Common Mistakes with Adopting CMS

By: Brian J. Stewart

Custom websites are increasingly being replaced by Content Management System (CMS) solutions. CMS platforms provide many benefits to organizations. First, they reduce support and maintenance costs by shifting from a developer-centric maintenance model to a departmental user-based maintenance model. Second, they delegate content management to subject matter experts which improves content quality. Lastly, they provide the ability to add new functionality through platform extensions or plugins rather than custom code.

The key characteristics of a successful CMS implementation are longevity of the platform, ability to change the website through evolutionary and incremental changes, and accurate and up-to-date content. Achieving these results is dependent on avoiding several common mistakes with CMS implementations:

Mistake #1: Treating CMS primarily as a WYSIWYG platform
Mistake #2: Selecting the wrong CMS platform
Mistake #3: Insufficient design and planning
Mistake #4: Design that isn’t customer-centric
Mistake #5: Highly customized CMS implementation
Mistake #6: Customizing CMS platform improperly
Mistake #7: Continuation of centrally managed content

Let’s take a look at these common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Treating CMS primarily as a WSIWYG platform

WYSIWYG, or “What You See is What You Get”, is an editor that enables modifying content on the screen which resembles the final format. A common misconception is that CMS is mostly a WYSIWYG platform. This translates into utilizing the platform to create and modify static pages. Although certainly an improvement over relying on developers to maintain content, utilizing CMS in this manner limits the return on investment (ROI) and potential leverage of CMS.

The true potential of CMS platforms is unleashed through the use of the effective content categorization and taxonomy capabilities to organize structure and present content. This promotes information reuse, ease of content maintenance, and the adaptability for presentation of information. These capabilities are where CMS shines and true return on investment (ROI) can be realized.

Mistake #2: Selecting the wrong CMS platform

Not all CMS platforms are equal and not all CMS platforms are best suited for all web sites. Choosing the right CMS platform is like choosing the right tool for the job, a hammer isn’t of much use to remove a screw and a screwdriver isn’t much use to drive a nail. It is important that platform is not chosen based on “what is hot” or “what is familiar”, but rather what is best suited for a particular website.

The following key factors are the most important when selecting a CMS platform:

Size of website including volume of content
Types of information to be managed by the CMS platform
Functionality to be provided by the website including plugins available for the CMS platform
Scalability or the number of concurrent users
Degree of customization and differentiation
Implementation expertise to design and deploy the CMS platform
Legacy content to be migrated to the CMS platform

Mistake #3: Insufficient design and planning

Too often organizations approach CMS implementations with the assumption that it requires less design and planning effort than a custom website implementations. This is a misunderstanding, as CMS simply requires different design and implementation skills than a custom development project. Moreover, leveraging CMS doesn’t eliminate the importance of careful planning for the present and future needs.

Adequate design and planning ensures the new site has longevity through evolutionary and incremental changes and avoids costly replatforming.

Below are the most critical design and planning steps:

Identify clear objectives
Define effective taxonomy and metadata model
Design user experience including navigation and layout around consumer expectations and needs
Select the right platform based on desired current and future features and needs
Define roles and who is responsible for specific content
Formulate a staged rollout not a “Big Bang” approach
Plan for the future

Mistake #4: Design that isn’t customer-centric

A website’s design, including layout and navigation, is the most critical element in defining the user experience for a website. A common mistake with CMS implementations is not focusing enough on designing the website around how consumers will use and locate information. Careful attention is required to ensure the user experience is not stale, clumsy or non-intuitive.

The key design elements to consider are Navigation, Responsive User Interface, Differentiation, and Branding. Navigation should be designed around how users expect to locate information. The user interface should also be responsive in order to effectively support various platforms, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops with large monitors. Differentiation, which is critically important for all websites, is achieved through customized templates and layouts to improve information accessibility and usability. Lastly, the website design must include branding, through custom themes and styles, to provide a unique and identifiable brand experience.

Mistake #5: Highly customized CMS implementation

Most CMS platforms provide a robust out-of-the-box solution with significant capabilities and a broad library of third-party plugins for extended functionality. However, too often CMS implementations still contain excessive customizations. This leads to increased project schedule and support costs while making future upgrades difficult.

The most common reason for overly customizing the CMS platform is the challenge of shifting content management from developers to non-technical staff. Commonly developers feel compelled to add value the way they know best – coding.  Other contributing factors are often lack of expertise with the new platform, insufficient use of plugins, and hiring the wrong vendor for the website implementation.

Mistake #6:  Customizing the platform improperly

Another common mistake with CMS implementations is customizing the platform improperly which leads to a fragile website that is more difficult to maintain and upgrade.  Improper customizations are often a result of inadequate knowledge of the platform or in the pursuit of expeditiously implementing the customization.

The leading contributing factor is hiring the wrong vendor for the project. This is most often a result of pursuing the lowest-cost vendor or a vendor with whom an organization has an existing relationship.



Mistake #7: Continuation of centrally managed content

The key benefit of CMS is better management of website content. Often the development team that manages the website is not reallocated to other value added activities within the organization, rather than they are tasked with maintaining the website through the use of the new CMS platform.

A more productive model is shifting to a decentralized model where content is maintained by departmental users. There are two key benefits of decentralized content management. First, it improves content quality by delegating responsibility to those with direct knowledge of the information. For example, a Product Managers knows their products better than a website developer. Second, it promotes current content by distributing the workload allowing content updates to be done more timely and efficiently. For example, each Product Manager can update their product pages as needed, rather than relying on a centralized website team.


Avoiding these common mistakes with CMS implementations enables organizations to realize a higher ROI and the true benefits of the CMS platform. The key benefits of CMS are platform longevity, incremental changes, and up-to-date content. An effective CMS implementation promotes longevity with the new platform and enables organizations to avoid the costly cycle of replatforming. It also enables the website to change through evolutionary and incremental changes rather than costly site redesigns. Lastly, a CMS platform promotes more accurate and up-to-date content. Through careful design and planning and selecting the right platform , CMS provides organizations a platform to better organize and manage content for many years.



Additional Sources

  1. What is Content Management and Why Most Companies Should Eliminate Their Custom Web Sites
  2. Drupal – Official Site
  3. Joomla – Official Site
  4. WordPress – Official Site