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More on CMS

November 13, 2002

I began this as a comment to my last update, but it hits on too many important points to be buried “below the fold”. The content management fest continues.

The Trouble is…

What inherently bothers me about Content Management in general is that the content owner (the client) has full control.

This rarely becomes a problem in companies with on–staff copywriters and designers, but coming from a web firm with a much smaller client base (in size as well as scope), I only infrequently get to work with this type of client. Instead, I deal mainly with <50 employee companies.

These are the sort of clients who will litter newsletters with clip art. These are the guys that are notorious for sending out e–mail laced with “wht do u think ?” These are the clients that pass along a 100x80 pixel GIF from a random site on the web and ask you to blow it up to 6 inches for their annual report.

I am ecstatic when I receive well thought–out copy and professional studio photos, but in reality I must get a hundred “welcome to our web site, tell us what you think of it!” for each of those, and a hundred more poorly lit, highly JPG’ed digital photos. Or magazine scans. Or images stolen from other people’s web sites. You get the idea.

A Helping Hand

Being at least well–read, if not well–writ, I don’t mind fixing copy. But if I am to do that, I would also like the ability to obsess about the typographical considerations, and make sure the page meshes as a coherent whole.

…which pretty much obliterates the need for a CMS in the first place. Back to square one.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know my clients’ industries. I don’t know how to build a snowboard, and I’ve never manufactured chocolate by hand. I haven’t a clue what legal considerations a lawyer needs to make when providing free information to the general public.

What I do know is what a user expects out of a web site.

I know how to increase the number of unique visitors a site gets in a month. I know what can be safely used on a site, and what violates copyright laws. I’ve helped triple sales on more than one site, I know why users drop shopping carts, and I know how to increase exposure of selected pages. This is what a client pays me for, because she can’t do it herself.

But these techniques are only as good as the minds behind them. When I relinquish control, and begin trusting the client to handle the promotion and development themself, I walk a dangerous line between making myself redundant and allowing my client to fail.

Some Suggestions

What I support is a middle ground. There is a way to allow the client control over the regular, minor changes, while keeping him safe from himself.

Content creation needs to be a collaborative process. The web developer should be willing to work with the client to iron out the raw ideas generated as the result of meetings, e–mails, and brainstorm sessions. And it should be well–understood that this is an on–going process. It doesn’t end when a site goes live.

Feature creep, or the addition of “one more thing” that the client thought of while in the bath last night is the bane of the web developer. Many ways of combatting this have been developed, but the fundamental problem is that web development has been shoehorned into an allegorical publishing process, which isn’t true to the format. It should be recognized that a site is a living, breathing entity, and if not continuously updated to give the user a reason to come back, it will wither and die.

Updates made solely by the client should be limited to changing factual information. These are time–consumers that the developer needn’t trouble herself with. The client can and should have the ability to modify information that has no consequence to site marketing and flow.

Things are Rarely Perfect

This is not a one–size–fits–all solution, naturally. One constant in web development is that every client needs a unique approach. Some clients will involve their own talent in the process, leaving you much less to accomplish. These are the type that a CMS will benefit the most.

But most others are approaching the developer for direction of their online strategy. Their budgets may be small, their focus narrow, but they are looking to us to lead the way. We can choose to follow their directions to the letter, but our work can only be at its most effective when the client and the web developer work together.

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