What is Content Management and Why Most Companies Should Eliminate Their Custom Web Sites

By: Brian J. Stewart

Nearly all companies can benefit from having a presence on the Internet. Unfortunately, companies too often have outdated websites that either contain inaccurate information or are missing the information their customers want and need. There are several reasons for an outdated website, but it is primarily due to the traditional approach taken for website design. The key issue with the traditional approach is the reliance on developers to maintain the website.

An alternative to traditional website design and development is Content Management which is a configurable platform for websites. The configurable platform handles core functionality, such as navigation and layout, which provides many benefits to website visitors and business users. So lets review the traditional approach to website design and the challenges and disadvantages that occur with this approach. And lets answer the question 'What is content management' and review the many benefits gained with content management solutions.

Content Management shifts from layout centric design to information centric design where content is maintained by business users rather than developers.

Traditional Approach to Web Site Design

Normally when a company decided to launch a new website, the following approach was typically taken:

Identify information available on the website
Hire a web design company or if the company is a larger organization they would assemble an internal team to build the website  
Design the layout of the new website including navigation, page layout, etc.  
Organize a graphic artist to design and create all necessary graphics  
Organize a web developer to add information and format the static web pages  
Develop any custom code needed for dynamic content  
Test the website  
Revise and retest website as necessary  
Launch the new website  

Challenges with Traditional Approach

The traditional approach to corporate website design often resulted in several challenges and problems including:

  • Reliance on developers for changes – Any time a change to the website is required, the company must rely on a web developer and possibly a graphics artist depending on the extent of the change. For a smaller organization without the internal expertise, this typically translates to an expensive maintenance contract.

  • Difficulties with long term maintainability of the website – Over time as website changes are made, the original well designed website becomes fragile, as it is difficult to anticipate all the needed changes. This often leads to a complete and expensive website redesign every few years.

  • Custom websites require specialized knowledge – Any custom website requires specialized knowledge to support and maintain the site. Businesses are vulnerable to employee turnover or reliance on a third party vendor.

  • Custom websites are prone to security risks – Custom websites are prone to security holes and programming defects, as web developers are generally not web security experts. In addition, not all organizations apply the necessary security patches in a timely manner.

  • Custom websites are subject to defects and compatibility issues – Custom websites are often exposed to browser or device incompatibilities because few companies have the time and resources necessary to test a broad range of web browsers and devices.

  • Difficult to add new information – Adding new information to an existing website is often difficult due to the rigid design and layout of most websites.

  • Over emphasis on graphics and layout – Many web design consultancies overly focus on expensive graphics and layout, promising differentiation will lead to increased revenue and brand building. Although it is certainly important to build brand equity, successful websites ‘just work’ regardless of platform or device. Customers value fast, responsive, and useful websites over slow and flashy websites where they can’t find the information they need.

What is Content Management?

Content Management is a complete paradigm shift from layout centric design to information centric design. The focus of Content Management solutions is the type of information to be managed and published. A Content Management System (CMS) is a technology platform that supports the creation, management, and publication of information. The navigation, layout, and other fundamental aspects of a website are all handled by the CMS platform.

 

A Content Management System (CMS) is a technology platform that supports the creation, management, and publication of information. The navigation, layout, and other fundamental aspects of a website are all handled by the CMS platform.

In addition, the layout and structure of a website is separated from the information being managed and published. In CMS platforms, the layout and presentation of information is controlled by ‘Views’ and by ‘Themes’ which provide the differentiation and unique brand experience. Two websites can use the same exact CMS platform, contain similar information and yet look completely different based on the custom themes. The themes are built using industry standard Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and thus are easily maintainable and customizable.

CMS platforms typically provide robust security, including roles which control who can create, edit, publish, delete, and view information. With CMS platforms the responsibility of maintaining the information is shifted from technical resources to the owners of the information.

A key component of CMS solutions is information architecture or the taxonomy design. The taxonomy defines the elements of information to be published. For example, a typical company website usually has the following content type

Static pages (About Us, Company Overview)
Product/Service/Menu item
Press Release
Contact (i.e. Sales, Human Resources, Media Relations)
Photo gallery
Customer testimonial
Job Posting

The CMS methodology to create and launch a website is also simplified. A common approach for CMS implementations includes the following tasks:

Identify content types to be managed and published (see common list above)
Hire a web design consultancy or assemble an internal team to configure CMS platform and create custom theme for differentiation
Organize Content Authors to create, edit, and publish information
Test website
Revise content, theme, and other configurations as appropriate and retest website
Launch the new website

Benefits of Content Management

There are significant advantages to CMS platforms over custom websites. The key benefits with leveraging CMS platforms include:

Business owns information edits Business Owner (Content Editors) create and publish content with minimal CMS knowledge and no programming knowledge required.
Greatly improved security – Most popular CMS platforms are developed, peer reviewed, and tested by a strong team. This means industry best practices are incorporated into the platform out-of-the-box, resulting in a more secure website.
Emphasis is on information – The emphasis of CMS implementations is on the taxonomy and organization of information. Most users visit company websites looking for specific information, thus with the focus on information architecture and content itself, the end result is usually an improved user experience.
Easily add new content types (information) – CMS implementations make it easy to add additional pieces of information to a website through configurations. For example, perhaps a small home remodeler website wants to add a gallery of pictures of their completed projects to showcase their work. This can be easily accomplished by configuring a new content type and view.
Robust modules and extensions– Most CMS platforms have robust libraries of modules and extensions for the platform. For example, many CMS platforms have plugin modules to integrate with social networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and to provide photo galleries.
Ease of adding fields or attributes for content types – CMS administrators can easily add additional fields to an existing content type. The additional field can easily be added to the display by configuring the views. This previously would have required changing the data model and modifying code. For example, it is easy to add tags or keywords to press releases enabling customers to locate specific press releases more easily.
Many predefined and tested layouts – Most CMS platforms come with out-of-the-box layouts installed, and countless others available as additional modules and plugins. These layouts are often a collaboration of user feedback and best practices incorporated into them. This improves the overall usability and user experience without requiring extensive usability design studies when designing a website.
Improved quality – Most CMS platforms are developed and tested by experts who care diligently about their platform. This ensures that websites which leverage a CMS platform benefit from improved quality and fewer defects. CMS platforms are also tested using a variety of web browsers and devices ensuring a high quality user experience for all customers, regardless of the platform or device they are using to access the website.
Faster delivery time – By leveraging a CMS platform, companies can significantly reduce their time to build and test a new website.

More Useful. More Up-to-date. More Secure.

Despite a company spending thousands of dollars on building a flashy website and often thousands more on maintenance, most websites fail to deliver on their promise and goals. Traditional websites are commonly nothing more than outdated and stale brochures because of the difficulty and expense associated with maintaining custom websites. Building a website using a CMS platform still requires expertise with the initial building and configuration, however they can be maintained by the internal business owners of the information rather than by developers and third party vendors. This results in more useful, up-to-date and secure websites that are significantly cheaper to maintain over their lifetime compared to traditional websites.

Building a website using a CMS platform still requires expertise with the initial building and configuration, however they can be maintained by the internal business owners of the information rather than by developers and third party vendors. This results in more useful, up-to-date and secure websites that are significantly cheaper to maintain over their lifetime compared to traditional websites.