The WCM Conundrum: Legacy CMS, Headless CMS or Web CMS


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In the world of web content management (WCM), a battle for dollars is being waged primarily between legacy providers that have cloud-washed their software in an attempt to appear innovative and next-generation providers that have taken the headless content management system (CMS) trend too far. Marketing teams feel trapped between these two less-than-ideal options as they attempt to navigate a digital transformation.

The WCM landscape can seem complicated and frustrating, so let’s dive in to demystify it as we look at what legacy CMS, headless CMS and an emerging Web CMS can mean for marketers.

The Way We Were

Traditional WCM solutions are bulky, time-consuming to update and require heavy IT involvement in marketing activities (which is less than ideal for both IT and marketing) – all to deliver a supposedly “amazing” experience that, in reality, is anything but. Nevertheless, these legacy platforms dominate the market. They espouse the way it’s always been done. They’re comfortable. There is no need for testing or learning new systems, and the vendors are known entities. That doesn’t make them the right fit, however.

Consider this: Blockbuster was the innovator in the home entertainment market until Netflix entered. Netflix first leveraged technology to deliver DVDs to customers’ doors. This “modernized” the market at the time. Then, Netflix pushed the envelope even further, introducing cloud technology to provide online streaming. Talk about renovating the market! Blockbuster fell so far behind technologically that there was no hope for recovery.

The same analogy holds true in the WCM market. Legacy software vendors, the “Blockbusters,” are so far behind on the software as a service (SaaS) movement that they cannot truly keep up. To compensate and try to catch the “Netflixes” that are revolutionizing the market, legacy platforms have essentially tried to put their software in the cloud. These cloud-washed options are not true SaaS solutions but rather a pretty Band-Aid applied to disguise the fact that they are struggling to stay relevant.

It’s Complicated

The legacy platforms that are trying to adapt to the cloud have several implications which are dangerous for businesses. Cloud-washed software often over-promises and under-delivers on its capabilities. By essentially renovating the entire software structure, executing on these systems becomes increasingly frustrating to business users.

Constant infrastructure changes and updates on the provider’s end cause major disruptions in workflow. There are persistent updates to manage, which eliminates consistency for marketing and IT teams. This creates a domino effect: Disruption causes confusion, and confusion means crippling losses in productivity.

There is also the cost associated with revamping an entire software system, engineering it for the cloud, migrating existing customers and winning new customers. That becomes very expensive very quickly and only results in hiking up pricing.

Moreover, these platforms are typically extremely slow and inflexible. Legacy systems preach the gospel of aspirations really well, but they cannot follow up and facilitate the success of what they promise. Taking anywhere from three to 12 months to implement, even a simple website is not conducive for the four-to-six-week cycle marketers require today. As a result, marketers become paralyzed, and regardless of how badly they want or plan to, they just cannot execute on delivering a great digital experience in this environment.

In short, for businesses with evolving needs, legacy platforms cause more problems than they solve.

Not Worth Losing Your Head Over

What contemporary marketers do need is a feature-filled and user-friendly CMS. You know, the ones that tick enough technical boxes to excite the IT department while also dishing out every marketing feature under the sun. But, some next-generation solutions can be a trap, too.

To overcome the flaws of legacy systems, many a marketing department will be pulled in the extreme opposite direction, getting major pressure from IT to choose a headless CMS. A headless CMS treats content as components rather than entire pages of content. This allows marketing and IT extreme flexibility in content configuration and syndication to virtually any outlet, not just a website.

IT tends to prefer this headless approach; that is, until the entire configuration is done. But is the work ever really “done”? How many companies would choose to have their sites remain static over extended periods of time? Not many! With every change in a headless system, the back end needs to be reconfigured, which still slows marketing teams that need to deliver pages and get messaging out the door. Marketing cannot afford to wait on IT to build a presentation layer to stage how new pages will look.

While headless technologies position themselves as “the next best thing,” it is important not to completely lose your head over them. They tend to generate their own issues because there are numerous moving parts that require a certain amount of IT savvy to contend with over the long term. Think more coding, more tools and languages to learn. The overall cost of time and resources associated with a headless CMS can hike quickly as a result.

By going full headless, marketing efforts and budget can be crippled after the honeymoon period. It is a very real analogy to say that, as a result, your marketing team could operate like a chicken with its head cut off.

Next-Generation Web CMS Is the Best of All Worlds

But there is another alternative: a true SaaS approach, which is ideal for brands that want to quickly deploy and scale a website or group of websites. All the features promised and not delivered by legacy CMS vendors are there – and then some – but this time, they are maintained and updated regularly in the cloud – on platforms designed from the ground up for the cloud.

Web CMSes are increasing in popularity. These systems are constantly improving without you having to lift a finger. There are no versions to keep track of, no updates to maintain. It is all done for the marketer in a manner that makes IT happy. They also build in some headless content management capabilities, which future-proofs your brand’s online presence against any new device or channel because you can create content once with a simple interface and then publish it absolutely anywhere. As a result, companies are able to edit existing content and create custom, editable pages in days, not weeks.

So, as you consider what type of CMS is right for you, think about your priorities, values and budget. Choose the right platform for a smooth launch, ongoing management and the unprecedented growth in your brand. When you break the landscape down this way, it will be clear which solution will work best for you.

As first published in Website Magazine.

Gerry Widmer
Gerry Widmer is CEO at, a web content management system (CMS) company. Revered as an accomplished business and motivational leader for two decades, Gerry is credited with applying lean SaaS innovation to mid-market and enterprise companies. Gerry has a track record of working with growing global digital brands, most notably in his roles as general manager and acting as CEO at Blue Hornet Company.


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