It’s hard to dispute the power of the written word. Good content has the power to communicate information, to educate, and to change minds. It can draw in readers and help you share your point of view and demonstrate expertise.
Is it any wonder then that the defining moments in human history involve how people create — and more importantly, share — content? Humans were around for thousands of years before writing was developed, and their whole existence is pieced together in prehistory. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 1400s brought the power to disseminate messages to the masses to Europe, fundamentally altering human literacy.
Flashing forward to 1996, Bill Gates published an essay declaring “Content is King.” Gates foresaw the internet as a marketplace of ideas, in which content would be an indispensable part. While its most quotable phrase has perhaps become overused by content marketers, the core message was prescient. Content that makes a connection with people is a fundamental part of sharing ideas. In ecommerce, making those connections can turn people into customers.
And of course, while words have been one of our oldest means of persuasive power, they are far from the only type of content. Photos, videos, and infographics, to name a few, can all be powerful methods of getting your message to customers.
In an age of rising digital advertising costs, it’s no wonder that content marketing is being increasingly relied on to draw in organic traffic and provide a better customer experience.
Here are some quick facts on the rise of content in ecommerce, according to research from the Content Marketing Institute:
- Almost half of all marketers plan to use content to reach their customers.
- 72% of businesses find that content marketing increases engagement.
- 64% of businesses are looking for ways to create a better content strategy.
It’s no wonder that businesses are starting to make changes to increase their content marketing budgets.
Making content marketing a part of your business model means not only having strong content, but also a clear strategy for execution and ways to include it in your website that make it a natural part of the buyer journey. It’s one of the reasons to create your own store with a solid brand presence instead of just selling in online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.
Creating quality content is a huge play to differentiate your business, educate your consumers, and share your brand voice.
-Shayda Torabi, Owner, @WithShayda
Optimizing your content often means having a dedicated content management system that can integrate into your ecommerce software. This is your modern printing press, enabling you to share your content farther and wider than you could without CMS technology.
In this deep dive, we’ll look at the content management systems that are a natural fit for an ecommerce website. We’ll also help you consider which strategy is right for you: having an ecommerce-first platform that handles both or pairing a CMS on the frontend with an ecommerce platform on the backend to manage your online business.
What is a Content Management System (CMS)?
A CMS is a content management system, a software that helps you create, edit, and publish content on your website. This system is a vital component of your ecommerce store, acting as an asset or liability for your team to keep the website up-to-date and your marketing fresh.
The most dominant CMS on the market is, of course, WordPress. As of 2019, WordPress has 58% of the CMS market share and a whopping 34% of the internet is powered by WordPress. That said, it is far from the only CMS out there. There are many options ranging from free to enterprise-level to completely custom, each with its own features and benefits.
Do You Need a Separate CMS?
So far, we might seem like CMS evangelists, but the truth is not every ecommerce store needs a separate CMS. Typically, the sites that need a CMS are ones that need content refreshed frequently. Ecommerce sites often qualify because they are updating homepage content to keep things fresh and product pages with new additions. If you have a blog as part of your site, a CMS can be particularly useful.
However, if your store doesn’t have much need for frequent content updates, you might be okay using the functionality of your ecommerce platform. Your team is best equipped to determine those needs.
If you’re still unsure, here’s a bit more information about the advantages a well-chosen CMS can provide.
1. Create and edit content with ease.
Editing content on a website doesn’t have to be difficult. A proper CMS allows you to create and edit content without advanced technical skills. If your current system doesn’t allow you and your team to update content easily when you need to, then using a CMS might be in order.
Taking the time to refresh the content on your ecommerce store can bring more traffic, revenue, and even sales opportunities.
-Connie Wong, Marketing Manager, Silk Software
2. Remove reliance on developers.
An issue that many ecommerce teams discover is this: the marketing teams and content creators are not the same people as the developers. Before easy-to-use CMSs, developers had to be consulted for every change, slowing down progress.
This is especially difficult as ecommerce marketers attempt to keep pace with customer expectations and with competitors by making frequent updates. By leveraging a content management system, marketers and other company stakeholders can update their website directly.
3. Add another channel for reaching potential customers.
Your content is a promotional effort in itself. Having great content on your site can boost your brand and products, all while educating consumers on the article’s topic. This can create organic demand as customers reach your site through Google and other search engines. A CMS can help you better organize your content and make it easier for people to reach you organically.
4. Let writers work together.
No writer is an island, and the best content is usually produced with many editorial eyes and team oversight. A CMS can help facilitate this collaboration. Writers can edit and adjust a content piece within the system so that it works for the audience they’re targeting and streamline review processes.
What to Look For In Your CMS
You’re still reading, so presumably you’ve considered the value of adding a CMS, and have out on the other side with plans to acquire one. Now comes the task of choosing from the many options available. What criteria should you consider when choosing a CMS?
1. Easy integration.
This one applies primarily if you’re pairing an ecommerce platform and separate CMS to achieve your ecommerce solution. To save you many headaches down the road, you’ll need to pick a CMS that will integrate cleanly with your ecommerce platform.
Keep in mind that some content management systems claim simple integration, but don’t deliver. Find a CMS that has good reviews and happy customers who are also using your platform.
2. Quick setup and ease of use.
While some enterprise-level ecommerce CMSs will be more complex and require a little more work to get going, take into account the lift that will be involved with setup. Your CMS should be able to setup quickly and start creating value for your business. You and your writers/editors should be able to get in and out without running into any barriers towards publishing.
3. Excellent value.
There’s a big range in prices for content management systems ranging from free (like WordPress) to expensive. You won’t want to be paying thousands of dollars a month unless your CMS is bringing in double the profit. Do research to make sure you’re getting the features you need to support your business, but not overpaying for them.
This is one that may or may not apply to your business but is worth thinking about. Is customization and personalization important to your customers? If so, make sure you have a CMS that can help you create personalized web pages for different user groups.
As mentioned above, one of the advantages of a strong content marketing strategy is to bring in organic traffic. To do this, it’s important to make it easy for search engines to find your content. An SEO-friendly CMS can help you with this.
11 CMS Platforms for Ecommerce
This list is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of systems you can use to manage your ecommerce content. Some of the choices below are a better fit for new businesses just getting online, while some have the features that suit upper mid-market and enterprise businesses.
However, this list is a good place to start your search and discover the ecommerce CMS that is right for your content, your customers, and your store.
BigCommerce is a SaaS ecommerce platform that has the CMS capabilities to streamline your content, ecommerce, and store management for a monthly fee. The platform is PCI compliant and its flexible APIs also make it easy to connect to other CMS solutions (including custom solutions) while utilizing the BigCommerce shopping cart on the backend.
As mentioned above, WordPress is the most dominant CMS in the industry. It’s a popular CMS both for ecommerces shop or plainly content-based sites. WooCommerce is one choice for a plugin to add ecommerce functionality to a WordPress site. It’s an open-source platform and WordPress plugin that’s free to download, making it a great fit for ecommerce start-ups.
For WordPress users who need more advanced ecommerce features, BigCommerce offers a plugin that can connect easily to WordPress sites. By adding the BigCommerce SaaS platform, you can get the best of both worlds by having the flexibility of WordPress on the frontend and the hosting, maintenance, and security managed.
The flexibility of WordPress and its widespread adoption online mean that it’s capable of mirroring most business use cases in a way that other platforms can’t. Comparably to SaaS platforms, however, you will incur added hosting, maintenance, and security costs.
-Jordan Brannon, President, Coalition Technologies
Drupal is a leading open-source CMS specializing in creating digital experiences to reach audiences across multiple channels. As with WordPress, Drupal is not used for ecommerce on its own, but can be combined with different frameworks and plugins to achieve ecommerce functionality on Drupal.
Drupal Commerce is an open source ecommerce framework that can be used to build flexible ecommerce sites; however it is not user-friendly for those without significant developer experience. BigCommerce offers a plugin that connects to Drupal on the frontend to leverage the advantages of both.
Joomla is a free, open-source CMS for publishing online content. Joomla is built on a model-view-controller framework that can be used independently of its CMS. There are a number of extensions that work with Joomla to create an open source ecommerce solution.
Sitecore is a leading digital experience and CMS software used by businesses globally to create personalized experiences. The platform also offers the potential for ecommerce through Sitecore Experience Commerce.
BigCommerce offers a plugin with Sitecore offering another way to utilize Sitecore for ecommerce by going headless.
Owned by Adobe, Magento is another open-source ecommerce platform and is available in self-hosted and cloud-hosted options. Magento is a sophisticated program that is a viable option for larger businesses with developer resources.
Magento has evolved their product over the years and encouraged users to move from their Magento 1 versions to the improved Magento 2. This encouragement became more of a mandate when Magento announced they would no longer be supporting Magento 1 after June 2020. All merchants currently operating stores on Magento 1 will need to replatform to Magento 2 or another Magento alternative by that date or risk having an unsecure store that is not PCI compliant.
Shopify is a SaaS ecommerce platform that’s an option for creating a visually appealing online store fairly easily. For this reason, it’s very popular with new and small businesses just getting online. The platform has easy-to-use templates and CMS features. One downside is that it does charge transaction fees for using payment providers outside of Shopify.
Prestashop is another open-source ecommerce solution for a CMS that is a good fit for small and medium stores. Prestashop web development requires fewer resources/servers than some other options; however it also can limit scalability. Because of this, it’s definitely more of a fit for small businesses just starting out.
OpenCart is an open-source and customizable platform with ready-to-use templates. It also offers thousands of extensions and modules. However, to get high performance from the platform and gain value from content, you will need to add additional plug-ins such as SEO.
Wix is known as a simple, drag-and-drop website builder. It is not a dedicated ecommerce platform like BigCommerce or Shopify, but it does allow users to add ecommerce functions to their website. For small business owners who only have a small number of products, this may be an option to get off the ground quickly.
Volusion is a cloud-based ecommerce platform and CMS. It offers the basic functionality necessary to operate an online store. It has an easy-to-navigate control panel and good customer support.
Two Types of Ecommerce CMS
Something you may have noticed about the list above is that some of the offerings are first and foremost CMS and some are primarily ecommerce platforms that support some CMS functionality.
Deciding which option is right for you–and which is the best ecommerce CMS for your business–will depend on where you are in your business, your size, the number of products you sell, and your content strategy.
1. Ecommerce first.
The purpose of these platforms first and foremost is to sell online. Ecommerce-first CMSs used to lack many of the features of a traditional CMS. As content becomes more and more important, these platforms have evolved to include features such as on-page content management, blogs, and sleek homepage designs to better display and organize content.
Today, platforms like BigCommerce have much of the customization of a dedicated CMS like WordPress, but with less developer time required. And of course, for store owners who do decide to go with a content-first approach, CMS specific plugins and flexible APIs can make it possible to sync up with any frontend CMS solution.
Ecommerce-first doesn’t mean a site isn’t able to be nimble in their approach and provide engaging content. Here’s an example of a store using an ecommerce platform as the primary engine for their store:
Natori is a high-end women’s fashion brand that has established a strong DTC channel through their website and selling on social media. They use the BigCommerce platform to continue to grow their ecommerce business while connecting to new technologies like AI to manage their social selling.
They needed a commerce-first approach that would help expand their thriving retail business to include all the ways that people shop. It was also important to their business that they have a platform that worked efficiently. Having a platform optimized for online selling helps them to do this.
Ken Natori, president of The Natori Company explains: “We still operate within our traditional business model while expanding our footprint into the direct-to-consumer world. This comes with 25 different things that we have to do to compete effectively in a digital landscape. We basically have the same amount of resources, the same amount of staff, while having to check the boxes on all of these other critical adjacencies.”
2. Content first.
For ecommerce stores with a content-first approach, the CMS is at the forefront and the foremost purpose is to manage content on a website. In these cases, a platform optimized for content management is used on the frontend, and the ecommerce functionality is an add-on on the backend.
Here are a couple of examples of sites that take a content-first approach to their ecommerce and use a CMS on the frontend that is separate from their ecommerce platform on the backend.
Burrow is a DTC brand disrupting the furniture industry by providing an easier way to buy couches and other home goods. Their site is very focused on the customer, and continually crafting a better end-to-end customer experience.
They needed a content-first approach with their site because creating content to help educate customers is very important to their business model — particularly because they work with a tactile furniture product and need to impart all the important sensory elements.
“We’ve solved for that by creating visual content — for example, shooting photography or videography that communicates comfort by showcasing all the attributes of the sofas, the way real people are living these days,” explains Burrow co-founder and CEO Stephen Kuhl.
To facilitate their content-first strategy, Burrow uses a custom frontend CMS and connects to BigCommerce for ecommerce functionality on the backend. Kuhl expands on the strategy behind Burrow’s build:
“With BigCommerce we can create our own customized templates and then ecommerce and marketing teams run different tests on different versions of those — and they’re all customized. But once you’ve got the templates set, you have that speed to make changes, and that’s been incredibly helpful for us.”
Popular U.K. Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s relaunched their digital presence in 2018 with a content-focused site. The website uses WordPress on the frontend and BigCommerce on the backend to create a content-rich web experience to serve both their online and offline customers.
James Backhouse, Marketing Director for Carluccio’s, describes why the WordPress + BigCommerce combination worked well: “The ability to seamlessly blend content and commerce enabled us to rapidly develop a modern website with powerful commerce capabilities using our preferred content management system.”
6 Benefits of Pairing Ecommerce with CMS Platforms
If you’re thinking of going with the second option — a more content-first approach — there are a number of scenarios in which pairing an ecommerce platform with a separate CMS can benefit your business. Here are a few examples of ways two platforms can work in tandem to improve your strategy.
1. Turn an existing site into a shop.
You have a fantastic blog. Your readers trust your expertise and would love you to guide them in what to purchase. You’re ready to monetize your blog and start selling products. Since you already have a CMS you like, why rock the boat? You can simply connect your existing blog to a platform like BigCommerce to add a shopping cart and ecommerce features without changing your entire website.
2. Easy-to-update sites.
You want a store that’s slick, has a great customer experience, and can easily be updated to keep up with the competition and showcase all of your marketing teams’ great ideas. CMS platforms allow you to have professional content and products on your ecommerce site that are easily editable.
3. More visitors with a content-first approach.
You want to get more visitors in the digital door by writing high quality, well organized content. Content can help you bring in more organic traffic and lower your customer acquisition costs. Well organized on-site content and experiences can encourage customers to convert and to return to buy more later.
4. Becoming a thought leader in your industry.
You have something to say to the larger industry. You want to carve out a space for your brand. You’ll be able to harness the product and informational side of your industry, making you a leader in your field, which can in turn improve the reach of your brand.
5. Manage orders and inventory with ease.
On the ecommerce side of things, you want your site to still be easy to manage and to scale as your business grows. By having centralized inventory and order management, you can manage sales from end to end across every channel.
6. Integrate with payment providers.
Another advantage of having backend ecommerce functionality with your CMS is that you can use it to connect your online store to PayPal powered by Braintree, Stripe, and other leading payment gateways with just a few clicks.
From the printing press to the modern internet, humans have been looking for ways to better disseminate content to the masses for much of our history.
As an online shop, not only creating valuable content for your customers and potential customers — but also making sure it is read — is an important goal. Choosing the right configuration for your CMS and backend ecommerce platform can make a big difference in your user experience, product management, inventory management, and more.
Whether you opt for an ecommerce platform that manages your modest content needs or a CMS paired with an ecommerce engine on the backend to completely customize your storefront, the reign of content is here to stay and will continue to be an important ecommerce marketing strategy going forward.