Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

What Should A CMS Do?

Having a CMS for your website is pretty much assumed these days, but there is quite a variety of content management systems to choose from. At Newfangled, we've been building sites exclusively on CMS platforms since 2000, so we've had an up-close view of the comings and goings of the CMS market for just about as long as it's existed. In some ways, content management is unrecognizable compared to what it was in 2000; in other ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We're dedicated to working in partnership with marketing agencies and in-house teams to build conversion-focused marketing websites, and we've also been developing our own CMS to facilitate the needs of the lead generating marketing sites that we build. Our day to day lives as a web strategy firm are pretty busy, but every once in a while we are able to step back, look at the big picture of things, and recognize repeatable large-scale patterns that exist within all of the little things we do in our efforts to create sites that have a significant impact on our clients' businesses.

One such recent epiphany has to do with content management systems. We've noticed that a CMS tool which truly supports the conversion-focused marketing website needs to facilitate much more than just content updating. The true "conversion management system" has three levels of functionality—only one of which has to do with editing content. Wait, what? You've never heard of a conversion management system? Well, I guess that makes sense, because we just made it up. But we think it makes a lot of sense given that the difference between what a content management system does and what we're going to describe in this newsletter is pretty significant. When we talk about being conversion-focused, we really mean it, and we feel that your CMS should do much more for you than just allow you to edit content if you expect your site to truly be conversion-focused. For the rest of this article, the C in CMS stands for "conversion," not "content."

In describing the levels of a conversion management system to clients and prospects over the past six months, I've found it helpful to liken the three levels of a CMS to the three basic levels on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In case you're not familiar with it, the simplest version of Maslow's hierarchy has three sequential levels—survival, relationship building, and self actualization. The idea is that we need to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves (i.e., survive), before we can seriously consider building meaningful relationships with others, procreating, and forming clans. We then we have to go through that second stage before we have the time, energy, and resources to reach our own unique highest purpose in life, whatever that may be.

To me, there is a distinct parallel between that sequential hierarchy and the three stages of how marketers can use their CMS.


Level 1: Survival - Content Management

The core requirement of any CMS is that it allows its users to easily edit site content. If we can't update text, add pages, rearrange products, and upload images and documents, we're going to consider the CMS to be pretty lousy. Just about any CMS on the market will let you do this—and most go about meeting this need in roughly the same way—although some are much easier to use than others.


Level 2: Relationship Building - Lead Generation

Most marketers are satisfied with their CMS if it meets their level 1 needs. We feel that this is a combined result of most everyone setting the bar way too low and a lack of an understanding of what's possible. Once you're able to easily edit your site content, content marketing is a viable concept for you. Level 2 is about the CMS allowing you to use the site as the most effective marketing tool it can be. If we're truly relying on our sites to generate lots of qualified leads, then we need our sites to independently attract, inform, and engage qualified, unaware prospects on a regular basis. This will only be possible if your CMS was built with these crucial needs in mind. Here are some examples of how a CMS can help a savvy marketer realize each role.

The attract role is primarily about effectively using SEO and social media to attract the right sort of people to our site. As marketers, we want prospects who need our expertise but don't yet know we exist to find us when they query Google and their social networks about the issues they're facing that relate to what we do. Your CMS can help you do this in two primary ways. First, it of course allows you to easily add the content which will be the magnet that initially attracts people to your site, but it also allows you to independently edit the three primary Google-facing elements (H1 tag, Title tag, URL) of each page. Second, it allows people who do find your site to easily share your content with their connections via email or social channels, which in turn brings more people back to your site.

Once the right people arrive on your site, the job of the site is to make sure they can easily find the information they're looking for within one or two clicks at most, while simultaneously educating them as to who your firm is, what you offer, and how deep your expertise is. This is particularly important when considering that the sites that do have a lot of content on them are much more likely to have a higher percentage of their traffic (50-75% typically) coming in from organic, non-branded search terms, and that means that very few prospects will be initially landing on your home page. Instead, Google drops your prospect deep in the content jungle of your site, and it's your site's job to make sure they end up in the right spot.

An effective CMS will help with this, again, in two ways. First, it will present your prospect with a list of articles related to the one they're on. The logic being that if they were interested enough in topic X to search for it on Google, then they may very well be interested in these other articles about topic X. A strong CMS will automatically know which other articles on the site at this moment are most related to the page your prospect is on. This is very powerful and very effective. Second, today's best content management systems feature smart search tools in favor of static text box search tools. This is another highly engaging way of allowing your prospects to intuitively find the content they are most interested in on your site.

Once a prospect has found your site through search or social channels and has then been intuitively guided through your site based on their interests, they will probably know if your site is a good resource for them or not. Assuming you are employing a content strategy that is specifically geared toward your ideal prospect personas and focuses on the overlap between your expertise and their pain points, the site will do a very good job of convincing the right people to stick around and the wrong people to leavewhich is a good thing.

When an ideal prospect finds your site, and then gets the feeling during the first 4-8 page views that your firm is exactly who they need to hire and that your content seems to be written just for them, your site's job is to convert them from an anonymous visitor to an identified early-stage lead through a clear, concise, and compelling call to action.

A good CMS will allow you to place and order calls to action on each page of the site. Our rule of thumb is that every page on a marketing site should have at least one and no more than three calls to action (CTAs) in the sidebar. These CTAs should be in line with the stage in the buying cycle the page is geared toward. For example, if the page is the last page in a step-based series of pages which talk about how you work with clients, it could be assumed that this prospect may be interested in working with you, so you'd want to place a CTA that is geared toward a prospect in the purchasing stage of the buying cycle (or Stage 4 of 4). Many other prospects finding your site through search and social aren't looking to hire a firm like yours today, but rather are doing research today for a hire they might make in the future. These people are in the researching stage of the buying cycle (or Stage 2) and definitely don't want to contact you or have you contact them, but after being convinced of your expertise may very well want to sign up to receive your newsletter or register for your next webinar. Your CMS should allow you to easily add, delete, substitute, or rearrange CTAs on every page of the site as you see fit.


Level 3: Self Actualization - Learning From Your CMS

But how do you know where to put which CTAs? When planning and building a site, any smart marketer who understands their brand and their prospects could guess at which CTAs should be on which page, and they probably also have an idea of what order CTAs should be in on pages that have more than one. But site analytics reviews and usability tests continually show that our best guesses are often wrong. We of course have to start with something, but once the site is live a great CMS will teach you how the site is performing through embedded and detailed analytics.

A Conversion Management Systems will show you what we call Micro Analytics, as opposed to what you find today in Google Analytics, which we refer to as Macro Analytics. For example, Google will show you that 25.46% of the people who came in through your home page then went on to view 3 other pages on average over the course of two minutes on average before leaving. That's great information to know—essential information, actually.

The problem is, we know that many very smart, dedicated marketers don't review their Google Analytics accounts as often as they should. This is for two reasons. One, Google Analytics is a remote destination. As a marketer, you're not going to go there en route to anything you'd typically do on a normal day. You have to decide to log in to your account and view your analytics as a destination unto itself. The second problem is that many marketers get lost in the sea of data Google Analytics offers them. Most log in once a month or so, see if the traffic is trending up or down, click on a few other pages because they sort of feel like they should, and then move on to something else without really having a deeper understanding of how their site is working or not working.

This isn't to say that Google Analytics isn't worth installing on your site. In the hands of the right experts, that data will tell many stories which are crucial to understanding the important trends of how your site is being discovered and used. What we are saying, though, is that most marketers don't know how to get that information out of Google Analytics and we're not that confident that this unfortunate trend is going to change anytime soon.

A conversion management system will make up for this in two ways. One is by bringing the top-level Google Analytics right into the site through an API. This puts the data that marketers want to see in an environment that they spend a ton of time in—the CMS. The other solution is that conversion management systems can now serve up what we refer to as "micro data." Conversion management systems will show you who exactly is on your site, what their involvement is on publicly-accessible social networks, how they got to your site, which pages they viewed and for how long, what their lead score is based on their site actions, which forms they converted on, what your organic ranking is for the search phrases people are using to find you, which referring sites are sending the most traffic your way, what percentage of that traffic from each source is converting, what the top converting pages on your site are, what the most popular CTAs are…you get the idea.

This information—the micro data—is info that immediately tells a marketer in a very tangible and compelling way how their site is working. What's more, it's putting it right in front of their face each time they log in to use the CMS, which in many cases is at least once a day or so. For an example of how all of this works, check out the video embedded at the top of this newsletter if you haven't yet. 


In Summary

Maslow knew when he created his hierarchy that most people would never reach the self-actualization pinnacle, and that many would never get out of the first stage, or what is commonly referred to as Maslow's Basement. Similarly, most content management systems won't do more than allow for easy access to add, edit, and delete site content (and unfortunately some don't even do this all that well). Our intent for this newsletter is to give you a new perspective of what's currently possible with conversion management systems like ours (NewfangledCMS), and what we believe will be the direction all content management systems will take in the future.


Mark O'Brien | September 14, 2012 9:21 AM
Hi Matt,

Thanks for your (partial tongue in cheek) comment.

We don't have any CTAs related to the CMS specifically, and that is intentional since we don't sell the CMS as a product, but rather we sell the development of sites that we build on the CMS, and we have lots of pages in the main nav (development, pricing, projects) and numerous CTAs throughout the site that allow you to learn about what it is that we sell and offer ways to get in touch with us.

The CMS isn't at all sentient, meaning it doesn't know what we're saying in the text, although that'd be pretty cool!

All that being said, the video that is embedded right at the top of this newsletter and that is also referenced a few times in the text is about as complete a demo of the CMS we've ever done.

Matt Jensen | September 14, 2012 1:31 AM

I wonder if you're NewfangledCMS should have /does point out to you that you desperately need a CTA in this article/newsletter to click through to details about your 'NewfangledCMS'.

Additionally, looking at your primary navigation, I have no idea which link to click to find out more about 'NewfangledCMS' - doesn't your CMS do this?

Tongue in cheek (partially) :)

Cheers for the article
Mark O'Brien | August 31, 2012 11:10 AM
Hi Chris,

That's an interesting point. I agree that A/B testing is essential, but we haven't built it into the core functionality of the CMS since we've considered it to be as much about the consultation around the tests and results as it is about the ability to test. We'll have to think more about that, thanks for the input!

chris kluis | August 31, 2012 7:09 AM
Conversion Management System requires AB testing built into the heart of the CMS. Title, copy, c2a, color, placement all would be swappable and trackable.
Bob | August 31, 2012 5:51 AM
I've tried Joomla / Wordpress / etc.
ModX beats them all hands down.
Vicki Ayala | August 30, 2012 4:11 PM
Thanks, Mark, for quickly clarifying. I appreciate the information and will continue reading and learning from Newfangled.

Also, what a great - and inspiring - story about how you ended up at Newfangled. Good for you. :)
Mark O'Brien | August 30, 2012 3:05 PM
Hi Vicki,

Thanks for your comment and for challenging some of the ideas here!

The first point I'd like to make is one made in the article about the distinction we draw between what we refer to as Macro Analytics (Google Analytics) and Micro Analytics(Such as what is offered in NewfangledCMS). Although one small part of our Micro Analytics package does pull in some basic GA data through their API, the rest of the functionality focuses on data points and relationships that GA doesn't touch on. This isn't at all meant to replace GA, it's meant to tell a deeper story.

I agree that there are lots of great free tools out there to use but we do find that many marketing professionals inside of mid-sized b2b companies in North America aren't as savvy as you are in this particular regard, and do tend to have a difficult time deriving clear, actionable data from GA on a daily or weekly basis.

The Micro Data tools we've built into the CMS will be of great use to the GA expert and novice alike, though, since we're not seeking to compete with GA but simply tell a more detailed story. If you check out the embedded video I think you'll find that there is quite a bit in there that would be difficult to find in GA, and some things which will never be possible to find in GA.

Thanks again, Vicki, I appreciate the opportunity you've given me to clarify these points and dig deeper into some of these details!

Vicki Ayala | August 30, 2012 2:54 PM
Good article, thank you, Mark.

One point I disagree on...

I do not know any "smart, dedicated marketers" that are only logging in to Google Analytics once a month! If they have another platform, great, but then why would they be logging in once a month?

As a marketer, I absolutely get there on a normal day through a number of typical tasks: Analytics is tied in with my AdWords which I visit every day. It is on the same dashboard as other Google products that I also visit literally every day: Google Insights, Google alerts,

Additionally, a smart and dedicated marketer should not be lost in the sea of data! It takes a couple hours to take Google's free video training classes on Analytics. Or pick up a book. Or attend a free seminar via Google Engage for Agencies. These are tools that Google offers in conjunction with one of the most powerful platforms available. And it's free!

So your platform will offer the same information as Google Analytics because you are using the API. This may be an excellent solution but you'll want a stronger selling point than "marketers are just too lazy for this stuff".
Mark O'Brien | August 30, 2012 11:07 AM
Hi Philip,

The CMS in the video is NewfangledCMS, which we built using the L.A.M.P. stack. Although it's proprietary by definition because we built it, it's completely portable and doesn't come with any strings (aka licensing fees) attached.

It's been a work in progress. We built the initial version in 2000 when the only choice for a CMS was to build one or license one of the big CMS tools for $1MM. Over the past 12 years we've used it to build hundreds of client sites and we continually work to refine the CMS to bring it closer and closer to being everything a "conversion-focused" CMS really ought to be. We don't expect or hope to ever be done with that particular journey.

Thanks for commenting!

Philip Downer | August 30, 2012 10:47 AM
Hi Mark,

I too really enjoyed this article. In reading through some of the literature presented elsewhere on your site, you mention that you build your sites using open-source software on a L.A.M.P. stack. Understanding that the focus of this article is really about what a CMS should DO, rather than how it's built, could you elaborate a bit on the system that you demo in your video?
Mark O'Brien | August 30, 2012 10:31 AM
Jason, Rob, thanks for commenting.

Jason, the Maslow thing has definitely been done before, of course (it seems that you can't get through a business book these days without seeing at least one reference to it), but the parallels were so clear that I couldn't help using it here. Maybe that is why it's so often used--it's a system most people are familiar with and it's easy to draw parallels to.

I'm glad you like the article and thanks for the kind words.
Jason Mlicki | August 30, 2012 9:43 AM
Thanks Mark,
I really like the analogy to Maslow's hierarchy. It's spot on. We've worked with most the open-source CMS platforms and a few proprietary platforms, and it seems to me that most fall down around:
1. CTA (they're not part of the CMS so you have to custom code and/or use a 3rd party application that's very limiting in how you manage CTA from page to page).
2. Micro analytics (that's not even part of the CMS so you have to append a 3rd party application to get it).

Of course, this is why Newfangled is great.
Rob Landry | August 30, 2012 9:07 AM

Good food for thought. At my firm we've been building CMS's and installing the usual suspects (WordPress, Drupal) for our clients (and ourselves). I've never been satisfied with other solutions. Even today, most are limited in terms of providing an intuitive way for folks to "just manage content".

WordPress is great, but the database and interface structure were essentially designed for blogging, not searchable business directories, (elegant) events calendars, resource iibraries and so forth. Drupal comes with a pretty steep learning curve.

My agency works with museums, and we discovered there was no good solution on the market, so we built one to meet their needs (collections, exhibitions, events, artist bios, etc.). One goal is to create a long tail of landing pages for objects in the collection and artists, and we've been able to demonstrate increases traffic significantly for searches for related subject matter. We believe strongly that a CMS should be a tool you can use easily to drive traffic to your site.

I'm always surprised at how little time museum marketers spend with their analytics to understand their online audiences. It may be on a separate site, but they need to bookmark it and make the effort to get up to speed - or engage us to help them do that.

Content management needs an "iPhone".

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