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In CMS Fundamentals, James Williamson defines content management systems (CMSs) and explains their role in web site development. The course demonstrates the different CMS solutions available today, including WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla; reviews CMS terminology and best practices; and shows how to develop a content management strategy. Guidelines are also included for evaluating a potential CMS, whether hosted or self-hosted, open source or proprietary, and choosing a CMS based on a specific need or focus.
Most of the time when you research content management systems you'll hear a tremendous amount about the management side of things and almost nothing about the content itself. Now unfortunately, this is a result of CMSs being designed to view content as a simple commodity, just another asset to be ingested and moved along a predefined path. I mean with some CMSs you could be managing cupcakes, or paperclips, or red staplers. At any rate, for your CMS implementation to be successful, you need to go beyond just planning on how content should be managed to having a strategy for your content itself.
This growing field is known, for obvious reasons, as content strategy. And if you're going to commit to the effort of assessing your content workflows and processes, you should also take the time to review how your organization creates the actual content itself. Taking time to define a content strategy means that you're going to put plans in place to not only govern the creation, usage, and publishing of content, but to determine what type of content you'll create and what makes that content useful to your organization.
Every individual, organizational, or corporate web site has a goal. This might be to inform, educate, sell a product, or generate interest in a cause. In some cases there will be multiple goals, related or not, that help to form the site's focus. In order to properly plan content, you should clearly list these goals and then prioritize them. Once this is complete, it's a lot easier to review your content by asking how well the content matches or serves these goals. From there, you can concentrate on refining your focus by defining your content's key message, the themes you need it to convey, and then create guidelines for the purpose content should serve.
This can be used to create what's called a content strategy framework. Authors and content creators can use this framework to help them create meaningful content that serves the goals of your site and stays on message. This framework can include style guides, publishing policies, metadata structure, article relationships, SEO terms and policies, and even guidelines on the types of authors necessary to create the right type of content. Although we're going to talk about this in more detail later, your content strategy will be a guiding factor in your content lifecycle.
These are policies that guide how content is collected, where content fits on your web site, and how long it's going to stay there. A good content strategy will also direct what type of content needs archiving and how long it lives on the site before it's replaced or archived. Content strategy shouldn't be simply subject based either. It should also include policies on distribution channels, marketing campaigns, and when and how content should be repurposed. Now we'll talk more about that a little later on when we discuss controlling content lifecycle. Finally, your content strategy should contain rules for analyzing content to determine whether it's effective, whether it's placement on the site is optimal, and whether related content should be created to broaden its effect.
Now I know that's a lot to digest. I also realize that not every organization or site needs a content strategy quite to the level of the one I've just described. I'm also betting that more of that than a few of you said, "Yeah right, like we have time to quantify all of that." Now granted, taking a step back and reviewing and defining your content strategy takes time, but make no mistake, you already have one. Your content creators, editors, and publishers already make decisions based on the quality of the content, its relevance, and other factors.
The question you really need to ask yourself is this: is it a good one? And does it produce the kind of content that will create compelling user experiences? Or perhaps, you can think about it this way: what's the point of go into the trouble of reviewing workflows, researching content management systems, and implementing a CMS, if all you're going to put through that is useless red staplers?
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