Which Web Content Management Systems Do US Universities Use?

Web Content Management Systems

In our previous post we presented the Content Management Systems that UK universities use to manage their main websites. Our data covered 135 sites, a reasonably representative sample of the UK ‘market’: we’re gathering information on the stragglers.

In the current post we present the Content Management Systems (CMS) that US universities use. We’ve updated this post’s title to accord with the US preference for referring to these systems as Web Content Management Systems.

The field work for the current post had to resolve the issue of obtaining a representative sample. The US has about 4,700 degree-granting institutions, more than we can sample in the two weeks between blog posts. We decided to match the UK sample size (n=135), while drawing our sample from the US universities appearing in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015–2016. Entirely representative of US higher education institutions? Unlikely. Completely unrepresentative of US higher education institutions? Unlikely.

In our last post we identified that UK universities have been through several iterations of CMSs, often resulting in fragmented and partial implementations across campuses. US universities face similar issues to those we identified for UK universities. Moreover, publicly-funded institutions are seeking cost savings and efficiency gains from their IT departments as declining financial support from state governments starts to bite.

This suggests that some of the following strategic and tactical factors influence decisions that US institution are making about website content management:

  • Reduce the number of different CMSs in use across a university;
  • Benefit from the concentration of management, expertise and end-user support derived from using a common CMS platform;
  • Support distributed content creation through standardisation;
  • Facilitate a consistent visitor experience through common branding and user navigation;
  • Ensure that websites are appropriately accessible to all visitors;
  • Ensure that consolidated website content performance tracking (for example, Google Analytics) is available from all websites sharing a common root domain.

How We Did The Field Work

Identifying which web CMSs are being used requires some diligence and detective work.

  • Often a site’s metadata yields the CMS, showing up in source code as:

<meta name=”generator” content=”Name of CMS Here”> or <meta content=”Name of CMS Here” name=”generator”>

About one third of the sites surveyed accurately revealed the underlying CMS through metadata.

  • Other sites handily reveal their CMS through source code clues. This group accounts for another third of sites.
  • A small group of sites set cookies identifying the underlying CMS, which reveals another 5% of sites.
  • The remaining sites discuss their CMS in on-line documentation.

About 10% of sites will not yield their CMS to ‘casual’ inspection. We could go ‘poking’ around in parts of the site where we inspect files, but that’s not our style — so these sites’ CMSs will remain a mystery.

Observations

Our ‘detective’ work generated three observations.

  • US universities do an almost uniformly better job of providing site directories — usually as “A-Z Listing” showing both academic and administrative departments. UK universities would do well to replicate this feature for site visitors.
  • On-site Google Custom Search implementations typically yield fewer relevant results than Google Advanced Search and the domain name. And, the results presentation for Google Custom Search reminds one of 1990s websites. We don’t know why, but if search is important to site visitors it would be worth figuring out what is going wrong.
  • If you use Wappalyzer or other tools to understand the technologies being used on a website, beware of false positives. It’s a handy tool, but we strongly advise a policy of ‘trust, but verify’.

The Results

Here are the results from the main (gateway or main landing page) websites for the top 135 US universities as listed in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015–2016. Our research reflects data collected in mid-September 2016.

A first difference is the greater concentration of suppliers than for UK universities: 16 compared to 27 for the UK. The second difference is the set of suppliers active in use includes two providers with significant US market share, but no presence in the UK that we’ve identified so far. And, one similarity is the pre-dominance of Drupal-powered sites:

Our next post will look at the content management systems used by Canada’s universities and vibrant college sector.

If you are interested in the data behind the chart, would like to see a regular survey of this type or are interested in the results for other geographical markets, contact us at info@onlinecourseinfo.com. If you have comments, observations or corrections leave them below.