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Bracing for the mobile revolution with Web content management tools

With the mobile revolution, Web content should be optimized for multiple devices. Instead of ad hoc processes, enlist a Web content management system.

If you are the person responsible for your organization's digital presence, you may still be operating under some false assumptions. You may believe, for example, your audience accesses your organization's site by clicking from Web browsers on PCs and laptops, but that assumption no longer holds. A device revolution is afoot.

In the years ahead, PC and laptop Web browsers are poised to become the exception rather than the rule. More and more customers will access online content from smartphones and tablets, so you need to be ready to consider strategies for delivering content, as well as Web content management tools.

To effectively deliver content to mobile devices, the simplest option is to do nothing. After all, smartphones and tablets feature their own mobile browsers. Customers can tap, swipe, pinch, magnify and view content on small-screen displays to mimic the point-and-click interactions of a full-screen browser. But more likely than not, you'll discover most mobile users find it frustrating and inefficient to constantly zoom in and out just to accomplish a few basic Web browsing actions. Your mobile content strategy can -- and should -- be better than that.

A device revolution is afoot, and full-screen Web browsers are poised to become the exception rather than the rule.

Another low-cost approach is to tweak website coding and design so pages display well on mobile devices as well as PCs. Graphic designers now use relatively large elements -- big icons, images and banner text -- to embed links for browsing. These large-surface graphics work particularly well on tablets, where it's possible to mobilize a full-screen Web experience. But it takes the right design expertise to use this approach.

A third option is to develop site designs that are optimized for standard browsers and mobile devices. In this case, a mobile Web content management (WCM) system is needed to customize how content displays in different places.

Different look, same user experience

Most popular WCM tools feature template-driven publishing capabilities. The layout for a full-screen webpage -- including the positions for headlines, text summaries, articles, search boxes, links to related pages, images, rich-media elements and whatnot -- is defined in a standardized format. You then add one or more additional templates geared to mobile devices.

For the mobile version of your site, for example, you might format headlines and images differently. Your content delivery platform -- often embedded within your WCM system -- automatically detects the device type and uses the appropriate template. In addition, many WCM systems now support responsive Web design. Instead of requiring separate templates for mobile and full-screen browsers, a responsive design dynamically adapts a single template to provide an optimal viewing experience for a range of devices.

Template-driven publishing has intuitive appeal. There's no need to invest in native mobile apps. You continue to manage Web content centrally with existing workflows and publish the same content everywhere. But there's a downside. You're not transforming the online experience to exploit the always-on, location-aware capabilities of mobile devices. Remember, your customers have computer-like devices in their pockets. Many expect a corresponding experience.

Finally, there's a fourth approach: developing mobile apps that engage specific users and provide them with just the right information for accomplishing particular tasks.

Delivering content by the chunk

Your website likely already features an implicit set of content categories. You now can make those categories explicit and segment your content into predefined chunks -- atomic pieces of information available to customers through mobile apps.

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Many WCM systems can manage content chunks -- either on their own or by integrating with third-party tools for digital publishing. If your system can handle "chunking" and you begin to assemble your online content into app-ready elements, it's essential to define the relevant content types and tag content chunks with descriptive metadata so you can keep track of what's in them.

Which of the four options is right for your organization? It's important to focus first on your target audiences and how you want to optimize their content use. Small changes in its webpage design may -- for now – make your site mobile-browser friendly, or perhaps it's time to bite the bullet and deliver an entirely new mobile experience that more effectively presents the content you're producing.

Ultimately, there's no one right answer, but one thing is clear: As the digital revolution accelerates, you must manage your Web content systematically, not through ad hoc additions of tools and processes. If you haven't already done so, implement a WCM system and define an information architecture for your digital content -- one that spans browser displays and mobile apps. You then have the essential IT resources in place to deliver content to full-screen browsers and mobile devices alike.

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