Confab | Jeff Cram: Learning to Love Your CMS

I have a client going through a major content management system [CMS] implementation right now, so I’m eager to hear how we can learn to love our CMS. No one loves their CMS. My comments in italics.

Jeff Cram works with ISITE Design in Portland, and they write a blog called The CMS Myth.

Shows a chart from The Real Story Group I’ve seen before, demonstrating the CMS landscape. There are a LOT of options out there.

Says the “mid-market” CMS is rising fast. Documentum, Oracle, others were built for a different era when web content was viewed as a file repository, and newer CMS are more agile and iterating faster.

Content management can enable great customer experiences. It’s the technology that can make or break your ability to deliver the right content to the right person at the right time. Therefore it is important to make sure you read reviews like this one here before choosing which CMS to use for your business.

Cram pointing out that implementing a CMS is a multi-disciplinary project, but sometimes, content strategists aren’t actually at the table. I’ve had that happen in the past, with predictable results, but in the project we’re currently working on, business goals and content strategy have been driving the CMS project from the beginning, which is magic.

CMS mythbusting

Inline text editors: Bless this man’s heart: He’s slamming the inline text editors that are so popular now. [You know, where you go to the site, and if you have the right permissions, you can click and edit the content right there on the page.] If your site is more complex than a plain old blog, you can’t use the edit-on-the-fly, front-end tools. When you have complex business rules, you need a robust CMS. Major CMS are now selling based on front-end editing, but it’s just not that valuable.

Challenge of the occasional user: Here’s another one I’m worried about with our system. The occasional user can’t remember what they’re supposed to do. Cram’s response to that is, stop letting people in your CMS. I think this is a critical point: Who gets how much control and power in the software? Will your software let you set up a workflow to handle requests, but not allow actual access to occasional users?

The workflow myth: Everyone wants to create really complex workflows, and then they don’t work….they are too complex, or people don’t use them properly, and they create bottlenecks. So, so true.

Taxonomy: Content needs structure. Someone needs to define the structure, and that’s probably not the engineer setting up the CMS. [There should have been more laughter there, but maybe this is a pain point? Maybe no one is dealing with this? This is a BIG part of what we do every day at Creekmore.]

Content modeling: This is not really a myth, but a useful point. If you build your architecture properly, you can model content based on the choices people make. If someone chooses “prospective students” on the front page of your higher ed site, you can create a more targeted experience when they click on other pages. It’s difficult to pull off, but some complex systems today make this possible.

Moving beyond wireframes: Wireframes get used a lot to build CMS, but they don’t fully represent the content strategy. The challenge is to fully represent the content needs, the taxonomy, the business rules — the whole content strategy — when you’re setting up your CMS.

Day two problem: People don’t staff for CMS maintenance. You’ll have new initiatives, change your focus….plan to re-engineer as you go and staff/budget accordingly.

Managing Your Content Management System

Alex Will and Henry Erskine Crum of Spoonfed Media. They run a web/mobile guide to live events in London.

This is a total geek-out topic. They’re going to discuss when and how to build your own content management system. As they and all of us will know, understanding content management systems with a high level of proficiency and confidence is a big part of mastering all of the digital content you have at your disposal. They publish 30,000 event listings a month and generate revenue from ads, sponsorships, and ticket sales. But a small team to manage all of that.

Will: Content exists in a lot of different forms and places. But today we’re talking about websites that have editorial content, not just user-generated content or aggregation.

W: You have to understand your production process before you can build your CMS. How do you collect data or create articles? How do you make the process of assigning tasks as efficiently as possible? How do you use the CMS to create task lists for each person? As a business owner, are you producing content as efficiently as possible? Do you need a review process? What about when you publish? Do you need SEO or to link in with social media sites?

W: UGC works incredibly well when you’re writing around venues — sites like Yelp. The problem with an event is that if you take the time to review it, then it’s gone [after the event is over]. So we needed an editorial voice.

EC: Why they chose to build a custom CMS:

Factors that didn’t matter:

  • Amount of data
  • Size of website
  • Complexity of idea

What did make them need custom CMS:

  • Data aggregation from multiple sources
  • Workflow management between editors
  • Reducing research time per event
  • Search engine optimization
  • Lead generation and contact management needs

A challenge they encountered: How to scrub the data you’re aggregating to eliminate duplicates and tasks.

Workflow management. How do you divide tasks, segment them, and prioritize them? What automated steps can you include? How do you reduce or eliminate time humans have to spend doing rote tasks?

W: Huge part of this is reducing research time. What they did: Give editors tools like Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter, Google News inside the CMS. Spent a lot of time thinking about each step in the process and figuring out how to automate/improve/gain efficiency.

W: Added tool to aid editors in doing keyword research and suggest inlinking within the site.

EC: The Open Table model — allows company to generate leads and information about restaurants and patrons so they can use info to sell restaurants on providing reservations on their own websites through Open Table. Spoonfed leverages the event and venue knowledge they are collating to develop lead generation in a similar way. They create leads from data and use Highrise CRM to manage it.

Can also automatically alert members when they create content they may be interested in.

Future development planned: More work on prioritization of editors’ queues based on searches and other trend data.

Also more analytics work, reviewing what worked and determining how to leverage it in the CMS.

W: You have to continue to iterate your backend just like you do on the front of your website.

I found this to be a great panel. There was some negative chatter on the backchannel, but that seems mostly to have been from people who wanted to here a Drupal/Wordpress/enterprise product smackdown.