When’s the right time to add a secondary CMS?

rise of the secondary CMS

Recent research commissioned by Manifesto and WP Engine shows that an increasing number of enterprise-level organisations are using more than one content management system, and that most of those organisations report several benefits from use of a secondary CMS. But what are the main drivers behind the choice of adding a new CMS and when’s the right time to implement a new system?

The rise of the secondary CMS

The new report The Rise of the Secondary CMS: Achieving more with multiple content management systems is based on the results of a survey among 300 enterprise-level IT and marketing decision makers that took place in October 2017. It found that most of those organisations (53%) are now using at least two content management systems and that, among the companies using just one CMS, over a third (37%) plan to bring in a secondary CMS within the next 12 months.

Why use more than one content management system?

Among the respondents to the survey, the overwhelming majority (93%) believed that there were benefits to using more than one CMS and, out of the respondents working for companies which already used at least two CMSs, all of them (100%) found clear benefits to using more than one system.

benefits of using a secondary CMS

Let’s take a look at the three most-cited benefits:

Faster time to market

Enterprise content management systems are fantastic tools for publishing content across a wide variety of business use cases, but because they often need to integrate with a variety of other business systems, upgrades, changes and new features need to be handled with care to avoid problematic knock-on effects. This can slow down the process of rolling out new features and products to a crawl and prevent organisations keeping pace with the changing demands and expectations of their customers.

This is just the kind of problem a secondary CMS can solve. A lightweight secondary CMS like WordPress can be used to prototype, test and build a new product, service or campaign site independently of legacy systems, allowing enterprise-level companies to act more like startups.

Ease of use

Content management systems are getting easier to use all the time. Like any digital product, iteration upon iteration of user-interface design gradually reduces the stumbling blocks for non-technical users, allowing many more people across an organisation to get involved in content publishing, and allowing teams and departments to take control of their own digital comms. Sometimes you’ll find you have a legacy system that’s capable of doing a newly-identified job but that there’s a shortage of staff who can be trained to use it. In these circumstances, a secondary CMS which is more user-friendly is often a more sensible choice.


Closely related to the first benefit, secondary CMSs allow product teams to take complete ownership of a new system, and roll out experiments which are completely independent of larger, more fully integrated systems. This approach can be used to generate valuable insight into user and customer preferences, trialling new approaches quickly and with minimum cost so that the winning ideas can be iterated upon while the less successful ideas are discarded before they’ve had the chance to rack up serious costs.

As one respondent to the survey said:

“To have any chance of success, a content management project must follow the same user-centered design practices as any other project. Task analysis, rapid prototyping, usability testing — all of these methods are crucial to a CMS rollout. It’s foolhardy to unveil a mammoth, nine-month project to an unsuspecting user community and expect adoption.”

More insight in the full report

In conclusion, the right time to add a secondary CMS is when your existing content management system can’t deliver the fast time to market, ease of use or agility that you need to outdo your competitors in a rapidly changing marketplace. Secondary systems give you the ability to launch quick experiments and rapidly trial new products, services or functionality (like personalisation) without the high overheads that would be incurred by running the same experiments using your existing development workflows.

As well as looking at the benefits of secondary CMSs, the survey also reports on what respondents see as the biggest risks of implementing additional content management systems. And it has extensive data on which are the most popular enterprise-level CMSs (spoiler: AEM and WordPress are front-runners) and the contexts in which different systems are used within enterprise organisations.

Download ‘The Rise of the Secondary CMS: Achieving more with multiple content management systems’


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