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When Content Management Systems go bad

When Content Management Systems go bad

We have all heard the pitch “don’t spend top dollar per hour getting your web company to keep your site up to date – invest in a CMS and keep the content up to date yourself”.  It’s the ultimate win win, the web agency gets a chance to add genuine value by empowering the customer, and the customer is left in control of their own destiny.

Web agencies rarely have to sell clients any longer on the concept of the CMS (content management system) driven website.  Shorter development times, automatic validation of many functions, built in browser checking, and greater scalability ensure that all but the most rudimentary of websites benefit significantly from being founded on a commercially proven CMS.

And of course the impact of tools like Wordpress (for blogging), Constant Contact (for email marketing) and Basecamp (for project management) means that we are all comfortable with publishing content onto the web.  Web developers make expensive typists, so CMS systems appear like the ideal mechanism to communicate to the world if you get a Eureka moment at 3am.

But there is a huge assumption which underlies this utopia which needs to be reinforced for the equation to work.  It is so obvious you would think it doesn’t need repeated.

Content Management Systems are not about technology.  They are about content.

Content has value.  It has huge value.  It dictates whether or not you close the sale, get the lead or receive that phone call. It is creative, it is a combination of words, images and layout.  It must have context, inform, incite action and lead your customers effortlessly.  Implementing a CMS will not give you a brilliant website any more than a blank A4 file and a pen will give you the complete works of Shakespeare.

Over the years I have seen websites thrive and websites die, depending on how they have used their CMS.

Some time ago there was a national sporting disaster in Ireland.  One of our clients, whilst totally innocent, were inferred in the national press as contributing to the situation.  All of a sudden the nation’s eyes were on them and they had no way of pleading their case, except via their website.  In conjunction with their marketing team they updated their site to reflect the actual situation.  Within a matter of hours, the fuss was over.

They used the technology to its best potential.

Around the same time we engaged with a client who sold luxury goods.  These high end high priced goods were sold all over the world and were bought typically by those who drove Porsches, wore Rolex watches and carried Gucci bags.  There was a high desirability element to the products and photography was essential to their attraction, and so when the site was launched a huge photography budget was released to ensure its success.  All was well, until some months later a junior member of the marketing department took photos of the new range on a personal digital camera and uploaded them onto the site.  Online sales plummeted and the brand was damaged for months and years until it regained its position.

They used the technology to harm their brand.

Content Management Systems can bring your organisation tremendous value and efficiency.  But they are not a magic wand, and they will only work when you make a second investment – in a content manager.  A person in your organisation who is responsible for the words, headings, layouts, images, and calls to action on your website.  It is these, not the technology, which will drive the commercial success or otherwise of your website.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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