How to evaluate and select the best web content management system (WCMS) for your organization.

Josefa nDiaz for Unsplash.

Today’s leading content management systems (CMS), or web content management (WCM) systems, enable marketers to create, edit, organize, and version digital content — using templated workflow and change management tools — while delivering real-time personalized, engaging, and measurable user experiences. Very often these platforms integrate with customer relationship management (CRM), e-commerce, social media, digital asset management (DAM), enterprise search, and analytics solutions to achieve an overall website content delivery solution.

The ultimate marketer’s goal is that their brand consistently attracts prospects and retains customers through immersive, compelling, simple UX, and fast-performing digital experiences. Failure to do so will definitely reduce your brand’s engagement.

This is why CMS/WCM platform and tool selection is one of the most important and difficult decisions that marketers, CIOs, and CTOs face for their brand’s content driven strategy. Furthermore, because of the ever-increasing quantity of licensing and delivery options, including commercial closed-source box applications, SAAS Cloud platforms, and open source options, it’s becoming ever more complicated to quickly assess what is the best marketing, technical, and economic choice.

To help with planning, this three-part article will cover various aspects of this industry. Part #1 will help identify the leading WCM options, the leading evaluation/rating criteria, and three initial steps to take. Part #2 will take a closer look at why we feel that Drupal is the clear cost vs. performance vs. feature-rich leader, and Part #3 will expose various “must-have” Drupal CMS features in depth. Ok, so let’s get started.

Step #1: Feature and Content Inventory Planning

Before beginning your RFP/RFI process — to determine the “best-fit” web content management solution — it’s advisable that your organization perform a content inventory and CMS feature wish-list.

Use the checklist below to evaluate the most relevant WCM evaluation requirements and considerations for your project:

  • Are various content types supported (video, PDF, images, atomic design, etc.)? Can I create my own content types? Will these cover my organization’s content inventory?
  • What are the license and setup costs for hardware, software, and configuration?
  • What are the ongoing maintenance and overall total cost of ownership (TCO) for license renewals and platform support?
  • How is the training, ease-of-use, and ongoing operations aspect for the tools?
  • Does the solution allow for design flexibility, supporting visual and display customizations?
  • Is the platform efficient, scalable, and fast-performing for small, medium, and large enterprises?
  • Does the platform support integrated analytics measurement, SEO, social media, and search features?
  • Will it provide the necessary security, accessibility, privacy, and related risk/compliance needed for your business?
  • Can it handle real-time personalization and engagement? If so, what does this mean, and do I really need it?
  • Will it handle localization, multi-lingual, and related geographic capabilities?
  • Does the architecture handle multi-site capabilities for a family of branded sites?
  • Is it a non-proprietary platform with a vast support, service, development community? Or am I locked in?
  • Does it support interoperability with APIs and other platforms for CRM, analytics, asset management, etc.? If not, can it be customized?
  • Is my IT/developer team knowledgeable on the underlying programming and databases used by the WCM platform?

Step #2: Identify leading WCMS Options based on independent research

Perform independent WCMS evaluation of each platform’s criteria to see which platforms can best meet your requirements and business goals. We recommend referencing the following two highly respected professional review journals and the “Built-with” website. One thing you will notice is that Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore, and Drupal (the only open source CMS identified) are often cited as platform leaders.

The following three publications are helpful independent evaluations:

Step #3: Narrow the options and perform free Proof of Concept

This is the hard part. It’s time to narrow the list of candidates which most closely fit your requirements and goals, and prototype and test the best two or three options. While you can always test more than two or three platforms, we recommend — for time and efficiency reasons — that you narrow your options based on (1) budget, (2) features, and (3) how will it will fit your company’s growth and size. In particular, why test a platform that costs $300K when your budget is substantially lower? This is why we feel price vs features vs performance are the most important selection criteria.

So how did we narrow the playing field for our agency’s WCM preference? As you can see from step #2, despite Forester and Gartner “leaders” recommendations, is helpful because it gives you a sense of which CMS platforms are actually being used.’s stats are like the popular vote count while Gartner/Forester are more like the electoral “got to be a member of the club” vote. When closely scrutinized, these three resources can quickly help you with narrowing processing. For example, you will notice that WordPress is shown to be used on more sites than any other CMS, but it’s not mentioned by Forester and/or Gartner. So, why is that? Is it because it’s open source and free? That can’t be it because Drupal made the lists. Now you should be curious; why is WordPress so popular but not getting the Gartner/Forester electoral vote?

To compare apples-to-apples, we compared all “free” open source platforms (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.). And, because Drupal was rated as a leader next to Adobe AEM and Sitecore, we were especially interested in why a “free WCM” could compete with these commercial solutions and yet not be the number one solution in-use. Bottom line: we found charts which help demonstrate that WordPress is popular because it is good for simple websites; however, when you start to consider some of the scaling, features, on-going maintenance, and other security criteria, Drupal takes less time for project completion and is more cost-effective in the long-run, especially when customization is required.


In part #2 of this series, we will continue to explore why many organizations have adopted Drupal (fourth on’s list) and why it has the lowest total cost of ownership when compared to any other platform. We will also explore some of the pros/cons when compared to leading commercial platforms, especially for those organizations who require or can afford a commercial solution.