How can you improve your content management system (CMS) with great search?

What would a world without content management look like?

Writers would need to have their content put in static HTML files and uploaded to a server. People wanting to read that content would be confronted with messy collections of coded text that make their eyes glaze over. In short, surfing the Web and reading unformatted web pages would not be pleasant.

When the World Wide Web came into being, the idea of enterprise content management was fairly revolutionary, as it made Web content conventionally accessible. Now, there are more than 73 million websites on the Internet being powered by a CMS (otherwise known as a WCM, or web content management system). Popular open-source CMS WordPress ( is the most successful of the bunch, but there are many others (e.g, Drupal, Joomla, Squarespace, Wix), tailored for various types and sizes of businesses.

So thank goodness for the concept of managing content, plus all the attendant content management systems that have helpfully sprung up to facilitate that process. 

With a CMS platform, you can create a piece of content in an intuitive user interface and have it easily published in a reader-friendly format. And instead of a company building its own CMS, storing digital content and images, and investing in perpetually maintaining a content delivery application infrastructure, it can instead set up a CMS to offload that responsibility.

What is a content management system (CMS)?

“Content management system” sounds self-explanatory, doesn’t it? 

It’s indeed pretty simple: software that lets multiple “regular-people” users easily create, publish, change, manage, and store all kinds of content — basically cover every step of the content lifecycle — without the need for specialized technical knowledge or coding. 

The content lives in a database and gets presented in a display layer. The design and functionality of the system can be tailored for the particular organization with templates and extensions. And a CMS also typically supports workflows and role-based (e.g., authors, editors, merchandisers) permissions.

Benefits of having a CMS

Here’s a quick rundown of how a CMS enhances organizational success:

  • Content management for the masses. A CMS is the great equalizer: for most tasks, you don’t need a developer to step in and take content live. Once they know how to navigate the CMS, non-techies are empowered to do anything and everything.
  • Storage in one spot. Everything is organized and available within the walls of the CMS, and its database is ideally searchable so that needed items can be found fast.
  • Reusable resources. It’s easy for content creators to start their work process with existing, branded components like standard template designs and approved corporate images.
  • A virtual water cooler. Multiple contributors from far-flung geographical locations can contribute and collaborate, as a CMS interface is usually browser based.
  • Consistent professional presentation. Create something a total of once and have your modern CMS show it correctly, regardless of the viewer’s device (for example, a computer screen vs. a smartphone).
  • Omnichannel adaptability. If your modern CMS enables multi-channel delivery, you can simultaneously tailor content to local markets while maintaining global branding.
  • Protection from outside threats. CMSes typically include firewalls and other security features. Headless CMSs (we’ll talk about these in a minute) are more secure, because their content is separate from what’s going on in the presentation layer, a smaller area is at risk.

Three generations of the CMS

Thanks to rapidly evolving content-management technology, there are three types of CMS available nowadays: traditional, decoupled, and headless. Here’s how they’re different.


This initial CMS, also referred to as a “coupled” system (a happy marriage?), is an all-in-one model with a back end (the content repository) and a front end (the display layer) that are, in essence, “hard wired” together. 

That means your content can’t be repurposed for different types of presentation (except by adding a plug-in). Another drawback: this first version of CMS doesn’t necessarily interact with adjacent information systems, such as a product database. Still, for certain organizations and applications, this togetherness model is easily workable.


At some point while the Web was taking off and technology options were proliferating, developers got the brilliant idea to see what would happen if they divorced the content management application’s front end from its back end. This concept of separating the two segments proved transformational for the “couple,” and along with new freedom for both partners came some distinct advantages:

  • No more overhead from having to put the CMS software application on every web server; this sped up content delivery
  • The freeing of content creators from having to worry about layout, which is managed by the front end
  • The ability to scale the site with commodity hardware


As with a decoupled CMS model, with a headless CMS, the front end goes missing.

The key difference: unlike with a decoupled CMS, there’s no still-existing severed head (ugh!). This sounds drastic, but think of it as “When one door closes, another opens.” When one head rolls, other little heads can grow up to replace it. You gain flexibility by substituting avenues for distributing multiple types of content to their various display destinations (like websites, mobile phones, watches). 

What goes on in the background to achieve this technological feat? Instead of the back end controlling the flow of content to a single destination (typically a website), a RESTful API (or a GraphQL API) frees the content to literally branch out. Then, developers can make changes to the back end without compromising the integrity of the front. For businesses that want to pursue an omnichannel strategy, you can see why the headless model is a game changer (maybe it’s the best CMS of all).

The need for reliable search with your CMS

Now that you’re up to date on the crazy stuff that’s been going on with the evolution of content management systems, let’s talk about search as it relates to any type of CMS.

Whenever you have lots of content being managed in a CMS, that is, when you have a sea of documents, marketing copy, songs, or whatever else you’re continually amassing, you also desperately need people to be able to track down the specific content they want within that vast ocean, and to be able to do it pronto. 

So relevant, fast, user-friendly search is the perfect partner for a content-heavy CMS. It can easily produce higher click-through rates, more end-user engagement, and a more accurate understanding of people’s needs, or, in the case of ecommerce, of the needs for upgrading the customer experience.

The addition of search functionality typically drives usability improvement in two online arenas:

  • Ecommerce sites and marketplaces, where online customers are looking to make a beeline for certain products they need immediately 
  • Heavyweight content sites, for example, document-management collections and video-sharing platforms housing thousands of items

In either scenario, just as with that bleak vision of life without the joys of content management, a CMS deprived of the wonders of search is going to seem like something out of the Dark Ages.

How to provide the best site search for your CMS

With all the CMS options proliferating out there, how do you choose the right one for your business model and revenue goals for 2022 and beyond?

You could look into CMSes that have been expressly designed to handle the unique needs within your industry (e.g., ecommerce or media). You could get a CMS built for the size and attendant needs of your enterprise, such as one tailored for a small business. And you could also look for a modern-day CMS that reflects the fact that you’re aiming for omnichannel distribution.

Another way to approach this decision is to skip all those parameters and start by being open to whatever choice feels right among the seemingly “general” site-search solutions that provide all the particular tools you need.

For an out-of-box site search solution, here are a few things to consider in your evaluation process:

Is the solution compatible with your CMS?

This is the first box to check off. Will your proposed search functionality work with all the platforms, plug-ins, and extensions that are populating your site? Would your site support tools be a workable match? Check out the specs.

How fast will be fast enough?

Google has eternally spoiled us all, but not all site-search engines deliver super-duper instantaneous results, especially if huge amounts of data have to be parsed first. So how much search speed do you need? What’s an acceptable speed in order to keep your users happy and, in the case of digital commerce, keep them from jumping ship to an eager competitor?

Do you get analytics with the search engine?

What’s on your searchers’ minds? Every time a user interacts with your content through search, you get to complete part of that picture. 

Search provides not only insight on individual thinking and needs but enduring trends. 

Analyzing your site search data can help you evaluate the quality of your search, reveal relevant keywords, and give you ideas for ways to improve usability and, if applicable, conversion. Search data gives marketing managers the information they need to make smart decisions. On an ecommerce site, you can identify the most popular search trends and sought-after items, then configure your search functionality by making the popular products easy to find, highlighting sale items, showing searchers additional items they might like, and more.

On a website focused on retaining major amounts of content, such as videos, search pattern analysis can help you identify content that’s missing — items multiple users are searching for but that you’re not providing. Information is power; that type of insight could lead to tweaking your search terminology to redirect people entering slightly different terms to items that you do offer, or to even creating in-demand content for your users to find.

Can you personalize your users’ search results?

You’ve undoubtedly heard about how personalization is transforming the modern online consumer experience. If you’re like many businesspeople, maybe you haven’t yet signed on for providing personalization, but you’re intrigued.

Here’s how it works: if two people search on a query, they could receive different search results based on their previous searches or browsing of content.

Search personalization makes the content-finding journey decidedly more fun and rewarding for site users and shoppers in online stores. More importantly, it gives you as a business multiple opportunities to better serve searchers by using what you learn about them to improve their digital forays. 

For instance, you can:

  • Create variations of your digital experiences (e.g., the same content in different languages or for different types of groups)
  • Set up rules that enhance the way the search engine responds to common queries
  • Show relevant content to individuals based on information gleaned about their preferences
  • Avoid displaying certain content, such as products that are out of stock

How much trouble would it be to set up the search software?

Some search tools need significant developer assistance with getting them up and running. Others are relatively easy to implement, even if you barely have the makings of an IT department. How much work would be needed with each of your possible solutions?

Is the search functionality easy to maintain?

Ditto for support. If you end up building a server-side search solution on top of your existing hardware, you’ll need to maintain that setup for the foreseeable future. That might still be the best path, or you could opt for an SaaS search solution, which eliminates that problem altogether. 

Optimize your CMS with powerful search 

If you need proven site search that you can set up with minimal developer know-how, check out Algolia.

 As a fully hosted SaaS solution, our functionality can be quickly integrated with your site and mobile app using APIs, advanced front-end libraries, and a crawler (if you need one).

To see the details of how you can use our search with your CMS, check out this demo of our interface. When you’ve seen how easy it is to use, we think you’ll want to know more right away. If that’s the case, get in touch with our team so we can help you start integrating search to transform your CMS!

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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