CMS - website versus intranet

The advent of web content management systems (WCMS or simply CMS) in the late 1990s was a key step in the development of the Internet. The technical hurdle of creating web content was out of the way, and more people could publish content with minimal effort.

CMS solutions became attractive for corporate websites, because now business people could maintain their own content—which meant fewer expenses, more up-to-date information,  and higher common quality standards. No wonder CMS systems also became the first choice for intranets! Creating, organizing, and publishing content are all tasks that both the internet and intranets face, making it logical to use the same technical basis for both. There are obvious reasons to utilize the same CMS for Internet and intranet:

  • Simplified training for administrators, editors, and content creators
  • Operations and hosting synergies
  • High specialization of employees on one solution
  • Better purchasing conditions for complete package from the software provider

Modern websites and intranets today—two completely different planets

The demands placed on websites and modern intranets have not just expanded; they are moving away from each other with increasing speed. The Internet is clearly the innovation engine and continuously brings up new business models and technologies. Parts can be transferred to the intranet, but beware! Conditions, motivations, and incentives are different within companies. Many internal "Facebook", "LinkedIn" and "Wikipedia" projects had to learn this the hard way.

Requirements for Internet Content Management Systems

Current trends/strategies:

It starts with the realization that the modern web users are supersaturated, spoiled, and impatient. Companies need to continuously improve the customer experience and deliver quality content to help and encourage customers in every stage of the buying lifecycle. The buzzword behind all of this is "content marketing," and every company that is serious about it undergoes a transformation from a team of web editors to a digital publishing house where storytelling is king. Once content is created, it needs to be delivered depending on customer demographics and the perceived stage of the customer’s buying cycle. The goal of online marketers is to use (big) data about the customer to automatically deliver the right content and trigger interactions at the right time.

Target audience:

Web users do not easily divulge personal information. The more you know, (location, gender, age, existing customer, interactions in the past, etc.) the more personalization possibilities arise. Other important target groups are search engines.


Content must be simple and extremely intuitive (keyword: conversion rate) for users—large navigation structures are not advisable. Editorial functionality has to be more complex because variable content, templates, and layouts are used. Microsites are a key element to set-up and run campaigns or support content with limited shelf life. Control, and real time analysis of campaigns is important. Also, look for integration options with digital agencies and media libraries in order to quickly produce and publish high quality content.


Continuous optimization of site interactions is needed (e.g., A/B testing) in order to increase conversion rates. There are high demands on analysis and reporting as a basis for optimization and personalization. Companies are desperately in search of a new kind of analytical online marketing manager who understands the business and loves to dig deep into big data.


Social media integration, customer community (which has completely different requirements compared to internal communities), and integration of customer-relationship management (CRM) systems link interactions to existing customers and prospects. E-commerce is another integration, and the latest trends show the integration with (externally provided) customer targeting systems in order to even classify mostly unknown users.


Development of customized mobile apps for marketing, customer loyalty, customer service, etc. Personalization is also a big issue here in order to deliver specific content for mobile sites. Google's update "Mobilegeddon" pushes well designed mobile sites higher up in the ranking.

Change management:

Main target groups are a few specialized editors who regularly submit content. There is a high initial training effort for editors. Content creation needs to be fast and extremely efficient. Processes are required for internal and external content production. Marketing and sales must work together closely, and communications decisions are dramatically accelerated, i.e., the length of time required to wait before reacting to a critical tweet.

This doesn't sound like the good old website anymore, right? Let's look at the requirements of Intranets.

Requirements for Intranet Content Management Systems

Current trends / strategy:

Modern intranets today are called "Social Intranets" or even more modern "Digital Workplace." The aim of modern intranets is not only to support information and communication, but also to foster collaboration in virtual spaces. There are also functions that are grouped under the umbrella term of communications—chat, status display, telephone, video conferencing, and more. The digital workplace is increasingly becoming an accumulation of individual services that are most efficiently and flexibly integrated with each other (user management, registration, search, navigation, home). Challenges arise due to the inconsistency of many needs, including the rise of collaboration, and thus the sharing of more sensitive data, and on the other hand, high demands for easy, mobile access—even from private devices.

Target audience:

Users’ details are often available via user directories. Automatic personalization is possible if details like location, organizational assignment, and working groups are accessible. Intranet users have shown little desire to actively personalize their experience. Corresponding offers like individually configurable home pages are rarely used in the long term.


Usually loads of content with complex intranet navigation structure. Editors continue to be very relevant, however few full-time. Part-time editors are becoming the norm. Adding content must be very simple with limited design options. There is a distinction between shop-window content (e.g., HR services for employees) and internal content of each department (now mostly done via virtual rooms). Structure and navigation should be as stable as possible over time (therefore topic-based navigation, not org-based). The amount of sensitive content increases because of more collaboration spaces in social intranets. That is a common challenge for the choice to allow mobile access to all employees—our Staffbase employee app provides an approach to solve this.


Good intranet managers regularly work on the structure of their platforms, merging related or competing content and investing in the ongoing maintenance of the search functionality (yes that's needed!). Unfortunately, there is usually limited budget for the care and maintenance of intranets. They are built once, often with big effort, and are then expected to run without much further investment. Needless to say, this doesn’t work.


Employee directories, employee self-service, collaboration, search, unified communications, email, Microsoft 365.


Mobile intranets are evolving towards native apps too for push notifications, speed, and ease of use. Native apps will push standard solutions, because expenses are high for individual development and continuous maintenance. Still, intranet branding and name are important to build trust. Not everything has to be available on mobile phones because there is a barrier to dealing with documents on small screens.

Change management:

Training can only be afforded for admins and editors, minimal to non-training for part-time editors and information workers. The role of intranet editors regains importance: "Social tools" bring sustainable and positive change to the way project work is digitally supported. In the larger context—the enterprise—the results we see in the market are not convincing. Large-scale internal social platforms produce disorientation and a flood of often irrelevant information.


Websites are now called customer experience platforms, and intranets are becoming digital workplaces. The trend is clear: both move functionality away from one another, and this affects their underlying technologies.

CMS infographic

For websites, content management is now only a part of the digital customer experience. The individual customer journey is highly complex and does not end with the conversion. It  often continues with integrations in delivery and support processes. The deep integration of all components is crucial. Vendors with customer experience offerings like Adobe or IBM are trying to build or buy all pieces of the customer experience stack, in order to complete their integrated solution.

Intranets also need integration - but with entirely different tools. In addition, Intranets need to provide a better fit to different target groups within the company. We need something like a "Communication intranet" that is easy to use, personal and accessible for all employees. Modern intranets will be key to bring an internal communications strategy to life and measure the success. The second pillar is then a "Collaboration intranet" which support teams and protects sensitive content for collaboration, structured information and processes. More pieces are possible, and combined they form the digital workplace. 

Read more about modern intranets: