Are you a CMS Developer? You are also a Content Strategist.

Seth Giammanco By SethG,
Principal, Technology


This article is for anyone involved in creating content managed, CMS driven websites. That said, it is addressed uniquely to CMS developers, the individuals whom setup the content types, channels, fields, and content management workflow.

Do you build websites on a CMS? Are you setting up the the fields, channels, sections, and globals that will hold the content of the website? Are you setting up what the publishing form in the CMS might look like? Are you a content strategist?

No? Are you sure?

If you are doing any of the above tasks you are an important part of the content strategy of the website. You are creating the content experience. You are, what I like to refer to and often describe myself as, a technical content strategist.

Think of it this way. A website is often a vehicle to deliver content. The content, by way of content strategy, is designed to inspire an outcome. The technical architecture and implementation by which the content will be stored, managed and served plays a notable role in the achievement of the desired outcome. It's a key part of a content strategy.

A well modeled CMS is empowering. Publishers can find it intuitive, reassuring and dare I say supportive. A CMS even with the best of intentions can also be a barrier to strategic outcome achievement.

So let me ask the question to you, the CMS developer, again. Are you a content strategist?

Making a Supportive and Empowering Content Management System

Though some CMS platforms make it easier than others, there are so many things that can be done to make a great CMS solution with just about any modern platform.

Eileen Webb shares some great suggestions for delivering a supportive CMS in an article published on A List Apart entitled Training the CMS. It's required reading on the subject. She details how naming fields, using help/instruction text, and structuring content can all have a notable impact on the content management experience and how it can align to supporting the execution of content strategy.

Eileen also keys in on something I believe and practice strongly which is engaging not only the core team that is designing and building a website but also those whom will be creating content to build a smart content model.

When Working With a Team

You, as the developer of the CMS, rarely work alone. You likely work with a web designer, project manager and other stakeholders. As such, direction as to how the CMS is configured can come from any number of sources and can follow many different workflows.

You might be handed a Content Model planning document to follow or maybe a wireframe or PSD file that organizes content in a particular way on the front end you have to power.

The question that will impact your role, your effectiveness is whether or not you were involved in content planning as these other documents were being created. If not, then your ability to employ your CMS savvy to produce a great, easy to use and supportive solution will be notably limited.

The Danger of A CMS Developer Not Being A Part of Technical Content Strategy

The worst case scenario is when folks whom don't know the CMS technology and how it can model content are in charge of technical content strategy. Likely in those scenarios, they don't even have a clue what I mean by technical content strategy. Wireframes are made, designs are crafted with consideration for copy, marketing, and visitor outcomes but without any knowledge of how their decisions will translate into day to day CMS usage.

In these situations, many of the decisions you as the CMS developer would make have been made for you and as such you're cast into the challenging position of making it all work well and on budget no matter how difficult.

Some example challenges may include:

  • Every page on the site having different layouts and content elements
  • Relationships between pages, and pages, and subpages
  • Content types that have different types and amount of content displayed uniquely 20 different ways (I exaggerate) across 20 different pages (I exaggerate?)

Often, I find, situations such as those above lead to solutions that get laden with third-party add-ons and modules. They are "cheap" or "free" to address all the nuances of the content model and/or functionality compared to creating custom solutions.

 

Add-ons and modules are wonderful; however, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility and every add-on used increases the tech debt of the site and can lead it to becoming a Frankenstein's monster quite easily.

The Benefit of Engaging a CMS Developer In Site Content Planning


The following are some key moments in a project with questions that might be explored when a technical mind whom knows the CMS is involved. It is my hope that this list is evidence enough for how your CMS technical mind can have notable impact on the success of a web development project.

Content Outline

  • What types of content will the site power?
  • How are they related to each other?
  • Will each type of content need it's own channel/section, or can some content be categorized using tags/categories?
  • Audience/Outcomes Planning - A document and/or process to define key audiences and what the specific desired outcomes for each are.
  • How will we technically define success of various desired actions and outcomes?
  • How many different opportunities to achieve these actions/outcomes might we expect?

Content Immersion (Reviewing samples of site content)

  • What are the similarities and differences between content samples?
  • What ways could the CMS deliver the content?
  • What ways could the CMS evolve the content creation process to improve publisher capabilities/experience?

Wireframe/Prototype

At this point, the new website begins to take life. Many of the same questions from reviewing content before may be asked again to explore how content is revised?

  • What are the similarities and differences between content samples?
  • How can navigation be managed in the CMS?
  • How can we organize the content in the CMS so it makes sense to publishers?
  • How can we guide publishers to use the appropriate channels/sections for their content?
  • What are the global content elements vs. the channel/section ones?
  • Are there opportunities to leverage Add-ons to allow for ease of content entry or deliver content more effectively?
  • What ways could the CMS evolve the content creation process to improve publisher capabilities/experience?
  • What are the challenges/risks in what is shared that may lead to a less than ideal CMS solution? What are some possible corrections/pivots that can be done to address?

Visual Design Concepts

Similarly to the previous step, many previously asked questions make sense to revisit here.

  • Are there areas where the design treatment is notably failing the content model? What are some methods of working with the design team to address this?
  • What is our plan for responsive/retina image hanging workflow?
  • What is our plan for handling main & sub-navigation elements in a mobile environment vs. a desktop?
  • What are the unique content treatments for offering increased or decreased content based on device?

We Want Our Websites to be Impactful Right?

You, the CMS Developer, are critical to the success of every CMS driven website project. The outcomes defined by a content strategy are in your hands to help make happen.

Always remember that a great, flexible and easy to use CMS platform is only one person away from being transformed into a completely unusable and frustrating or empowering and strategic content management system.