Think a free content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, or Squarespace is good enough to connect with your B2B customers and keep communications flowing smoothly? You might be right—up to a point.
But there are certain things that free CMS platforms simply can’t—or simply don’t—do. And those features can significantly affect the user experience of your website and the success of your digital marketing efforts.
The Cost of a Free CMS: You Get What You Pay For
Free CMS platforms are functional as far as providing an entry point for site content. You can set up a website and publish content quickly, set up user accounts for your site content editors and manage permissions for them, and upload and manage images for your pages.
However, for many more specific or far-reaching features, you’ll need to turn to plugins—specialized applications developed by different providers and supported independently by those providers. Say you have a new piece of content and you want to promote it through a LinkedIn ad. You want to 1) track traffic from that ad to your site; 2) provide a custom landing page for people who click; 3) put an opt-in form on that page to collect information about people who download the content; 4) then add those folks to a nurture program and begin sending them emails. To do that, you’ll potentially need a separate plugin for each of those actions.
At first glance, adding plugins doesn’t seem so bad. Lack of available plugins isn’t the issue—quite the opposite (at the time of this writing, there are more than 54,000 WordPress plugins and counting). You’ll likely be able to find plugins for most of the features you’re looking for.
The issue is that they can exponentially increase the complexity of managing your site.
Adding Up Content Management System Complexity
Dependence on an ever-expanding collection of plugins complicates your deployment and can even cause conflicts. We saw one case in which a site used 50 plugins on top of a free CMS, all to achieve the functionality that a paid CMS would have provided natively.
What happens when one of those plugin vendors decides to stop supporting it? Or when a conflict occurs between two of dozens of plugins?
If your solution is to develop your own plugins, things can get even more complex. Rapid changes in technology demand constant redesigns. Or worse yet, you might not discover that the developer who came up those plugins failed to document them properly—until that developer leaves the company.
Every layer of complexity adds to the real cost of ownership for that free CMS.
CMS Features You May Really Want but Didn’t Know You Should Ask For
With that warning, here are the top 5 features that high-performing B2B sites can’t get from a free CMS without messing with plugins. If you foresee the need for any of these capabilities, paying for a CMS that supports them natively is a worthwhile investment.
Mobile and cloud technology have enabled site development and marketing teams to become truly global. Many companies plan to localize content for easier, more accurate translation into multiple languages. But have you considered the global usefulness of your CMS?
Pasting translated content into a copy of your website is a vastly different experience from working in a CMS that is built from the ground up to support content in multiple languages. The workflow, fallback options (i.e., what happens when a particular piece of content isn’t available in the desired language), and multisite configuration (e.g., separate domains, url prefixes) for multilingual sites in paid CMSs are generally more streamlined and easier to manage.
Also, since site content like pop-ups and forms is coming from native CMS functionality, you have the ability to translate that content natively inside the CMS instead of hoping your plugin supports multiple languages. In addition, when you opt to localize the admin interface itself, more of those features will also be translated for your content admins.
Personalization is at the heart of account-based marketing (ABM). Many paid CMS platforms enable you to personalize content to support ABM campaigns. Some even enable you to gain an understanding of who visitors are and what they care about, based on activity scoring, IP address resolution, and firmographic information.
Probably the biggest benefit of built-in personalization in the CMS is just that: it’s managed inside the CMS instead of through external tools. That streamlines your ability to make changes without having to go through multiple systems (typically managed by separate teams).
If your site development involves multiple content contributors and tiers of approval, workflow oversight can quickly become an issue. Paid CMS platforms provide the ability to create advanced workflows, including signoffs for editing and approval, archival, email sends, escalations, automatic push to production, and versioning and rollback—all built in.
Although you may find workflow plugins or modules for free CMS platforms, these bolt-ons may not offer the configuration capabilities your teams need—and they may have issues playing well with other plugins you’re using for staging or localization. Having workflow built into the content publishing workflow creates less day-to-day overhead for content producers.
Speaking of production, site staging is a must for any enterprise. With a paid CMS, you can fully develop and approve a campaign offline, then push everything live at one time. Content staging is important for legal review and proof processes—and is difficult to do when using a free product like WordPress or Drupal, where content is either live or not.
The difference that staging creates for enterprise teams can’t be overstated. Staging doesn’t simply hold a page in an unpublished state. It allows you to synchronize the activities of your development, content, and quality assurance teams in a secure environment, separate from your live site. Your teams can work through the entire process of creating pages, site sections, or microsites, refining and revising as they go, until all parties have approved the project.
Hacks and add-ons that supposedly enable staging on free platforms may not work consistently or cohesively—a dangerous gamble when it comes to sensitive content or important campaigns.
Security and auditing
Last but definitely not least, free CMS products typically require more of your time and energy to maintain security. Providers of both paid and free CMS platforms are concerned about security and work to build it in and update it regularly.
But when you’re dealing with numerous plugins, you also need to pay attention to numerous, separate update and patch schedules. That can require a greater investment of resources as your developers focus on applying updates instead of working on revenue-driving projects—substantially increasing the cost of ownership for your CMS.
Paid products also provide another capability that is important for the security of your website: auditing. You can easily trace any changes to content, determining who accessed the CMS, what changes were made, and when.
Cost Is More Than the Product Price
When choosing a CMS, consider carefully what your site visitors and users really need—and consider the value of your content administrators’ time. Then add up the true cost of the platform. A free product can quickly rack up expense in the form of time and resources that you must spend to achieve the capabilities you need. Include these considerations when deciding on a CMS.
CMS Planning: How to Choose?