One of the most popular types of CMS is a web content management system (WCMS) which enables people to create, edit, publish and maintain the content of a website.
This includes internet sites, intranets and extranets.
This is the type of CMS most people think of when asked about content management in general. They assume that it only applies to web content but fail to realise that the term ‘CMS’ encompasses a wider range of content, for example digital asset management.
But this section discusses the most common form of CMS –web content management.
Many people assume that there is only one type of WCMS but there are, in fact, three types which include:
An offline system processes content before it goes live.
An online system is based upon user-generated content which includes a wide range of material such as wikis, blogs, forums etc.
A hybrid system is a combination of offline and online systems.
These systems are discussed in greater detail as individual subsections.
The main advantage of a web content management system is that it is designed for the novice or non-technical user as well as the power user. This is ideal for a business or large organisation such as a government department where there is likely to be a team of people with responsibility for the corporate website.
Their responsibilities will include uploading content, amending a document, adding an image, updating records and removing out of date content. This is done using HTML and XML templates and a WYSIWYG editor.
These large websites often consist of thousands of pages which store a wide range of corporate information that is available to the staff as and when necessary.
The old way was to engage a techie with the ability to hand code websites using HTML which meant employing someone to do so, and then, to make any changes which needed doing. This limited site management to this one person which was expensive both in terms of time and money.
At one time few people could build a website using HTML or had the inclination to do so which meant that companies had to employ a HTML whizz kid if they wanted a new website or changes making to their existing site.
Web authoring tools appeared on the market such as Dreamweaver and FrontPage which enabled many more people to build and maintain websites without the need for technical skills. These proved to be very useful tools but required a long period of training and familiarity with the software before using it.
If more than one user is working with Dreamweaver then this means purchasing multiple licenses which can be costly, especially for a small to medium sized business.
Web authoring tools such as Dreamweaver are ideal in a situation in which someone has the skills and experience of using this software with a small site, e.g. around ten pages or so. It is better suited to someone with a design background rather than a content editor as there are issues with broken links, inconsistency with formatting and poor structure and layout.
There is still a place for authoring tools such as Dreamweaver and it seems to be the case that they are better suited to a niche market. But when it comes to managing large, corporate websites with multi-functionality, a range of processes and workflows and the ability to extend the system on an ad hoc basis then choose a WCMS.
The big plus factor with a content management system is the ability for non-technical people to create, upload and publish content whenever necessary. Content is published across the site which ensures a consistent approach –a central tenet of usability –and removes the risk of duplicate content.
It means that non-technical staff can work with low level content such as text instead of using experienced, technical staff. This frees up technical staff for other duties and is more cost-effective for the business.
Someone who is business orientated rather than a hardcore techie can create a series of web pages without any knowledge of HTML or a programming language. They do this via a set of templates which provides the structure for the website and enables content to be inserted into a blank web page.
Other advantages include:
The overall benefit from a WCMS is the ability to control all of the content, a consistent, professional look and feel, easy access for the search engines which is important for SEO purposes and an improved user experience.
Web content management systems are the preferred choice of system for a great many companies who find that they obtain a good return on their investment (ROI).
They find that a system with a centralised workflow, audit trail, processes and guidelines means that content can be tracked at every stage to ensure a constant flow. Any changes to a piece of content are immediately obvious which reduces the risk of incorrect or outdated information and visitor dissatisfaction.
Users cite out of date or factually incorrect content as one of their reasons for leaving a website which is why it is important to have fresh, interesting and top quality content which is checked on a regular basis. A WCMS can ensure that the content is high quality, designed for the intended target audience as well as presenting a professional looking ‘shop front’to the visitor.
Another important reason to use a WCMS is that of page ranking. Content which is frequently updated via a WCMS is often ranked higher in the search results than static content. This is why it is important for businesses to update their content on a regular basis for both usability and SEO purposes.
A WCMS enables staff with few technical skills to use the system thereby enabling more experienced users such as webmasters to focus upon technical issues such as improved functionality or site re-design.
This is far more cost effective than having technical staff employed to do low level work such as uploading a Word doc or some other piece of content which can be done by less qualified staff. Plus it enables less skilled staff to take responsibility for their work and feel a sense of achievement in their contribution in much the same way as a higher skilled person would.
Finally, from a competitive perspective, a website which has been built using a WCMS projects an image of a dynamic, go-getting company, and one which is open to new ways of thinking and innovation.
The old adage: content is king still applies and never more so when it comes to maximising the efficiency of your website. The more time and effort expended into this the better.
We mustn’t forget that it’s the content which drives the website but the issue is of quality rather than quantity. It is important to consider what information is needed and how is this to be managed. A WCMS can be chosen once these two questions have been answered.
The driver for any WCMS is ensuring that the right content is on the site and is aimed at the right audience, and at the right time. Provide good quality content which fulfils user needs and ensure that they can find this quickly and easily. A WCMS with a good, reliable authoring environment will support content editors and enable them to write professional, top quality content.
Never underestimate the value of using an experienced content author/editor.