Content management systems have been around for almost two decades, but we’re still talking about how much we hate them. They’re not intuitive to use, and many of their features probably sounded attractive during the sales process, but are never touched and often get in the way of ease of use.
Here are some examples:
One of the basic assumptions of content management systems is that the people who review, edit and approve content will log in to the CMS to do that. Reader, have you ever seen this happen? I’ve been advising organizations on content management issues since 2001, and I have never seen it. Not even once.
When I asked four content management experts at the “Stump the Content Management Consultant” session at the 2013 Gilbane conference for their predictions about when they thought this would begin to happen, they all agreed that while it was optimal from the CMS perspective, it was unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Back in 2002 and 2003, I trained dozens of staff members who updated content for their organization’s intranet in how to use the CMS. I recited the phrase “we are our own approvers” in each training session. Seems kind of silly, in retrospect. But these people who were responsible for using the CMS were often the administrative assistants for the actual subject matter experts. The content creation and review process happened completely apart from the CMS. According to my clients, that delineation of responsibilities and that process is still exactly the same today.
If you don’t have a smart, consistent process for reviewing content, your CMS can’t solve that.
Just set the expiration date and the content will be removed from the site. Easy right? Actually, far from it! The content strategists on the web team I managed wanted to be alerted in advance with enough time to review the content and discuss it with the content owner to see whether it should be kept, refreshed, or expired. The powerful web portal/CMS software that my organization purchased could not provide that functionality. (That may have been because of the software’s capabilities, the way it was implemented, the skillsets of the people who maintained it, the technical infrastructure in which it was housed, or several of these factors.)
In addition, my team was loathe to let content expire because of the broken links that we would create. Ideally, all content contains inbound links, so removing content would break links both within our large site and on other sites that relied on our information as a primary source.
What happens outside of the CMS is as important as what happens within it.
A core promise of all CMSs is to make your content more findable. The CMS can’t do that itself. Even with a robust taxonomy, including selectable keywords and phrases, the human element is key to applying the right metadata to each piece of content. And if the person choosing the metadata is not knowledgeable about the content itself or its use, they may not make effective selections.
People closest to the information need to be the ones interacting with the CMS.
4. WYSIWYG Editors and On-Page Editing
Authors want it because it looks familiar. Content strategists hate it because it marries content and presentation. WYSIWYG editing applications themselves have issues -- they’re like MS Word, but they are not Word, and they may insert non-standard code that doesn’t play well on mobile. Oy vey!
What an organization wants may not be the same as what it needs.
This is the nirvana of online content -- that each visitor to a website gets exactly the right information served to them. But it’s extremely slippery -- can an organization truly know what that right information is? The visitor himself/herself may not know! Is it based on previous behavior? What other visitors have done? Automated predictions from the software? And is the data stored in all the organization’s systems truly interconnected to work in synch like that?
Organizations have not reached that nirvana yet, despite CMS vendors promising that they can deliver it.
CMSs operate within a larger technology and business ecosystem, so they can’t be the heroes if they act alone.
Buy for Reality, Not Potential
CMS feature sets are about potential, but content management is about reality. CMS vendors, as well as those who buy the systems for enterprise companies, have still not grasped that content management is not the same as a content management system.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a three part series examining the infatuation with technology as a panacea for all ills. Part two looks at the shiny object syndrome and part three looks at the software purchases turned science experiment.
Title image by Aumsama (Shutterstock)