Jonathan Kahn lays out some excellent pointers on how to intelligently approach content management in this article for A List Apart. Read on for a recap of his major points! This is the first in a two-part exploration of Content Management Systems (CMS)
Put simply, you can’t just slap a CMS on your website and call it good. That’s asking for further problems down the line—and inviting compatibility issues, to boot. Editorial teams are no different than the other teams comprising your organization. Strategy matters. Design and user experience are essential in the grand scheme of things.
Why Isn’t There An Easy Fix?
A couple of reasons spring to mind. Probably the largest is the fact that every website has its own custom set of needs which must be addressed before any content management comes into play. Kahn says it best: “any web project more complex than a blog requires custom CMS design work,” period. Sure, faceted navigation on a wireframe looks great in a proposal, but think about the work implied for the editorial team. A multi-tier taxonomy demands a correspondingly robust CMS, not to mention the man-hours to procure, produce, and/or edit the material itself. Know your needs, know your capabilities, then settle on CMS design that marries the two. Don’t cave to popularity with users or time sensitivity; the deciding factors should be the type, frequency, and feasibility of content publication.
For the Layman: What is a CMS?
Content Management Systems package software tools together to enable non-tech users to manage web content. Because the need for such a system is so great, a dizzying array of CMS tools are out there. Common features include:
- Content creation/editing (the big one)
- Taxonomy management
- Curation/page composition
- Editorial workflow
The tactic, of course, is to cram so many features in that you’ll give up and reach for your wallet in a “more is surely better” daze. But, again, that’s band-aid mentality! Bells and whistles are only useful insofar as they contribute to the strategy you’ve worked out. Let’s work out the necessary elements:
Paraphrasing Jeff Croft, your CMS should use a rich content model to craft semantic web pages. That means the ability to:
- Intuitively structure, organize, search, filter, and modify your content
- Define new types of content on the fly
- Construct meaningful relationships between disparate content
This should all be part and parcel of the “writing” process: you want to be able to implement and control these parameters at any stage of the content lifecycle, not just after the fact.
Meet the Project
A CMS isn’t magic, though some are advertised otherwise. It doesn’t just fix your problems right away; it has to be customized to deal with your specific problems with a specific protocol. In fact, according to D. Keith Robinson, just about every CMS needs this sort of customization before it can really get to work. Has it always been this way?
Content Strategy Changed Everything
Well, sort of. CMS used to be an IT-centric endeavor, meaning it used to be almost entirely up to the IT Director. Their concerns were practical features, price, and cultural fit, with little to no emphasis placed on ongoing strategy. No more! Now, we conceive of a company’s website as its primary contact vehicle—it drums up sales, it markets, it gets you in touch, etc. This logic drove a sea change that birthed what we call Content Strategy: web content no longer lives in departmentally isolated pages. The new playing field involves the entire internal editorial team, defining success as an interdependent amalgam of meeting business objectives, producing relevant content, and delivering a strong user experience.