Website CMS: Epicenter of a Content Marketer's Universe
Last week I outlined some thoughts pertaining to making sound investments in marketing infrastructure. I thought I might hone in on more “practice” and avoid so much theory for this post.
At the center of the marketer’s infrastructure sits the website content management system, or CMS. A content marketer can no more afford to be held hostage by her CMS than can a competitive cyclist afford to enter the Tour de France on a bicycle from Wal-Mart. The website CMS is the marketer’s workhorse—“communicating” with search engines, serving content, directing traffic, educating prospects, promoting specials, and capturing leads. It powers the face of the brand in some cases; it’s a worthy salesman’s companion in others. It has to work.
Fortunately there are plenty of great CMS solutions out there. But while good technology and utility go hand in hand, good technology does not always equal high function. The value of any respected CMS depends on how effectively it is configured and customized to meet the needs of its users.
So in the end, a marketer’s evaluation of the CMS will—or should—focus first not on technology, but on function. And what better time to consider how a CMS should function than prior to deployment, after which shortcomings are far more expensive to correct?
The Five Commandments of CMS Deployment
Having taken part in the deployment of at least a couple hundred websites built on CMS platforms—and having inherited more than one obsolete legacy system at the outset of a new project—I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly as it relates to CMS implementation.
I could tell you some scary stories about what I’ve discovered lurking beneath cover of a shiny exterior, but lest I harp on technical bloopers I’ll zero in on some of the CMS attributes that our clients have most appreciated, and ones that I feel are most critical to a high-performance marketing engine. By understanding the following commandments, and by sharing them with the CMS implementation team, a content marketer is taking steps to ensure delivery of a solution that works for the content marketer, not against her.
The First Commandment: Thou Shalt Make it a Pleasure to Use
Content marketers publish often, sometimes at the drop of the hat. They typically rely on the assistance of their own marketing team, and may have the benefit of other contributors, inside or outside of the organization.
A CMS should be easily managed by the marketing team and leveraged by content contributors without routine assistance from technical resources to perform simple tasks. There is no single meaning of “easy”—and the definition will differ with every implementation—but here are a few ideas that come to mind.
- Is the administrative interface intuitive enough that users do not repeatedly need more training when more than a day has passed since the last time a particular task was performed?
- Is it simple enough to not only post a new article, but also to include an accompanying image—even without having to first resize the image using a tool like Photoshop?
- Can users be empowered to publish without worry of having them take down the whole website with a misplaced click of the mouse?
- Are the less obvious content areas of the website such as menus and sidebars manipulable by authorized staff members?
The Second Commandment: Forsake Not Basic SEO Considerations
While no system can guarantee search performance, the system must be designed and implemented to facilitate search engine optimization. Here’s a short checklist of features that should be provided with any implementation. It is by no means comprehensive, but provides a good foundation.
- Customizable page titles and meta descriptions on every page of the site.
- Proper attention to CSS styling and the ability for contributors to apply appropriate header styles within site copy.
- Easily-manageable robots.txt, for keeping search engines out of where they don’t need to be.
- Automatically generated and easily updated sitemap.xml, for telling search engines about things they might otherwise miss.
- Automatically generated (and manually override-able) friendly URLs, to avoid annoying humans and to give search engines more reason to like your content.
- Ability to easily configure 301 redirects, so you don’t frustrate Google.
The Third Commandment: Respect Thine Social Networks
Content must be shareable by those who consume it. Make it easy. It won’t substitute for quality content, but it sure will complement it. Put social media sharing icons where it makes sense.
The Fourth Commandment: Get Thee Mobile
Mobile traffic statistics suggest that, in general, content should be served “friendly” to mobile devices. At Digett we are seeing compelling evidence of the mobile shift manifesting in the analytics of just about every website we help manage. It’s too much to ignore anymore.
The Fifth Commandment: Guard Thine Agility and Flexibility
Objectives change, and a CMS should be flexible enough to reflect shifts in strategy and tactics without breaking the bank. Safeguarding agility can mean different things, all of which are important.
- Select a CMS with enough market traction to ensure you can find vendors who support it.
- Invest in the expertise necessary to configure and customize your CMS according to best practices up front. You’ll likely otherwise spend years regretting going “on the cheap.”
- Invest in ongoing training so the team can make the most of your tools.
- Maintain good relationships with vendors who can assist in your efforts. When you need to reach out for help is not the time to have to develop a rapport.
There have never been so many viable alternatives for deploying a practical and powerful CMS that fits your organization. But selecting an appropriate tool is not enough. The lion’s share of “fit” comes through extensive configuration and customization, and this is where many projects veer off course.
Share these five commandments with your CMS implementation team, and use it to generate meaningful discussion. By bringing these points to the surface early in your project you’ll likely end up with a better CMS solution in the end.