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Supporting Multiple Sites on an Enterprise CMS

min read

Anthony Garone - Director of Technology
Anthony Garone
Enterprise CMS III

NOTE: I hope you’re ready to talk about ease of use and multi-site support in the context of enterprise web content management systems (EWCMS), cuz if you ain’t, you in the wrong place. Check out part one of this series to get started.

We talked about integration and scalability in the previous post. Those were pretty complicated topics as they got pretty technical and a little theoretical. Today, however, we’re going to give our brains a break (phew!) and focus on ease of use and multi-site support. These are topics that are much easier to describe, understand, and illustrate.

Enterprise CMS III Graphic

Ease of Use

As you might have guessed, ease of use has to do with how easy it is to use your CMS. No further explanation should be necessary, but that’s just not the case.

Ease of use encompasses all sorts of considerations. For example, let’s say you’re out to dinner with some friends and you get an emergency email escalation with a PDF attachment needing to be posted immediately to your company’s website. Can you do that from your mobile phone or do you need to bust out your laptop at dinner table because the CMS admin interface only runs on Internet Explorer 10?

Some content management systems allow for customized user interfaces. Some don’t.

Some content management systems have easy-to-use administrative interfaces. Some don’t.

Some content management systems are mobile-first. Some are 1998-first.

Oftentimes in a user interface, powerful editing and content customization come at the cost of usability. A CMS like Drupal has an out-of-the-box set of general options to meet the needs of as many users as possible. A CMS like Adobe Experience Manager often comes with customized professional services tailoring options to each specific customer’s needs. A highly experienced digital agency should have the know-how to enhance and tweak CMS functionality to better suit clients.

Even a customized user interface needs tweaks over time. Technologies and requirements change. The needs and expectations of your website’s users also change over time. Sometimes the federal regulatory requirements in your industry change. There can be a dozen legitimate reasons your CMS needs customization to make it easy to use for you and your customers. 

So, depending on your current and future needs, one CMS might look good enough for now, but not for the long term. This is one big reason why you’ll want to at least get some expert advice from your solution provider.

Multi-site Support

A good CMS should allow multiple distinct websites to be hosted on the same instance. For example, your sales division might need an e-commerce site and your marketing team might need their own site. And maybe customer support needs another site. This is actually a pretty typical scenario.

When you’ve got multiple websites sharing templates or assets or functionality (logo images, regulatory compliance text, stylesheets, document sharing, etc.), you need all that stuff accessible between the different sites in addition to each site having its own distinct functionality. Otherwise, you end up with the metaphorical equivalent of a desktop folder with a thousand files and folders.

Furthermore, it may not be obvious how many websites you need right now. You might know there are three distinct (yet related!) websites that need to be hosted, but in six months, there might be three other areas of your company needing their own sites. Having multi-site support makes it a lot easier to branch off your existing sites and build something new, but familiar and consistent with your branding, design, etc.

A good CMS and a good digital agency can help you build a seamless experience between all those sites for both your customers and your co-workers. Like everything else “enterprise,” this is a lot harder to do than it sounds. When different parts of your company want their own sites, it’s not always for the right reasons. There can be internal competition for web presence or someone’s trying to get their division’s website online for reasons that don’t align with your overall digital marketing strategy.

We’ve seen it all. Just cuz you can have multiple websites doesn’t mean you need it. Managing all that stuff without appropriate staffing or adequate setup/organization can doom your EWCMS effort. Speaking of dooming your CMS effort...

Another great reason to have multi-site support is to prevent CMS islands. We’ve seen clients with a different CMS for every website. For example, the sales website is running on WordPress 3.x and the marketing website is running on Magento and the support website is running on Drupal and a product website running on Adobe Experience Manager and so on and so forth. Literally, 25-30 CMS islands for 25-30 websites supporting the same company. It’s expensive, difficult to manage, and growth-inhibiting.


So, yeah, a CMS offers a lot of power, but as Uncle Ben presciently reminds us in Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility. A CMS may look easy to use and it may look like it can support all your company’s websites, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for you. It can get really tricky. One of our clients has dozens of brands represented on one website instance and it took years of planning and coordination to get it all worked out. It’s led to significant optimization and cost efficiencies, which has been great for everyone.

Like anything else with a CMS, there’s a lot to discuss, so please reach out to us if you’ve got questions or would like more clarification on the topics so far. The next post will cover the final two factors in considering a CMS: workflow and security. Woop!