The Content Building Blocks of Web Content Management

CMS Building BlocksPlanning a content management driven website requires a rigorous look at the underlying content. Proper planning in the early phases of the project can ensure a content architecture that is flexible and scales with your website. This can also significantly reduce the complexity of the implementation by identifying the common elements that can be reused.

Let’s look at some of the essential content building blocks.

  • Web Pages: While we’ve certainly moved to dynamic content delivery, most sites still require a traditional site map with individual pages defined.  This is where most CMS content planning starts (and sometimes ends). It’s a critical part of planning, but just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Templates & Layouts: Each page needs a defined template and layout. It’s important to standardize the templates and layouts and map them back to individual page types.  This makes the deployment easier, provides consistency in the user experience and allows for a more scalable architecture. There will always be those one-off pages that need custom designs, but they should be just that – one offs.
  • Content Objects: The most critical part of the content planning is modeling your content into what we call content objects. A content object is best defined as a piece of content that has a set structure. Common objects include news releases or events. Defining the attributes and meta data of these objects will increase reuse and provide more flexibility in how they are delivered.
  • Unstructured Content: Content that can’t be organized into objects fall into the unstructured bucket. This is content that would typically be managed directly in a WYSIWYG editor.  There’s nothing wrong with having unstructured content, but you do lose a certain amount of flexibility in how it gets repurposed and managed.  What’s important is looking for unstructured content that should be structured. Getting it right the first time makes all the difference.
  • Widgets: There’s a lot of talk about widgets these days. For the purpose of CMS planning, we’re defining widgets as discrete pieces of functionality delivered on individual pages. Widgets typically require some custom programming. They may include a sidebar element that pulls the top three related news stories, or one that pulls a featured white paper.  A typical website has dozens of them. By defining all the widgets you can re-use them across the site and make them available to other content owners. No need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Applications: Most sites have specific needs that require custom application development or third party integration. There are in-depth functional and technical considerations involved here, but for the sake of our content architecture it’s important to identify them all and understand how they will fit into the site and CMS. In addition to custom application development, this also includes third party tools and services such as analytics, search and CRM.
  • Forms:  While every CMS handles form management differently, it’s important to define all of the form types and field attributes. Even smaller websites can have dozens of forms. Standardizing them can eliminate the sprawl and provide sanity down the road.
  • Media Assets: Media includes items such as images, videos and flash assets. These typically get managed in a central media library, but will need to be clearly defined and categorized so the content authors can find and use them.
  • Taxonomy & Meta Data: A taxonomy is a classification system that provides a standard way of organizing, defining and relating content across your site. They can range from extremely simple to very complex depending on the website and organization.  However, it’s a business-critical part of the CMS planning to get right. A good taxonomy properly integrated with the CMS can create a site that scales and provides a more relevant user experience for end users.

While there’s a lot to discuss within each of these building blocks, taking the time to understand the different types is half the battle.

Are there other building blocks that you think are critical for CMS planning? Leave a comment.

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

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2 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. Alex says:

    Even if it is not really a building block in itself, I would add "workflow" as an essential piece of a web content management system. Workflow(s) must be defined very early (at the end of the content modeling step) and workflow could reused and attached to different content objects.

    An other one, on the edge again, as more and more CMS turn into Social Network system we could also add "User Relation" as an important piece of the system also. It would describe how each user object can interact with others.

  2. Carol says:

    This might overlap with the "Taxonomy & Meta Data", but I was thinking of Content Tagging — a way to tag the content in addition the scope of a topical hierarchy. Also, I think "Syndication" (RSS) is critical to a CMS, providing the ability to share timely content in some standardized external format.

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