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Maximize your CMS: Proven strategies to boost on-site user experiences

illustration depicting different CMS features that can enhance user experience and usability

Among all of the talk about content management systems (CMS), organizations tend to focus on making things run smoothly behind the scenes, and rightfully so. But don't forget the real magic happens on the front end—where users experience your site. After all, a CMS's success is ultimately measured by how well it delivers a seamless, enjoyable experience for your audience.

CMS purchasing decisions are usually driven by the needs of a small user set—mainly, the editors who will actively manage the content day in and day out, and secondly, the larger surrounding business teams like legal, human resources and marketing.

That’s with good reason; the right CMS platform can magnify all of these teams’ efficiency, allowing them to generate more content more easily, all while collaborating freely and consistently.

Editors and business teams are just one side of the coin when it comes to the benefits of a CMS, however. The other is the front-end users who will visit the websites the CMS powers. These are the individuals who come to your company's websites in search of news, entertainment, flights, hotel rooms, reservations, hours and contact information, job listings and so on.

This second group of users is usually much larger than the user team—and they also stand to gain tremendous value from a CMS. Not sure how? Well, they will benefit from richer digital experiences, which are seamlessly available across a plethora of devices, and which are also highly secure and up to date with the latest information and offers. It’s a sweet spot for those users, for sure.

So how do you, as an editor or business user, extract the most benefit for your site visitors out of your CMS? We’ll show you how. But before we go further, it’s worth defining the two common types of CMS—headless and traditional—because each comes inherent with its own pros and cons, some of which trickle down to the end user experience.

For example, traditional CMSs (like WordPress) are great solutions for novice users to launch robust websites quickly, but they are limited in scalability and can be quite inflexible despite an array of themes, widgets and plugins. You can get as creative as you want with these CMSes, as long as you use only the functionality they provide. This limitation can end up hamstringing efforts to improve site experiences for site visitors. On the other hand, headless CMSes (including Brightspot, which supports headless as well as hybrid approach to CMS architecture) are adept at delivering unique, new omnichannel experiences.

For users, there will be minimal obvious difference between the different approach. In all cases, the expectation should be a performant ,quick-loading experience no matter the device size and type.

So with that said, regardless of whether you’re using a traditional or headless CMS, here’s how you should be harnessing it to elevate your front-end visitors’ experience—and your bottom line.

Introduction: The role of CMS in user experience

First and foremost, let’s clarify the role of a CMS in user experience. Used effectively, a CMS should help drive positive user experiences, and high overall satisfaction with a web experience. Here are some areas where the CMS will play a key role.

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Organization and discoverability

A CMS should ensure that all website content is well-organized and discoverable to users—whether that be via on-site navigation and tagging, or via content optimization to attract organic traffic from search engines. For an example of this, imagine a news website, such as the , which will present top-level categories like “Business” and “Sports” to lead users quickly to topics of interest. Similarly, an article about Shohei Ohtani will be filled with relevant keywords and metatags in an effort to rank more highly in search results when a user asks Google “what’s the latest news about Shohei Ohtani?”. Behind the scenes, a robust and easy-to-manage taxonomy—along with the ability to program pages and navigation based on this taxonomy—is where the CMS really comes to the fore.

Presentation and delivery

A CMS should also ensure that the content loads quickly, and is visually pleasing as well as appropriately branded, using the correct colors, fonts and styles. This presentation should also happen responsively, meaning the website adapts seamlessly to different devices (desktops, tablets, smartphones) and breakpoints. This presentation and delivery should also take accessibility into consideration, meaning that the content is readily available for users with disabilities.

Integrations, interactivity and engagement

A CMS should allow for the inclusion of integrations—or connections to other mission-critical business systems—that will be of interest or use to front-end site visitors.

In addition, the CMS should support interactive features, like polls, forms, surveys, live chat and other multimedia content. Using as an example again, front-end site users can easily register to receive content via newsletters or register for a subscription for richer access to content. This interactivity can go one step further, to include features like commenting, rating and sharing, which can further foster brand and community engagement. Last but not least, a CMS should enable the delivery of personalized experiences, based on the behavior, demographics and preferences of front-end site visitors.

In short: A CMS can influence how front-end site visitors perceive and interact with both your content and your brand. The CMS’s influence should go well beyond content management—it should drive a more meaningful, and more valuable experience, for your front-end site visitors.

Designing intuitive interfaces with a CMS

Now that we’ve established our thesis—that an intuitive interface is about creating meaningful experiences for users, and that a CMS has a key role to play—let’s focus on the how. How exactly do you go about designing these intuitive experiences for your users? Here are a few areas of focus for UI designers and content editors.

User needs

Before UI designers start on a new experience, they’ll typically conduct user research, create user personas and map out user journeys—these are a solid foundation from which to build an experience. If you’re working from an existing experience, refinement is the name of the game—and a user intelligence system (such as Pendo or Microsoft Clarity) can help. These systems track each user click throughout the site, and can shed light on common journeys, paths and pain points. This actionable insight can help you make ongoing improvements, such as shrinking bloated right rails, or surfacing certain topic areas more prominently in the navigation.

Site navigation and hierarchy

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Navigation rests at the top of most websites for a reason: It’s critical in creating an intuitive site. Your CMS should allow you to organize your site’s navigation logically, which will help users find content—and the CMS should also make it easy for you to update that navigation at any given moment. Other navigation tools that can be leveraged to make an experience more intuitive are descriptive labels, breadcrumbs and active element highlighting, which communicate a sense of “place” to your users.

One last note on navigation: It's important to not let your navigation be your org chart. Meaning? Consider the navigation as the tool by which users find what's most important and relevant to them as they browse your site, not the stakeholders who want to see them and their programs represented most prominently. Explore and listen to he data, and build accordingly. Otherwise, you will risk your navigation becoming an organizational "junk drawer" as opposed to your site's pathway to the content and pages that will perform and convert based on user needs.


When it comes to UI design, simplicity is one of the biggest fundamentals, because it will reduce the learning curve for your users—the familiar is always easier to navigate than the foreign. The CMS helps here by making it easy to remove unnecessary elements that might clutter the user experience, as well as to add elements that may make the experience more meaningful. The best CMSes will allow editors to do this easily, whether it be changing a single article asset or landing page, or a full section’s worth of content.


Another tried-and-true method for creating an intuitive experience is consistency. Yes, this is about keeping colors, fonts, logos, buttons and icons consistent across the experience — but it’s also about consistency of interactivity. For example, the behavior when users click on a link (does the hover state or color change? does the link open in a new tab or the same window?) should be consistent to avoid frustrating users. Again, the CMS can help here by taking a top-down approach to setting these colors and fonts, meaning that they’re set in one place and cascade throughout the site.


Starting any new design from a place of mobile responsiveness is critical. Building the experience from the smallest breakpoint to the largest is the best way to ensure that the interfaces adapt elegantly as they expand. That focus on mobile isn’t just opinion; a recent study of the 100 most popular websites found that there were 300% more visits on mobile devices compared to desktop. (But don’t ignore desktop, either—desktop visitors tend to settle in and consume more pages per visit.)

With these UI tenets in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating an engaging, meaningful experience for your front-end site visitors.

Customizing user journeys in CMS

Let’s dig deeper into an area we briefly mentioned above—the concept of user journeys. Sure, a successful user journey is all about moving users from point A to point B, but the quality of the trip matters, too. A CMS should be a powerful ally in creating these user journeys. Here’s how.

First and foremost, a CMS can help you visualize and map out the array of pathways front-end site visitors can follow as they browse your website. If this isn’t a native function of your CMS, there are many journey mapping plugins or tools that can be integrated. These maps can help you identify the ideal journey—the road you’d like your users to travel. Once you’ve created the map, you can then identify any pain points (where are your users falling off track?), optimize your messaging (does a button label of ‘read more’ convert better than one labeled ‘click here’?), and incorporate little moments of delight (such as a promo code for filling out a form).

The CMS will also help teams ensure that messaging is consistent across the set of pages in the journey—this consistency reinforces trust in your brand, and also maintains a sense of place and familiarity. The CMS will also help you organize content logically; guiding users from a phase of general awareness and learning, to consideration and research, to action, whether that is filling out a form or making a purchase.

In addition to journey mapping, a CMS can also help personalize those journeys. CMSes vary in how they approach the delivery of targeted content, but the foundation is always your users’ behavior, their preference and the context or page they’re viewing. For example, using dynamic personalization, a news media site can replace a set of opinion articles with sports videos for users who have shown a previous inclination for video content from the sports category. This personalization is a valuable benefit for users, because they’re presented with more relevant content, increasing overall satisfaction.

Real-world examples of UX-friendly CMS

Let’s look at a few digital experiences that have created intuitive and meaningful destinations for their users.

Brightspot CMS case study promo: Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times

We’ve mentioned this media brand a few times previously; full disclosure: it’s powered by Brightspot’s CMS. The purpose of the L.A. Times website is immediately clear when a new user arrives—the logo and navigation let you know that you’ve arrived in California (or at least on a website where news about California is front and center). The typography is consistent throughout, and it’s clear that the fonts have been chosen to promote readability—as well as authenticity. Options to Subscribe and Log In are prominently available in the site’s header, and the most important news story of the moment is featured prominently, front and center.


We dare you to visit this accommodation booking platform and not walk away with a new dream destination in mind. AirBnB focuses closely on user needs, letting you immediately add dates and destinations—the search filters are intuitive and purpose-built, which help users narrow down options. Homes for rent feature immersive photo galleries and simple iconography, as well as interactive features like favoring, lists and sharing. Furthermore, the host profiles and ratings system—plus AirBnB’s curated stamp of approval—build trust among users, many of whom may be new to renting vacation homes.

Mattress Firm website examples

Mattress Firm

When visitors arrive on this e-commerce retailer’s website, they typically have a fairly specific item in mind. Of course it’s a mattress, but more specifically, it’s a twin or a king, and they might have a specific brand name in mind as well as a budget. That’s why Mattress Firm’s site elevates those categories prominently in its navigation across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Individual product pages feature benefits, customer reviews and satisfaction ratings as well as delivery options, all serving to educate and excite consumers in a simplified presentation. Thanks to integrations with its inventory and point of purchase systems, consumers always see the latest in-stock items, and they can even take personalized offers from the brick-and-mortar stores home for purchase via the website experience after they’ve had some time to think about it.

Conclusion: Crafting superior user experiences with CMS

In summary, a CMSs impact extends far beyond facilitating the internal content management done by your editors and business teams. Think beyond those teams to the users who will visit your business websites, and leverage the CMS as a tool to create more meaningful experiences for them.

Remember, your CMS helps you delight your users by empowering design consistency and responsive design, presenting a well-organized site navigation and well-tagged content, and supporting flexible integrations that allow the experience’s functionality to easily grow with your business over time.

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