CMS Trends Report: Agility, Open Source, and the Role of WordPress in Modern Web Innovation

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented digital transformation that’s reshaped consumer behavior and revolutionized everything from communication to eCommerce.

This period has seen a dramatic increase in internet users and a surge in global eCommerce sales, presenting both opportunities and challenges for businesses. In this multi-channel, multi-screen world, companies are seeking solutions for flexibility, quick market access, and clear ROI.

What began as a simple interface for creating content on the web, CMSs now power multimillion-dollar eCommerce stores and serve as the foundational backend for a diverse range of web applications and headless websites

This report, which is a follow-up to similar research published in 2020, delves into the ongoing evolution of CMS trends across various business sizes. It focuses on how IT and marketing leaders perceive their current options and the future of open-source innovation, particularly with WordPress, the world’s most popular CMS.

We explore recent changes in CMS usage, their impact on business agility, and how companies are leveraging open-source software for modern web development.

Key findings include:

  • CMS Adaptability and WordPress Growth: A significant shift towards adaptable CMS solutions for better usability, technology integration, and ROI is evident. Most surveyed businesses (82%) plan to change their CMS, with 39% doing so within the next 6-12 months. The use of multiple CMSs has grown by over 40% in four years, with 85% of businesses in 2023 using more than one CMS, compared to 60% in 2020.
  • The Rise of Headless WordPress: Headless CMS adoption, including Headless WordPress, is on the rise. 57% of businesses now use a headless approach, and 39% plan to evaluate headless CMS in the next year. 81% believe that not adopting headless approaches could mean falling behind competitors.
  • Open Source Software’s Growing Appeal: Shifting views on open source have led to its increased adoption, with 58% using open-source software for their websites. Benefits such as security (56%), improved quality (52%), and the ability to meet customer needs (50%) are driving this trend.

The report underscores the constant pursuit of agility in today’s evolving tech landscape, with a digital-first approach continuing post-pandemic.

Websites must be fast, engaging, personalized, and reliable, and businesses are moving away from slow, inflexible proprietary software to build those experiences, with WordPress emerging as a preferred choice for its open-source flexibility.

Download the ebook for a full breakdown of the report and additional survey findings, or read on to find out more.

Evolutions in CMS Use

Up until a few years ago, businesses utilizing a CMS generally relied on a single solution to create and manage content on the web. 

For larger organizations, this often meant closed, complex systems (i.e. Sitecore or Adobe Experience Manager), which require significant developer support—even when making minor changes to a website.  

Over time, the sluggish development cycles and extensive IT involvement commonly associated with these systems were eclipsed by evolving digital trends and the need to go to market faster with seamless digital experiences. 

In turn, an increasing number of businesses began exploring new ways of integrating multiple CMSs alongside one another, unlocking the agility required to capitalize on modern digital aspirations. 

It’s important to note that multi-CMS doesn’t necessitate abandoning one CMS in favor of another; rather, in a multi-CMS model, legacy systems are typically left untouched, and supplementary solutions are adopted in unique ways, allowing organizations to be more intentional in how they use each CMS.   

In more advanced scenarios, legacy systems may provide the overarching web architecture, while a more agile CMS is implemented for a complimentary site (or sites) that integrates seamlessly with the organization’s wider brand (or brands). 

Multi-CMS strategies have gained considerable traction due in part to the wider availability of diverse CMSs and the mounting need for speed in the market and new innovative approaches to multi-channel marketing.

In 2020, 60% of respondents said their organizations were using multiple CMSs (an increase of 13% from three years prior). Three years later, this number has grown by nearly 40%, with 85% of respondents now citing a multi-CMS approach within their organization.

Additionally, after ease of use (34%), better ROI (32%), and access to multi-channel architecture (32%), survey respondents cite personalization and customization (31%) and better publishing capability (30%) as some of the biggest benefits gleaned from using multiple CMSs.

Benefits of this nature are certain to remain invaluable for organizations as they navigate the intricacies of evolving digital landscapes. 

The multi-CMS trend may have originated with enterprises, but it’s now increasingly found among SMBs, especially eCommerce stores. 

As noted, pain points associated with proprietary systems were some of the initial drivers of multi-CMS strategies. That said, frustrations with closed software and the growing need to differentiate online are not reserved for enterprises

Today, a wide range of businesses have experienced success using eCommerce platforms such as Shopify or BigCommerce and are now looking for a way to expand functionality, manage more content, and take digital sales to the next level—all without abandoning established online storefronts.

Similarly, there are countless content publishers, brand marketers, and agency owners that have started websites using all-in-one tools such as Squarespace or Wix, only to find these options limiting when it comes to customizations and integrations with third-party software or services.

Many of these stakeholders have augmented their digital strategies by pursuing a multi-CMS approach, building content hubs, experimenting with new campaign ideas, or testing fresh marketing initiatives through a new CMS that offers the flexibility and functionality they require. 

WordPress is an obvious choice here, as its open-source license makes it easy to spin up new websites, while its ease of use and its vast library of plugins and themes allow site builders the freedom to make those sites look and feel the way they want.  

Nevertheless, a multi-CMS strategy is not free from potential downsides. Similar to 2020, higher cost (29%), difficulties with management (28%), and complicated security requirements (27%) were all noted by respondents as potential multi-CMS risks. 

A Growing Appetite for Headless CMS

In addition to the widening pool of potential CMS options, businesses also appear more open to changing the type of CMS they currently use.

In fact, CMS trends are more fluid than ever. What was until recently an “all-or-nothing” decision has now become far more modular. 

82% of respondents said they already had plans to change their CMS, with 56% noting this would mean expanding to use additional CMSs in the future.

This new era of flexibility has also been enabled by the advent of innovative, composable website architecture such as headless architecture. 

Headless” signifies the separation of a website’s front-end interface from its back-end processing. This architectural style facilitates a modular approach, allowing content creators to use the tools they love while providing developers with access to the modern frontend frameworks they prefer. The composable nature of headless architecture enables a more agile and adaptable web environment, accommodating evolving business needs and technological advancements.

Headless WordPress: Driving CMS Trends

Headless web architecture has come with its fair share of promises—faster site speed, easier omnichannel execution, and, as noted above, the long-sought-after harmony between content creators, front-end designers, and developers. 

All of these outcomes can indeed be made possible by headless websites (when they’re well-architected). As a result, headless adoption is soaring.

But another benefit of headless architecture is that it has proven highly effective for businesses hoping to channel the content agility of WordPress while creating a front-end experience that mirrors an existing corporate site (built on a completely different CMS) or adopts the style and design of a specific brand.  

The use of WordPress as a headless CMS, also called “headless WordPress,” is another driver of evolving CMS trends, as it offers businesses the ability to harness the most widely used CMS (WordPress) while building with far more control over design, personalization, and integrations with third-party technologies

What’s also interesting is the growing adoption of headless architecture, including headless WordPress configurations, across businesses of varying sizes.

Among businesses surveyed, which included enterprise and SMB organizations, almost six in ten (57%) now report using a headless approach with their websites. This robust adoption rate clearly illustrates that headless architecture has transcended its niche origins, becoming a mainstream choice not just for large-scale sites, but across a diverse spectrum of businesses.

Additionally, nearly four in ten businesses (39%) plan to evaluate the use of headless within the next 12 months, while eight in ten (81%) of those surveyed agree that failure to adopt component-based headless approaches would mean falling behind their competitors—further emphasizing the growing value of headless, both perceived and in practice. 

“At its core, headless is about the flexibility of composable architecture, which allows for the use of best-in-breed solutions for different use cases to maximize performance and strengthen security,” said WP Engine Director, Product Jason Konen.

“It’s about harnessing the modern frameworks developers prefer, but it also enables, even accelerates, the use of preferred CMS solutions like WordPress. With the CMS decoupled from the front-end, headless offers businesses greater optionality in creating digital experiences for different audiences and use cases all while allowing those creating and managing content to use the CMS they prefer.”  

When asked about the types of technologies their organizations were using (or planning to use) with headless architecture, respondents noted CRM (49%), security (46%), and eCommerce (39%) as top use cases. 

Further driving home the role of WordPress as a key element in headless architecture and adoption, 44% of respondents who use WordPress as part of a multi-CMS strategy do so for headless applications, as seen in the chart below.

Whereas “Blog” was the primary use case for WordPress more than a decade ago, use cases such as campaign websites, corporate sites, and eCommerce have all gained prominence in recent years. 

The fact that headless is now atop all of them as the primary multi-CMS use case for WordPress, speaks volumes about the trajectory of headless WordPress and much more innovation to come.

Want to learn more? Download the ebook for a full breakdown of the report, including additional survey responses and insights. Visit WP Engine to find out more about our fully managed WordPress hosting, or talk to a representative for more information.

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