What Type of CMS Should You Be Using?

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Why we avoid taking monolithic CMS, WordPress, or Typo3 to sea

There are an abundance of content management systems (CMS) available: each serving different audiences, content, and purposes. You can build a modern website, eCommerce store, or customer experience using anything from a lightweight and free solution to a complex and increasingly expensive solution, but not every option will fit your requirements.

Think of the tech landscape like an ocean – from yachts to tankers, to rafts, all seafaring vessels serve different purposes and navigate the water in different ways. While, in theory, you can modify your raft to haul cargo – doesn’t it make more sense to find a better fitting solution?

In this article, we’re going to run through some common types of CMS solutions, what kind of boat we think they resemble, and how you could fall into the trap of using a small boat to haul cargo over rough waters.

Tankers – Monolithic Enterprise Solutions

(blog image) oil tankers

In previous years, large corporations built massive, heavy, powerful websites to deliver vast amounts of content to international audiences. As far as technology went, this was the accepted solution. 

In the past, the web was more homogeneous. There was less need to connect pieces within organizations, and connections to functionalities outside of organizations were a rarity.

Think about the checkout process or partner portals on websites. Previously, you would most likely navigate away from the site to use these functionalities. 

Handling lots of media and images/video can become very complicated. In the past, because website functionalities weren’t so feature-rich, it made sense to build a solid machine with lots of moving parts to enable content delivery. However, this was also before companies started developing well-defined APIs that allowed them to connect various underlying solutions (such as a headless content or commerce solution, a DAM, or a CRM) to one seamless user experience for the end user.

The content management solutions (aka “Digital Experience Platforms”) from the likes of Adobe, Oracle, or OpenText (to name just a few) often promise smooth implementation and sell themselves as a popular choice among other large companies. But these promises, in our experience, don’t reflect reality, and these products are often far from the best solution for your project. The issue with these platforms is the generic way that they try to solve problems, in combination with the issues generated by legacy support (features that can no longer be adjusted or removed). 

“One size fits all” solutions are becoming less and less valid for many organizations – requirements are becoming more specific, and specialized solutions are constantly setting a higher bar for performance. Whereas Monolithic CMS tend to offer countless generic out-of-the-box features (many of which you won’t even need), modern CMS find a more user-friendly, focused way of tackling a limited but more focused feature set. You may need to select and integrate more than one vendor (we’ll cover this later), but you get a highly effective solution for your specific needs from each vendor you work with. 

Small finicky details can snare up development, and it can be expensive work to get things back on track. Everything needs lots of maintenance and configuration, and permission structures are very granular and inefficient to update. Because of their complex nature, changing a single component of a monolith can be detrimental to the structural integrity of the entire website. Plus, it often is not possible to switch out a single piece. 

Tankers are great for a specific purpose: moving stably in a single direction. The problem with modern requirements is that a custom feature can be tricky to handle: making implementations less smooth than advertised – and any change is likely painfully slow to implement, in the same way, a tanker is slow to change course.

Dinghys - WordPress and Template-Based CMS

(Blog image) raft

If building a tanker is overkill or over-budget, you could always try a dinghy. Open-source applications like Wordpress are free, quick to launch, simple to use, and easy to modify.

With WordPress, you can change direction quickly and easily by using plugins. Thanks to templates and intuitive compose features, your small projects can launch fast with minimal coding knowledge or outside help. If you run into problems, WordPress developers are abundant and can often put you back on the right course. 

What makes a dinghy like Wordpress so appealing is also its affliction. It is simply... simple. As you tack on plugins and extensions to adapt your site to changing requirements, it can start to get weighed down. The most popular plugins tend to be overextended to satisfy demands. They are also rarely built to consider other plugins you may use: this means they may not always work well together, and updates can cause them to break other plugins on your site. As your website expands and requires more plugins, security becomes a nightmare, load times increase, and a growing editorial team is guaranteed to start stepping on each other's toes. 

Picture a small boat with rafts and additional functions fastened to it. How many more passengers (or content creators) can you add, and how many more parts can you strap to it before you can’t steer anymore and it finally starts to sink?

This isn’t to say that you can’t build a functional site with WordPress. But you should keep in mind that every additional solution and plugin needs to be thoroughly evaluated, considering the functions of the rest of the site. As your site expands, this can become increasingly complex.

For a small project, with few editors and no need for a complicated array of plugins and functions, dinghies can be a great fit. But at a certain point, you might decide you need something a bit sturdier.

Old School Boat - Typo3 and many other Open-Source CMS

(Blog image) old ship

This is the boat that’s been in your family for generations. It’s quirky – you must jiggle a switch just right to get it to run. Your uncle is the only one who knows how to get the heater to work. As your requirements shifted, someone built custom parts for you, and now out of convenience or stubborn adherence to tradition, you’re locked in.

Outdated open-source CMS technologies like Typo3 have worked well enough for a long time, but in the sea of modern CMS, well enough doesn’t cut it anymore. 

Old-school out-of-the-box functionality doesn’t always line up with modern requirements. A custom coding language may have seemed like a good idea at the time of development, but now causes many of the problems Typo3 faces. Because it doesn’t follow the efficient, accepted, open standards that other coding languages do, it can be tricky to use. Additionally, because of its custom coding language and proprietary nature, Typo3 developers need to build in a specific and strange way to help it keep up with modern demands.

Because of the custom additions, the custom code, and the strange structural nature of some open-source CMS, you tend to become dependent on the systems that made your application. If you want to maintain the status quo, you’ll find yourself bound to the agency or developer who built your website for you. Other developers simply won’t be able to parse the spaghetti code making things run. 

Like with the dinghy, the problem stems from the same source. As usage increases, both vessels force you to extend your website in nonstandard ways, making it difficult to update and maintain. 

While open-source CMS like Typo3 were once popular internationally, most of the development community has moved on to more easy-to-use, agile, or powerful technology that doesn’t get bogged down by strange functionality. Familiarity is not a good enough reason to hold on to an old proprietary way of building web applications.

A quick note about open source

WordPress and Typo3 are both open-source projects, and just because we think your website could do better does not mean we don’t like open source. We simply see a line between the open source that makes up programming languages, tooling, and component libraries – and open-source products. Open source works particularly well for generic components of software and technical problems – that’s why many paid solutions contain some open-source parts: and most rely on openly available web languages and frameworks. However, while (free) open-source productized solutions can start out being driven by intelligent, motivated people – to stay innovative, they need a dedicated (paid) team eventually. Without product ownership, there is less motivation for it to be cutting edge and up to date. There are often no objective reviews of extensions and plugins, and the chaotic nature of these large productized open-source solutions tends to make them impractical. (Partially) because of this, we don’t think WordPress and Typo3 suit when trying to develop something cutting edge – or even something that can keep up with modern solutions.

Yachts - Modern CMS Solutions

(blog image) yachts

So if big complex machines don’t do the trick, and small and super custom gets bogged down – what’s the solution?

Yachts. And no, we don’t necessarily mean €1B superyachts. We mean an oceangoing vessel built for its intended purpose.

And fortunately, an enterprise-grade solution won’t cost you as much as a real boat. Plus, by finally convincing yourself to pay for an effective software solution, you save yourself the money and headaches that come with trying to patch together a flawed solution.

Headless CMS

Think of a headless CMS like a fleet of yachts. Instead of using a hard maneuver tanker to deliver your website content, you now have several nimble, adaptable vessels. By piecing together solutions from different providers, you don’t build a dependency on a product that may not be a fit down the line – if a solution can’t keep up or no longer meets your requirements, you can simply sell it or swap it out. 

Your interconnected fleet can be tailored to your precise needs – for big problems, bigger yachts – for tiny problems, smaller sailboats.

Platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS) help you scale your fleet at the pace of demand and can be easily paired with products like Contentful, Storyblok, or Cloudinary for content and media delivery. eCommerce solutions from Shopify, Optimizely, BigCommerce or Stripe can be implemented for checkout and payment, and you can tack on products like Piwik Pro for consent management and analytics. Building your website with a fleet of products suited to their niche allows you to increase your performance and reduce your dependencies.

Is it time to upgrade to a yacht?

We understand why you might not be using an elegant solution yet. In the early days of the web, Tankers from software vendors like Oracle and Adobe made the most sense. A dinghy like Wordpress is still the best choice for a small blog or a quick and cheap landing page. If you’ve inherited a proprietary ship built using Typo3, breaking dependencies and developing something better can be financially challenging. 

But some people just get it wrong. They needed a yacht to meet complex requirements and navigate rougher seas, but they built a small boat; maybe because they got bad advice, weren’t thinking about scalability, or were simply unwilling to pay for the adequate solution.

You need to carefully evaluate your website's current and future needs. Take time to think strategically about what the best fit for you is. In our experience, for enterprise-grade websites, it makes the most sense to pay for the solution from software rather than dedicate resources to patching and fixing something that simply doesn’t make sense anymore. 

When you buy your business a yacht, you get a solid foundation on which you can continuously build out and extend state-of-the-art user experiences, attract new users, and meet contemporary user expectations and performance standards. Plus you can finally stop roping rafts to dinghies.