The largest museums in the United States have found new ways to engage their audiences in times when in-person visits were not possible. From digital collections to virtual exhibitions, cultural arts technologists have leveraged advanced features of well-known content management systems (CMS) to present dynamic experiences in addition to hosting their mainstay websites.
In light of the shifting landscape of museum website technologies, Urban Insight conducted research to determine the most popular content management systems used by the largest museums in the U.S. We updated and expanded upon data collected in 2019 to highlight trends and new developments in museum CMS usage in the last two years.
Top Content Management Systems Used by the Largest U.S. Museums
Urban Insight identified the top 143 museums in the United States based on pre-pandemic annual visitor counts and analyzed the CMS used for the museum's primary website. Here are some of the key findings of that research:
Drupal and WordPress Dominate
64% of the museum content management systems we identified are using either Drupal or WordPress.
Drupal and WordPress Tied for Use
Of the top 143 largest U.S. museums, Drupal and WordPress are tied for use, with 46 (32%) using Drupal and 46 (32%) using WordPress.
Drupal 7 Still Widely Used
Of the 46 museums that choose Drupal, 32 (70%) use Drupal 7, 13 use Drupal 8 (28%), and 1 uses Drupal 9 (2%). This has the potential to be a challenge as Drupal 7 reaches its end of life in 2022.
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Drupal Adoption Correlated with Museum Size
We found that the larger the museum (as measured by annual visitors), the more likely it is to use Drupal: Of the museums with over 1 million annual visitors, 20 (43%) use Drupal and 11 (23%) use WordPress. Of the museums with under 1 million annual visitors, 35 (36%) use WordPress, while 26 (27%) use Drupal.
Drupal and WordPress Use Increase from 2019
Drupal and WordPress stand out as the top content management systems for the largest museums in the United States—and for good reason. Both content management systems provide a solid foundation for customized and secure websites. Moreover, these systems excel in the management of high volumes of content, executing complex processes, and integrating with other systems. Both WordPress and Drupal appear to have gained market share from 2019.
Accesso Emerged This Year
Accesso, a content management solution for venues (arenas, cultural arts, festivals), emerged as a content management system represented in the 2021 research that was not present in our 2019 findings. Other content management systems with notable representation are ExpressionEngine and Umbraco.
Table 1: 25 Largest Museums, CMS Used, Annual Visitors, Location, Websites
Provide an email address to view the complete list of the 143 largest museums in the United States.
Table 2: Content Management Systems, Number of CMS, Percent of Museums Using CMS
The following content management systems each had less than a 1% share of use: Adobe Dreamweaver, BigTree, Craft CMS, eZ Platform, mojoPortal, October CMS, Ruby on Rails, Terminalfour, Wix.
The following sources were used to identify the largest museums based on the number of visitors:
- Wikipedia: Most-visited museums
- Ranker: The Best Museums in the United States
- AECOM and Themed Entertainment Association: “Theme Index Museum Index 2016, Global Attractions Attendance Report”
The following web-based tools were used to identify or triangulate the most likely content management system used by these museums, based on the museum’s primary domain name (only):
Special thanks to Jimmy Fikes for collecting the data required for this article and Lee Flannery for editing this article.