Replatform Your CMS - The Definitive Guide
Replatforming Your CMS is an undertaking that is due to a mix of push and pull factors. This article outlines some of the key factors as well as some of the things you need to consider.
Co-Founder / CEO
May 30, 2023
What is Replatforming Your CMS?
Replatforming your Content Management System (CMS) refers to the process of migrating from one Content Management System to another. It is a more structural/foundational decision, and differs from a redesign which refers primarily to changes to the visual identity or layout of the site. However, in some instances, a website project may roll a redesign and website replatform into one. Replatforming has become more common in recent years due to a combination of push and pull factors.
Some context is needed here - this article relates to commercial websites in general but primarily to B2B SaaS/technology startup websites. For this cohort of users, their website is an all-important factor in their success and thus the threshold for eeking out improved performance percentages is a lot lower than is the case for small business sites. In other words, there is little value in replatforming a personal blog, or website for a local service unless the pull factors are material. Whereas for fast-growth technology companies, investing in content, and seeking to generate leads, the need to replatform will likely be greater (and more frequent).
What Are Some of the Common Drivers for Replatforming Your CMS?
The drivers for a CMS replatform are numerous and include some of the following:
1- Outdated Tech Stack/ Need to Future Proof
Some websites may be running off Content Management Systems (CMSs) that are several years old and may be creaking at the seams due to website bloat, and poorly constructed pages. This is common amongst tech startups as they progress up their maturity lifecycle. In their formative years, a basic site may have been hard-coded to get something live ‘on the cheap’ and with strict restrictions in place to prevent someone junior in marketing from ‘breaking things’. While that may have been sound logic at the start, it is not appropriate for scaling startups with growth aspirations who need high-performant websites, and autonomy for the marketing team to build pages without relying on developers.
2- Site Speed
Again in your early years ‘site speed’ is unlikely to be a pressing concern. However, as you scale your business and traffic grows, it becomes increasingly important, impacting everything from your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) performance to your conversion rates. An earlier prior decision as to the CMS made in a time of more resource constraints means that you are limited in terms of how far you can go in terms of improving site speed on the current CMS. It may be simply a case of needing to migrate off your legacy CMS as a starting point before you can make a meaningful improvement on underlying speeds.
3- Maintenance Costs
The hidden costs of CMSs can be significant. While the cost of the underlying CMS may be nominal, you may find that there is a need for an external developer ‘on retainer’ to maintain the site. This is often the case with mature WordPress sites where website bloat is a major issue and the site is enhanced by a significant number of Plugins of unknown provenance. These need to be updated regularly, and as conflicts can occur, the need for a retained freelancer is paramount to ensure the site ‘doesn’t break’.
4- WordPress Issues
For those mature sites on legacy monolithic (or traditional) CMS like WordPress the need to re-platform is probably most pressing. There are a whole host of WordPress issues (especially on sites a few years old) that are concerning. These range from performance issues to security vulnerabilities to hidden maintenance costs. Despite being the World’s best-known and most popular CMS, migration off WordPress onto a more modern tech stack is increasingly popular (especially for commercial sites).
5- Security Concerns
While security issues are primarily linked to user behavior (password management), there is no doubt that there is a commonly accepted view that WordPress sites can be vulnerable to hacking. CMS security is a nuanced subject, and WordPress advocates will undoubtedly argue that it is no less secure than other CMSs. However, modern approaches like Headless CMSs, have a reduced attack surface compared to traditional CMSs like WordPress and are arguably a more secure option “all things considered” especially as you are using specialist applications.
6- Scalability and Performance Issues
Another issue that tends to crop up is that your traditional CMS struggles to scale. As companies grow and marketing teams get bigger it means there are more users, creating and managing more content, leading to challenges around whether or not the ‘current CMS’ can scale. In many instances, it can’t - again creating a drive to upgrade to a more robust future-proof option.
7- Time-Consuming Content Management Workflows
Some legacy content management systems are not well designed for typical ‘content management workflows’ and in extreme cases there may be a developer dependency when looking to get new content live. This approach is suboptimal especially when some content is time sensitive. On the flip side, developers want to build new SaaS applications, not update web pages so any request is likely to be a lower priority. Many Headless CMSs reduce this developer dependency save for a reduced number of requirements.
8- New Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Another common driver is the hiring of a new CMO, with a budget and significant growth targets. A typical first 90 days pathway for a new CMO is to undertake an audit of current resourcing but also the tech stack with a particular focus on the CMS. In many instances, they’ll have references from previous companies and they’ll be keen to ensure that the core marketing infrastructure anchored by a CMS won’t undermine their marketing efforts. They’ll likely undertake site audits including speed tests, and also assess the content machine (incl SEO performance) to identify areas where they can make an immediate impact.
9- Investment Raise
An investment raise is also a common trigger for a replatforming. This is often done in parallel with a rebrand if the visual identity is perceived to be dated or no longer representative of the aspirations of the company. Depending on the context, they may start with some initial website updates unless they feel a more radical overhaul is needed.
Selecting a New CMS - What Are Some Common Upgrade Paths?
The most common upgrade path is from a Traditional monolithic CMS like WordPress to a Headless CMS [What is a Headless CMS?] like Contento. This in part reflects the journey of B2B SaaS Startup websites and those of scale-ups. As they mature, the teams get bigger, traffic to the site increases, and the inbound marketing engine cranks up a gear. Often they will raise money which helps fund marketing activities but also raises expectations. The key point here is that your choice of CMS is very context-dependent. What was the right decision in your formative years, is no longer likely to represent the best choice as you seek to scale.
What is a Headless CMS?
As referenced above, a popular migration is from traditional legacy systems like WordPress to a new category of CMS, bizarrely called ‘Headless'. The phrase 'Headless' refers to the back-end or content database (or repository) where the website content resides. The front-end and the back-ends are decoupled, so the category of Headless refers to an API lead approach with different blocks/ bricks/services connected together rather than an all-in-one offering. While an all-in-one offering will appeal to a certain cohort of users, the limitations of that approach mean that a Headless CMS route is an increasingly popular approach amongst developers.
So what are some of the things you need to consider as you embark on this journey?
1- In House Capability
Moving to Headless will need some external support (or at least access to some internal developer resources to set everything up). While it should reduce developer dependencies in the medium term you will need some technical support setting it up. If budget permits, using an external web development agency is advisable.
2- Alignment with Key Benefits
The key benefits of a Headless CMS include blazingly quick sites, scalability, flexibility, portability (reduced vendor lock-in), etc. You need to be sure the drivers for your b2b saas site migration are aligned with these resultant benefits (or if not that the push factors are material).
3- Total Cost of Ownership
Trying to compare Headless CMSs on a cost basis is nigh on impossible as there are so many different factors at play. You also have to decide what time period to view the investment over. It is hard to get an ‘apples to apples’ comparison. WordPress may appear a cheap option, but if you need a developer on a retainer just for maintenance at 2 days/month at $1100/day, then costs are simply moving from software license costs to headcount. When it comes to Headless CMSs, it is important to understand the drivers of cost - some of the market leaders in the Headless space are being accused of ‘price gouging’ as the jump between tiers is significant and the trigger points between tiers can be a little unusual (to say the least). One provider ratchets the price if you hit certain object limits.
Headless CMS security is multi-faceted as it covers everything from access credentials to the CMS, to the use of 2FA through to user behavior (password difficulty, the frequency the password is changed, where passwords are stored, etc). Headless CMS vendors typically claim that their security is superior to legacy systems like WordPress due to several reasons; including vulnerabilities associated with the reliance on 3rd party plugins, as well as the reduced attack surface with a Headless architecture, and widespread use of two-factor authentication (2FA).
5- Managing the Migration
Migration from one CMS to another is a fairly significant undertaking. It is recommended that specialist support is sourced especially when it comes to things like Search Engine Optimization. The last thing you want to do is trigger a collapse in site traffic due to poor URL management for example. If you are using an agency to manage the process it is important that traffic is closely monitored (before and after the switch) and that the marketing team is trained on how to use the newly installed Headless CMS. Part of the aim has to be to reduce your developer dependency and the need for freelance developers on retainer. Ideally, you select a dedicated Headless CMS agency to de-risk the process for you where training is baked into the migration price.
6- Measuring Success
Finally, a successful migration is not just about the new blazingly quick beautifully designed Headless deployment ‘on time and budget’. As mentioned above, ensuring there is no traffic loss or negative impact on conversion funnels is also vital. The ability of the marketing team to manage and maintain the site autonomously needs to be factored in also.
What are the Key Features of a Headless CMS?
The key features of a Headless CMS include:
Decoupled Front-End and Back-End, where the Headless CMS refers to the ‘content repository’ which can then feed multiple ‘heads’ i.e. websites, mobile applications, billboards, etc
API-based approach - so it is a case of the content being distributed to the front-end via API
Uses other 3rd party applications which enables developers to build using their preferred tools and frameworks
The use of Static Site Generators (SSGs) and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) helps ensure the underlying infrastructure leads to a blazingly fast website.
It is a highly scalable approach that is well suited for traffic spikes without leading to excessive commensurate cost increases or the risk of the site going down
A reduced attack surface allied to enterprise-grade security amongst the leading vendors helps ensure your CMS is well protected against hackers.
The structured content nature of the approach helps support Omnichannel content delivery, reducing content duplication and the related costs of trying to manage multiple content sources.
Contento - A Headless CMS for B2B SaaS Marketing Sites
Contento is a Headless CMS with several differences compared to some of the other leading Headless CMS vendors. While it consists of all the main features you’d expect from a Headless CMS it differs in a few crucial aspects:
Competitive pricing - a number of our competitors ratchet pricing aggressively. Our pricing is competitive and easy to understand.
We assume you are using our Headless to manage a website - by making this assumption we can ensure the UI/UX is designed to support this dominant use case rather than letting you loose with a ‘blank box’
B2B SaaS and Technology focus - most of our competitors are ‘horizontal offerings’, meaning their CMS is used by a wide range of businesses, industries, and use-cases. Our focus on growing B2B SaaS and technology companies means we can ensure that we build features supporting this primary category
Intuitive UI/UX - too many Headless CMS solutions meet the needs of developers, without catering adequately for less technical users. Our approach ensures the marketing team is not overwhelmed when logging in and that it is genuinely easy to use for the marketing team - something that is definitely not the case when it comes to many Headless applications.
Moving to a Headless CMS - Migration Plan
When it comes to a migration plan, ideally the agency will lead the process and manage it via a project management tool - it is after all a complex process with several moving parts. The following represents a non-exhaustive shortlist of areas to think about.
1- Content Audit
Do you need to retain all pages? Perhaps it is an opportunity to purge legacy content or update content (be that make improvements to metadata or the actual content). You can also consider a more structured content approach when moving to Headless.
2- URL Management
Ideally, you want to ensure all URL’s map across seamlessly. Tools like Screaming Frog can help. You want to avoid the creation of broken links because of how the new URL’s render.
3- Stakeholder Management
The project is likely to impact several departments so ensuring there is good communication to keep all relevant stakeholders up to speed on developments is highly recommended to ensure broader alignment.
4- MetaData and SEO
Again the migration may allow you to improve SEO efforts and review the existing structure. Tools like SEMRush or aHrefs can be used for a pre-migration audit so you can identify pages that can be fixed as part of the migration.
5- Vendor Selection
You’ll need a robust process to select the appropriate Headless CMS, especially given the range of options. The web development agency can also assist here, although some internal assessments should also be made to ensure the recommended solution is a good fit.
6- Integrations and Plugins
If you are migrating off WordPress, there are likely a lot of applications running on the site (alongside Plugins). Again it is opportune to do a full audit on these to ensure that they are still needed in a post-migration world.
7- Backups and Rollback
Before the switch-over, the old site should be backed up and available if any issues arise during the migration. It is also best to do the switch early in the week picking a quiet time based on historic traffic patterns. You also want to avoid a switch on a Friday evening in case any issues happen when the team is off over the weekend.
Finally, it is important that the agency deploying the new site trains several members of the marketing team so they can manage the site in-house themselves once it is live.
In summary, a CMS replatforming represents a natural evolution for most growing startups. While it is often rolled up into a project that includes a visual identity upgrade, it doesn’t need to be. There is no doubt the migration project is a major one and brings some short-term pain, however, once the move is made a modern CMS like a Headless CMS should future-proof your website for several years.