This content is part of the Buyer's Guide: How the right WCM system can propel your business to web success

What features should you look for when choosing a WCM platform?

Choosing a WCM platform for your business can be a challenging task. We detail the important capabilities and features you should look for to maximize your return on investment.

Organizations are continually looking for ways to connect with customers and prospects to reduce operational costs and to deliver innovation services. Web content management (WCM) software is a key to success in this area. But knowing which features are important can help you assess which WCM tool is right for you.

So what sorts of underlying capabilities should you look for when considering the best WCM platform for your organization?

WCM software is designed to manage the information assets that appear on webpages, mobile apps and third-party enterprise applications throughout their lifetime. It takes advantage of the enabling hardware, system software and networking technologies that are essential for managing and delivering content that meets business needs. WCM extends from content sourcing to delivery, including curating, aging and archiving. It also provides tools to maintain content within a multiparty digital ecosystem, as well as various features to assess results.

Content sourcing and management

WCM relies on the capabilities of a shared repository, where individual files or information assets are stored, managed and then distributed to multiple digital touch points. The capabilities of this repository determine the flexibility and reach of WCM software. The shared repository is a pillar within the overall enterprise architecture of an organization. IT staff should address enterprise-wide requirements -- including technology standards for enterprise operations, risk management profiles and related security requirements -- when considering how to best set up and deploy this shared repository.

The shared repository also governs content management and delivery via a set of rules known as the Information architecture. These capabilities include support for various content types (text, images and rich media), the structure and flexibility of metadata, security mechanisms and the tools to distribute content to multiple channels.

Content sourcing begins with the editorial process for creating information assets. Content creators -- whether they are writers, photographers, visual artists, musicians, videographers or the like -- rely on various digital tools to create information assets. Whether they're text-based or rich media, these assets need to be managed. This is where WCM comes into play.

WCM software captures the information assets at their source, most frequently by ingesting files and their associated source metadata into a shared content repository, and proceeds to manage them. Look for WCM software that makes it easy for line-of-business staffers to manage content and launch creative digital experiences that meet (or exceed) business goals. Key WCM features include the following:

Sorting by content type. A WCM platform should be able to manage multiple content types; not only text and images that appear on full-screen webpage displays, but also various kinds of rich media, such as audio streams, video streams and 3-D images.

WCM software is often designed to hide complexity from users. It can provide a WYSIWYG ("What you see is what you get") editing environment for full-screen and mobile displays. WCM also offers the capability to incorporate special purpose repositories for digital asset management and digital rights management.

Library services. WCM software manages editorial processes (edits, rewrites, etc.) through a set of library services that control content capture, review and approval activities. Typically, authenticated individuals can check in and check out draft assets. The repository tracks who is working on which asset, as well as the asset's current state.

WCM software manages the underlying security of these library services. Once users are authenticated, they have access rights to create, modify and/or delete assets within the repository. These access rights can include individual items or extend to collections of items within a predefined folder.

Workflow management. WCM software often supports workflow capabilities, or the ability to sequence the steps in an editorial review and approval process. This ensures that all items produced and distributed by the WCM software are being edited and updated through a set of predefined steps. Individuals performing tasks at each step are identified either by their username or by their role. This enables the author of an article to make changes to the document at any time, while a pool of editors handles copy editing and layout tasks.

Workflow includes tracking and oversight capabilities. For example, a production editor can always check the status of articles and photos in the workflow pipeline.

Descriptive metadata. WCM software includes various capabilities for tagging individual information assets. Tagging helps to describe what particular assets contain. Tags can also relate to one another and, thus, identify relationships between different assets.

Tagging can be explicit or implicit. Editors may select predefined keywords from a list of terms. Many organizations maintain formal taxonomies and/or controlled vocabularies. In addition, the best content management products support automatic tagging using various kinds of inference algorithms.

Once defined by the information architecture, the chosen method of tagging occurs semi-automatically or automatically, with little or no human intervention.

Ability to assemble content from external sources. WCM supports a wide variety of capabilities to assemble content from disparate external sources, including news feeds, social channels and third-party product catalogs. These sources are either imported directly into the shared repository or remain in place and are dynamically linked at runtime. The metadata definitions and the access controls for incorporating content from these remote sources are essential for success.

Multilingual capabilities. WCM software varies widely in its multilingual capabilities depending on the number of languages it supports, the character sets for various languages and text directionality. WCM platforms range in capability from those that support automatic translations on the fly to others that maintain parallel and separate repositories for each natural language. These platforms also vary in their support for multilingual metadata.

Content delivery to produce digital experiences

Content delivery is a moving target. What happens to individual information assets continues to evolve in the transformation from managed web content to digital experiences. First-generation WCM software assumed that content would only be published on webpages and viewed on desktop/laptop devices.

Second-generation WCM introduced two innovations: style sheets to separate the content assets from their presentation on webpages and the ability to deliver content to multiple microsites from a single shared repository.

WCM platforms have now moved into a third generation. Modern WCM software no longer assumes that content is going to be distributed only through full-screen web browsers; content must also be delivered to mobile devices. Headless WCM introduces a variety of innovative capabilities for distributing content among multiple enterprise applications (such as CRM and marketing automation systems), as well as providing content to native mobile apps. Headless WCM features well-defined, and usually open, APIs for integrating managed content with multiple applications running within an enterprise ecosystem.

Moreover, contemporary WCM software often includes innovative capabilities for content targeting and personalization. It dynamically delivers content to target audiences based on predefined factors, including personal profiles, general audience characteristics or other data-driven attributes.

The goal for WCM software is shifting from digital publishing to digital experience. This distinction is more than semantic. Expectations change, and the target audience doesn't only read and consume the content; with relevant information in hand, the audience takes action. Useful content, delivered in context, empowers business tasks.

WCM includes a range of capabilities for producing digital experiences. Consider first how content is defined -- whether it's page-oriented or content component-oriented. Ideally, content should be chunked into meaningful snippets, be well-managed and accessed by predefined tag sets, and dynamically assembled at runtime to produce the experience. Templates are useful for assembling these snippets from disparate sources and presenting them on desktop, laptop or mobile devices.

WCM does more than collect content onto a series of webpages; it can power multiple experiences, each hosted by a different website. WCM software can manage a collection of related websites, termed microsites, in a systematic manner.

With responsive web design, WCM software can adapt the display environment itself; an experience initially designed for a full-screen display now also looks good and works well on a mobile device.

Beyond responsive web design, WCM software helps organizations create entirely different experiences on different devices. WCM manages granular content components and can dynamically present different elements within full-screen or mobile displays.

Weaving content into a digital ecosystem

WCM manages tag sets and semantic metadata that characterize the information assets. For example, an article published on a website usually has a title as well as a set of descriptive index terms. The title and the terms are useful for categorizing the asset. Useful features of WCM software that help navigate the digital ecosystem include:

SEO tagging. Google and other web-wide search engines have bots that scour the web, indexing and cataloging the content being produced for multiple websites. The more descriptive and precise the index terms these bots find, the more optimized the results the search engines are able to deliver. It's a virtuous circle; when content producers and publishers want to be found within the overall digital ecosystem, they need to make it easy for search bots to correctly index their information assets.

Third-party content integration. Google and other search engines, however, aren't the sole players within the web-wide digital ecosystem. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media platforms all maintain their own environments and feature various ways to ingest the content being managed by a publisher's WCM platform. WCM software features tools and techniques to push (or syndicate) content into these social environments, either on a scheduled or near-real-time basis.

In addition, there are business-specific digital ecosystems. Different industries, trade associations, franchises and other kinds of organizations maintain business relationships and expect to share published content. WCM can be used to structure the flow of content from content producers to networks of affiliates and, thus, support these predefined relationships. In fact, these relationships can evolve into overall marketplaces for content where producers publish their information assets to a network and affiliates subscribe to the information they want.

Analytics and tracking

WCM software often includes capabilities for analyzing content delivery and tracking results. Some features are useful for answering certain types of questions, while other features pass data to third-party tracking tools to answer other questions.

It takes the combined efforts of business teams and IT teams to compete with content in the digital age.

Specifically, a WCM platform often provides A/B and multivariate testing tools. WCM presents alternative versions of particular content displays and tracks the results to determine which is the best option. For instance, editors can test alternative wording for a particular article headline and, after a few days of the article being displayed live on a website, determine which version garners the largest number of clicks.

WCM software can also interconnect with business environment-wide and web-wide analysis engines to determine how content is being used and with what results. These tools are designed to answer more general questions, such as which information assets appearing on the site are most popular or whether there's a sequence of page views that a target audience is likely to click through over time. These third-party tools track metadata elements provided by WCM software and incorporate them into a broader framework for determining results.

Staying competitive using content

It takes the combined efforts of business teams and IT teams to compete with content in the digital age. The IT team within an organization must be able to respond to the ever-changing needs of the business side, and the business side must effectively communicate its needs to IT. The key to success begins with getting the company's content in order by adopting a WCM platform that supports the right range of content management capabilities. This is essential to establishing a single source of truth across the organization.

Moreover, the IT team must be able to advise business managers on how to best achieve their objectives. IT should work jointly with business units to develop meaningful project requirements and should be able to help identify and describe (from a technical perspective) the particular pain points that the business units are facing. IT can then work with the business to develop a solution and help determine which long-term investments in content technologies need to be made.

Next Steps

Develop a content strategy before beginning a web content migration

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