The Web has quickly become the place to go to find information about a company, and smart marketers are always looking for ways to leverage it to continually disseminate information quickly and effectively.
To do this, many have come to rely on content management systems (CMSs) to make the process to update information on the fly. Content management systems enable users unfamiliar with HTML or other scripting languages to modify the content on their site and create pages and sections. Pages created by these systems typically run off of templates that help to conform content to predetermined design and layout styles.
But, before you run out and jump on the CMS bandwagon, consider the underlying need for companies to also take into consideration the process through which they modify the outward appearance of the Web site.
Making things easier does not always make the end result better. By virtue of added convenience that the CMS industry has brought, the process and procedure of refreshing one of the most powerful sales tools—the corporate Web site—has often degenerated. Manual processes have now lapsed, in many cases, with changes to the Web site now being run through one person with administrative capabilities and a CMS at their fingertips.
This article will discuss some of the common content management pitfalls that companies fall in to as well as how marketers can avoid the negative effects of sloppy content management.
The Role of Content Management Systems
CMSs have been rapidly adopted by marketing professionals hoping to reduce reliance on IT departments for quick, frequent Web site changes. Content management systems provide many immediate benefits, including the ability to…
- Delegate content management to appropriate parties
- Make changes more quickly and less expensively
- Deliver content faster to the end user
- Maintain brand and style consistency with templates
Before the age of the CMS, changes to a Web site went through a formal and often complex process. Changes would be compiled, requiring the marketing department to take a broad look at the site and think strategically.
Those changes would be aptly documented and delivered to the IT department or Webmaster. The Webmaster would provide an objective third-party view that would also serve as a review of the proposed changes.
Finally, the Webmaster would post the new information and notify the marketing department, which would in turn review the new information to make sure it was posted correctly, bringing the round of changes full circle.
With the advent of content management systems, many corporations have relaxed the rules and reduced the Web site modification processes to little more than standards set for sending one-to-one email.
These organizations neglect the processes necessary to make well-thought-out, planned changes to their sites to catch errors before they become public. As a result, many companies today are experiencing the backlash of not having proper procedures in place.
Eroding Trust and Professionalism
Because “traffic” cannot be physically seen coming to and from a Web site, it is easy for marketers, and corporations overall, to forget that more people view their site than often see a printed brochure. What these firms forget is that careful tactics are just as important, if not more so, when posting information online.
Errors such as typos may erode trust with customers and prospects who visit a Web site, as reported in a 2002 study of over 1,600 American and European Internet users conducted by Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab and sponsored by Makovsky & Company, a New York business communications firm.
The report indicated that companies that fail to check their spelling on their corporate Web sites risk damaging their online credibility just as badly as if they faced financial or legal troubles. (More information about the study can be found at www.webcredibility.org.)
Blows to Business
Besides resulting in embarrassment, typos can also translate to lost profits or angry customers if the mistake happens to be a price, resource-related information or product specifications. A few years ago, when United Air Lines posted a San Francisco-to-Paris flight for $24.98 on its Web site, the carrier was forced to honor the “budget fare” listed for several happy customers.
Dropping the Ball
When you think about it, it's only natural that what gets overlooked when proper procedures for updating content are not in place is follow-up—it simply falls by the wayside. After all, if formal procedures for posting information on the site are not set forth, then policies for dealing with information that is coming in from the site will, most likely, also not be in place. A 2003 study by The Customer Respect Group, examining the 100 largest US companies, said that 31% of those companies don't respond to online inquiries. This leads to not only lost sales but also unhappy customers who share their unhappy views with others.
Like humans and animals, Web sites can also experience “bloat.” Without frequent strategic review of the site, additional pages get created that lead to mixed messages and duplication of content. Content duplication is a sign of wasted resources, both human and technical. Duplication can make information more difficult to manage as it changes—with or without a content management system.
While there are numerous other issues that arise when implementing a CMS, it is not the technology's fault but the lack of procedures that become more apparent with the openness of the technology. Today's marketers, and corporations, need to realize that their company's image is dependent on systems being put in place through which changes can be made to the Web site.
Individuals must be tasked to continually ensure that the Web presence supports the company strategy. Positions such as “Director of Internet Strategy” and “VP of e-Commerce” are emerging to assume that role. Technologists, writers, marketers, salespeople and designers are included in the support staff for these new positions. Additionally, many services can be outsourced.
Increasingly, corporations need to realize that numerous departments have their hands in the Web site and that it is not only marketing's domain. Departments such as human resources, customer service, operations, sales, etc. deliver their expectations to the Web team, and those expectations must be prioritized and effectively communicated. Ultimately, information provided by each must represent a cohesive part of the company whole, which marketing should help to frame.
Today, marketers and others, temporarily or permanently tasked with managing the Web site, should ensure that periodic strategy sessions are held regularly to assess and plan for the Web presence. Corporations need to develop procedures and delegate responsibility to employees to ensure that there is someone to initiate the changes, someone to proofread them and someone who thinks strategically about the end goal of the Web site on an ongoing basis.
While investing in a CMS is a step in the right direction, organizations must understand the tool's limitations—that CMS will not do it all for you. Content management systems are no replacement for procedures. Companies need to employ sound management procedures, an outlined strategy and careful implementation to ensure that the Web site best represents the company.
10 Steps to Update Web Site Content
- Identify content to be modified.
- Appoint someone with related knowledge to modify that content.
- Deliver that content to the site administrator for that section of the Web site.
- The site administrator should approve content in context with the section and post the content to a staging environment for approval.
- A proofreader should check the page (including links) and grant approval.
- The Web strategist and relevant parties should approve the content.
- Legal should grant approval.
- Post content to live site.
- Ensure links and content made a sufficient transition.
- Periodically review the site as a whole for improvement and optimization.