If a realtor told you to buy a new house every three to five years, you'd tell them to jump in a lake, no?

Then why do we accept this same limited lifecycle for our web content management systems (web CMS)?

This is the third in a series of four articles which looks into how businesses can break the three to five year replacement cycle. 

We've covered the often neglected needs of the author community and tips for selecting a platform. But what comes after selection can make or break a CMS's chances of survival.  

Let me put it plainly: If you plan to starve your CMS program of investment and attention after going live, you may as well start the countdown to your platform's demise on the day you launch.  

Tip #7 Budget For Ongoing Investment 

Most CMS projects start with a big bang of capital investment, when the business determines a website refresh is in order.

Then follows the slow degradation of the CMS project's effectiveness in the intervening years, as the platform fails to keep pace with the needs of the content producers, the audience and the business. Soon the business feels like a man with a stone axe in the Iron Age, when everyone else has swords. And so the cycle begins again.

Organizations need to budget for post go-live. To remain agile, organizations must continuously improve the platform, keep it up to date with the vendor's latest releases and fully utilize additional capabilities as they become available. 

Before selecting a vendor, organizations need to consider the affordability of a specific solution over time — both the cost of the skills to maintain it and the ecosystem of tools to augment the solution. 

There is no point in buying a Bentley if you can’t afford the servicing. 

And don’t think open source is always the answer — that stuff is free puppies not free beer. You still need to budget to feed the puppies. 

Your continuous, agile development should not only focus on the platform. Regularly revisit the personas, customer journey and overall user experience, as well as the content model, governance processes and the production of high quality content to address that audience.    

Invest in training to ensure that developers and content authors stay current on the platform, especially in cases with high staff churn or when a large number of occasional users or developers populate your team.  

Tip #8 Keep Your Platform Up to Date

While we covered this a bit in the previous tip, it’s worth repeating. 

Keeping the platform up to date doesn't just involve investing budget in keeping the software current, it includes having a constant tools assessment and renewal process. 

Some think of tools assessment as a binary decision about whether to replace the tool or not. Wrong. Focus on whether your implementation is optimized for the current business needs, leveraging current best practices and is up to date with the latest releases from your platform vendors (i.e., the stuff you pay support for).

Keep an eye out for any third party tools that could augment your web application, to keep it relevant as new business needs come along. 

A good relationship with your vendor and implementation partner is vital here. Don’t ignore them after go-live and only seek them out when a problem arises. Use their forums, events and subject matter experts to continue your engagement and ensure you remain current with best practices and tools. They want you to continually commit to their platform, so they provide a lot of this insight for free. 

Similarly, build relationships in the broader user community for your solution. Engage with peers in other organizations to stay up to date.  

Tip #9 Develop a Content Strategy. Then Adhere To It

Having a content strategy is actually tip zero. 

None of these nine tips, the implementation of the CMS, and all the bells and whistles are worth a damn if you don’t have a story to tell, understand who you want to tell it to and a plan for telling it. 

While I previously described content as the elixir of eternal life for digital marketing, it’s got to be the right content. 

Many corporate websites share the same problem. They get bloated over time and the web experience loses its focus as a result. Individual business units start to dictate the content being published according to their needs and the overall brand story, the consistent voice of the organization, the intended customer experience and the story get lost. 

In time, it fails to deliver what the visitor needs, search results from search engines and internal search become clotted with out of date articles and the whole tired mess contributes to the outcry for a fresh start, a new website and a new platform. 

The antidote is to develop and maintain a well governed, holistic content strategy based on customer research and data. This strategy is managed by a content board that is empowered to maintain and consistently apply governance and standards to ensure that the relevant, useful and compelling content makes the cut — and that the website and the CMS that powers it remains a lean, mean engaging machine. 

Title image "Maintenance" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Mark Fischer