These days there seems to be as many Web Content Management (WCM) systems as there are programming languages. From Open Source systems to blogging platforms to wiki systems to big vendor Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and portal systems, we are swimming in WCM options. But whatever system you are using or considering there are some key strategies for optimizing your site and content that can spell the difference between a site that successfully drives desired behavior and one that simply exists on the web. 

(Note: This article was written with contribution from Fishbowl Solutions WCM experts Mariah Bailey and Steve Fahey.)

Each WCM platform will have its own idiosyncrasies and optimization tricks. But with some careful consideration of the basics, an intentional uptake of technologies that help and regular maintenance, your WCM site will sing. Here are 4 pillars for successful WCM site and content optimization that cross technological and vendor boundaries.

Pillar 1

Don’t wait until your site performance stinks to implement optimization techniques

Unfortunately many organizations find themselves in this position. A site or sites have been around for a while and suddenly the site tanks, users get frustrated, employees grumble and IT scrambles to fix big hairy problem with more executive level attention than is probably warranted.

There are any number of reasons the site tanks. A market shift puts attention on an offering described by the site and traffic spikes against a sub-optimized site. Stale information left on a site is used in a way never intended and opens up a liability for the organization. The reasons are many but the negative results are the same.

A few hours of up front planning and execution can make all the difference. None of the items in this list are new or revolutionary. However, consistent and disciplined practice are vital to ensure you are not caught unawares.

  1. Caching. Do it. Many WCM systems have built in caching mechanisms. The best systems have the ability to cache whole pages or specific portions of the page. If a page has a high traffic rate, an unanticipated spike or is consumed by other SOA services in the organization, implementing caching for even one minute can make a huge difference to site performance and user satisfaction.
  2. Content Delivery Network (CDN) loading for common files: Offload commonly used libraries, such as JQuery, to a CDN. When a user views the website, the libraries will be loaded from the geographically closest data center. It should be noted though, that this should be used primarily in an externally facing or public web scenario. For intranets and domain-contained content delivery CDNs can have a net negative performance impact.

Remember that sites often evolve over time to add in new and ever-richer content. As these incremental changes stack up substantial performance impacts can be realized, often only after a critical tipping point. Therefore, having a disciplined approach to performance and infrastructure and conforming incremental changes and additions to this approach can save headaches in the future.

Pillar 2

Re-use rather than re-store or re-create

The primary advantage that organizations gain through incorporating WCM in their enterprise information management (EIM) strategy is the ability to repurpose existing information. Research has consistently demonstrated a material cost incurred when employees search for information and spend time re-creating information that already exists.

When WCM is included in a larger EIM strategy, content owners are able to leverage the web distribution channel without having to re-create content. This has the follow-on effect of minimizing or even eliminating synchronization efforts to keep multiple copies of the same item up to date. It also means that when a change to the content is affected, it ramifies throughout all the distribution channels including WCM channels without additional work.

Think about your corporate web site and the mobile version of your web site. Most of the content is probably the same with the mobile site maybe containing a subset of the main site content. If you are copying and pasting content or even “automatically publishing” a copy of main site content to a mobile website directory or server, you are forced to update the same information twice: Once for the main site and again for the mobile site.

Even when replication is automated, if problems occur synchronization and tracing efforts are required. A better solution is to leverage WCM systems that draw content from the same logical (even if physically distributed) repository and render it for the appropriate delivery channel. Which brings us to…

Pillar 3

Convert and render content on the fly

Many WCM systems have the ability to render content on the fly. They call this different names: templating, dynamic conversion, etc. WCM systems such as Oracle WCM (part of Oracle Universal Content Management) have rules based dynamic conversion for a multitude of source files. Web channel appropriate templates and conversion rules get applied to content items whether MS Office documents, XML files, images or text files to create a web ready output that conforms with the look and feel of the web site as well as the site structure.

Continuing on with the previous example, this means that the same MS Word document can be converted to HTML or XML (for example) for a main site and converted to an HTML snippet with a slim template for a mobile site. Same item. Dynamic conversion.

Some systems that allow dynamic templating or conversion incur a conversion hit when the first person requests the item. This can be avoided by pre-converting documents either on a scheduled basis or at contribution time. This allows the HTML, XML or web-viewable format to be ready for delivery when a user hits the website.

Pillar 4

Optimize your searching in-site searches by setting database and zone indexes

When dealing with WCM there are two ways to find content in a site. Users can navigate to items that meet their interest or they can search. As mentioned before, inefficient search leads to a measurable, material drag on knowledge worker performance in the work place. When dealing with search scoped to a WCM site, it is important to optimize inter-site searching. Creating indexes on fields and terms that are queried often (e.g. multiple times per page) should always be performed and then regularly maintained. 

Remember that direct database search queries can tend towards performance hogs. Most WCM systems have built in optimization for pre-defined searches. Maximizing incorporation of these services to execute searches that you perform and cache ahead of time then filter at request time can go a long way toward improving your audience’s web site experience.

While it amounts to a logging activity to identify and index zones and terms that are queried by services and page build mechanisms, it is also important to track and log user based search activity. Identifying, testing, logging and measuring different site configurations that drive desired audience behavior is important. Incorporating predictive search capabilities, recommendation engines and persuasive content delivery not only optimizes WCM site performance but also drives content uptake and usage.

You Know Them, Now Follow Them

None of these four pillars for WCM site and content optimization should be surprising to anyone. What is surprising is that, for all the intellectual acknowledgement of the principles outlined here, there is little real-world discipline in consistently implementing them.

The web and WCM systems have evolved to a substantial level of maturity. The level of sophistication incorporated in these technologies is substantial. While they do not require a rocket scientist to implement or administer, they do require a disciplined and consistent approach to management. But rest assured, if you take the time to develop and execute these optimization plans, your website will certainly pay off in the long run.

In sum, when it comes to WCM site and content optimization, be proactive instead of reactive!

Editor's Note: additional reading on web optimization: