Web governance?

Has anyone thought seriously about Web governance? Really, this is not something at the top of a Webmaster’s mind. Content freshness, new content, dead links, new design, etc. That’s what we worry about on a daily basis. However, a successful site is one that is planned and resourced like any other IT or communication project.

Many seem to forget that when they create a site. Information architecture, standard look and feel, access rights, workflow, content reviews, and other WCM issues is what they focus on. I used to think the same way… However, a good governance will ensure that the right people make the right decision about the WCM system. Business objectives need to drive the Web site. And business objectives come from all parts of a company, not just sales and marketing. That’s why setting up a governing body is critical to the success of a site. The Web team and content providers do their work, but the strategy of the site is developed by the governing body.

On Information architecture, aka site map

As much as people generally agree that content is king, few realize that the way this content is organized makes or breaks a site. Fresh and relevant content, free of errors cannot be viewed unless it is easily found. Although many site visitors depend on search to get to where they want to, a good site navigation will guide your visitors and help make their visit fruitful. The process one needs to go through to obtain the optimum content structure is too long to explain for this blog. Suffice it to say that it is worth spending some time analyzing what your users needs. Combine that with what you’d like to showcase, and your site information architecture will emerge.

A hosted WCM?

ASPs died prematurely following the dot com bust of 2000. The idea of getting your application hosted by a professional hosting company was ahead of its time. However, it’s back, and with a vengeance. There is a resurgence of web hosted services, and I believe that WCM is not going to be left aside this time. The best WCMs are already Web-based, and so, it’s not a difficult to see that getting your WCM as a hosted service is a good idea. Now, it’s not for everyone, but if you have a manageable site (a few thousand pages), a few content providers (a dozen or so), and most importantly you do not want to be bothered with having your own Web servers, you are a candidate for a hosted service. In the next few days, I’ll elaborate on this re-emerging topic. Watch this space.

Why controlling organic sites?

In my early years as a Web manager I was getting a lot of resistence when I proposed we adopt standard look and feel. It seemed logical to me to spend our precious few resources on improving our Web content, not hiring Web designers every time a department wanted to have a Web site. Obviously, people that had aspirations as Web designers where the most vocal and would argue to their department heads that they needed to have the freedom to come up with a design the fits the department’s image. The problem with that argument is that it doesn;t take into consideration the corporate culture. In any case, I decided that I would let things grow a little bit organically at first. When we reached critical mass and the attention of senior managment, I went ahead and wrote the first paper arguing for a consistent Web look and feel and proposed that we adopt a Web Content Management System. Conclusion: Let things grow for a while to get the interest up, after a while you come up with standards to maintainthe site’s integrity. If done well, you should encounter few challengers to your arguments to improve Web team productivity as well as reducing Web production costs. You now have the attention of senior managers!

The value proposition of a Web Content Management system

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.

More on look and feel

It is fairly obvious to whomever I talk to that corporation Web sites should have consistent look and feel, but the problem is the definition of what “consistent” means. For some, it is a fixed C-clamp (top banner, left-hand navigation bar, footer) throughout the site. For others, it is a constant brand within each part of the site, giving the site as a whole a series of different looks. For example, the Products area could have a different look then the Investor area, or the Recruitment area. The theory is that people visit only the part that is relevant to them. The problem is that this argument fails to take into consideration search, among other factors. When a user searches the site (and that’s a large amount of people), they will inevitably land in areas that weren’t designed for them, and if the look and feel is different, they will get confused. Bottom line, the safest way to ensure that your site is as usable as possible is to have a truly consistent interface and navigation on all your pages. There are many ways to have specific identities associated with different areas.