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Consider these tips for a solid Web content management system strategy

Successful Web content management system strategies and deployments begin with end users in mind before taking a flexible approach and making sure the strategy receives ongoing care and feeding.

Any overhaul of a Web content management system, whether reworking a corporate Web strategy or a website refresh, should begin with the end users in mind, according to both vendors and consultants. Those end users include internal employees as well as customers who engage outward-facing websites.

When organziations are reworking their Web content management (WCM) strategy, they would do well to involve internal end users in the design process from the beginning. Those stakeholders, whether they work in marketing, HR, customer service or any department, should be included in strategy discussions, said Tim McLaughlin, founder and president of Siteworx, a consulting firm based in Reston, Va.

If you don't have a plan for ongoing development, your Web strategy is going to fail.

Tom Wentworth, Ektron, Inc.

It’s a key aspect of WCM strategy that is ignored at the company’s peril. If important stakeholders are left out of discussions, more work involving ad-hoc fixes is inevitable later on. But limiting consideration to internal stakeholders might also be a mistake.

"[Organizations] spend 90% of their time defining needs of [employees]…. And I think that is wrong,” said Tom Wentworth, the chief marketing officer of Ektron, Inc. in Nashua, N.H. “You need to start with the customer in mind.”

Specifically, when a company's website is a primary vehicle for interacting with customers, making their lives easier should be the main focus of the content management system (CMS) project. “Content management is a step in the journey, but the ultimate goal is the customer experience,” said Wentworth.

Another key to a successful Web content management system deployment is to avoid defining it as a project that has a beginning, middle and end.

“There is no end. If you don’t have a plan for ongoing development, your Web strategy is going to fail,” said Wentworth. “You need a strategy for making sure the site remains vibrant and fresh and relevant for the customer.”

That plan must consider how frequently content changes and staffing for maintaining the site’s content.

“That again is another place where companies fail,” Wentworth said. “There needs to be someone to ultimately own the metrics the website delivers, someone who straddles IT and business…. It is really important that you place someone to take care of the care and feeding of the website.”

Get some help and remain flexible
Sometimes an enterprise gets caught up on whether to revamp a website or completely redesign its WCM strategy. When that happens, it’s often helpful to call in the experts.

Consultants can disentangle the decision-making process by taking a more objective view of the company’s goals and the systems in place to accomplish them.

“There are so many new technologies today that need to be leveraged together,” said Melissa Webster, program vice president of content and digital media technologies for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “It’s a pretty complicated space right now.”

When an enterprise already has a workable content management system in place, it is often seeking advice to align the system correctly with its needs. That’s another task that can be completed by a consultant.

Flexibility can also be a way to WCM success. “That’s always better than the alternative,” said McLaughlin, recounting the smooth deployment his company facilitated with a recent refit of the National Public Radio website and its WCM strategy. “The nice thing with NPR was that they knew what they wanted and they were willing to compromise a little.”

“Flexibility is important,” agreed Wentworth. “I think processes change over time. I think many legacy systems fail because [system designers] didn’t allow for an agile approach.”

Picking the right system and updating how you work with it is key
A lot of companies are using old or home-grown CM systems and not updating them because of the inability to integrate with other legacy programs. And those home-grown applications, especially, come at a cost.

“The problem is that 70, 80, some say 90% [of IT budgets], goes to just maintaining existing systems with the rest going toward innovation,” Webster said. “We’re almost at that point where people should be buying, not building…. It almost never makes sense to build it. And there’s also open source for those without the budget to buy software.”

In fact, companies might think about picking one vendor and standardizing on them, she said, explaining that often a collection of different applications can be found under one enterprise’s roof, especially when multiple websites are concerned.

In general, custom-built CMS applications take too long to complete and the process is just too complicated, said McLaughlin. The choice of applications often comes down to the technical capabilities of staff, whether the company’s got a transactional goal or a marketing goal, and whether there are legacy systems involved. “We look at their existing systems and determine how the integration is going to occur and that helps us determine what systems to look at,” said McLaughlin. His company provides clients with a range of CMS or WCM systems to consider for implementation.

Finally, “Make sure the tool can morph with your content management process over time,” Wentworth said.

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