By Michael Silverman, CEO, Duo Consulting

What is Content Management?

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Businesses and organizations that have large amounts of information to provide to users need a method for guiding that information from creation through editing, approval, publishing and maintenance to archiving. This process is generally referred to as content management. While the concept of content management has been around for a long time—newspapers have been using it for decades—it’s a relatively new term for most people. The rise of digital technology and the proliferation of Web sites have brought content management to the mainstream. All organizations, from large businesses with thousands of digital documents to small organizations with simple Web sites, find themselves having to deal with ever increasing amounts of information.

Within the field of content management, more specific terms have evolved. Enterprise content management or ECM encompasses all the information of an organization and may include print documents, records, computer applications, images, multimedia files, etc.  Web content management or WCM refers just to that information that is made available via the Internet. In this piece, we will focus on WCM.

As it became easier to publish content on the Web, many organizations discovered the need for a system to consistently manage content. A content management system or CMS is usually computer- or Web-based software that helps organizations manage their content collaboratively and efficiently.

So how do you know if your organization is having a problem with content management? Nathan Rawlins of Serena Software, Inc., describes these symptoms:

  • Updating critical Web content takes too long
  • The IT staff is overwhelmed by requests to make changes to the Web site
  • People responsible for creating Web content donít have access to make changes
  • The Web site lacks consistent branding, look and feel, or navigation
  • There is no record of who changed what and when
  • Finally, changes to the site can only be made every week or so

If any of those problems sound familiar, your organization may benefit from some help with content management. Before diving into a content management project, it’s best to determine why managing content is important to your organization. Knowing what your organization needs from its Web site will have a big impact on the CMS tools you choose, the priorities for your project and the time line to implementation.

Business Goals First

The first step in addressing content management in any organization is identifying the business goals. By starting with the end result, you can work backwards to make sure your goals are met. We think of business goals for a Web site as falling into two categories: acquisition and efficiency.

Acquisition goals focus on things like gaining more leads or more customers, increasing sales, etc. Efficiency goals are designed to save costs, time or effort. While every organization is different, here are some common goals for a Web content management project:

Acquisition Goals

  • Attract Visitors

    • The most effective Web sites are those that help people get the information they want, when they want it. And content that is not only relevant, but also fresh and regularly updated is a strong incentive for visitors to return to your site. A CMS makes it easier to present and update your organization’s content.
    • Once visitors arrive at your site, what do you want them to do? Is the purpose to generate leads for potential sales? To sell products through an online store? To offer information about a particular topic?  Knowing exactly what action you want from site visitors determines how content should be presented and what features to include.
  • Satisfy Customers
    • Transforming a visitor to your site into a customer requires meeting that visitor’s needs. A CMS can help you customize your site based on individual user demands, making it easy for users to quickly find what they’re looking for.
    • These days, many customers prefer to go to a Web site to gather information rather than make a phone call. For many business Web sites, the contact pages are the ones most frequently visited. Expectations for what information organizations will provide on the Web continue to increase. Organizations that don’t meet this standard risk frustrating customers. And don’t forget other users of the site:  employees, sales reps, suppliers, members, volunteers, clients ñ all of these users may need access to current, accurate content, as well.

Efficiency Goals

  • Reduce Effort

    • With a CMS, you can take the same information and implement it across many different uses, saving time and effort. Content re-purposing is the ability to use content multiple times by taking it from a central repository and re-deploying it in newsletters, proposals, CRM systems, intranets, etc. With a CMS, information exists separately from any specific format, which means that the same content can be published in different ways:  as a Web page, text document, RSS feed or to a mobile phone or other portable digital assistant.
  • Communicate Consistently

    • Organizations often need to communicate a consistent message about their services, products, mission or policies. A CMS can store those bits of content in an accessible, central place. Logos or other artwork, or text documents like staff biographies and product descriptions are types of content that could be stored in a central database that is often referred to as a content repository. From there, it is easily accessible and insures that each time the content is used, it is accurate and uniform. Another benefit of a content repository is that it allows for easy re-use of content. For example, Sarbanes-Oxley. For other organizations, compliance may mean adherence to the organization’s own policies about accuracy of content, timing, authorship, reviewing, etc. Some organizations may need to have a history of what changes were made to the site and when, as well as the ability to roll-back to a previous version. With a CMS, it is easy to delete expired or inaccurate content and have it removed everywhere from the site at the same time.

Next: Select the Right Tool

After identifying business goals, the next step is to choose the right CMS tool. There are two types of Web content management systems:  page-based and asset-based.

A page-based CMS allows you to edit the page in context. Each page is a separate unit which can be modified individually. Page-based systems tend to be flexible and are often less expensive than asset-based systems. One popular page-based CMS is Adobe (formerly Macromedia) Contribute software, which currently retails at about $150 for a single-user license.

An asset-based CMS stores information as blocks of text called assets. These individual assets are then related to each other to automatically build pages. In an asset-based system, an article’s title, byline and body might each be considered a separate asset. Most blogging software is asset-based; users simply input the title and body of the content into pre-set fields. Then, the software automatically generates the page with the correct formatting.

Asset-based systems can handle large volumes of information and can efficiently re-use content throughout the system. One very attractive benefit of an asset-based system is the ability to sort information based on different fields. But asset-based sites are more complex to implement and more expensive than page-based systems. Depending on the complexity of the site, the cost for an asset-based CMS may range from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars.

A good example of an asset-based system is one that Duo Consulting developed using its own DuoCMS for a large public park system. The site permitted users to search for information based on an activity (like basketball) or age group (youth) or a particular neighborhood park. For users, the site provided options for finding information in the way most helpful for the individual user. For content contributors, the new site had an easy interface for adding up-to-date content, as well as a simple way for deleting old content so that it was completely gone from the system without having to edit hundreds of individual pages. It’s those kind of features—the ability to sort content and manage large volumes efficiently—that make asset-based systems useful for large sites.

There is much to consider when choosing a CMS. That’s why you’ll want to work with a firm that is experienced in this area and can help you choose a system that matches the needs of your users, information architecture, technical requirements and overall Web strategy and business goals. In the end, the most important issue in choosing a tool is implementation. The best tool is the one that meets your requirements and that is practical to implement and use.

Tips for a Successful CMS Project

  1. Clearly state business goals before proceeding. Identify up front what you need your content to accomplish.
  2. Establish a content strategy to determine the right CMS tool. How do you want to accomplish the goals set above? Will this involve more contributors? A defined approval process?
  3. Get end users involved early. Find out what those who will use the system need and want.
  4. Don’t make decisions by committee. Successful projects have small teams of less than three people. Projects with large committees are at risk for delays and inconsistent decisions.
  5. No new business processes! Content management projects succeed when the scope is kept to processes already in place. Don’t try to initiate new processes and new technology at the same time.
  6. Release early and often, measure and revise. Launch early and then add content or additional features. Hold back some of the project budget for measurement and revisions.
  7. Provide content for search engines, too. Develop “search-engine friendly” pages by using keywords that searchers commonly use.
  8. Realize that implementation is more important than product selection. Remember that implementation—the actual deployment and use of the site—is more important than the CMS tool you choose.
  9. Keep business goals front and center: Successful web projects start with clear business goals. Then, issues like web strategy, information architecture, etc. are built to accomplish the goals.

About the Author

Michael Silverman is founder and chief executive officer of Duo Consulting. He has over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive and innovator.  Silverman created his first Internet business in 1997, and in 1999 founded Duo Consulting. Initially, Duo focused on helping entrepreneurs create new Internet-based businesses. When the market changed in 2000, he successfully transformed the company into the professional Internet consultancy it remains today.  Silverman is also the co-organizer of the Web Content series of educational conferences. Web Content 2008 includes stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago.