WCM Buyer’s Guide: Four Lenses to Help Achieve the Best ROI on Your Web Stack

11 Dec 2020
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Posted by Crownpeak

All organizations need a digital presence, and almost all of them turn to a web content management system to help them manage their content and digital experience delivery. Variously called Web Content Management (WCM), Content Management System (CMS) or Digital Experience Platform (DXP), these tools store the content and, usually, presentation for digital touchpoints.

The WCM market has been developing for over twenty years, and in some ways is very mature. Almost all organizations will be using some kind of WCM solution, even if it’s something built in-house, and most web teams are very familiar with the WCM or CMS space, the capabilities of popular systems, and the benefits of adopting such platforms.

However, the sector and the market are changing. Innovations in architecture, deployment and business models have all created new opportunities for organizations to see greater ROI on their web stack investments. If you’re looking to re-platform, it’s a good time to take stock and see what’s new in the market.

In this guide, we’ll review four of the key lenses customers should look through when considering a new CMS or WCM. These lenses provide perspectives on the different approaches to WCM and highlight some of the key innovations from the last few years. After reading this guide, you’ll be in an excellent position to begin developing a shortlist of potential vendors to work with.

1. Consumer vs Enterprise

One of the key differences between WCM solutions can be described as “consumer-grade” vs “enterprise-grade” solutions. This split comes from the difference in approach to WCM: some companies merely want to create web pages with minimum effort and oversight, while others need more robust capabilities, governance, and security.

The consumer-grade solutions range from the truly consumer-oriented tools like Wix or Squarespace, where users point-and-click their sites together using pre-made templates, to more customizable options, like Wordpress, where custom templates and custom HTML can be used. Consumer-grade applications prioritize ease of page construction over other considerations, but this comes at the expense of binding content to presentation. This in turn makes it more difficult to take advantage of that content in new contexts: Users face limited opportunities for content re-use, and significantly more cumbersome translation and localization workflows.

On the other hand, enterprise-grade solutions are architected to operate as content hubs: central repositories for content that can be used elastically in a variety of contexts and channels. By separating the content from the presentation, better workflow, security, approvals and management are enabled, since these functions can be applied to the content itself, rather than specific presentations. In addition, the content hub approach facilitates multi-site and multi-language environments and makes them much easier to manage.

Enterprise WCMs also focus more on robust management and oversight, ensuring that organizations can be confident that their business, brand and regulatory rules are being followed. Security and reliability are also important for buyers of these solutions. Careful consideration is required, as many vendors rely on their underlying hosting provider (such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud) for certifications, while others provide full-stack protection by layering on their own independently maintained security certifications and reliability guarantees. Security can be a critical issue with consumer-grade WCM solutions due to their popularity. For example, Wordpress has more exploits than any other WCM due to its attractive target surface.

Recommendation: Except for the simplest of use-cases, organizations should look for enterprise-grade solutions to ensure that they get the benefits of content re-use, multi-site/multi-language support, and robust security and reliability.

2. SaaS vs On-premises

On-premises software relates to software that is individually installed and managed by the customer. This is the traditional concept of software, where buyers are responsible for the installation, management, maintenance and support of the hardware and software. Critically, the upgrade and patching of software and servers has to be done on each server, one at a time. This frequently causes significant costs and schedule impacts to the operations of such solutions, however some customers prefer on-premises solutions due to specific security or IT directives.

SaaS, or Software-as-a-Service, describes software that is installed, managed, maintained, and supported directly by the software vendor. True SaaS solutions provide significant cost savings and a dramatic reduction in implementation friction. Since infrastructure is managed by the software vendor, IT organizations can free up scarce resources for more value-adding projects.

Over the last several years, most tech segments have migrated to SaaS models. The movement has been so pervasive and the benefits so large, that on-premises vendors will try to appear more SaaS than they really are. For example, many on-premises solutions will describe themselves as “cloud” when what they are offering is to install on-premises software on a server in a cloud server environment (which still requires installation, management, maintenance and support). Some vendors will sell a “SaaS-like” offering where they wrap their on-premises software in managed services. However, the challenges of maintaining and upgrading software and how it can impact operations is still there, just managed by a third party.

Recommendation: Unless there are specific security, regulatory or IT requirements for on-premises solutions, true, multi-tenant SaaS solutions deliver significant cost savings and operational simplification.

For more on this topic, see my post: Believe it: A CMS “born in the cloud” obliterates your costs

3. Coupled vs Decoupled vs Headless

Ultimately, it’s the job of a WCM to present content to a visitor on a digital channel. The presentation, frequently defined in HTML or another programming language, needs to be married with content to create a final rendering for the user. For consumer-grade solutions, content and presentation are typically fused at the time of page creation. While this makes the publication process easy, it severely limits content re-use and flexibility.

For enterprise-grade solutions, an additional step is required to combine presentation and content. The traditional way of solving this is to have the WCM running and responding to each in-coming request for a page or experience. The WCM wakes up, determines what the visitor is looking for, executes code to assemble the requested page, merges in content, and delivers an experience. This mode of rendering is a hang-over from previous decades where the only way to have programmatic responses to requests was to execute at run-time. What this means for customers of these platforms is that they need to manage complex and computationally intensive delivery environments. They also need to develop experiences in back-end code so that they can be programmatically automated.

Alternatively, solutions can be “decoupled.” This means that the rendering step executes when content is published. With this approach, experiences, pages and sites are created using HTML and front-end code, meaning no-code or low-code environments, without the complexity of back-end code (unless required for a specific purpose). Additionally, a decoupled solution can render to any channel and any device since the creation of the final output is done at publication. No custom programming or run-time environment is required.

A third methodology is called “headless.” Headless solutions provide access to content strictly via programmatic API calls. This allows developers to operate completely independently from the WCM their content lives on. However, headless-only solutions typically do not have enterprise-grade features for managing, creating and editing content, like robust multi-site, multi-language, workflow and governance capabilities. Also, since they do not have anything to do with presentation, they have weak or absent WYSIWYG editing environments for content creators. When considering headless-only solutions, customers should carefully consider the trade-offs between developer simplicity vs management of the content and experience by non-developers.

Recommendation: Solutions that are decoupled support faster development cycles and more channels and delivery options. Look for solutions that are decoupled that also support full headless so your developers can choose the right data access model for the specific requirement.

4. Suite vs Best-of-Breed

There is a constant battle between the drive to single platforms that solve all problems, versus point solutions that solve specific problems extremely well. In the WCM space that’s usually expressed as “suites” vs “best-of-breed.”

Suites tend to include many different pieces of a marketing stack beyond WCM and delivery, for example, marketing automation and commerce. Typically, the tradeoff is that the additional pieces of functionality are less robust than the specialized options in the market. Also, selecting a suite will lock a customer in to using the solutions offered by that vendor, even if another vendor’s solution is superior or already implemented in the organization.

Best-of-breed solutions, on the other hand, tend to focus on delivering the best result possible for the segment.

Today, with APIs, integration platforms, and client-side JavaScript, companies can construct the platforms, solutions, experiences, and data flows that meet their requirements and strategies. Advancing technology makes cooperative solutions like this more attainable, affordable and flexible than suite solutions.

Recommendation: Look for WCM solutions that meet the specific WCM requirements you need and provide robust integration and API support to work with the full suite of marketing technologies your organization has selected.


When evaluating the WCM market, you can use these four lenses to understand the different types of offering and identify the best WCM approach for your needs.

At Crownpeak, we’ve been staying at the forefront of WCM innovation by carefully selecting where we position our technology against these four lenses:

  • Enterprise-grade
  • True, multi-tenant SaaS
  • Decoupled with full headless support
  • Best-of-breed WCM with great DXP integration capabilities

We’re proud to be recognized in the 2020 Gartner Market Guide for Web Content Management*, and we can be a great choice for organizations where marketing speed, agility, and time to value are critical.

To learn more about Crownpeak and why we might be a good fit for your organization, request a demo today.

*Gartner Market Guide for Web Content Management, Irina Guseva, Mick MacComascaigh, 6th August 2020.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner's research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. Gartner is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally, and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Tags: Web Content Management Digital Experience Management

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