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CMS State of the Union: Data-Based Insights From the Past Two Years

CMS State of the Union 2017

If you didn’t already know, CMS is an acronym for “content management system.” A CMS is used by many developers, consultancies, and companies to build their website. It’s an incredibly common thing to do, as any flavor of CMS you choose will always save you effort and money, compared to building a website from nothing. This is especially true if you look at the lifetime investment of your website. Using a CMS framework or solution of some kind just seems to make sense. After all, this is what I’ve built my own career upon since 2001. However, then, CMS was known as a portal or portal framework. That’s a long time ago, so it’s not a bad idea to take stock of things every now and thing to see if what you’re doing is the correct thing. To this end, I asked myself, “How is CMS doing right now, and does it make sense to still be doing CMS-related work in the future?”

Please note that this article is mostly focused on the perspective of those of us that in some way provide website development services, where you deliver a website to clients.

Riddle Me This… Is CMS Worth My Time?

This article is the result of me asking that very question. If I’m going to invest my own time, effort, money and that of others into CMS, is it still a good investment today? This is an easy question to ask, but how exactly do you go about making that determination? This, it turns out, is not so easy. There’s a lot of disconnected information out there. The most useful information it seems is locked behind the closed doors and high-priced clutches of research firms like Forrester. So what now?

Before I move forward any further, I should get one thing out of the way for my fellow DNN community members… This is not a look specifically at DNN, nor is it meant in any way to speak directly to DNN. For that matter, not only is this article not intended to hurt DNN, it’s also not intended to disparage any CMS. This was purely done as an exercise to research CMS in general. If CMS as a whole is doing well, then any good or great CMS will do well too.

Another worthwhile disclaimer would be that I’m not necessarily a professional researcher, only in that I’ve never held such a title in my professional career, but like most of you, I have performed research that has informed entire companies since I’ve been in the workforce. So, generating data, parsing it for commonalities and abnormalities, and making decisions based on that data are all tasks that I’m very familiar with. I’m just not a mathematician, statistician, or a formal research analyst.

In doing a similar exercise to answer similar questions in the past, it occurred to me that there actually is a way to do this research and it would only cost me my time. I guess I’ll have to bill myself later, as it took a long time and this is valuable information. Information I’m now giving to you.

Gathering The Data

Gathering the data for anything like this is often the most time-consuming part. You need to find it first and foremost, but then you need to find a way to make sense of it, then do the same thing again to make sure others can make sense of what you figured out. This is a process, it’s not always the same process, and it takes a lot of time with a few dashes of trial and error.

The data I found was hiding in plain sight. Long ago I’ve learned to use services like BuiltWith to help me get to know prospects, clients, and competitors. BuiltWith is a great way to get a lot of information about the various technologies used on nearly any website, sometimes in as quickly as a click or two. It’s surprisingly very accurate. Since BuiltWith came onto the scene, others have been doing similar things and one of my favorites in this area is a company called Datanyze. I’m much more a fan of them because of their great UI and convenient tie-ins to lead generation and business development processes. However, in this case, I used their free service that’s similar to what BuiltWith offers, that shows you market share. In this case, their CMS market share area.

The market share tool is based upon people landing on a site while having the Datanyze browser plugin installed, and I believe they have bots that scour the web as well. They first analyze a site and then determine which technologies are being used by the site. Then, over time, when those technologies change, they can help you make informed decisions for your needs based upon the migrations.

If you just look at the market share tool on its own, it doesn’t do much for you. You can simply see the figures for all CMS’s over a small period of time. This is convenient enough to figure which CMS is the best and worst at any given moment, but it’s not at all useful to make any actual decisions. That is, unless you aggregate the data and begin charting it. Herein begins the time suck…

Now, before you begin harping on the accuracy and latency of tools like this, I agree with you. At any given moment, a website could be refreshed using a completely new set of technologies. When this happens, the data is a bit off. This introduces a certain degree of inaccuracy. You’re also dealing with the fact that these tools are essentially crawlers, depending upon end users initiating the scans of various sites. So, they don’t likely have the picture of the entire internet. Despite these drawbacks, this is still incredibly useful, as it allows you to have a true sense when drawing a picture. This is increasingly more interesting with Datanyze since it also analyzes internal or non-public websites in some cases.

For example, it’s not at all important for this kind of research to know that a specific number of sites are using WordPress or Drupal for example. What is definitely useful though is using the numbers to draw conclusions based on percentages. This is where it gets fun. If you can now say that 89% of websites are using this CMS or that one, that means something.

What’s to follow are insights gathered from data from January 2015 to November 2016. I won’t have December 2016 until next month, but we have enough as it is. In the data itself, I kept mostly to the top 20 CMS’s in use today.

But What is a CMS, Really?

You’re probably already drawing a pretty common conclusion without seeing any of the data, which is that WordPress is ruling the CMS kingdom in terms of overall adoption. If you’re thinking this, you’re right – but that doesn’t really mean anything. Also, it doesn’t really matter if you consider WordPress or any other solution a CMS or not. It matters that the marketplace uses it as such. For example, I didn’t know until this exercise that some people consider Blogger a CMS. Now, if you’re even remotely close to being a purist, you’ll be one of the first to scream an expletive at someone who suggests that. In discussing my findings with various people in the CMS ecosystem and technology community overall, I was just as surprised by this and was even more surprised to find that some individuals whose names may be synonymous with CMS use Blogger and similar tools to roll out client websites in the same way as most people do with traditional CMS’s. Don’t forget that this is how WordPress itself began too, and few people argue the merits of it being a CMS today. (I do though, but I digress…)

There are few types of CMS as you probably have figured out by now. There are many that are aimed at a specific vertical, such as car dealership or auto part CMS’s. There are others like Blogger who focus on brochure-style websites. There’s e-commerce CMS’s. There are application frameworks like DNN or Umbraco. There’s so very many, and they’re all more or less included in this article.

Media Outlook

When you look at the various news stories and industry articles, there’s no shortage of CMS-related news. However, you may have noticed a similar trend that I did. The CMS news has become ambiguous. You’ll find e-commerce news alongside CMS articles, and sometimes in the same article. The same goes for other types of solutions as well. This is part of what prompted me to look into this more. Why is there so much non-CMS news on a CMS industry site? There are many reasons for this. It’s just yet another symptom to keep in mind.

Despite the news shift, there’s plenty of money being reported as being spent in the CMS space. In the past, you could spend only a moment though looking for the amount expected to be spent, and have a few pages of search results. Try searching for that now. CMS is not the hot topic keyword it used to be. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any news article addressing CMS spending specifically. It’s just not an actual line item anymore. The conversation and outlook have changed. Instead of talking about CMS, the conversation is about overall budgets in IT and marketing departments. Media reporting on CMS is instead mostly sponsored by the various vendors out there now, and focus primarily on features and releases. It’s a marketing engine instead of a true news engine. Again, this isn’t necessarily good or bad on its own. it’s another symptom.

Something that’s more interesting, is the attention that the 2016 Gartner report on IT spending got last year. In this report, web isn’t even really spoken about in any meaningful way. Instead, the conversation is all about the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing, and RFID. However, the amount of spending in these areas is worth talking about. In the chart below, they speculated that 24% of the overall $3.14T IT budget would end up being spent on IoT.

Gartner: IT Spending in 2016

Market Leaders

Overall, you’ll find that WordPress is by far the winner when it comes to market share. This should surprise no one. This is just a snapshot, but in looking at it, you may want to immediately shift your time and resources to support WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal since they’re all on the same stack. Sure, there’s a huge market share there overall at 72% collectively, which is a big pool of prospective customers to fish in. Though, there’s much more for any business to consider. When you look at the chart below, the CMS vendor list on the right is listed from the biggest market share on the top, to the smallest on the bottom.

CMS Market Share 12-2016

Another thing to take away from this is that ASP.NET CMS’s don’t total more than 1% of the overall market share, where 1% is around 150,000 sites. If you’re someone like me, who makes their living on the Microsoft stack, that could feel a bit discouraging, but again, this is a snapshot. This alone doesn’t paint a full enough picture. Also, don’t forget that this is only the sites that they can see, and only CMS’s. So while the number is discouraging, the percentage is what’s more meaningful. When you apply 1% across the entire internet, it’s a pretty big number. I’m not proposing that all sites will use a CMS in the future, but most will (or something like it).

Oh My, The Trends…

The most important part of my research is that I wanted to look for positive trends. Having existing market share is like owning an entire bag of M&M’s, buying them one at a time. Once you have the whole bag, there’s nowhere to go from there. You need a new business. Is the CMS market growing? I’d love to give you good news here. I really would. Alas, I’d like to tell you the truth.

Until I refreshed the data for this article, only a single CMS vendor was showing positive growth over the past two years, and it wasn’t WordPress. Despite being the giant on the playground, it seems businesses were beginning to play with someone else. It seems Datanyze had an anomaly in September 2016 though, adding nearly 600,000 sites in a single month. This is almost a factor of 4 higher than their highest volume month. This could most likely be attributed to an algorithm being updated, and those additional sites should have already been added over time. If you were to normalize the September anomaly, WordPress would still be trending down over the past two years.

WordPress Growth: 2015-2016

This overall trend in the non-ASP.NET stack can be seen across all of the most popular CMS’s in that category.

Non-ASP.NET Growth: 2015-2016

Until August, Adobe’s Experience Manager (formerly Adobe CQ5) was the only non-ASP.NET CMS to be seeing growth. It was all positive. Unfortunately, the last few months has reversed their trend line. Despite this, Adobe’s Experience Manager has shown very consistent growth over the past two years. They’re a very clear competitor out of everyone I’ve looked at so far.

Adobe Experience Manager Growth: 2015-2016

So that means people are fleeing the LAMP stack and running to the Microsoft stack, right? As a fan of that stack, I wish I could tell you that. I really wish I could. It would be a lie. When you isolate only the ASP.NET CMS’s, they’re showing the same anti-growth trend I saw in the others above.

ASP.NET Growth: 2015-2016

In fact, the largest ASP.NET CMS market share over the past two years is surprisingly Kentico. They edged out DNN by 1,000 sites. DNN has traditionally been considered to be the behemoth to battle against on the Microsoft stack ever since it was first released. Having been in this ecosystem for a long time now, this may have been the most surprising thing to me about this exercise. Unfortunately, even isolated on their own, all of the ASP.NET CMS’s show an anti-growth trend almost identical to Kentico’s.

Kentico Growth: 2015-2016

Since most of my readers are DNN enthusiasts, you may want to see how that stacks up, first with DNN on its own. You’ll find the downward trend to be painfully obvious.

DNN Growth: 2015-2016

When you stack DNN up against Kentico, they both show a very similar migration pattern, but it’s trending downward regardless. Sadly, you don’t even need to have the trend line in the graph to illustrate this.

DNN vs. Kentico: 2015-2016

Why No Growth?

Whoa… so if you’re hearing for the first time, I’m guessing you’re no doubt a bit speechless. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this so far seemed to be completely caught off guard. An important note about this is that while the trends are all going down, the gains in the marketplace are mostly net positive over the same period of time. More sites are being gained than lost by most vendors, but that is something that’s clearly not going to last. People are leaving traditional CMS as a trend. It begs the question, “Where is everyone going?”

I tried for a couple of weeks to try and find the answer to where people are going. I poured over the data I do have, and I simply could not find the gains to show where companies are going, when they’re not choosing an existing prominent vendor. None of the smaller vendors are showing the growth necessary to explain it.

The answer came to me through an off-chance conversation with someone I know in the South Florida startup scene. He had literally just gotten off of the phone with someone at Forrester the week before, having a similar conversation about website trends. They weren’t speaking about CMS specifically of course, but they were talking about where and how companies were deploying their websites. As it turns out, there are multiple factors playing at the same time to cause the anti-growth patterns you’ve seen above.

First, there are cloud solutions being more and more prominent, each taking on a specific task from a company. In many cases, they’re even things that previously used to exist on their own website, such as a company blog. All of these are chipping away slowly at features that used to be gained from a CMS. Why deploy an entire CMS if you just need one specific feature? Sure, there are pros and cons to going or not going with a CMS, but budget and total cost of ownership will generally point towards a non-CMS decision.

Second, among cloud and traditional software, many vendors are now offering add-on services that fulfill the basic needs of most companies. For example, a CRM vendor may not have what you may consider being a traditional CMS, but they may offer a website service that’s nearly just as good. It offers exactly what the company needs, without all of the bells and whistles that a CMS usually comes with. You may know from experience yourself that while a business may have a formidable checklist or RFP, they only really intend to deploy a small fraction of those requirements initially. As with most IT projects, all of those nice to have’s and wish list items tend to get forgotten – prioritized below other business objectives. If you pay any attention at all to startup mergers and acquisitions over the past 3 years, you probably have already been seeing the evidence of this without even realizing it.

A third factor includes all of the vertical-specific CMS solutions that have sprouted up over the past few years. There’s far too many to show up on the radar in reports like Datanyze offers, and so it’s possible that all of these are collectively stealing the market share, and we can’t even see it yet.

A possible fourth contributor is custom-built websites. However, I have yet to find any data to show that this has any larger growth than it typically does. Anecdotally, all of the agencies I know that build custom-made websites aren’t showing any growth in this area either.

Your Future with CMS

Where does that leave you if you want to CMS still? Well, it’s far too early to panic, but you need to get into gear and start making plans now. If you haven’t already diversified, you need to. There are of course the immediately obvious options, such as specializing in multiple CMS’s in the same stack, or choosing one each from both stacks. However, this is fairly short-sighted in my opinion.

Do you remember that IT spending chart from Gartner waaaaaaaay up at the top of this article? IoT and 3D printing are massive areas of opportunity if you provide any kind of software solutions, but especially mobile- and web-based solutions. It would be a very safe bet that your CMS future is somehow going to merge with those areas, whether you like it or not. Ideally, you may want to jump on that preemptively, to shortcut your competition. There’s simply far too much money being spent in those two areas.

There’s another area of diversification though. You may need to find yourself specializing in a handful of CMS’s, each focusing on specific verticals. In this case, you may even find there to be opportunities for integration work, but even that is getting chipped away at. Companies like MuleSoft have done a phenomenal job of taking care of that for companies. There are even many cases where a company such as this prevents any code from being written at all.

The bottom line from my findings is this… If you’re specializing in CMS today, you should make that only one of a few specialties you offer in the future. That is unless you specialize in many CMS’s. CMS isn’t going to die, but its bubble had burst a long time ago, but no one really has begun talking about it yet.

What do you think though? Do you have your own research on this? Are you still planning to stick to just one CMS option? Why or why not? Let me know what you think in the comments below.


About the Author

Will StrohlFounder & CEO
Upendo Ventures
Overall, Will has nearly 20 years of experience helping website owners become more successful in all areas, including mentoring, website development, marketing, strategy, e-commerce, and more.

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