At a time when web content management system (web CMS) vendors add new capabilities to their systems on what feels like a daily basis, you would think that every end user would be happy.

But then you'd be kidding yourself. 

Whether it's an issue of too many options or too few, a problem inherent in the system or in its implementation, you would be hard pressed to find an end user who had no issue with their web CMS. We wanted to know what frustrated web CMS users, so we asked a few experts.

The Question

What frustrates people about their web CMS?

The Answers

Robert Mohns, Lead Strategist, imarc

headshot of robert mohns

Mohns leads Amesbury, Mass.-based imarc’s strategy engagements, working with clients, UX, engineering and creative teams to blueprint sites and apps. Mohns has been with imarc since 2005, and built his first website in 1995 on a CS department’s Sparc. Tweet to Mohns.

We work with a lot of different CMSs at imarc, depending what each client needs. The truth is none of them are perfect. But here are some of the most common headaches we’ve seen across many CMS platforms.

Most CMS’s are not design-friendly. For a visual designer, it can be incredibly frustrating when a CMS can’t provide simple styling hooks that would let them really make a page’s content shine. Even if you’re not a designer, there’s always that mystery of exactly how the content will appear after you send it to the page. Toggling to a preview or draft is annoying and slows you down, and is rarely completely reliable. While writing blog posts, there is always that “I hope this works” feeling. Live previews, when available, go a long way to assuring the CMS user that the content will look its best.

Also frustrating? Having to abandon work in progress to create a related object somewhere else. Whether adding an image, a category or a resource, you should be able to create it from anywhere you might need to use it. Having a good auto-save can ameliorate this somewhat.

Often overlooked are approval workflows. I have a client whose CMS requires them to email themselves a review message, approve it, then email themselves an approval link. Consequently, they put off publishing content as much as possible! When setting up any approval process, make it as light as possible.

Ultimately, whoever builds out your CMS has to keep the CMS user in mind. Good coaching text, clear and simple workflows, and carefully thought-out relationships and tools will go a long way to making the content team productive.

Lisa Beaudoin, Co-Founder, Perfect Sense

headshot of lisa beaudoin

Beaudoin is the co-founder of Reston, Va.-based Perfect Sense, a full-service product company that capitalizes on its user experience platform, Brightspot, to drive innovations in web and mobile development. Beaudoin provides creative vision, product direction and account leadership for Perfect Sense's customers, with a focus on creating consumer experiences that facilitate the right conversations between publishers and their audiences. She works with her team to deliver digital solutions that enable dynamic content distribution, personalized content marketing and effortless syndication for global corporations. Tweet to Beaudoin. 

Digital teams struggle to bring new business ideas to market quickly. Legacy platforms bring limitations and constraints that get in the way of creativity and execution. Designers are forced to compromise on their vision to conform to what the platform can or cannot do. Developers must learn to work “within the system” or risk being “part of the problem."

Editorial teams inherit publishing tools built with little consideration to their everyday use cases. In the end, product cycles end up taking too long and costing too much to deliver the desired business impact. 

Designers want to innovate. They want to create visually stunning experiences with complete design flexibility and zero platform constraints. Their publishing infrastructure must enable iterative team collaboration from Day 1 to streamline prototyping and validation of new ideas.

Developers want a responsive platform that supports and enhances the development workflows that they already know and understand. They need to be able to automate tedious and routine tasks, allowing them to focus on more complex development scenarios including content migration and integrations.

Editors make experiences come to life with inspiring content and storytelling. They need tools that support the entire editorial process, with an interface that reflects the natural language of their team, and flexible workflows that easily adapt to the way they work and collaborate.

In other words, stakeholders have varied needs that must all be addressed (and embraced!) to make them successful as a team. After all, the most frustrating thing about any platform is when it gets in the way of doing great work.

James Gardner, Digital Strategist, Connective DX

headshot of james gardner

Gardner leads client development efforts from Boston for Boston and Portland, Ore.-based Connective DX, a digital experience agency. He started his career with Procter & Gamble before earning his MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Since then, Gardner has served senior clients as a consultant with McKinsey & Company, led complex digital projects with Boston-area agencies and built several high-performing marketing teams. Tweet to Gardner.

Stick around the world of web publishing long enough and you’ll be no stranger to teams exasperated by their CMS! Years after we first created our tongue-in-cheek CMS "Pain Assessment Tool," we still rarely see smiles when we ask people how they feel about their technology platform. Where would you place yourself on our six-stage scale of pain?

illustration showing faces that represent people's level of pain with their technology at work

So, why such angst and frustration? Our clients (and prospective clients) told us loud and clear when we asked. In 2013, they helped us identify many contributing problems in a blog post that still gets talked about, “The Real Reasons People Hate Their CMS.” What was on their minds? There were, of course, the usual suspects: poor implementations, challenging author experiences, inappropriate CMS platforms and so forth.

But topping the 2013 list? These practitioners repeatedly described unrealistic organizational expectations about technology’s ability to address thorny people and process gaps. There’s no CMS on the market that can paper over shallow customer insights, the lack of a digital vision, careless day-to-day execution and other “soft” organizational blockers. 

Eager CMS salespeople notwithstanding, the myth of technology “automagically” resolving these challenges is just that — a myth. Success with a CMS isn’t easy and never has been.

With their help, we went on to identify the seven organizational competencies that are important to digital experience success: insight, vision, culture, content, technology, execution and optimization. Technology’s only one of the seven, for good reason.