I have been thinking recently about how difficult it is to sell the concept of site architecture before design. Most clients are more interested in the design aspects of the Web project. While I try to focus the discussion on Web strategy, site architecture, and web publishing tools, they inevitably want to see what their sites will look like. While I do not blame them for wanting to look good on the Web, I still believe strongly that a simply yet effective and usable Web site is what works. But, I’m in business to please clients. So, I have started to change my approach, and I show a rough design sketch early on, just so that we can re-focus the conversation on the real complicated task at hand: What’s this Web site going to do for my client and their visitors.
The most important step in developing or enhancing a Web site is to have a brainstorming session between key stakeholders and Web developers. Too often I see that people jump right into discussions on how to organize the content they have and what the site should look like. We advocate a different approach: Focus on business goals and objectives first. Next, we brainstorm scenarios: What do you expect your audience to do on your site? This serves as the foundation for a follow-up discussion on content organization.
Web sites that stay stale lose their audience. This is obvious, but needs to be repeated again and again. A Web project, whether it is for a new site or the re-vamping of an existing site requires that you build a schedule for maintaining the site content. If you site is small (less then a few dozen pages), the best way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with the list of pages, what content needs to be changed, when is the next change and, most importantly, who should make the change. If you don’t attach someone’s name for every piece of content, it’ll never happen. Larger sites require more complex content management. The subject of another blog entry.
Let me start by saying that I’m not trying to get credit for adding a new acronym to our vocabulary, but I think WPM is important enough to at least address it in this space. WPM is a new(er) way of looking at managing your Web site. There’s a lot of emphasis on Web Content Management (WCM), but Web managers need to look further at the big picture and acknowledge the relationship that exists between managing content, satisfying your user needs (or tasks) and the obvious (but sad reality) need to satisfy whoever signs your check at the end of the day (be it your boss or client). Over the next few weeks, I’ll explain the importance of WPM and why I believe you should all consider your Web sites as true business projects.
You’ve heard of Web Content Management, which has to do with tools and processes to manage the creation, approval and publishing of Web content, now Id like to introduce a new term for an old problem: Editorial Content Management. This has to do with managing the quality of the Web content as it goes through its life cycle. Once content is published, its often left to its own demise. I’m arguing that Web managers need to create processes to ensure that editors and writers are focusing their time on managing the content life cycle very efficiently. WCM tools have some features that provide some editorial management capabilities, but there are few of them.
I had an interesting discussion with some colleagues about the way Web Content Management (WCM) vendors present their product; especially, the value of their product. Basically, having evaluated and implemented a WCM at my last employer, I can safely say that we have very much gained in efficiency. However, it’s also the case that we have had major challenges because of the WCM: Demands on our team for new site development as well as constant requests for assistance from the 40 or so content editors started to put a strain on the team. This is the issue: WCMs will increase site publishing efficiency by decentralizing the effort, but now, there are added pressure on Web teams for training, hand-holding, and content approval, not to mention assistance in putting content that may not exactly fit the templates and layouts. All in a day’s work.