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The Definitive Guide to

Moving Your CMS to the Cloud

Why should I move my on-premise CMS to a cloud-based environment?

A cloud-based CMS gives you more flexibility, easier customizations, better collaboration and personalization tools, more seamless integrations, and unmatched scalability when compared to on-premise CMS platforms. To stay nimble and competitive in today’s crowded marketplace, moving your CMS to the cloud must be a central focus of your marketing organization’s overall digital transformation strategy.

What's Inside

In The Definitive Guide to Moving Your CMS to the Cloud, we lead you through the nuts and bolts of Content Management Systems through the lens of the marketer to give you insights, strategies, and best practice tips for moving your CMS to a cloud-capable environment.

PART 1: The CMS in Context

We look at the differences between on-premise and cloud-based content management systems, examining why and how the CMS continues to evolve and what that means for today's marketing organizations.

PART 3: Implementation

From building support from senior leadership to choosing the right implementation partner, we examine how and why a solid implementation plan plays a crucial role in successfully upgrading or replacing your CMS.

PART 2: Choosing the Right Cloud-Based CMS

We outline the benefits of moving your CMS to a cloud-based environment, detailing different deployment options, CMS architectures, the pros and cons of upgrading versus replacing, the features you can't live without, and how to make the best choice for your organization.

PART 4: Content Migration

We share proven strategies for conducting a content audit, the pros and cons of manual versus automatic migration, and tips for creating a content governance plan, all with the goal of making the critical process of content migration as painless (and productive) as possible.



The Modern Marketer and the CMS

As new devices proliferate and the rate at which customers consume digital content explodes, many of the legacy systems and tools marketers have traditionally relied upon to reach consumers are falling short. While the content management system (CMS) remains a centerpiece component of an organization's martech stack, those stuck using legacy, on-premise content management systems are finding themselves struggling to keep pace with the rapid release of new features, services and devices, many of which are being deployed in the cloud. To stay agile in a crowded marketplace, moving your CMS to the cloud must be a key component and central focus of your organization's overall digital transformation strategy.


Part 1:

The CMS in Context

When compared to traditional on-premise systems, the modern CMS is flexible and adaptable enough to run the kinds of complex digital experiences that are essential for success, merging traditional content management solutions with more modern experience-based functionality.

What is a CMS?

The CMS manages most of a website's basic publishing infrastructure, meaning a non-technical admin can easily update page content without ever having to write a line of code. Some of the most well-known enterprise-level CMS platforms include Kentico, EPiServer, Sitecore, WordPress, and Drupal.

How is the CMS Changing?

Siloed, on-premise systems typically relied too heavily on IT resources, which meant the marketing org suffered from a lack of agility, autonomy, and overall sluggish time-to-market. Today's content management systems have evolved and are up to the task, with the capability of shouldering the demands of even the most complicated marketing stacks--integrating everything from automation software to powerful analytics to whole CRM systems.

What do these changes mean for me and my organization?

With the cloud infrastructure now available in the enterprise, marketers have never been in a better position to get access to all the cloud promises: faster processing, unlimited storage, and access to troves of data. Marketers must be internal champions for finding the right CMS, explaining to the larger team the power it holds for their business, with the ability to impact everything from customer experience to operational efficiency to an org's overall digital maturity and ROI.

The CMS and your Martech Stack

To deliver a seamless, customer-centric experience, today's marketer must be able to deliver personalized content experiences that respond to the needs of users as they move between devices and across channels. The CMS must serve as the hub of the martech stack, supporting many different kinds of content journeys and integrating, personalization, analytics, microservices, and other delivery platforms along the way.

Enter the Cloud-Based CMS

A cloud-based CMS runs on Internet-based software and services that require no installation on a local machine. By contrast, on-premise content management systems are installed locally and live within your organization. When you move your infrastructure (including data and applications) to the cloud, you gain access to shared computing, storage and network resources and services that are on-demand, offering you a level of speed, customization and scalability that's just not possible with dated and costly on-premise systems.

Part 2

Choosing the Right Cloud-Based CMS

The benefits of moving your CMS to the cloud are clear, simple, and best of all come with demonstrable ROI: increasing operational efficiency, optimizing overall business impact, and lowering your technology costs over time.

Know Your Deployment Options

You have a range of options when it comes to deployment models for your CMS: on-premises, IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS.

On-Premise Environment

In an on-premise environment, software is installed locally to an on-site server for internal management and can be accessed through a portal or graphical user interface. Software is purchased and must be manually installed, which can be complex and costly to implement, deploy and manage.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

In the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) deployment model, a cloud provider hosts only the infrastructure components of a CMS, such as dedicated data center servers, storage, IP addresses, and other networking hardware. In this pay-as-you-go model, the organization still maintains the management of their applications, making it an appealing option for those who need high levels of customization.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is built on the IaaS model, however, in this instance developers can reuse many of the same frameworks, languages, and containers they've already invested in. PaaS is seen as a good option for teams who want the ability to customize and build their own applications and manage their own data without worrying about underlying infrastructure concerns, like middleware, load management and runtime. This means you gain access to some cloud-native features through leveraging a vendor's server space, flexibility and tools.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

In the SaaS model, sometimes called "on-demand," you replace all of your existing applications and infrastructure with software delivered over the Internet. The key advantages of SaaS are cost savings, reducing the number of services and applications under management, increased scalability, and stellar availability. This is a great solution for start-ups or companies who don't have a deep tech bench, and who are looking to quickly deploy and scale applications or websites.

CMS Architecture: Coupled vs. Headless vs. Decoupled

CMS architecture refers to the way a CMS renders and presents content to its intended audience.


In a coupled CMS, content is edited using an interface, like a WYSIWYG or HTML editor, saved to a back-end database, and then displayed according to whatever the front-end delivery layer dictates. Everything in a coupled CMS, therefore, is managed by a single layer application.


In a headless CMS, content is not presented to the end user through a default front-end delivery layer. Instead, headless systems are front-end agnostic, meaning your CMS will serve the content according to however many API calls the front-end developer creates. Headless systems have no default presentation layers attached and can render content for any kind of device or application.


In a decoupled CMS (sometimes also referred to as a hybrid CMS), key aspects of a headless CMS are combined with suite solutions, meaning you get the headless flexibility of omnichannel content delivery, plus the ability to integrate with multiple suite solutions without needing to engage IT every step of the way.

Upgrading versus Replacing

As you continue thinking about the kind of cloud-based CMS that would work best for your organization, the question of an upgrade versus a total overhaul will become a crucial decision. When to Upgrade Less costly and time-consuming than a full CMS replacement, upgrading can represent a sensible choice when your current CMS can be adapted to meet your new requirements. This option may make sense if your existing platform already has many of the features you're looking for (for example: cloud capability, multisite support, enhanced security, good extensibility), but which you've neglected to use. When to Replace There are times when an upgrade just won't cut it. If your CMS doesn't support the features and functionality you need most, if your business or business model has changed in a significant way, or if you're about to begin a site or app redesign, then you might be best served by selecting a new CMS that has all the elements you're looking for.

CMS Features a Marketer Can't Live Without

When considering the CMS capabilities that mean most to the team, marketers may have different priorities than the rest of the organization. Don't be shy about advocating for features that will help the marketing team meet its goals, making sure that as strategy and technologies change, you've selected a CMS that is future-proofed and can keep up.
  1. Painless Editorial Functionality - Look for the ability to create, edit, and format page content easily, without relying on a designer or developer. Look for an intuitive interface (like a WYSIWYG editor) with an embeddable media function.
  2. Customizable Permissions - Being able to customize and define what a CMS user has access to gives you more control over your CMS and helps keep large teams accountable for what they're working on.
  3. Marketer-friendly Workflows and Content Organization - A marketer-friendly CMS will have a flexible workflow that allows for things like multi-stage review and approval processes, moving edits from writers to editors to designers, and using text or email notifications along the way.
  4. Flexible Multi-Channel Content Delivery - A marketer's CMS must be flexible and scalable enough to deal with publishing content across multiple devices, channels, and service providers.
  5. Personalized Analytics - Look for a CMS that can collect demographic and behavioral data across channels, including those coming in from external sources and applications.
  6. High Availability - You need a CMS that is scalabale, with the ability to grow with your organization, but also resilient enough to handle the different kinds of tests it will likely be subject to in its lifetime: unforeseen traffic spikes, multi-site deployment, and more.
  7. Strong Integration Capacity - From e-commerce systems to inventory management to user-generated content to personalization and automation capabilities, your CMS should support these features and be adaptable enough to integrate additional tools.

Making the Purchase

Before signing on the dotted line, you'll want to investigate three primary areas of any potential CMS product: technical capability, functionality, and business requirements. Once you've shortlisted a few possible vendors, reach out to them for a trial run using their product. You may also contact references to get some non-sales team insight into real-life use of the solution. Research, vetting, and a trial run of any potential solution represents a great, final opportunity to think about your requirements and flag concerns before implementation begins.

Part 3


Choosing a CMS is a process, but the work doesn't stop after you've signed on the dotted line. A solid implementation plan is essential in building support from senior leadership, identifying potential challenges, and helping to positively transform your marketing organization both culturally and technologically.

Setting Goal-Based Objectives

Your specific implementation plan will depend upon your unique project goals. As you determine those objectives, work backwards from there, mapping out the content, data, and tools you have versus those you still need.

Choosing an Implementation Partner

If your organization lacks the ability to implement a CMS migration using only internal resources, then it makes sense to find a partner who can work with you to help lead implementation and migration. Look for partners who offer ongoing technical support and who will be there to help post-migration; these partners will be more incentivized to make the relationship work over the long haul.

Selecting a Project Owner

The Project Owner will serve an important role during the life of the implementation: working with marketing and IT to ensure their needs are met, dealing with inevitable roadblocks that will come up during the course of implementation, keeping the project's goal-based objectives front and center at all times, and using agile methodologies to adapt their processes along the way.

Building Support from Internal Stakeholders

A CMS upgrade or replacement requires broad support from internal stakeholders in order to have a real shot at success. To do this, you'll often need an executive-level leader who can help get buy-in from other senior leaders, in addition to a cross-functional team of stakeholders from different part of the organization that are mobilized to help support the implementation.

Identifying Project Challenges

Determining the risks of implementation is an essential piece of the implementation puzzle. A risk assessment should be performed early on in the implementation process to help you avoid costly course correction down the road.

Integrating Marketing Technologies

When it comes to evaluating and selecting what marketing technology is actually worth integrating, it's often up to the brand team to make sure their martech stack is...stacked.

Inventory Existing Martech

Start by taking a look at your current stack: what systems and products are you running? Note the features for each and provide the relevant APIs (i.e. CRMs, dashboards, or other platforms).

Conduct a Martech Digital Maturity Assessment

The assessment process allows you to pinpoint gaps in your martech digital maturity and then figure out a way to address those gaps moving forward.

Be Strategic About Adding to the Stack

Take the time to do some thinking about what marketing tech you really need and why. From there, let your API and integration strategy follow, planning how you will use data to map and measure your success.

Always Remember the Customer

It's the marketer's job to make sure the tech you are running is keeping the customer journey at the forefront. Make sure you are mapping behavior to technologies and following through at the program and campaign level.

Managing Scope and Expectations

Stakeholders can grow impatient with the amount of time implementation takes, so managing expectations becomes an important piece of the implementation puzzle. Being transparent about the process, including its very real challenges, will serve you and the organization better in the long run.

Part 4

Content Migration

When the time comes to migrate your content from your old CMS to your new one, following a few, solid best practices can help make this crucial process as painless as possible.


What is Content Migration?

Content migration refers to the process of porting your digital content from one platform to another. Content migration is a collaborative, coordinated effort between production, content managers, UX designers, developers, and any vendors, implementation partners, or migration partners you are working with.

Manual Content Migration

While a manual migration gives you a good amount of control over your data and the content entry process, it is time-consuming and costly, vulnerable to human error, and not practical for larger sites with copious amounts of content which would require many man-hours on task.

Automated Content Migration

Automated migration is a great option if you're porting a lot of content (more than 1,000 pages), however, it can be costly to develop the scripts or purchase migration software, and occasionally content can't be automatically migrated due to high levels of customization or other incompatibilities.

Auditing Your Content

The content audit is an inventory which collects both qualitative and quantitative information about all of your digital assets. There are many tools which can automate much of this process for you, particularly the qualitative elements. As you collect and organize these data points, the goal is to name and track various elements relating to your content so you can later determine their value.

Developing a Content Governance Strategy

When we talk about content governance as it relates to CMS implementation, we are looking at a plan that dictates how an organization's content is getting created, vetted and published. To initiate a content governance strategy, you must define roles and responsibilities, including permissions, publishing workflows, archiving and versioning.

Protecting Your Data

From file encryption to data protection to data leakage, you should know how your cloud provider intends to protect sensitive data during your content migration to the cloud. Minimally, your cloud provider should be able to detail their processes for ensuring the safety of sensitive data during migration. Security risks especially around regulatory data and infrastructure, and application security should be evaluated and addressed before migration begins.

Doing a Post-Launch Review

The post-launch review is a time to test, review and respond. Take a minute to talk to your CMS vendor and your internal team for a migration pulse-check, talking about the process itself (what worked and what was challenging), performance, what needs improvement, and planning for future iterations.


Aim for the Cloud to Help Achieve Digital Transformation

Moving to the right cloud CMS isn't just good from a business operations standpoint, it's also a central component to an organization's overall growth and digital transformation efforts. Look for a CMS that is flexible enough to integrate with the tools and tech you need today, but which can also adapt to your evolving needs in the months and years ahead. Changing an organization's norms and processes is not something that happens overnight, but it's non-negotiable in today's uber-competitive marketplace. Cloud technology and all its transformative promise is here. Are you ready for it?