So you say you want a content management system…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of roles on a successful web content team again lately. However, unlike last year when I wrote this article about the various roles on the agency/integrator side…This time around I’m thinking more about long term content management roles on the client side. Specifically, how the lack of experience around working with content management systems will affect long term organizational ability to effectively communicate online. Here’s a story that’s as old as the web, but keeps on repeating…

My team and I recently deployed a website for a truly beneficial and valued local non-profit organization. When we deployed the site and turned over the keys to the castle it was beautifully designed and moved the organization from a flat HTML web brochure to an impressive (by any standards) dynamic content platform with audience specific pathways, cross pollination of related content, an open source CMS, and responsive front-end experience. The organization, while incredibly adept at positively impacting the lives of those less fortunate in our community, couldn’t manage a web content management system if…Well, if their donations depended upon it. And as you can imagine…To some extent they do!

There’s nothing like the first time you go to check on the picture perfect design your team worked on for hundreds of hours and then deployed…Only to see what your client has wrought with improperly sized images, absurd combinations of font colors and sizes, and unnecessarily long navigation labels. It’s easy to be sensitive to this problem with an organization whose mission is to change the lives of the needy. Even though it would be a trivial task to demonstrate the return on investment in marketing resources, anyone can understand why non-profits are reticent to divert funds from their core activities.

Investing for the Long-Term

However, to all those regular, for-profit businesses out there who own a CMS or are thinking about owning a CMS, but don’t have the proper resources to manage it…Prepare for failure. And don’t expect your integration partner to be sympathetic. We say this a lot at the CMS Myth, but it’s another point well worth repeating: Modern, content managed websites are PROGRAMS not PROJECTS.

If you have invested in a content management system but don’t plan to update your content, you’ve overspent on technology. If you plan on updating your website regularly but don’t have the personnel to fulfill your goals, you’ve under invested on personnel. People are part of a content management system and some would say they are the most important part.

Image of Leatherface

I’m here for your widows and orphans.

It’s critically important to understand that a web content management system will not manage content on its own and it is dangerous in the hands of people who don’t know how to operate it. It’s a tool — much like a chain-saw in the wrong hands, it can truly turn a gorgeous website into a massacre.

So what’s a forward looking, thoughtful organization to do if you have nobody capable of working with a CMS? I wish this were easier to answer, but it depends on a lot of factors which must be considered. Issues such as, how often will the site be updated? Does your organization value continuous improvement based on measurement and analytics? Are you trying to serve multiple audiences? How big is your organization? How much content is there to be managed? Will this team also manage the content distributed via other channels such as the social web?

The Right CV for WCM

At the very least, a strong web content manager would be made up of a person (or combination of people for larger orgs) with the following skills (in no particular order):

  • Copywriting for the web (understands the impact of content on search results, content geography, taxonomy)
  • Photoshop (or competence with some other image editing software)
  • Basic design skills
  • The ability to communicate effectively with designers
  • The ability to communicate effectively with developers
  • A basic understanding of the use and importance of tracking and analytics
  • A genuine desire to work with technology solutions (not the technophobic luddite who volunteered for the web job because they thought it equaled job security)

Ideally these more advanced skills may also be beneficially handled in-house:

  • Basic HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • Content strategy
  • Expert ability with measurement and analytics
  • Expert ability with search optimization
  • Deep knowledge of the various social web ecosystems where your organization is represented (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Etc.)

The good news is many organizations are beginning to understand managing web content is a necessary consideration, and not a job for the person who usually lays out the print brochure. The other good news is as the millennial generation enters the workforce there will be plenty of digital natives who both intrinsically understand and appreciate the power of dynamic, on-demand publishing. That being said, there are still plenty of orgs who don’t get it yet…And so I’d genuinely like to know: What are your experiences dealing with understaffed web teams?

About the Author
Jake DiMare

Jake has spent the last 15 years helping organizations plan, design, develop, and implement effective online experiences with a strong focus on large scale web content management systems and integrated online marketing suites. Jake wrote for the CMS Myth during his time working at Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design). Google Plus Profile

More articles from Jake DiMare


4 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. Great observations about having a strong web content manager. I’ve found that the remaining “web team” and the company commitment all play a huge role in success as well. If the company isn’t committed, then the site (and CMS) won’t perform well either. Hopefully, the WCM can get more people to support business efforts online and garner the full support a site needs.

  2. So true, so true, so true Jake!

    Even with the most flexible CMS platform, which seemingly allows to “dig arbitrary trenches” in order to lock the content contributors into the corporate design rules, there shall always remain “wormholes” to escape. We believe to have built such a platform, but still we observe exactly what you are describing, at least sometimes. One of the reasons: finding the perfect balance between freedom (for the content managers) and restriction (to the corporate design) seems to be virtually impossible. Content managers who understand the impact of what they are doinmg are so important.

    I like your chainsaw analogy. The tool is very easy to use, but you may still smash your car by the falling tree…

    The importance of the role of the content managers cannot be over emphasized. But there is often a lack of awareness, that the biggest chunk in the TCO equation is neither the technology, nor their implementation, but simply the contents.


    Full disclosure: I’m product manager of, a modern CMS platform from Germany.

  3. Baldwin says:

    This is an amazing post. I love how you go in depth explaining a CMS like you did. It will help me communicate to my clients the importance of a CMS, and whether he/she would need one or not. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for sharing this insightful piece. I think perfection in content is a myth and if you are obsessed with this idea, then the management is likely to get suffered. Content management is a never ending learning process where everyday you learn something new.. less familiar and appreciated. As far as websites are concerned, I don’t belief in overnight success. So let’s don’t have any unrealistic expectations :)

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