What Content Management Won’t Do

By Deane Barker on October 15, 2006

Here are a few accumulated thoughts that need to be said to companies that think content management is the solution to all their Web site woes. The fact is that content management just manages content from a technical perspective, not from an editorial perspective. The editorial part of content management is all up to you.

  • Content management will not write your copy for you. If you had nothing to say before, you’ll still have nothing to say, you’ll just have an organized and structured method of not saying it. Copy writing and editing is a learned skill, and a content management system does not suddenly give you that skill
  • Content management will not format your copy for you.Content management developers can do a lot in terms of structuring content and providing an interface so it’s easy to get something that looks good on the page, but there’s still a really good chance that you’re going to run into a WYSIWYG editor somewhere.If you don’t know a bulleted list from a numbered list or you have an irrational proliclivity for underlining everything, you’re likely still going to have this problem unless your developer neuters your interface like crazy…and then you’ll still find a way around that, won’t you?

    We’ve talked about content formatting at length before. The fact is, the best content management system in the world is no substitute for good taste.

  • Content management will not necessaily prevent you from looking bad. Sure, content management has workflows and approvals and such, but making sure only good stuff gets through the system is dependent on the skill of the approver. If the approver can’t write or format text either, you will still have a problem.
  • Content management will not set your editorial policies for you. Unless you’re in the mood for perennial arguments about what is “site worthy” content, you need to make sure these policies are set up-front and agreed on.
  • Content management will not force you to write and update your content.One of the best things I’ve heard said about personal productivity is, “The best system in the world still won’t save you from your own crap behavior.”And it’s true for content management too — you can make contributing to your corporate blog as simple as possible, but someone still has to take the initiative to do it. Content management can make this easier, but it will won’t save you from your own crap behavior.
  • Content management will not automatically organize your content. It will make your content easier to organize, but you still have to come up with the plan for organizing it. There’s an entire science called “Information Architecture” devoted to this.Remember: no content management system in the world actually knows what you’re talking about, or knows how your audience expects to interact with it all.

The bottom line is that when you implement a content management system, it’s really only as strong as the underlying content. If you have no underlying content, or are incapable of generating and maintaining it from a editorial or grammatical perspective, then content management is in service of…not much.

The best experience I ever had implementing content management was for a client up in Toronto just recently. Before I even started building the site out, they delivered all the content in dozens of Microsoft Word documents — one per page. Every page was there and had been obviously drafted by a copywriter and labored over by a search engine specialist. It was stone-cold perfect copy.

I had a great amount of peace in this situation because I know that content exists in two dimensions: the editorial and the technical. Since I had the technical side covered, it was nice to know that someone else had put a lot of thought into the other side of the coin. The resulting site exceeded everyone’s expectations.

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