Monday, April 5, 2010

Minds On: The Webmaster’s Dead! Long Live the Content Managers!

Minds On: The Webmaster’s Dead! Long Live the Content Managers!
I’ve been designing, building and managing Web sites since 1993... almost twenty years now. Back then, there was usually one person responsible for everything in a company Web site, the mysterious and powerful “webmaster.”

However, things were simpler back then. Web sites were only a few static pages. Most of them were very crudely designed, and there was very little interactive content. One person could handle a little design, figure out the technical basics and how to wrangle a little HTML – one person could handle it all.

It didn’t take long for things to become much more complex. As design quality improved and the technical side became much more complex, it got so that you just couldn’t find all of the talents you needed to run a complex company Web site in just one body. Webmasters became the technical talent buried somewhere down in IT. Unfortunately, they also became the bottleneck and gatekeeper. It seemed like it took weeks for the smallest change to be made to a site.

For a lot of companies it’s still this way. That’s a shame because it doesn’t have to be. Distributed “content managers” or “subject matter experts” can manage a well-designed, modern site. By using technology like Content Management Systems (CMS), departments can create their own content or update existing pages in seconds, all without disturbing the site design elements or without any technical training. The simplest type of CMS is the type of thing you see with most blogging engines, like Google’s Blogger or Wordpress. You can have this type of thing built right into your blog to manage every page and piece of information.

Fresh content is the key. There’s a lot of information that should be on your site, and it should all be updated frequently. View “What’s In Your Web site?” to see the types of information that you should have on your site. If you have to wait for a webmaster down in IT to update your product data sheet, it might take weeks to happen. That’s valuable sales time lost.

In order for this to work, you need to have a clear structure and a plan. You have to determine who is responsible for each type of information on your site. You need to establish standards and guidelines for writing styles, and you need someone in each area to act as the editor – that final line of defense – before anything is published to the Web at large.

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