Understanding Web Content Management System Software Pricing Metrics

By Gregg Spivack

Vice President of Client Services, NPI

June 02, 2021

Interested in learning more about NPI’s services?

Contact Us

It’s hard to remember life before web content management system software as we know it today. For starters, the web itself served a different purpose. Most websites were fairly static – basically online brochures that required a technical knowledge of programming to create and update. But the web became more social, experiences became more interactive, content became more dynamic, and with that the modern market for content management system software emerged. The same tasks that used to take a technical user hours (or days) to perform could now be done by a non-technical user in minutes.

As the web CMS market has matured, vendors’ pricing and consumption metrics have evolved. Today, popular vendors like Sitecore, Acquia, Episerver and others use web site traffic as the principal metric that drives price in their cloud offerings. Traffic is comprised of visits and views:

  • Visits – these are the unique session cookies set on the devices that access your websites
  • Views – these are the unique pages visited per each visit

Average views per visit multiplied by average visits gives you pageviews for a specific time period.

Traffic-based Pricing for Content Management System Software Explained

Most vendors set contract prices based on the estimated total pageviews per year but monitor and count the actual amounts every month. CMS cloud platform offerings like Episerver DXP, Sitecore Managed Cloud or Acquia’s Drupal Cloud all create a disincentive for customers to low-ball anticipated usage by creating overage rates that are significantly more expensive than buying capacity up front. This punitive effect encourages buyers to provide a sufficiently large estimate, which in turn leads to larger annual minimum contract amounts for the CMS vendors.

It also creates a market for “upgrade” capacity – a way for enterprises to increase capacity during their subscription term without incurring overage fees. Customers should think of these upfront visits and/or views as a bucket of capacity from which you draw during the year. The initial starting capacity is typically called the “base rate.” The key is you want to monitor your bucket and refill it before it empties (upgrade capacity). This is less expensive than being forced to refill an empty bucket (overage capacity).

Personalization, e-commerce, enhanced search and other add-on features may also use the pageview or visits pricing model but will drive the rate higher.

Most CMS vendors offer some flavor of platform-as-a-service (PaaS).  These offerings pair the license for the software capabilities with hosting/infrastructure and services like support or uptime SLAs. In general, a base offering often includes one “platform” consisting of a single production environment coupled with one or two non-production development environment(s). It’s rare for enterprises to need multiple platforms, but in the cases where this is required most vendors will allow you to have one “bucket” of capacity to support multiple platform deployments, websites, etc.  As such you will be required to estimate an aggregate picture of visits and views across all web properties.

Cost Forecasting Gets More Complicated with Headless CMS

Traffic-based pricing makes it fairly easy to forecast and monitor web CMS costs. Most CMS vendors implement monitoring tools to provide a granular and precise view of how much is being consumed. But even initial estimates can be gauged using Google Analytics (a tool most every enterprise web team is familiar with).

Free tools like Similarweb.com can also be useful in assessing your traffic. In looking at the pictured example below for Adobe.com, you see that there were ~341 million unique visits to their website in January 2021 and each visit averaged ~4 pages for a total of 1.3 billion pageviews.  Annualize this at ~12 billion and you have a solid views metric for the year.  There are variables, of course (e.g. seasonal spikes in traffic), but these can be taken into account based on historical traffic data.

Currently there is a trend to build “headless” websites where front-end tools interface with the CMS via API. In this sort of model, pageviews cannot be tracked and monitored by CMS vendors so they may suggest metrics based on API calls instead. Be advised that vendors are typically using fixed assumptions to convert API calls to the well-established visits/views model. For example, they might say six API calls constitute one pageview. Customers should ensure their IT or implementation partners vet these assumptions – inaccuracies can lead to pricing that’s less than favorable.

Advice for Comparing Web Content Management System Software Pricing

Ultimately when comparing vendors’ pricing proposals, customers need to normalize the capability set to an apples-to-apples comparison. Vendors like Episerver include Search while Sitecore may not.  Developer costs, tools and infrastructure vary across Drupal (Acquia), .Net/MVC (Sitecore & Episerver) and Java (Adobe). Most vendors include some form of CDN for performance caching but other features like CDP, enhanced search or e-commerce add to the cost and will have their own set of unique differences. SLAs (typically 99.9% uptime per month or better) seem easy to compare but it’s important to ensure the same elements are covered.

The visits or views consumption model aims to co-mingle all these costs into one easy metric. Many buyers attempt to understand the line-item level costs but usually a more meaningful metric is unit-based comparisons once you have established like-for-like feature sets.

Typically, if you add capacity in advance, the new total will become the new base rate in renewal terms. Your CMS provider will include monthly performance reports showing average page load and response time, total pageviews, and availability. This will determine your actual consumption metrics and whether an overage should be applied.  Moreover, the SLA metrics will show whether you are due a service credit from a breach of the SLA in that month.

And finally, as with any sizeable IT purchase, it’s important to perform price benchmark analysis to determine if pricing and discounts are best-in-class!