The hallmarks of an efficient CMS
Get to know the factors that make a content management system as productive as possible for web editors.
Whether you’re an editor for a digital community system, an online store, a multimedia platform, an app, or a traditional website, you usually work with a content management system—or CMS for short.
Although this system may be called something else—like digital experience platform or web content management—everyone involved with it is interested in the same thing: That it is a productive tool. But what factors define an efficient CMS?
Here are the hallmarks of an efficient CMS:
- Great user experience
- It just works
- Logical structure
- Easy to collaborate
- Easy to find stuff
- Easy media management
- Third-party integrations
- Handling legacy systems
Future-proof your digital experiences:
Great user experience
Any content editor really wants just one thing: to deliver their content digitally through an easy-to-use tool. The term user experience (UX) describes whether a given service or tool provides meaningful and relevant experiences to its users. Content editors thus crave for great UX in their specific tool—the CMS.
Great UX for a CMS means that doing tasks in it should be fast and responsive, with no excessive loading times. Further, the CMS should be easy to understand and consequently let new users get productive quickly. If you have to research every single action or constantly consult an operations manual, the CMS may be too difficult.
If the CMS is sluggish, untrustworthy (like not saving your work before crashing), and overly complex, the fundamental features don't deliver and your content editors will eventually hate it—no matter how expensive or fancy it is.
Make sure to choose a CMS where these concerns are explicitly addressed.
Read more: Build a fast and modern site with Next.js and headless CMS »
It just works
Closely related to UX is that the CMS just works. One thing is being fast and accessible, but “just works” also relates to the absence of bugs and downtime.
Content editors can be forgiving with a slightly sluggish CMS, like a driver can tolerate some quirks of his truck. But just like no driver would stand up for faulty brakes or an engine breakdown, no content editor will accept daily technical errors that interfere with their business mojo.
Similarly, just like the truck driver isn’t necessarily a car mechanic, the content editor isn’t necessarily a developer. Therefore, no technical mastery should be required—the CMS should just be working on the editor level. And if not, a support and notification system should quickly alert developers about any technical issue.
A great user experience and a machinery that “just works” is fully dependent on a logical structure. Logic—the art of non-contradictory identification—is in fact a primary component of any programming language.
But even though an underlying language may be as logical as a robot, the overlaying and resulting service, like the CMS, may be complex and confusing from a user's perspective.
An efficient CMS allows content editors to easily see the relation between content and presentation. How is the content presented in the CMS? Is it through a neat tree structure, or through endless lists and menus? And where do you see dependencies and what templates dictate the presentation?
A CMS with a logical structure makes it easy to both preview and organize the content—either within the existing front-end framework or through a quick collaboration with your developers.
See also: Translating technology into business value »
Easy to collaborate
Doing what you want and doing it both fast and seamlessly solves a lot of your content editor woes. But a brilliant solo tool is not enough—you have to be able to just as quickly and smoothly collaborate with your team.
What features should you look for when it comes to efficient collaboration? Firstly, sharing previews and URLs in a secure way with your co-workers should be a breeze.
Secondly, issues management should be incorporated as naturally in the CMS as options for “edit” and “publish.” Thirdly, a tidy overview of content, edit history, and responsibilities makes it easy for you and your co-workers to review and document what has actually been going on.
Easy to find stuff
Over time it’s inevitable that the amount of content grows, either if you’re part of a large multinational corporation or a local business. There’s several ways to solve this problem, for instance on a strategic level involving a systematic inventory.
But on a day-to-day basis, you still have to find old blog posts, documents, or images you uploaded months or years ago. And your best friend in this regard is what your CMS hopefully provides natively: search and logical navigation.
A search function that shows instant results and that gives you the opportunity to sort by content types and date ranges will most likely speed up your daily operations.
Just make sure to name your documents with good descriptions, or else the search will be less efficient.
Easy media management
Most content management consists of producing, publishing, moving, and depublishing articles and images on the web. You therefore have no need for specialized tools for absolutely everything.
Why shouldn’t you be able to handle basic operations for e.g. images in your CMS? Cropping, resizing, and rotating images should be possible in the CMS itself, and will save you a lot of time.
For the more advanced operations, of course, you should use more specialized services. But on a daily basis, a simple but strong tool can make your CMS operations much more efficient.
Even though the CMS should be able to handle some daily tasks, it cannot be everything for everyone. This is where third-party integrations with your favourite marketing tools and other services come into place.
An efficient CMS is a flexible CMS, allowing for third-party apps or plugins to enrich your professional life.
Whether it’s an analytics tool, a SEO tool, a creative tool, a database, security measures, or something else entirely, your CMS should be open and flexible enough to install such tools or at least let your developers build an integration.
Don’t miss: Composable architecture: What, why, and when »
Handling legacy systems
An efficient CMS will most likely not be the first CMS of your organization, and neither will it be the sole digital platform inhouse. Integrations with legacy systems like CRM and ERP will therefore most likely be a necessity.
Again your efficient CMS should be flexible enough to handle these kinds of connections with APIs or similar tools.
The handling of legacy systems lets your CMS become a member of the family, so to speak, and allows it to function perfectly on top of complex systems. Make sure your CMS is up for the task.
First published 11 September 2019, updated 16 December 2022.