why are so many customers displeased with them? 

Common Challenges of CMS/DXP Implementation

Often, we find that CMS users get frustrated because the tool they chose wasn’t configured to meet their specific needs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was set up incorrectly. That’s the beauty of many of today’s CMS and DXP products: They don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they allow for flexibility and customization to ensure that each customer gets the most out of the product.

While enticing, that flexibility also burdens the user with ensuring that their system is implemented effectively for their specific use case. In our experience, implementation is the make-or-break of a website development project. These are just a handful of things that can derail the process:

  1. The implementation partner didn’t fully understand how their client works and configure features accordingly.
  2. The demands of user experience overshadowed the needs of content editors and admins. 
  3. Hefty licensing fees ate away at the budget, leaving behind funds that don’t quite cover a thorough implementation. 
  4. The project was rushed to meet a tight deadline. 
  5. The CMS introduces new features over time that add complexity to the admin or editing experience. 
  6. Old features get sunsetted as new capabilities take their place. 

Most of the work we do at Oomph is to help our clients implement new websites and applications using content management systems like Drupal. We have decades of combined experience helping our clients create the ideal user experience for their target audience while also crafting a thoughtful content editing and admin experience that is easy to use.

But what does that look like in practice? 

4 Steps for a Successful CMS Implementation

Implementation can be the black box of setting up your CMS: You don’t know what you don’t know. So, we like to get our clients into a demo environment as soon as possible to help them better understand what they need from their CMS. Here’s how we use it to navigate successful CMS implementation: 

  1. Assess the Capabilities of the CMS

The first step can be the most simple at face value. Consider what the CMS needs to do for you, then find a CMS that includes all of those features. Content modeling (more on that below) is a key part of that process, but so is auditing your team’s abilities. 

Some teams may be developer-savvy and can handle less templated content-authoring features. Others may need a much more drag-and-drop experience. Either use case is normal and acceptable, but what matters is that you identify your needs and find both a CMS and an implementation process that meets them. That leads us to the next point.

  1. Test-Drive the CMS Early and Often

You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it first. Yet we find that people are often more than willing to license a CMS without looking under the hood.

Stepping into the CMS for a test drive is a huge part of getting the content editing experience right. We’ve been designing and engineering websites and platforms using CMS tools for well over a decade, and we’ve learned a thing or two along the way about good content management and editing experiences. 

Even with out-of-the-box, vanilla Drupal, the sky’s the limit for how you can configure it. But that also means that nothing is configured, and it can be difficult to get a sense of how best to configure and use it. Rather than diving into the deep end, we work with our clients to test the waters. We immediately set up a project sandbox that offers pre-configured content types, allowing you to enter content and play with a suite of components within the sleek drag-and-drop interface.

  1. Align User Experience with Content Authoring

Beyond pre-configured content and components, our sandbox sites include a stylish, default theme. The idea is to give you a taste both of what your live site could look like and what your content authoring experience might be. Since so many teams struggle to balance those two priorities, this can be a helpful way to figure out how your CMS can give you both. 

  1. Finalize Your Features & Capabilities 

While a demo gives you a good idea of the features you’ll need, it might include features you don’t. But discovering where our pre-built options aren’t a good fit is a good thing — it helps us understand exactly what YOUR TEAM does and does not need.

Our goal is to give you something tangible to react to, whether that’s love at first type or a chance to uncover capabilities that would serve you better. We’ve found this interactive yet structured process is the CMS silver bullet that leads to a better outcome. 

Content Modeling

Another key part of our project workflow is what we call content modeling. During this phase, we work with you to identify the many content types you’ll have on your website or application. Then, we can visualize them in a mapping system to determine things like: 

  • What relationships exist between these different content types?
  • Who should have access to a content type, and what governance should be in place to ensure all content is accurate, on brand, and approved for publishing?
  • What features do you need to support content at every level? For example, at the field level, do you need a drop-down with predefined values that only certain people can edit, or do you need an open-text field a content editor can customize? 

With a solid content model in place, we can have a higher level of confidence that our CMS implementation will create the right content editing experience for your team. From there, we actually implement the content model in the CMS as soon as possible so that you can test it out and we can make refinements before getting too far along in the process.

Content Moderation & Governance

Many clients tell us they either have too much or too little control over their content. In some cases, their content management system is so templated or rigid that marketing teams can’t quickly spin up landing pages and instead have to rely on development teams to assist. Other teams have too much freedom, allowing employees to easily deploy content that hasn’t been approved by the appropriate team members or strays from company brand standards. 

Here at Oomph, our mantra is balance. A good content editing process needs both flexibility and governance, so teams can create content when they need to, but avoid publishing content that doesn’t meet company standards. Through discovery, we work with clients to determine which content types need flexibility and which ones don’t. 

If a content type needs to be flexible, we create a framework that allows for agility while still ensuring that users can only select approved colors, font types, and font sizes. We also identify which content needs to be held in moderation and approved before it can be published on the website. 

Taking the time to discuss governance in advance creates a CMS experience that strikes the right balance between marketing freedom and brand adherence. 

Implementation Turns a Good CMS Into a Great One

Modern CMS/DXP solutions have mind-blowing features, and they will only continue to get more complex over time. But the reality is that while picking a CMS that has the features you need is important, how it’s configured and implemented might matter even more. After all, how helpful is it to have a CMS with embedded artificial intelligence if making simple copy updates to your home page is a nightmare? 

Implementation is the “it” factor that makes the difference between a CMS you love and one you’d rather do your job without.

Interested in solving your CMS headaches with better implementation? Let’s talk.

Related tags: Content Management System Drupal


More about this author

Matt O’Bryant


Hello my name is Matt.

I get to spend my days learning all about both new and existing clients and working with them to identify opportunities for continuous improvement. Whether it’s leading the engagement team (both client and Oomph) through the discovery process on a new project or digging elbows deep into the analytics data on an existing site, it’s my daily mission to help our clients leverage digital technologies to reach and surpass their business goals.

Prior to life as an Oomph-er, I worked as a Project Manager for another digital agency leading both website development and internet marketing projects. From running large scale SEO and PPC campaigns to building e-commerce and marketing websites for large national brands, I’ve run the gamut in the digital world and I love what I do. But most of all, I love getting to go home at the end of the day and spend time with my wife and friends.

In my spare time, you will find me volunteering in the local community, traveling, cooking with my wife, or playing golf.