February 21, 2023
Case Study

Content Management Systems: The best CMS platform is the one that suits your website (specific examples from marketers)


How to choose a CMS is not just a question the IT experts should answer. As marketers and entrepreneurs, the content management system can make (or break) our content and marketing plans.

Success with a CMS for a new website or website redesign is about more than identifying the most popular CMS platforms. As a marketer, your role should be painting a picture of the end goal for your IT colleagues or vendors.

To help you begin with the end in mind, in this article we bring you specific examples from your peers. By seeing what worked best (and worst), hopefully you’ll get some ideas for your own CMS project.

Read on for examples from a legal services company that improved SEO by increasing site speed and a food blogger that generated more traffic by better organizing content. We also bring you cautionary tales from a reviews website that recovered from a migration fail and an affiliate blog that lost 97% of its traffic from a CMS theme update.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Content Management Systems: The best CMS platform is the one that suits your website (specific examples from marketers)

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

Quick Case Study #1: Legal services company migrated to headless CMS, increases average session duration 34%

“One of the major changes we implemented last year was moving to a headless CMS rather than utilizing an out-of-the-box solution like WordPress or Wix,” said Joe Karasin, Chief Marketing Officer, DigitalWill.com.

“There is much debate about the use of a headless CMS for a company website. The workload to change from a traditional CMS (custom or out-of-the-box) to a headless model is not light, and many brands, especially SMBs, wonder if there is value in making the change,” he said.

But from Karasin’ experience, it was absolutely worthwhile due to major gains in Core Web Vitals, as well as keyword rankings and user experience.

Web Performance Optimization – New CMS improves Core Web Vitals

When you think of user experience, you may focus on your funnel flow, page design, or clarity of copy. But how a page loads is also an element of the user experience. Core Web Vitals are a series of metrics that measure this, and it isn’t only helpful to visitors – it can affect how your website ranks in search engines.

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures the amount of time it takes from when a page begins to load until the largest text block or image is rendered within the viewport. A fast LCP helps provide a smooth user experience, as it ensures that the largest and most prominent part of a web page is displayed quickly.

Before the team switched to a headless CMS, LCP was 4.9 seconds. After the switch, LCP was 2.1 seconds.

First Contentful Paint (FCP) measures the time it takes for the browser to render the first piece of content from the DOM (Document Object Model). That first loaded piece of content gives visitors visual feedback that the page is loading and helps to set expectations for the rest of the page load.

FCP decreased from 4.1 second to 1.1 seconds for DigitalWill.com.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is a metric for measuring the stability of a web page’s layout during loading. It measures unexpected layout shifts that occur between the time a page is requested and when it is fully loaded and quantifies the visual stability of a page. Layout shifts can happen when a page changes its content or layout dynamically during loading, causing text or other elements to shift around on the page. This can create a poor user experience, as users may not be able to work with a page that is constantly shifting. The lower the CLS score, the more stable and user-friendly the layout of a web page is.

CLS decreased from 0.6 to 0.1 for DigitalWill.com.

Speed Index measures how quickly the contents of a page are visually displayed to the user. The Speed Index is calculated by taking a video of the page loading. Then, it measures the time it takes for different parts of the page to become visually complete.

Speed Index decreased from 22.1 seconds to 8.2 seconds for DigitalWill.com.

Faster website helps with search engine ranking and website stickiness.

“By improving the page load times of the site, Google was indexing us higher,” Karasin said. The site is now ranking for the ‘digital will’ keyword ahead of enterprise-level competitors.

Bounce rate decreased 21% and average session duration increased 34% after the switch.

“If you are debating on whether or not to break away from your Wix or WordPress site, it would probably benefit you to do so. Investing in a headless CMS is what most companies are doing, and to remain visible amongst your larger competitors, it will help you going forward,” Karasin advised.

Quick Case Study #2: Better organized content helps blogger increase traffic 30% by honing in on which content to highlight

"Getting a system in place that shows me what content I have, when it was published and what categories it falls under is huge,” said Jill Machovsky, Owner, Cooking Up Memories.

“The CMS system that I implemented was Air Table,” said Bobbi Mullins, Owner and Chief Creative Officer, Andy Robson Consolidated (Cooking Up Memories’ marketing consultant). Mullins set it up so that Machovsky would have easy access to the following information for each post:

  • what the post was about
  • when it was published
  • the categories it fell under
  • to-do items for the post

This enabled Machovsky to better understand and see what content she had so that she could build onto it. For example, a wedge salad post would fit perfectly with a post about steak marinade. Prior to implementing this system, she didn't have it laid out in a way that information could easily be found.

“It makes it so much easier to create content – knowing what I can build off of and what will complement another post. It also makes it easier to know what would be good to refresh and update,” Machovsky said.

And this organized content helps the team determine which posts they should create Web Stories for, which has led to a 30% increase in traffic to the site. “By setting up the CMS it allows us to better track what’s out there and what she’s working on to prepare Web Stories that should drive this type of additional traffic to the site,” Mullins said.

Web Stories is a format for easily creating visually rich, mobile-optimized content for the web. They are similar to Instagram or Snapchat stories, where content is presented in a full-screen, vertically scrolling format. Web Stories can be created using a combination of images, videos, text, and other interactive elements. They can be shared and embedded on websites, social media platforms, and search engines. The goal of Web Stories is to provide a more engaging and immersive experience for users on the web.

Below is the site’s best-performing Web Stories page. It increased traffic 1,333% for this particular article.

Creative Sample #1: A Web Stories page for an article from cooking blog

Creative Sample #1: A Web Stories page for an article from cooking blog

“I am also able to better promote my blog by easily finding topics that respond to a question someone has by looking on Airtable and not having to search through the site itself,” Machovsky said.

“Push through the difficulty of getting it all set up, in the end you'll be glad that you did,” Mullins advised. “I have found Airtable and Clickup to both be very effective in managing content.”

Quick Case Study #3: Reviews website recovers from migration fail, increases content upload speed 3x

Bennett Heyn at Parker Marker had to manually update his website and blog posts, which was a lengthy process. “I was using Shopify which was terrible for blog post editing. I was ranking on Google and getting a lot of traffic but it took so long to add new content and update content,” said Heyn, CEO & Founder, Parker Marker.

“I switched to a WordPress CMS in mid-June and it kind of tanked my SEO because my Core Web Vitals were failing,” Heyn said. He had to spend a lot of time trying to optimize the new website's Core Web Vitals.

On the upside, with the new CMS, he was able to quickly and easily update the website and blog posts with new content, allowing the blog to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and news. He estimates that was able to increase content upload speed by almost 3x.

Heyn suggests researching different CMS options to determine what best meets your company’s unique needs of features, functionality, and cost. And then testing the CMS before making a decision to ensure it meets your expectations.

“I learned that WordPress is the best CMS because you can upload content way faster and easier than with Shopify or a manual system,” Heyn said. But he also learned to verify that the staged website speed and Core Web Vitals are up to par before migrating to a new CMS. In his case, he staged his new site and then switched to it and the new CMS before even checking how fast it would perform.

Quick Case Study #4: Affiliate blog loses 97% of traffic from CMS theme update, then grows traffic by 900%

In 2021, Lure Me Fish had grown to an average of 1,500 daily views with very little link building (for example, on June 23, 2021, it had 1,650 pageviews). The team’s focus was on posting good content, and the blog had more than 200 posts.

“That's when I had a silly idea to redesign the blog with a professional-looking but slow WordPress theme. Unfortunately, this was around the same time that Google released the June 2021 core update and the page experience update for mobile,” said Steven Zhang, Founder and Editor, Lure Me Fish.

Traffic was cut by 50% in August and only a third of the traffic remained in September. It was a frustrating experience, and Zhang lost the motivation to keep updating the site. After over a year, in November 2022, the website was averaging just 50 pageviews per day (for example, on November 30, 2022, it had 59 pageviews).

But Zhang decided to give the site another try.

His first move was to improve the Core Web Vitals. “The website was using a heavy WordPress theme with Elementor and a lot of unnecessary plugins, resulting in poor page speed performance.”

He removed all unused plugins. Zhang said he also, “Changed to a fast theme (Astra), removed the Elementor page builder and replaced the Elementor blocks for each page, and installed a cache and image optimization plugin (Wp Rocket).”

As a result, the page speed performance improved significantly. The Speed Index for desktop decreased from 1.2 seconds to 0.5 seconds, and mobile decreased from 5.1 seconds to 1.5 seconds.

Beyond the CMS update, Zhang also disavowed bad backlinks, consistently created more high-quality content, updated old content (restructuring the post, putting a quick summary on top of the page, and adding internal links to related pages), and running a content audit for the whole site. “I deleted about one-third of posts that brought no traffic from Google in the past year and redirected those posts with backlinks,” Zhang said.

After two months of hard work, the traffic has been slowly recovering. As of February 2023, it has an average of about 500 daily pageviews (for example, on February 5, 2023 it had 524 pageviews).

Related Resources

Customer-First Marketing: 3 case studies about how the NFL, Dawn Foods, and TeamUp used social media badges, quiz-based ads, and B2B ecommerce (see case study #3)

Artificial Intelligence Case Studies: Two companies that boosted brand awareness with AI and another marketer that used humans instead (see case study #3)

Website Redesigns and Replatforming: Are you overlooking these 21 website migration tasks in your project plan?

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions