Three types of web content management projects

Web content management projects come in all shapes and sizes. Each requires a different approach and mindset to be successful.

We’ve identified three primary types of web content management projects. Consider this a starting point to determine how to right size the approach to a CMS project. Each type requires different staffing, planning, time lines and roll out strategy. You’ll notice the distinction between these projects has more to do with what’s happening around the CMS than the actual implementation.

The Technical Migration

Think of this as re-platforming the site onto a new CMS and doing a straight migration of existing functionality and content. A viable option for organizations that already have a sound web strategy and user experience in place. While appearing simpler on the surface, these migrations have a way of becoming more complex than expected. This is almost always because the implementation team thinks of it as a technical project first, underestimates existing site functionality and ignores some of the strategic planning necessary in moving to a new platform.


  • Minimizes the moving parts and risk of a CMS implementation
  • Quicker timeline. Gets the new system into the hands of the organization faster.
  • Minimal impact to external site visitors


  • Underestimating necessary strategic planning (taxonomy, content modeling, migration)
  • Finding pockets of unforeseen technical complexity and third party integrations
  • Difficulty in justifying the business value and ROI to internal stakeholders

The Visual Redesign

A visual redesign is often coupled with a new CMS project. Perhaps the organization is rebranding or just long overdue for a new look. Not to be confused with a strategic redesign, visual redesign projects will largely repackage the same content, while making tactical improvements to the navigation, templates, and look and feel.


  • Keeping existing functionality minimizes larger development efforts
  • Building new templates from the ground up in the new CMS
  • A fresh look can help provide a visible result around the new CMS


  • Redesigning the site doesn’t address larger strategic issues
  • Getting the necessary stakeholder buy-in across the organization
  • Focusing too much on the design and not enough on content

The Strategic Redesign

A complete overhaul of the web channel including the CMS, user experience and underlying technology. A strategic redesign will involve the entire organization in looking to re-engineer key business processes online to deliver better customer experiences. CMS is a central part of the project, but other technology platforms are likely being integrated as well.


  • Looking at the big picture can align web channel to business strategy
  • Creates a more holistic user experiences across web properties
  • Finding technology that works well together


  • Lack of strategic planning can (really) sink the implementation
  • Increased risk of delays (or failure) with all the moving parts
  • A small or inexperienced web team may be over-matched

There are of course shades of gray between these high level project types, but for the most part organizations should find themselves fitting into one of the three. We’ll explore them more in future blog posts including what it takes to be successful with them and how they differ.

Do you agree with the list? Have a different way of thinking about it? Leave a comment.

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

More articles from Jeff Cram


6 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. I really like this classification.  One category that I would like to see more of is an upgrade or enhancement to an existing system.  I think too many companies dump their neglected CMS when they should be restoring or enhancing it.  An upgrade usually introduces less risk and disruption.  I would also add another dimension to represent whether this is migrating from another CMS or static HTML files.

    I think this classification is particularly useful in estimating the level of effort that will be involved.  For the technical migration, the requirements are very clear and firm.  The contributors may be attached to a particular way of doing things.  Often, contributors will take functionality that they like for granted and really suffer when the new platform doesn’t support it – so you need to be careful to fully understand what is being replaced.

    The visual and strategic redesign projects are both really two projects in one: one for the redesign, another for the implementation.  You might even want to do your strategic redesign before you even select the new CMS because the new design will dictate your requirements.  

  2. Jeff Cram Jeff Cram says:

    Thanks Seth —  These comments are spot on. Especially the part about the redesign projects bring run as two separate projects. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Matt Foster says:

    I like the way you’ve broken down these types of projects.  Your introduction is especially interesting for organizations about to undergo a web project.  Time and time again, we see the corporate directive is "We need a site redesign" or "We need a CMS" without much thought going into the strategy behind it.  Sometimes it helps to take a step back to look at the underlying objectives for these projects and even determine some metrics for developing ROI.  Often there is a lack of a project manager or the appropriate "staffing, planning, timelines and roll out strategy."  Your post reminded me of a Lisa Welchman blog post from not long ago:…/first-step-realizing-you-are-powerless-over-your-web-presence-and-it-has-become-un-manageable

    Stemming from that realization, web projects will get more and more visibility going forward within organizations, so I expect to see the same thoughtfulness of a web project as that of a construction project.  Let’s not start building until we have a blueprint for success! Thanks for your insights, Jeff!

    Full disclosure: I work at Ektron in the pre-sales consultation phase, so while I represent a CMS vendor, I see these kinds of quandaries every day.

  4. Chris Hansen says:

    One of the difficulties is that CMS means different things to different people. If we add the word "enterprise" to the mix, things quickly move sideways. ECM is an oxymoron – like "jumbo shrimp", and to some degree the treatment of CMS (contextually) in what is being presented is similarly one-dimensional. CMS is much more than a WCMS (web content management system)

    Does CMS include all manner of targeted audiences for all types of content? – that’s the rub, imo. To some people everything is content, whether it’s a text blurb, web page, document, pdf, file share or database field. This kind of granularity turns CMS into a "Pinky and The Brain" scenario centere don world domination theory. CMS becomes the center of the universe, and all decisions are based upon the respective health of the CMS ecosystem. This is an Ivory Tower philosophy that continues to doom most CMS implementations.

    Jeff – you’ve illustrated a very specific application of CMS with a Web-centric channel. This is well defined and totally appropriate, but it shouldn’t be construed as CMS, mor eappropriately titles WCMS.



  5. Jeff Cram says:

    Chris – Thanks for the clarification. This was definitely a post on "web content management." For that matter this blog is squarely in the WCM camp. ECM is a whole other ball of wax. We’ll touch on it from time to time, but don’t get us started… :)


  6. Jeff Cram Jeff Cram says:

    Chris – Thanks for the clarification. This was definitely a post on “web content management.” For that matter this blog is squarely in the WCM camp. ECM is a whole other ball of wax. We’ll touch on it from time to time, but don’t get us started… :) Jeff

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