What’s the best content management system for your small business?

We still recommend WordPress as our go-to content management system. You’ve got better options than ever for building a business website that’s easy to maintain.

When we talk to entrepreneurs on our live trainings and during our discovery sessions, we hear a lot of the same complaints about website builders and content management systems:

  • “We never update the website, because we have to open a support ticket with a develop to make any changes.”
  • “We’re worried that it will just stop working in the middle of the night, and we don’t want to have to deal with that.”
  • “We hate the system we’re on, and we can’t stand the company that made it, but we’re so sunk in and we don’t have the ability to move.”

Things have gotten so rough, we have started encountering businesses that flat-out avoid launching their own websites because they’re so intimidated by this decision.

It shouldn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t.

We’ve been building and refreshing company websites for more than seven years, and we’ve got folks on our team with more than two decades of digital experience. Based on our work over that time, we’ve got three rules we enforce when we help clients select the right content management system for their business.

Rule 1. You should always be able to change the content of any page within your content management system, without having to go through a developer or a Helpdesk.

Let’s make a huge distinction here. We believe that content operations, as a discipline, is best handled by folks who can fully focus on it on a day-to-day basis. If you’re running a business, you shouldn’t also be the person who’s updating your website unless that task falls squarely into your Zone of Genius.

That said, when there’s a crisis or an unexpected business event, you should always have the keys to your CMS and full documentation for updating your site. If there’s a snowstorm, you should be able to post business closures or emergency hours without rousting a developer out of bed.

We still run into situations where a new client tells us their previous developers charged them $150 or more to make a simple text edit on a page of the website. That’s not service. That’s malpractice. You should be focusing that budget on extending your audience.

Rule 2. You should be able to pack up and move your site (and your content management system) to a new hosting platform in as little as one hour.

We work with clients on a variety of platforms, and we see more clients than ever using tools like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace. They’re all good products, especially if you’re standing up very simple websites.

But they all mask three core, fundamental flaws.

First, you’ll always be limited to a single development roadmap that you don’t control. If there’s a feature you need for your business that your chosen platform doesn’t support, you’re stuck. Sometimes, platform builders fall prey to their own dependencies, too. Wix got caught and called out for hosting its own corporate blog on WordPress, since its own core product isn’t ready to manage the velocity of a frequently-updated site.

Second, putting your business on a hosted platform is a bit like leasing space in a mall. If there’s a fire in the food court, the whole place gets shut down. When bad actors host malware or post scammy content on a server you share, ISPs will block or throttle traffic to your business too. From scanning their user community forums, this seems to happen every few weeks on Weebly.

Finally, you’re trapped inside each platform’s proprietary system. For instance, you can export all your data from Weebly, but you can only restore those files to another Weebly account. Likewise, you can export your post and page data from Squarespace, but you’ll lose all of your styling and customization.

The ideal business CMS should let you bundle up your entire installation and move it to another hosting environment on a moment’s notice. Thanks to cloud hosting, our team can zip up everything from a WordPress instance on one provider and move it to another space within about an hour. It’s a drastic move, but one we’ve managed for clients when they’ve discovered serious security or ethical breaches at their web hosting providers. (It just takes up to 24 hours for DNS records to catch up with the move.)

Rule 3. You should be able to get help for your content management system from a robust community of professionals.

I cringe when a client tells me they’re operating on a bespoke content management system. Unless you’re a Fortune 50 company with the resources to manage your own platform in-house, I can’t think of a reason why you’d ever do this to yourself.

Ask the “what happens if your developer wins the lottery” question. If you’re on a fully bespoke platform, what’s the ramp-up time for a fresh developer to learn and manage your system? If you’re on a widely-deployed platform, you’ll enjoy lots more options for getting support than you will from a closed or bespoke system.

Here’s our short list of commonly available CMS platforms that pass all three of our rules.

  • WordPress. It’s still our gold standard, even though the codebase has grown a bit large over the past few years. Still, you can do almost anything with it, thanks to a vibrant ecosystem of developers and support companies. Managed hosting services with caching and security can make WordPress sites load as quickly as static HTML.
  • Perch. I’m a fan of the content standards Perch founders Rachel Andrew and Drew McLellan baked right into their “little CMS” product, designed primarily for corporate sites with lean-and-mean business requirements. Rounding its ten-year anniversary, Perch has proved itself in the field, and it’s extendable through a variety of Runway add-on apps. If you’re running PHP and you think WordPress is just a bit extra, Perch is right for you.
  • Apostrophe. It seems like all the cool kids are playing with Node.js these days. If your business requirements include end-to-end Javascript, you can deploy Apostrophe without sacrificing speed or usability. Its originators, our neighbors at P’unk Ave, started building it in response to demands from corporate clients who demanded security and complex user permissions. Now, much like WordPress, it’s supported by a broader base of developers around the worlds. Its gorgeous inline editing experience is the marquee feature for non-technical users.

Plenty of other content management systems pass our tests, but those three represent the platforms we recommend to cover nearly all of the business requirements we encounter when talking to new clients.


Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram