Up until few years ago most companies were satisfied with creating websites that were largely static. A website designer would organize largely pre-existing content into a collection of content buckets, slick graphics, and flash presentations and a website developer would bring the website into existence. New content would be added when either the old one became obsolete or new products or services were created. This model is essentially one step above the electronic brochure style websites of yesteryear, when companies essentially copied their existing paper brochures to web and called it a website.
In today’s environment of social networking, blogs, and collaboration, static content is not only passé it prevents companies from driving advantage from their internal and external user bases and communities of experts. Fresh and timely content helps drive new traffic to the website and is an effective marketing tool. Unfortunately, most companies do not realize the need for fresh and rapidly evolving content on their website and the role it can play in engaging their customers and prospects. Even companies whose products and services remain largely stable overtime need to think about their websites differently. It is not just a one way medium to push static content outwards, it is in fact one of the most cost-effective mechanisms to engage customers and prospects and turn them into a long-term asset. If you believe that the nature of your business is such that you don’t need to think about using your website to engage your customers and prospects, chances are you haven’t fully explored the possibilities. It may take some effort to figure out creative and effective mechanisms to drive advantage from your ability to create fresh and meaningful content and interactions with your customers and prospects, but the rewards are well worth it. From local doctor’s offices to insurance companies to Fortune 500 companies, all can benefit from large, loyal, and engaged communities of customers and prospects.
However, most likely your existing static content-based website can’t support the type of content and interactions needed to support what we just discussed. If your website infrastructure still relies on IT staff to update the content chances are you won’t be able to morph your website into a hub of fresh and dynamic content that attracts new and repeat visits. The business users or the content creators must be able to update the content easily and as frequently as needed.
Of course, you would want some sort of approval workflow and a content publishing process to manage rapidly changing content. Fortunately there is a category of software that is designed to do just that. Web content management systems (WCMs) such as Drupal, Joomla, Microsoft SharePoint, DotNetNuke, etc., are designed to give business users and content creators control over the ability to update content easily and frequently. In most cases, users can manipulate the content by logging into the administrative version of the website and updating the content in a WYSIWYG environment. Content creation and updates can be brought under customized workflows and approval chains which are quite important in a fast moving environment. WCM systems also boost many other capabilities like:
- Content Categorization
- Document Management
- Audit Trails
- Content Creator Grouping
- Content Templates
- Discussion Forums
- Reviews and Ratings
Discussion forums and blogs can be used to create vibrant user and expert communities that revolve around your products and services and continuously create new content that keeps customers and prospects coming back to your site. These tools not only provide a mechanism for external parties to contribute new content but also provide a mechanism for them to communicate directly with you about what is important to them. Insights gleaned from such content can be quite valuable in creating new products and services or improving the existing ones.
Now that we’ve talked about the virtues of fresh content and using your website as a two way medium, you are probably wondering if you would be able to afford it. A little known secret about good WCMs is how cost effective they can be. Creating a custom website from scratch can be a very onerous and expansive proposition. However, most well respected WCMs offer out-of-box templates and web components that actually make is much faster and cheaper to build a website if you take advantage of their off-the-shelf goodies. If you are considering investing in an upgrade of your website — even if you are NOT (consider the cost of lost opportunity) investing any money in your website — it would behoove you to look at the benefits of upgrading your website using a WCM system.