Why Running Multiple CMS’ Is Becoming So Common
Running more than one CMS is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. This short article outlines why this is common and how you should approach this issue.
Co-Founder / CEO
September 12, 2023
Managing content and websites is challenging at the best of times. Especially for mature companies where there is a lot of legacy content and web pages. An increasing number of companies are running more than one CMS, a phenomenon we’ve noticed with some of our clients. This seems counterintuitive - after all, this approach brings some added complexity. In this blog, we explore some of the main drivers behind this phenomenon and explore why in a growing number of circumstances it makes sense.
Why Do Companies Adopt a Multi CMS Strategy?
The primary reason companies run more than one CMS relates to the switching costs from a traditional legacy CMS like WordPress to a modern CMS, like a Headless one. Adding a new CMS is the only viable short-term option. They are simply locked into the existing CMS, and the website complexity and resultant risk mean that a site migration may be too much to bite off in one go. Or the timelines are too long to meet immediate business goals.
Instead, two CMS are used in parallel whereby the migration to headless is done via a phased approach - in essence, a form of incremental adoption. The desired end state is to have the entire site running on Headless, the reality, however, is that a phased approach is the best way to proceed. A key additional benefit is that companies can see the benefits of Headless first hand enabling them to make a more informed decision as to the efficacy of the approach.
Drivers for a Multi CMS Strategy
Additional reasons for companies running more than one CMS are wide-ranging and include some of the following:
Strategic Consolidation (M&A activity)
Another reason for running multiple sites on different CMS relates to strategic reasons where a company may be acquired or joined forces in a prior merger. There is usually a period where the two sites co-exist before one gets phased out (often the acquired company) as their brand is retired. In the initial phases, two marketing functions may continue to run simultaneously, with one team dialing down on-site activities on the site that is due to be retired. Eventually, a site migration may take place with the most valuable legacy content being ported across with 301 redirects being deployed site-wide once the decision is made to stop investing in one of the two sites.
Different Business Units
Another driver of separate CMS may be different business units (International or otherwise) where there is significant local autonomy. Localization may have also been a factor, and microsites are often spun up which can be managed locally so the reliance on overseas offices to manage and maintain “foreign language” content is brought back in-house.
Sometimes internal innovation will result in the creation of a new entity that needs its own P&L, visual identity, and website. In the early days, the site and team will be part of the parent, but the individual set-up helps build in optionality where the separate unit can be hived off and function independently if need be. By way of a recent example, a previous client we worked with was a leading cyber security company that had incubated a SaaS application that was set up on its own website with its own separate brand identity. Modern sites tend to be built on more future-proof technologies, and thus they are more likely to be built on a more modern CMS like Webflow, or a Headless CMS like Contento.
Speed of Execution
In some instances, there is a pressing need to address some underlying issue - be it a CMS that is not user-friendly, or where website bloat is becoming a major problem. Perhaps you need some landing pages for an upcoming campaign and the workflow to deliver it on the old CMS is not viable. Porting the blog to a separate CMS is one common occurrence, as this is the area where the frequency of content production is high and thus porting the blog first may make the most sense.
Deliberate Design Decision
Some fast-growth companies may want some of the main sections of their sites to look differently from others e.g. perhaps operating with a different top-level navigation. This is evident with Intercom, a leading B2B SaaS unicorn. Their blog is housed on a different CMS and the top-level navigation is different from the main site: https://www.intercom.com/blog/
In summary, there are a growing number of reasons why companies could be running multiple CMS simultaneously sometimes. For high growth companies it is increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Advantages of Running a Multi-CMS Approach
As we mention in the introduction, a multi-site approach is common amongst fast-growth companies for several reasons as listed above.
Vendor lock-in on a poorly-performing platform is pretty painful and issues with WordPress and other traditional CMS are well known, and thus there is a growing trend of migrating off legacy CMS towards Headless. However, a full site migration off a mature site can be a pretty big project to tackle in one go. Hence it is common for those looking to make the transition to do so via a piecemeal approach.
Although tech consolidation remains a top priority for many technology and marketing leaders, many digital experience professionals are turning to a multi-CMS approach to drive agility, flexibility, and speed to market.
— Source: Three Reasons Why A Multi-CMS Approach May Be Right For Your Brand: Nick Barber, Senior Analyst, and Kara Wilson, Researcher, Forrester.
So what are some of the short-term advantages of a multi-CMS approach?
1- Try Out Cutting Edge Tech
Running a multi-site approach enables you to benefit from testing the latest cutting-edge technologies alongside your core legacy CMS so you are future-proofing your tech stack. It is also a form of ‘try before you buy’ so you can ensure the reasons you want to move to a Headless CMS are delivered on a smaller pilot and are based on tangible evidence.
2- Site Migration Risk Reduction
A phased approach also means you can de-risk the project by migrating different sections in different stages e.g. migrating the blog before tackling the main site.
3- Ability to Move Quickly
One advantage of a Headless CMS is it is often easier to spin up a new micro-site, or landing pages for specific campaigns without needing to wrestle with a legacy CMS. So the legacy CMS stays in situ powering the main site, and a Headless CMS is used for new product launches, specific campaigns, or for particular use cases e.g. omnichannel requirements.
Disadvantages of Running a Multi-Site Approach
There are also several disadvantages to running a multiple-CMS setup.
1- Inefficient Processes
Running more than one CMS can lead to duplication of effort, content inconsistencies (no single version of the truth), and inefficient work processes. Updating content across multiple CMSs while ensuring consistency can be both time-consuming and error-prone.
2- Content Silos
Another issue with legacy CMSs is the creation of content silos. With content, digital assets, and workflows spread across multiple CMS simultaneously, the risk of error naturally increases.
3- Increased Complexity
Different sites may have varying requirements, designs, and content structures, making it challenging to maintain a cohesive system.
4- Additional Training Requirements
There will need to be some upskilling for colleagues, managing the new CMS, so they can manage and maintain the site without needing to defer to the development team.
The desired state for a growing number of businesses is to unify all content (and websites) under one roof - a Headless CMS one. The inherent appeal of a Headless CMS - a secure, more scalable, future-proof solution that supports omnichannel delivery; represents an attractive set of benefits, for those looking to grow. As a result, an increasing number of businesses are migrating from WordPress to Headless.
However, the switching costs for mature sites mean that an all-in-one migration may be too risky and too significant an undertaking to do in one project. Hence, running a Headless CMS, alongside the legacy monolithic CMS represents an increasingly popular stop-gap measure. Adopting this dual CMS approach enables companies to enjoy the benefits of Headless while keeping the legacy CMS running simultaneously. However, this approach is not sustainable and eventually, the move to one primary CMS - a Headless one tends to occur.