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Effective Web content management systems require well-tuned processes

Ongoing Web content management requires people, policies and processes to ensure that the CMS is administered properly and that content remains fresh and accurate long after deployment.

Is it really necessary to put a lot of resources into the ongoing administration of Web content management systems once they’re up and running? Just ask United Airlines Inc., which in September marked a rather dubious anniversary.

Three years ago, a 2002 story about the airline’s bankruptcy that year erroneously popped up on the Web, and Wall Street investors assumed it was a new story. Within minutes, United’s share price plunged from about $12 to $3. The stock later recovered, but the lesson was clear: Content management systems (CMS) require people, policies and processes to ensure that content remains fresh and accurate long after deployment.

It doesn’t take a stock meltdown or another crisis to show that someone has a problem. Clues might be conflicts about what new content gets posted and where. “People are constantly at the doorstep [of website managers], and of course everybody wants the homepage,” said Scott Liewehr, lead analyst in the Web content management (WCM) practice at Outsell’s Gilbane Services in Cambridge, Mass. “Who do you give it to?”

Bottlenecks that keep new content from being posted regularly or that fail to move old items to the archives or trash bin are another indicator.

The solution is a finely tuned process for applying corporate policies and defining publishing workflows to a Web CMS. Content management professionals point to five key elements to make this happen.

Start early
Create a policy document of guiding principles for a successful WCM strategy that spells out who will be making final decisions about content and where it will be allocated. “When you have something in writing early on, you’ll avoid some of the harder conversations later on when it comes down to a particular issue,” Liewehr said.

Find a sponsor
Organizations need someone with enough clout to set direction and mediate disagreements. That could be a C-level executive, marketing vice president, line-of-business manager or another senior person. “This person should take responsibility for the project, not just sign the checks,” said Amanda Shiga, content management lead at the consulting firm Non-linear Creations Inc. in Toronto.

Form a WCM steering committee
A cross-departmental team consisting of the executive sponsor, IT and representatives from all relevant business departments should meet early and often to create workflows for content approvals, editing, scheduling, archiving and deleting information.

While steering committees are important for thinking through fundamental WCM rules, Shiga warned that these groups sometimes create workflows that look good on paper but end up being too complicated. “People just don’t have the bandwidth for a five-step approval process,” she said, explaining that bottlenecks will occur if a department head must approve and then pass along content to an organization’s president for a final review. “I caution people to keep processes as simple as possible.”

Keep content fresh
Fresh content is one of the keys to a successful Web presence. “If no one owns content, it’s going to go out of date,” said Seth Earley, CEO of Earley & Associates, an information management consulting company based in Stow, Mass. But owners can’t be expected to take on that responsibility without resources such as clear criteria established by the WCM steering committee about how often content should be reviewed and what happens to old information, he added.

Of course, a steady stream of new content doesn’t always flow from business groups. One way to keep it flowing is to link the creation of new content with publishing processes. Include a checkbox so that when someone creates something new, it is identified as something to post on the website, Earley said.

Analyze feedback
Defining policies and workflows are fine, but organizations also need a way to measure success. First, determine the key indicators for meeting the site’s main objectives: Is it driving additional revenues, generating sales leads, improving customer service? Then use traffic analytics tools to key in on these areas. “Organizations can benefit from becoming wiser about analytics,” Liewehr said. The same data can help direct content owners in shaping and updating content, he added.

WCM consultants said it’s best to have all these pieces in place before system deployment. However, all is not lost for organizations that rush into launching websites. Retrofitting is possible; it just might mean some additional work.

“If you’ve already got something that’s kind of out of control, I would say it is all the more reason to get these teams [and processes] in place,” Shiga said. “There’s still a strong argument for auditing the current processes and [looking for] a quick win to put a little more processing structure in place.”

Alan Joch is a New Hampshire-based freelance writer who specializes in enterprise applications and cloud computing.

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