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Experts Speak: Tips for Switching Your Content Management System

Posted on 9.25.2014

Transitioning from one content management system (CMS) to another is never easy. So why would an enterprise voluntarily make the switch? Simple: both the market and companies evolve.

Website Magazine enlisted the help of eight Internet professionals who have made the switch from one content management system to another. They provide a snapshot of their migration experience and tips for their peers who are looking to make the daunting, yet often-rewarding change. 

Denny Cave, Web developer at

Cave Interactive Media

CMS formerly used: WordPress and BusinessCatalyst

CMS currently being used: LightCMS

What do you use your CMS for?

LightCMS is a part of our core custom website development package for small businesses and non-profits. We also use LightCMS for our own marketing and internal project websites. 

What led to the decision to change your CMS?

Our primary point of friction was frustration with the complexity and maintenance requirements of other solutions. Since we are a service provider for small businesses, we often don’t have the luxury of working with large development and maintenance budgets. As Web technologies improved throughout the years (better javascript libraries, responsive design, etc.) it become more difficult to launch a custom site on our then-current platforms (WordPress and BusinessCatalyst) at the standard of quality that we hold ourselves to and are known for.

Also, the small business owners we work with are wearing many hats (managing the business, working the front counter, doing sales calls, keeping books, processing payroll and so on) and usually don’t have much time to learn the skills required to properly manage their site. As we worked with more and more small businesses we realized the education and on-boarding process was a thorn in both of our sides and was degrading the ultimate experience of owning a website for these clients.

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not?

We’ve been with LightCMS for six years and have never been happier with a CMS. It has sliced our development effort in half, allowing us to spend more time getting to know our clients’ businesses and collaborating with them to make sure all the necessary goals are being achieved. Client education is a breeze: even our least tech-savvy clients rarely need more than a 30-minute phone call to learn - and fully understand - how the CMS works and what they’ll need to do to keep the content updated.

What tips can you offer other Internet professionals before they change their CMS?

As someone who has used dozens of CMSs on production sites throughout the years, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur. Throughout my adventures and the process of settling in with LightCMS, I’ve learned several important things:

Outline both your needs and the needs of your clients and choose a CMS based on these requirements. After you’ve clearly defined your goals, choosing an appropriate solution will be much easier.

o You can’t always trust that a client actually needs the features and functionality they are requesting. Part of your development process should focus on discovering the true requirements of the site as they relate to the business objectives and eliminating, or at least questioning, any requests from clients that they present just because they think it’s cool or because someone else had it on their site.

o Learn to embrace constraints of a platform. Many things can be worked around or implemented a different way if not natively supported in a CMS. There’s no need to choose a monolithic, all-encompassing solution as your primary platform “just in case” a future client should need expanded functionality.

It's OK to use more than one CMS for different needs but resist the urge to use the latest, shiniest solution on a production site until you’ve had a chance to properly evaluate all aspects of the software.

Most importantly: evaluate ALL costs (development, maintenance, setup, etc.) of a solution, not just the software licensing and hosting costs. For example: WordPress is free and can be run on a cheap Web host, but has significant "hidden" costs in installation, configuration and ongoing maintenance that aren’t always apparent. A hosted solution like LightCMS might seem more costly up front due to the higher monthly fee, but it doesn’t have the same headaches or ongoing costs as a self-hosted platform.

Paul Martin, Interactive Manager at

Full Plate Living

CMS formerly used: Expression Engine

CMS currently being used: Drupal

What do you use your CMS for?

We use our CMS for extending the reach of our nonprofit, Full Plate Living. We provide education to address health issues with food and transform our global audience’s weight loss goals. We use our site to deliver free blog articles as well as our paid learning platform where users can learn about things like healthy dining options and sustainable weight loss.

What led to the decision to change your CMS?

As we set out to extend our reach and impact we knew we needed a robust platform – one that had already solved most issues that websites encounter. We wanted to build an interactive platform that allowed us to be more nimble and spend less money solving common issues. 

We decided to work with Drupal because Drupal is a community of people committed to making better websites and doing it with standards. We knew we could leverage that to give us the flexibility we would and still need. We hired Web design firm and Drupal experts, Four Kitchens, to assist us in the process of building our platform.

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not?

We made the live transition to Drupal from Expression Engine in December of 2012. Drupal has solved more issues than I could begin to measure. Specifically, one major issue is the ability for content editors to easily edit any content type from the live view. The team no longer has to waste time hunting the page down in the admin side. 

Is there anything you wish you would have known before switching your CMS?

There were just so many issues with our former site, and if we knew the convenience of Drupal beforehand – we would have transitioned sooner! 

What tips can you offer other Internet professionals before they change their CMS?

Think about the community that is involved with the CMS. Research their followers online, and if you are able to attend a conference, meet contributors and hear a keynote speaker, even better. Having the opportunity to meet the engaged, vibrant and intelligent Drupal community really made a huge difference to me, and added to the easy decision it was for us to decide to go with Drupal. 

Josh Rubin, Owner of Creative California 

CMS formerly used: Joomla!

CMS currently being used: WordPress

What do you use your CMS for? 

Mostly content generation, with some additional functionality like social media integration, photo galleries and article management.

What led to the decision to change your CMS? 

I pushed for a change in site structure and speed for SEO purposes.

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not?

I used Joomla! for quite some time, back from when it was called Mambo (they switched the name in 2005). I switched to WordPress about 10 months ago because I needed a cleaner, faster site, that was easier for my clients and associates to generate content for. Part of good SEO is site speed, which includes smaller code footprints and a cleaner site structure. Joomla! Is great for a lot of things, but the CMS includes a lot of plugins out of the box, and it really adds a lot more unnecessary code for most sites. It's great if you need a site that has a large breadth of functionality, but for the average blog or article site, WordPress is much more efficient. Now my site runs with just one CSS file and very few plugins, and the loading time for a site with the same content was cut by about 60 percent.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before switching your CMS? If so, what? 

I researched WordPress pretty thoroughly before making the switch, so it wasn't too terrible. But, I did have to put the time in to learning a foreign development environment, file structure and more. Taking time to learn about how to build the site, as well as how each template provider does things differently, is pretty important.

What tips can you offer other Internet professionals before they change their CMS?

The biggest thing in my world is to make sure that when you do transition a site from one CMS to another, is to be aware of the URL structures. Most CMSs have different ways of writing URLs, and if you don't 301 redirect all of your old pages, you'll find your search rankings drop dramatically. 

On top of that, most internet professionals push the CMS that they prefer onto their customers, usually because they know it will be easier for them to develop, and not with the customer's best interest in mind. Always remember that at some point, the customer will either be managing their website and content themselves, or possibly turning the site over to another professional. Choose the CMS that is best for them, and you'll have a better relationship as they'll be happy with their website.

Nathan Winkelmes, CEO of

Via Media Company

CMS currently being used: WordPress

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not?

We are currently using WordPress as our content management system but we have developed sites for several clients in need of different CMS solutions. Our favorite is by far WordPress as it is easy for clients to use, navigate, and make updates and changes. We have been using WordPress for about three years now and it makes life so much easier for us when creating blog posts, updating our portfolio, etc. 

Some issues we have seen with our clients are as follows: Those who need the ability to do e-commerce and online sales struggle a little bit with WordPress and Joomla. They are not as optimized for online sales, products, or keeping an inventory. We recommend using an e-commerce provider such as Shopify. They make it easy to keep track of sales and figures as well as optimize shipping prices, process credit cards, and do all of the things other CMSs do. 

What tips can you offer other Internet professionals before they change their CMS?

Before choosing or switching your CMS, keep in mind what your main use for the CMS is. If you plan on doing mainly blogging, we suggest WordPress as it is the most optimized. If you plan on selling online, we recommend Shopify due to all of the commerce specific features they offer. If you are a developer or designer looking for a better way to manage sites, we suggest going with Joomla, as it gives a little more freedom than WordPress to make fundamental changes to the site. 

If you are just the average Joe running your own website, however, DO NOT use Joomla, as it requires a decent amount of knowledge about Web development. Another tip on migrating: When we switched our company site from static HTML to WordPress, we did so because we blog a lot, and are always updating our website. If you plan on switching to a CMS, keep in mind that you will need to hire a developer, as it is a somewhat complicated process. 

Consider the following factors to choose the right one: 

Do you plan on blogging a lot?

Do you want to be able to make changes yourself? 

Are you planning on selling products online?

Do you need a way to process credit cards and keep track of shipments and inventory? 

If you answered yes to any of the latter, then Shopify is for you. If you just want to blog and make changes, then go with WordPress. Before you switch, consider your budget. Converting to either CMS isn't cheap, but can be well worth it if you need it.

Margaret Walker, Marketing Specialist at CohesiveFT 

CMS formerly used: Drupal

CMS currently being used: WordPress

What do you use your CMS for?

Corporate website

What led to the decision to change your CMS? 

As part of a website redesign, we wanted to move to WordPress, for the ease of use, familiarity with WP, and the ecosystem of plug-ins to use WP as a website with forms, posts, scrolling images, event calendars, etc. 

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not?

We’ve been using WP a bit over a year. As mentioned above, WordPress has much more features for our website such as plugins for calendars, sliders, etc. and the ability to dig in and edit our own HTML or CSS. Drupal did have some functions, but it was challenging to navigate from the back-end. Now it’s much easier to whip up a landing page for a campaign, add and edit events or blog posts, and simply add in a new feature via plugins. 

Is there anything you wish you would have known before switching your CMS? If so, what? 

No, we were pretty set on using WordPress and it was going back to my comfort zone after using Drupal. 

What tips can you offer other Internet professionals before they change their CMS?

If working with a website design firm, make sure they walk you through how they use the CMS. Although I was familiar with WordPress from previous projects, I still wasted a bit of time looking for things on the back-end. A quick level set with designers would have saved me so much time figuring it out on my own.

Justin Deaville, Managing Director of

CMS formerly used: Drupal

CMS currently being used: WordPress

What do you use your CMS for? 

We use WordPress to run our website - both sales pages and our blog.

What led to the decision to change your CMS? 

The site’s look and feel needed a refresh - its design was outdated. So, we took the opportunity to move to a more user-friendly and SEO-friendly system.

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not? 

We have been using our existing CMS for about a year. We find that WordPress is much easier to use than Drupal. Also, it is SEO friendly. Site traffic from Google increased by 77 percent in the month after the site relaunched on WordPress.

One of the great benefits of working with WordPress is that it is possible to add free extensions that provide additional functions. One great extension is the Yoast SEO plugin. It has loads of great features that help to make the site more SEO friendly. 

Is there anything you wish you would have known before switching your CMS? If so, what? 

It’s a good idea to have a baseline from which to measure performance. It is very easy when switching CMS to lose authority - so that Google sends you less traffic. Another common problem we see is that the new site gets fewer conversions than the old design.

If you have collected information about how your site performs - traffic levels, conversion rates and so on - you’ll be able to tell whether the new site is helping or hindering your marketing efforts.

What tips can you offer other Internet professionals before they change their CMS?

Be aware that swapping CMS systems is fraught with difficulties. We often receive calls from businesses - very well-known businesses - that have launched a new site, only for traffic or sales to fall through the floor. As with any activity, it helps to have a clear plan with well-defined objectives. 

It is worth researching your choice of CMS. First and foremost, it must be easy to add new content. It should be SEO friendly. If you’re looking for a way of creating content and don’t need to be able to sell products online, WordPress is often a good choice of CMS. We have built many WordPress sites, and find it is the simplest, most cost-effective way of building a site. WordPress is the world’s most common platform, so if you’re not technically minded, it’s easy to find help.

Do you need commerce capabilities? If your site needs to be able to sell products, you may want to look at the Magento CMS, a common choice. Again, there are lots of modules that you can add to the basic framework when you need particular features. 

One of the main benefits of both WordPress and Magento is that they are free.

Many larger organizations need a CMS that works well with Windows. In which case, you may need to pay a license fee for a CMS such as Sitecore, Kentico or Umbraco. These systems are suitable for building larger sites. But, you may need to invest time and effort to make them SEO friendly. 

Before you start building the site, it’s worth thinking about what content you’ll want to change. Users (and Google) will appreciate a clear, logical structure. 

If you’re deleting content, it’s worth setting up redirects from the old content to the new version. This is a technical process - you may wish to ask for help from a professional SEO agency - but without those redirects you risk losing some of the site’s authority with Google. Don’t make the mistake of building a great looking site that very few people get to see.

There are also some technical checks you’ll need to make once the site has launched. For instance, you’ll want to submit a new sitemap to Google. You should also check that Google is easily able to access and index your content. You’ll want to check that you have analytics software properly installed, so you can see how the site is performing in its first few days and months.

If all goes well, you’ll have a site that looks great and is commercially successful, too.

Kelly Wisness, Senior Director, Digital Strategy at Amerinet 

CMS formerly used: SharePoint

CMS currently being used: DNN

What do you use your CMS for? 

Managing and organizing content, page management, lead generation/forms, file storage

What led to the decision to change your CMS? 

As our needs and goals for the site expanded, we started to realize the limitations of the CMS we were using. Updating content took more time and steps than it needed to take. We were not able to fully optimize the site in order to get maximum visibility in the search engines. Ultimately, we needed something that would make our jobs easier as well as to have a system that would provide us with more opportunities to optimize our site thereby increasing our visibility and traffic.

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not?

We have been using DNN since May 2014, when Engage, a St. Louis-based Web design and development firm, helped us make the transition. It solves all of the issues that we had with our former CMS. Managing content is so easy. We've been able to start making the website a lead generation channel. And we are no longer missing out on opportunities to optimize the site. In addition, we are able to easily share content throughout the site. Our team has saved so much time since the transition to the new CMS. We are very happy with our decision, and we look forward to even more success with the site.

Lisa Kirschner, Owner and Managing Director of Flair Interactive Services

CMS formerly used: Joomla, Wordpress

CMS currently being used: Hubspot Content Optimization System (COS)

What do you use your CMS for?

Hosting and managing our website, blog, landing pages and managing social media, forms, keywords, calls-to-action (CTAs), marketing campaigns and contacts (CRM). 

What led to the decision to change your CMS?

I wanted a system that would allow multiple members of our team (including people who aren’t developers) to make changes to our templates, website, blog and landing pages in one place. We were previously using multiple tools (including our CMS, Google Analytics, Vertical Response for email and Nimble for our CRM), to manage everything, but now we can do it all in Hubspot.

Even more importantly, we can also create calls to action and get a real pulse on what’s working and what’s not working with all of our online marketing activities using the built-in analytics and dashboards.

How long have you been using your current CMS and does it solve any issues that your former CMS did not?

We’ve been using Hubspot at our CMS since May, and we used the rest of the Hubspot suite for about a year prior to that. It has solved all of our previous issues (always having to rely on multiple tools, waiting for the development team to become available and not having an integrated marketing/sales tool that offers closed-loop reporting and real, measurable ways to measure success), plus issues that we didn’t even know we had!

If so, how/which ones?

For example, I am familiar with HTML and CSS, but I normally don’t get into template customization or modifications very much for our site or for our clients’ sites anymore because I just don’t have time. However, after we purchased Hubspot, I took the Hubspot COS certification classes, which walk you through how to build and modify templates using the new COS. Modifying templates in Hubspot is super easy if you have that basic knowledge, and I can modify our templates or our clients’ templates really easily usually in 20-30 minutes max. This has completely transformed the way we work. This means that I or other project managers can modify templates if needed and let our developers focus on building out more sophisticated functionality or other hardcore coding. We weren’t really looking for that capability, but it’s one of the things that I love the most about Hubspot.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before switching your CMS?

No, but I wish I had known about Hubspot years ago. We like it so much that we are recommending it to all of our customers. It completely blows away all other marketing suites that we’ve used (Lyris, Marketo) and any hosted CMS on the market if you want to get a robust suite.

What tips can you offer other Internet professionals before they change their CMS?

The most important things are: run before you walk, don’t expect a CMS to be perfect, and don’t spend months and months comparing every single feature in really huge spreadsheets. Instead, identify your top 10 features, narrow it down to your top 2-3 vendors, and then do a proof of concept using real content and data to test it out. Also, don’t believe everything that a CMS vendor tells you. You’ve got to get under the hood and try it yourselves.

Have your own content management system migration story? Let us know in the comments below.

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