Transforming the Future of Digital Journalism

Transforming the Future of Digital JournalismHaving worked with Web CMSs for more than 15 years, I’ve seen a wide range of CMS products—including bespoke solutions built by digital agencies to suit the needs of their existing customers, open source platforms developed and supported by large communities, and proprietary commercial products developed by software houses serving a wide range of industries and use cases. I’ve worked with market-leading CMSs, as well as average, “good enough” CMS platforms. I’ve worked on selection and procurement to replace end-of-life, officially dead CMSs too.

Some of these WCMSs were better than others, but most of them proved frustrating to the developers as well as the editors using the system. There was always a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. If the platform was flexible, it required exorbitant amounts of configuration and developers’ time. If the platform was simple enough to run out of the box, it was lacking in some business-critical features. Almost universally, content editors had to suffer in silence, doing their jobs in counterintuitive, inefficient ways that were dictated by the quirks of the system.

The frustration with the system was at its worst for projects in which the implementation team—either the company’s in-house team or an external supplier—was not experienced enough with the chosen CMS (or sometimes
just incompetent). No matter how good or bad the actual system was, it was the quality of the implementation that made the biggest difference.

When does a homegrown CMS make sense?

Building a homegrown CMS solution to address this frustration is tempting. A bespoke solution removes the gap between the vendor (or the open source community) and the customer—the product development team and the implementation team are the same people.

Development of a bespoke CMS presents an opportunity to own a platform that not only meets customer needs and business requirements fully, but also suits developers and content editors within the organization.

What’s the problem with the bespoke approach? Well, there’s two. First, keeping a team of developers in-house is expensive. Second, more often than not, 80% of the requirements can be met with an off-the-shelf CMS product, in which case, the bespoke solution amounts to nothing
more than reinventing the wheel.

“Writing your own CMS is like keeping your own elephant — for most people, it’s just easier to visit a zoo,” argues Petr Palas, founder and CEO of Kentico, in his article How I Built a CMS, and Why You Shouldn’t. Keeping an elephant and running a zoo, however exciting, are not feasible for most organizations. Regardless, there is one industry in which the bespoke CMS approach is actually justified: media. For a publisher whose entire business depends on its CMS, having full control over how it’s done can bring competitive advantage. It’s a capital investment in its core offering.

In addition, there are a number of idiosyncratic requirements, specific to the media industry, which cannot be easily met by an off-the-shelf “horizontal” CMS, such as Adobe Experience Manager, Sitecore, or WordPress. For example:

  • Digital advertising management
  • Management of soft and hard subscriptions and a paywall
  • Management of multiple drafts of the same article
  • A track changes feature to allow a journalist and an editor to easily see each other’s corrections
  • Automatic, intelligent inclusion of links, tags, and metadata
  • A light, mobile-friendly version of the CMS for reporters on-the-go
  • Extensive cards and card stacks for easy newspaper-like responsive layouts at low cost
  • Social media integration: social sharing, plus customizable social media descriptions and images
  • Advanced personalization
  • Scalability, ability to cope with high traffic

Developing and supporting a homegrown CMS is a huge commitment. It requires a dedicated team of developers, supported by testers, user experience specialists, business analysts, and project managers. Even then,
getting it right and staying at the top of the game are a challenge. But in the media industry, in the absence of a common publishing platform that’s fit for purpose, this continues to be the strategic choice

When publishers become CMS developers

The Guardian runs on the homegrown, open source CMS Composer. The BBC uses a bespoke system called iSite. Some media companies went as far as licensing their systems as software products for other businesses
to use. Notably, Vox Media launched the Chorus CMS in 2008, and The Washington Post launched the Arc publishing platform in 2014.

There is an opportunity for the right CMS vendor to establish a leading platform tailored for the media industry. The reason this hasn’t happened yet is that digital journalism itself is still evolving. The relentless publishing
of articles written in an inverted pyramid style works to a point, but this is more of a product of a legacy format than customer preference. The BBC is exploring new formats by mixing evergreen and ephemeral content, as
well as offering swiping options and scrollable videos to update how we deliver and consume news.

The business model of digital journalism is also changing. Despite the initial pushback, paid subscriptions and paywalls are finally getting traction, so the goal of reducing or eliminating traditional advertising from the paid services is more achievable than ever. Technology needs to catch up with this trend and allow content editors to price the content, impose paywalls,
and apply discounts as required without having to contact IT.

The whole of the media industry is on the verge of a digital transformation. Netflix, Uber, and Spotify transformed the way we watch movies, get around town, and listen to music. The future of media is about to change too, and the technology behind it will play a central role in this transformation.

Web Content Management systems in Higher Education (UK)

What content management systems (CMS) do Universities use? Here are some examples.

Abertay University Activedition
Aberystwyth University TERMINALFOUR
Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge Sitecore
Aston University Easysite
Bournemouth University Drupal
Brunel University London Contensis
Canterbury Christ Church University Contensis
Cardiff University  Squiz Matrix
Cranfield University Sitecore
De Montfort University Leicester Contensis
University of Essex Sitecore
Glasgow Caledonian University  TERMINALFOUR
Imperial College London TERMINALFOUR
King’s College London Contensis
Lancaster University TERMINALFOUR
Liverpool Hope University  TERMINALFOUR
Liverpool John Moores University  Sitecore
London Metropolitan University TERMINALFOUR
London School of Economics and Political Science  Contensis
Loughborough University  TERMINALFOUR
Newcastle University  TERMINALFOUR
Northampton University WordPress
Nottingham Trent University  Squiz Matrix
Nottingham University  Contensis
Oxford University  Drupal, Plone
Queen Mary University of London TERMINALFOUR
Queen’s University Belfast  TERMINALFOUR
Royal Holloway University of London  Contensis
Southampton Solent University Contensis
Staffordshire University Contensis
Stirling University  TERMINALFOUR
University of Bolton Contensis
University of Portsmouth TERMINALFOUR
University of Sheffield Polopoly
University of Aberdeen  OpenText
University of Bath Bespoke system, developed in-house
University of Birmingham Contensis
University of Bradford TERMINALFOUR
University of Brighton  Contensis
University of Bristol TERMINALFOUR
University of Cambridge  Plone
University of Cumbria Contensis
University of Dundee TERMINALFOUR
University of Edinburgh EdWeb (Drupal)
University of Exeter TERMINALFOUR
University of Glasgow  TERMINALFOUR
University of Hertfordshire Squiz
University of Huddersfield TERMINALFOUR
University of Hull Contensis
University of Leeds  Jadu, Typo3, WordPress
University of Leicester Plone
University of Liverpool TERMINALFOUR
University of London Goldsmiths College TERMINALFOUR
University of London School of Oriental and African Studies  Percussion
University of Manchester  TERMINALFOUR
University of Reading Activedition
University of Southampton SitePublisher (previously TeamSite)
University of South Wales Wagtail
University of St Andrews  TERMINALFOUR
University of Suffolk Drupal
University of Sunderland TERMINALFOUR
University of the Arts London TERMINALFOUR
University of the Highlands & Islands TERMINALFOUR, Plone
University of Wales  Contensis
University of York TERMINALFOUR

Changing the World Wide Web, One Language at a Time

Changing the World Wide Web, One Language at a TimeI grew up in Ukraine and studied English in school every day from age 7. Speaking English fluently was by far the most valuable skill I acquired during my school career. It provided access to better education and a wider range of career opportunities. It enabled professional development beyond what my own country and my native language could offer.

When I built my first website in 1995, it was in English and in Ukrainian. Back then, 80% of all online content was in English, and I was determined to fit in with this trend. I wanted my website to be accessible to anyone in the world, and going global meant writing in English.

Fast-forward 20 years, English is still the most-studied second language in the world and the most popular language online. More people speak and understand English today than ever before. This might give an impression that publishing useful, usable content in English is a good strategy to acquire new customers globally, but is this really the case? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Only 25.3% of all internet users speak English, and the majority of online buyers (60%) won’t purchase from a website that’s not in their native language. By contrast, adding one of the top nine languages (Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, French, German, Arabic, Portuguese, Korean, and Italian) to English will increase your organization’s presence by 2.4% to 21%. A webpage in 23 languages will reach 90% of global web users.

“Global audiences need content in a language that it can understand, otherwise whatever you do is irrelevant to them and you will miss opportunities to expand your outreach,” says Yousef Elbes, multilingual communications manager at WHO (World Health Organization). Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish were established as official languages at WHO by a World Health Assembly resolution in 1978. Multilingualism at WHO is not a matter of choice; it’s a policy.

“Any organization that hopes to reach new customers needs to consider localization,” Seth Gottlieb, a content management analyst, points out. “New markets represent new opportunity. Conversely, incursions by competitors from other markets present new threats to your home territory. Given the time we spend obsessing over the smallest aspects of user experience, it makes no sense to force prospective customers to struggle with a language that they don’t feel comfortable using.”

Although the case for a multilingual digital presence is clear, adding languages multiplies the complexity and cost of maintaining a website. Delivering an effective international presence can be broken down into three broad categories:

  • Global content—content translated to different languages and available in different regions
  • Regional content—content adapted to accommodate regional preferences and specifics (such as currency and delivery information)
  • Local content—content unique to a particular region

This categorization doesn’t reduce the amount of work involved, but it creates structure and emphasizes the need for a range of skills required for successful delivery.

“Audiences in different markets have different content needs and tastes,” says Gottlieb. “Translating all of your source language content not only clutters the experience for readers who have no use for it all, it is also expensive. For each piece of source language content, you need to decide whether it should be available for each market you support. Some content will need to be adapted beyond a direct translation. Some markets will need original content. Despite all these local variances, each site needs to appear cohesive, complete, and consistent. Effectively connecting with different markets requires levels of awareness, strategy, and organization that are far above what is required for monolingual publishing.”

At the end of the day, it’s companies that put the multilingual requirement at the heart of their strategy that reach the widest global audience. Google’s search page is available in more than 100 languages, Wikipedia has more than 300 language editions, and the most translated website in the world is Jehovah’s Witnesses, with extraordinary linguistic diversity of more than 900 languages and dialects. If you want to engage with people around the world, you need to speak their language. There is no shortcut.

Even when the content isn’t text and doesn’t need translating in the literal sense, the challenges still remain. Suitsupply is a fashion brand, with stores in 24 countries and localized websites in 14 languages. It is shipping to 180 countries across the globe. Its recent marketing campaign, “Find your perfect fit,” features gay men holding hands and kissing. Even though the photography and video at the core of this campaign don’t require translating per se, the fact that this content is perceived differently in different countries cannot be ignored. When Fokke de Jong, the founder and CEO of Suitsupply, was asked about the potential risks of running this campaign in countries where LGBT+ communities are not accepted, he admitted that “there is potential for negative impact, especially in countries where we have a significant presence, that are known for contrasting viewpoints.” The campaign ran in most countries where Suitsupply has a presence—with the exception of Russia and the United Arab Emirates—and generated strong reactions (both positive and negative) on social media.

Expanding into new markets and multilingual communication is no longer a choice; it’s the only way to remain relevant in today’s global world. Organizations that have been slow to adopt a multilingual approach increasingly miss out on the opportunities for growth.

SharePoint at a Glance

EContent Magazine - Spring Issue 2018If you work in digital marketing, IT or internal communications, chances are you’ve heard about SharePoint. Perhaps you’ve heard that SharePoint is difficult to use, ugly and immobile – so bad in fact, that it’s pretty much a dying platform. Or maybe you’ve heard that SharePoint is a market leading product, adopted by many large organisations and supported by one of the most talented and active development communities in the software industry.

So which one is it?

As I’m midway through the migration of the University of Leeds faculty intranet from legacy platforms to SharePoint, let me share some first-hand experiences of what SharePoint has to offer its customers today.

What is SharePoint?

The core user need that SharePoint aims to solve is collaborative document management.

The old-fashioned way of collaborating on a document is to place the document on a shared drive, or to send it by email to everyone concerned (and then some). This approach leads to multiple versions of the same document in multiple locations and makes it hard to access the most recent version of the document quickly. SharePoint addresses this problem by providing one central place for document storage, and removes the need to create multiple records of the same file.

Organisations also use SharePoint for web content management, forms management and online communities, however it’s the document management element that is at the heart of what SharePoint is all about.

Types and Versions of SharePoint

There are two distinct product types of SharePoint: online and on-premises. SharePoint Online is the cloud-based option. It’s regularly upgraded by Microsoft in the cloud and therefore doesn’t have a version or year number in its name. SharePoint Server is the on-premises product. All the maintenance and upgrades for SharePoint Server is done by the in-house IT team or a chosen service provider. The most recent on-premises version is SharePoint Server 2016. Previous version, SharePoint Server 2013 is still used in many organisations.

Terminology

Key SharePoint terms, and their database design equivalents:

  • List – database table
  • Item – row in a database table
  • Column – column in a database table
  • View – database view (i.e. a SELECT query, a subset of data in a database table)

Learning a new platform is like learning a new language, it takes time and dedication. Understanding the terminology is the first step on this journey. The easiest way to understand and remember the key SharePoint terms is to approach them from the database design point of view.

For example, a SharePoint list is similar to a database table. It stores content and displays it in a table format. A SharePoint view is a subset of a SharePoint list, just like a database view is a subset of the data held in the database table.

For business users SharePoint terminology is counterintuitive and unusual, but for developers and IT support staff – not as much.

User Interface: Modern vs Classic Experience

For the last two years Microsoft has been gradually rolling out Modern Experience – a set of user interface improvements aimed at making SharePoint Online easier to use and mobile-friendly. You could almost call the Modern Experience a new version of SharePoint Online, except you can’t, because it isn’t consistently available throughout the product. Some pages and functionality are supported by the Modern Experience and others are not. Even switching between Modern and Classic Experience is not straightforward, there simply isn’t a select box allowing you to switch between the two. It’s done differently in different areas, making it a disjointed and frustrating experience.

Modern experience isn’t available at all in SharePoint Server 2016, the on-premises product.

Look and feel

Out of the box, branding options in SharePoint are limited to uploading a company logo and changing the color scheme according to a pre-defined look. Applying your own branding, using your own HTML, CSS, JavaScript and images, in a way that wouldn’t be destroyed by the next upgrade, requires significant expertise and effort.

Mobile

There are three ways in which Microsoft addresses mobile aspect in SharePoint.

  • Mobile Browser View site feature is turned on by default and renders SharePoint site on a mobile device in a very simplified way, displaying subsites, SharePoint apps and document libraries, but not any other features or navigation aids. A typical SharePoint sites is not usable via this interface.
  • Modern Experience is largely responsive, however as noted earlier, it isn’t rolled out across the whole of the SharePoint Online, and is not available in SharePoint Server at all.
  • SharePoint Mobile app was released in 2016, and is currently a mix of native app screens and embedded browser site pages. It doesn’t yet provide the features that users expect but it’s certainly an important step in the right direction.

From user point of view, out-of-the-box SharePoint cannot be described as mobile-friendly. Truly mobile-friendly SharePoint sites require responsive custom templates and like any other customisation, imply additional development and maintenance costs.

Workflow, Forms, Tasks, Online Communities

There’s much more to SharePoint than just document management capabilities. Features such as forms, surveys, project tasks, workflow, forums and blogs all work reasonably well. They’re not cutting-edge, best-of-breed solutions in comparison to other niche software products focusing on each of these needs in isolation, but they can be attractive as “good enough” solutions that are part of a stable, widely supported platform.

Community

Gaps in SharePoint documentation, training, customisation needs and support services are met by a large, active SharePoint community. There’s no shortage of information on any aspect of SharePoint. Even quirks and bugs are documented well. SharePoint talent is readily available, but due to the complexity of the product it doesn’t come cheap.

Conclusion

SharePoint is a complex collection of collaboration software. It is best suited for projects with a prominent document management requirement, but can also be used for knowledge management, web content management, forms management and online communities. The way SharePoint works isn’t immediately intuitive but both best practices and quirks are well documented. Training and professional networking opportunities are widely available. Out-of-the-box SharePoint isn’t mobile-friendly at this time, although steps are taken in the right direction to address this. For many projects SharePoint requires customisations and additional products from third-parties, and this needs to be factored into the cost of the SharePoint project.

 

Content Strategy for Ultra-Large Digital Presences

Thursday Nov 9, 2017, JBoye Aarhus 2017

The world is overwhelmed with web content. Yet many organisations publish content blindly and operate without a documented content strategy, exposing themselves to business risks and missed opportunities.

Content strategy is planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content [1]. It guides web content management projects to deliver business value. Effective content strategy relies on a variety of skills and disciplines, including marketing, communications, editorial planning, web development, user experience and analytics.

In this session we will cover:

  • The WHAT?
    Evaluating what you have in terms of content, skills and resources. Content audit, training needs, recruitment.
     
  • The HOW?
    How to produce quality content? How much to write? How often? What works online, and what doesn’t? What is content modelling? Which Web Content Management system to choose?
     
  • The WHO?
    Who is responsible for web content? Decentralised vs centralised content editing approach.
     
  • The WHY?
    Why does the content exist? Does it increase revenue, lower costs, improves customer experience? What are the goals, KPIs and success criteria for web content.
     
  • The NOW WHAT?
    Once the content is created and published, how do you keep the standards high and content up-to-date? Digital quality management, web governance, analytics, editorial calendar. How to communicate success, influence top management and advocate for change.

This session will suit anyone responsible for creating, managing or overseeing web content. It is relevant to web managers, marketing managers, web content editors, content management professionals, website owners, digital agency and technology vendor teams.

Find out more

[1] Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic

How to Write a Business Case for a WCM System

An opportunity to make a business case can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s an indication that the project is taken seriously. On the other hand, it formalizes the intentions, emphasizes responsibility, and implies approval by multiple stakeholders (smell internal politics, anyone?). Writing a good business case requires a pragmatic approach, strategic thinking, and persuasive language. Done well, it can convince the top management to invest in your project. Done poorly, it can cause delays or even stall the project entirely.

Web CMS implementations take time and cost money. The purpose of the business case is to justify the investment and to prove that you have reasonable chances of success. So how can you write an effective business case for a web CMS that helps the decision makers to recognize the value of the new platform?

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Before you start working on the business case, think about your audience. Whom are you writing it for? What language do they speak? What metrics do they use? What’s their major pain? What’s the most exciting opportunity? What’s at the top of their list in terms of priorities?

A common mistake is to assume that the thorough approach required for a formal business case is all about the subject matter (in our case, WCM). It isn’t. The business case should emphasize the impact that the new web CMS has on the business, not the complexity of the software and its features.

STRATEGIC CONTEXT AND THE NEED FOR CHANGE

A good business case addresses a genuine business need, pain, or risk. Two decades ago, most business cases for web CMSs focused on efficiencies and resolved the pain associated with maintaining the increasing volumes of content. Today, the majority of the web CMS business cases focus on the business need, such as sales targets or customer engagement goals. A link to a strategically important business need provides the urgency that puts your business case at the top of the pile. A new web CMS might be useful and important, but why should the organization invest in it now?

OPTIONS AND THE RECOMMENDED SOLUTION

If a selection process has already taken place, recommend the web CMS platform that was chosen and briefly outline the reasons why. When recommending a solution, remember to include the implementation costs and timescales. However, recommending a specific web CMS platform in the business case is not always possible. In a large organization, a typical web CMS selection process includes requirements gathering, stakeholder interviews, an RFP, and vendor demonstrations. With so many web CMS platforms available, the selection process requires a significant investment of time. If you haven’t had an opportunity to conduct a thorough selection process, offer an estimate based on the current understanding of the situation. An obvious alternative to your recommended course of action is doing nothing. If no action is taken, what will happen? What impact on the business will this have? What opportunities will be lost? Think about this carefully. The stronger your argument, the more likely your business case will be given the priority it deserves.

HARD AND SOFT BENEFITS

When articulating the anticipated outcome of the project, consider describing it in terms of hard and soft benefits. Hard benefits are specific and measurable. For example, a 10% increase in online sales or a 10% reduction in headcount are hard benefits.

Soft benefits don’t have the obvious impact on the bottom line. Improved staff morale or improved customer experience are important outcomes, but their impact on the business is more difficult to quantify.

For many web CMS initiatives, estimating hard benefits is, well, hard. Replacing an existing web CMS with a better solution is similar to moving to a new house. If done for the right reasons, the benefits are there, but assigning a monetary value to it doesn’t always make sense. Things such as happiness, a less stressful commute, and better opportunities to exercise and make friends will likely lead to a better lifestyle, but the precise impact of these benefits is difficult to measure. Similarly, a new web CMS platform can improve customer experience and team morale, but the resulting increase in revenue or specific cost-savings are not easy to estimate.

If most of the benefits for your web CMS project are soft, you might want to drop the hard and soft benefits labels altogether. Instead, categorize benefits by high-impact, medium-impact, and low-impact, as determined by their alignment to the strategic goals.

FINANCIAL ANALYSIS

The problem with creating a credible ROI for a web CMS project is that the ROI calculations are only as good as the assumptions that underpin them, and implementing new technology is riddled with unknowns. Vendor demonstrations and proof of concept bring us closer to understanding whether the system is a good fit for the organization’s requirements, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the full complexity and scale of the project. One more, or one less, skilled content editor required for the duration of the web CMS implementation can swing the cost estimates by as much as $50,000.

If an ROI is seen as an important part of the business case in your organization, your best bet is to discuss the format of the ROI calculations with the person who will be evaluating it, usually a financial director. Ask what metrics and what terminology should be used and how the calculations are made. This will bring you closer to speaking the same language as your decision maker. Refer to specific and reputable sources when estimating your costs. For example, get a quote from an independent consultant, industry analyst, or an agency with significant experience in web CMS implementations.

RISKS AND DEPENDENCIES

For a certain period of time during the web CMS implementation, there will be two systems running: the old (with the up-to-date content) and the new (partway through content migration). Therefore, the timing of the web CMS implementation shouldn’t coincide with significant content updates, product launches, or mergers. Other risks might include the ability to deliver change management, overcoming organizational challenges, reallocating and training staffers, and elevating the quality of content.

PERSUASIVE LANGUAGE

You could argue that facts are facts, and when it comes to writing a business case, communication style shouldn’t come into it. But things that are not communicated well can be poorly understood and not given the attention they deserve. Persuasive language is specific, factual, and clear. It has many voices: Use quotes and research findings from thought leaders and experts in the field to support your message. Spend time cutting out information that doesn’t help to make a decision. Making a business case is similar to predicting the future—you can’t always be accurate, but you can be specific and clear.

Lost and Found: Content Modeling for Large Digital Presences

The keys! Not in my pockets. Not in the drawer. Not on the table. Where are they?

It’s bad enough to have to turn everything upside down when your house is, sort of, tidy. It takes longer, and drives you crazier, when the house is a mess. Chaotic, disorganized places are stressful.

The same is true for websites. Managing badly structured web content is hard. When content authors are stuck with an unusable editorial interface or with content types that don’t make sense, they start working around the CMS. At some point, there are so many workarounds that training and documentation become confusing too, resulting in a desperately reactive approach to web content management (WCM).

Content modeling—when done right—is meant to prevent this mess from appearing in the first place. It is about organizing content in meaningful ways, so that there’s a place for everything in your digital home. 

Content modeling is the process of organizing content assets and relationships between them in order to enable logical, efficient, and sustainable content management practices using chosen technology platforms.

According to Deane Barker, author of Web Content Management, content modeling is defined by the following:

  • Content types
  • Content attributes
  • Relationships between them

Content modeling takes root in data modeling, a mature software engineering practice used to translate business requirements into database design. However, in content modeling, the freedom to design databases in any custom way you like just isn’t there. Between the business requirements and the database design, there is a CMS that imposes conceptual and technical limitations on how the content can be organized. This additional CMS layer influences the way content modeling is done and the terminology that is used in the process. To create an effective content model, it’s helpful to have a broad knowledge of the CMS principles, so that you’re led—but not blinded—by the chosen CMS and its philosophy.

Both data modeling and content modeling cannot be done well by software developers alone. Input from business stakeholders is essential to make the technical design meaningful and aligned to business goals. In fact, you can spot a content model done by a techie by a mile—it’s usually an over-engineered, cover-all-eventualities, logical structure that is beautiful and horrifying in equal measure. The real world isn’t like that.

 

The Basics of Content Modeling

On a small scale, content modeling is easy. Content types used for the University of Leeds’ conferences template are pages and widgets. There are hardly any relationships between the content types to speak of—except that a widget can be contained within a page.

So far, so good—but this conference website is a tiny part of a much bigger collection of university events, which are displayed in different areas of the university’s digital presence, depending on their date (past or present), type (workshop, seminar, or conference), and intended audience (undergraduates, prospective students, academics, and so on). In this larger context, sticking to our original set of content types just won’t cut it. To be able to connect our conference website with other parts of the university’s digital presence, we need to look at it from a bird’s-eye view.

 

High-Level Content Modeling Considerations

  1. Establish priorities—Not all content is created equal. Some content is supporting key customer journeys, and some content is supporting somebody’s whim. Some content attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, and some content attracts analytics spambots from Russia. Identifying content that sells and content that makes a promise is crucial. This priority content is your living room. It must be tidy, otherwise no one will want to come to your digital home.
  2. Identify enterprise-wide content—This is the content that’s used by multiple departments and areas of business. It needs to exist in a central place as a single point of truth. It cuts through the silos and has to make peace with other systems that are in place.
  3. Future-proof—For long-term success, there needs to be an easy way of identifying where to slot the new stuff. A sitemap provides a good enough level of categorization for a small website, but for a large digital presence—in which new websites get created every day—it’s helpful to have an even higher-level overview of the digital presence. Categorize different websites by brands, impact, technical complexity, purpose, and so on.

 

Strive for the Balance

Extremes are easy. In more than a decade spent implementing and managing CMSs, I’ve seen both understructured and overstructured content. Too little structure and you end up with webpages resembling Word documents from hell, with big red headings and garish fonts that hurt your eyes. Too much structure and content editors are losing the will to live because they are entering the web content, sentence by sentence, into the tiny boxes. Generally speaking, marketers tend to value flexibility over structure, whereas software developers prefer modularity and stability. To create an effective, sustainable content model, strive for balance.

Similar to how a floorplan helps in deciding where to put your furniture and belongings during a house move, content modeling is useful in making decisions about where to place your web content. It helps to clarify, or sometimes even establish, business requirements. It is often influenced by the chosen CMS, its philosophy, and its terminology.

Content modeling doesn’t have to take the form of a flashy presentation or a glorified document. Documenting the content model is useful, but the thinking and planning behind it is just as important.

Content Quality in Devolved Authoring Environments

In the beginning, there was the word. It wasn’t content managed. There was no HTML. There were no templates, no workflows, and no CMSs. Things were easy. But then there was a paragraph, a heading; there were links, images, and interactive content. Before long, things got complicated. Updating words, webpages, and websites became hard work.

CMSs made this hard work easier. People without specialist knowledge of web development started to create web content too. It became possible to publish more content faster—except there was a catch. The CMS didn’t produce quality content. It simply published whatever it was that people entered into the system.

When I worked for a digital agency, we had a client—let’s call her Lisa—who was lively, enthusiastic, and always full of ideas. She was on a mission to make the world a better place. When she got access to the CMS and was put in charge of managing web content for a large hospitality website, she was excited. Within days, content was updated here, there, and everywhere. The site had it all: big red headings, enormous images, cryptic fonts that hurt your eyes. Never mind the emails to us with the subject line “Help!!!” when the CMS didn’t work wonders. Never mind the bloated code behind the scenes to accommodate Lisa’s very peculiar requirements. Never mind all the features that we developed specifically for her. When Lisa set her mind on something, there was no stopping her.

Interestingly, as a business manager, Lisa was knowledgeable, pragmatic, and determined. But armed with a CMS, she was a danger to herself and others. How could this be? Worst of all, Lisa was not alone. There were others. CMSs turned out to be a double-edged sword, and in the wrong hands, they led to large volumes of poor-quality content being published day in and day out.

Although CMSs have vastly improved in the last decade, and creating decent web content is easier than ever before, there are still lots of Lisas around, and they still produce lots of poor-quality web content. Why? The reasons are varied, but they boil down to four main ones:

Lack of skill—Without a doubt, limited knowledge of usability principles, writing for web best practices, and SEO get in the way of producing effective web content. But this is a problem that’s relatively easy to fix through training and professional development.

Lack of experience—Effective planning, knowing what to leave out—not just what to put in—and being able to predict longer-term outcomes is learned through experience. Accomplished web editors see beyond the excitement of creating a new site and can adequately plan for maintenance and support. However, amateur content editors focus all their energy on creating new content, and they don’t leave enough time and resources for the follow-up work and content updates.

Lack of time and other priorities—In large organizations, content editors are often working on the website on an irregular, part-time basis, alongside their other, primary duties and responsibilities. They often know that they need to do more, but they just can’t carve out the time.

Lack of support—In devolved content authoring environments, web editors usually have access to help in the form of documentation, training, and support. But getting the right help at the right time is difficult. One-to-one support from an experienced digital professional is effective but expensive—and, therefore, scarce. Documentation is often incomplete and out-of-date. CMS training courses conducted by the CMS vendors dive deep into the capabilities of the system, but do little to help with the specifics of a project at hand.

So what can we do to counteract the lack of skill, experience, time, and support? How can we avoid the disjointed, broken customer journeys that are so common in devolved authoring environments?

  1. Locking down the functionality is a common way of managing output. Use isolated fields for small chunks of content—enter the heading here, and insert your image there. Restricted styles and fonts and limited or no access to template development does the trick. But it’s easy to overdo it and end up with an inflexible system that no longer meets the needs of the content contributors.
  2. Training that is relevant and specific to the project and the implementation at hand is invaluable. Wider training for subjects such as writing for the web, visual design, usability, and SEO is often overlooked—and it shouldn’t be.
  3. Digital governance tools can help to diagnose existing problems such as broken links, spelling mistakes, JavaScript errors, and mobile issues. These tools are particularly helpful when the lack of governance processes have led to a backlog of problems.
  4. The art of saying “no” is a necessary practice. Vision and strategic direction are important, and they are as much about saying “no” to things that get in the way as they are about saying “yes” to things that really matter. Content editors should work within clear boundaries that encourage them to produce content that makes sense for the business.
  5. Healthy pragmatism is essential. Not all content is created equal. Oliver Weedon, digital transformation manager at the University of Westminster in the U.K., uses a garden analogy to describe the web ecosystem in higher education. In this analogy, “walled garden” is the content that’s really important and requires careful consideration. “Wildflower” garden is developed with guidance and direction from the web team. “Meadows” are websites that are free to grow and develop naturally, with only minimum requirements imposed. Treating all content with the same vigor is a losing proposition.

At the end of the day, quality content comes from well-defined processes, motivated content authors, and clear vision. Devolved content authoring shouldn’t be about giving people free rein, but it shouldn’t be about restricting their every move either. With clear strategy, established governance, and relevant training, a lot can be done to elevate the quality of content.

The Elusive Definition of an Enterprise CMS

Many web CMS vendors and open source communities describe their web content management (WCM) systems as enterprise. But what does enterprise mean in this context? Are there web CMSs out there that are not enterprise? Does it even matter? Is it beneficial for organizations to invest in an enterprise web CMS, or is it just a fancy marketing buzzword that carries little meaning?

What Is Enterprise Software?

Broadly speaking, “enterprise” simply means “business”—a company or an organization with business goals. The opposite of an enterprise is an individual, someone with personal interests, preferences, and needs. So enterprise software is software that’s designed and built for an organization rather than an individual.

What Does Enterprise Mean in Sales and Marketing?

In marketing, “enterprise” typically implies quality, maturity, and premium price. You can put it in the same category as “leading” and “world-class.” These claims might be justified—or they might not be. It’s marketing, after all.

In sales, “enterprise software” refers to products that are purchased on the basis of business and technical requirements, not personal preferences. A manager, or a number of stakeholders, must be persuaded to invest in enterprise software. Sales cycles for enterprise software last 6–9 months on average and require sales representatives with an intimate understanding of the products they sell. Sales professionals also rely on pre-sales technical support at key stages of the sales process in order to showcase the suitability of the product in a convincing manner. Inevitably, the time and effort that go into the long sales process contribute to the higher price of enterprise software.

What Does Enterprise Mean in Relation to Web CMS?

In WCM, the meaning of “enterprise” is more ambiguous. It’s easy to see what an enterprise web CMS is not. A perfect example of a CMS that isn’t enterprise-level is a blogging platform, such as Squarespace or Medium. A blogging platform is a simple solution that can be used to create, edit, publish, and manage web content. It is designed to meet the requirements of an individual or a small business out-of-the-box. Customizations are difficult or impossible, user roles and permissions are simple, and the system tells its users how things should be done. The user has two choices: Take it or leave it. There’s very little in between.

However, an enterprise CMS is flexible and complex. It can be adapted and configured to fit the needs of a large organization with numerous departments, business units, content contributors, and large volumes of content. If you are a large organization looking for an enterprise-level CMS, you should expect the following:

  1. Maturity—Enterprise-level CMSs are robust and mature. They work as intended and are largely bug-free, stable environments. Sometimes, organizations assume that investing in robust, mature platforms will elevate the quality of content. This is not true. The system doesn’t produce content—people do.
  2. Flexibility—An enterprise-level CMS is more of a framework than an out-of-the-box, off-the-shelf product.
  3. Scalability, reliability, and performance—An enterprise-level CMS should be scalable and able to cope with growing website traffic and an increasing number of content assets, without an adverse impact on performance and reliability.
  4. Integration—An enterprise-level system should provide ways to integrate the system with other enterprise solutions.
  5. Governance—Linear and non-linear workflow, granular user rights, and user permissions are essential requirements for a large organization. Audit logs, versioning, and archiving can also be important, particularly in highly regulated industries.
  6. Security—CMS platforms are common hacking targets, so solid security methodology and security certifications are important.
  7. Ongoing technical support—Reliable, responsive technical support should be available either from the vendor (typically priced at around 20% of the license fee) or a service provider specializing in support and maintenance of the chosen web CMS.

Some vendors add other tools to the mix in an attempt to make their solution look more enterprise. Marketing automation, customer relationship management (CRM), ecommerce, multilingual capabilities, and analytics are sometimes bundled up with the web CMS. Although these tools and features can be useful to some organizations, they are not universally required in every organization and don’t necessarily make the web CMS enterprise-level.

Service providers that work with open source web CMS solutions sometimes also use the term “enterprise” simply to differentiate between the paid professional services and a free, community edition with no support contract.

What Is ECM?

Enterprise content management (ECM) muddies the waters further. ECM has very little to do with WCM. It is a practice and a set of tools for managing all of the content in an organization—not just web content, but also documents, records, digital assets, or any other data.

The term “ECM” can be particularly confusing when it comes from web CMS vendors. Software vendors such as Oracle, OpenText, and Liferay compete in the web CMS space, but focus their efforts on selling a suite of products. In this case, ECM isn’t just a bigger or better version of a web CMS—it’s a suite of products for a broad range of requirements.

More recently, players such as Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive started to redefine what ECM actually means by putting emphasis on the collaboration and file-sharing capabilities. In short, ECM and enterprise WCM systems are two terms that may sound similar, but are worlds apart.

If an enterprise web CMS is a mature, robust, and reliable system—that’s also flexible and well-supported—does this mean that enterprise web CMS platforms are generally better quality and a better choice for all? Not always.

Enterprise web CMS can be a burden for organizations that do not have complex WCM needs. To determine if a web CMS is a good fit for your organization, test drive the system using tasks that are performed daily by your content editors. There is no solution that is best and fits all. But there is a system out there, enterprise or not, that is the best choice for your organization and requirements.  

Web Design Trends 2017

Good web design is crucial for making the right impression

First impressions are important… Presentable clothes, matching accessories, getting to meetings on time – it all matters. It shows people around you that you care.

Online, first impressions matter too. Website visitors make judgements about website credibility in as little as 50 milliseconds, and one in five website visitors will leave your website, not giving you a second chance.

Staying on top of the current trends makes it possible to create a website that will impress your audience, and will hold users attention for the first crucial 10 seconds, and beyond.

So what are the Web Design trends for 2017?

First things first. Web design is not art.

Art expresses feelings, raises questions, provokes emotions. By contrast, design helps people to find answers, take action, or complete a task.

More than ever before, everything in web design, from imagery to navigation, to content, must serve a purpose. Many websites are now decades old, and some have collected huge amounts of clutter along the way. If you are redesigning an existing website, start with a clearout (content audit), and focus on what’s important by mapping key customer journeys. If, on the other hand, you are building a website from scratch, consider wireframes, sitemaps and top tasks as your starting point. Prioritise clarity over absolute completeness.

WWF

New, decluttered WWF homepage.

Persuade with numbers

Numbers project confidence. A web designer that built 60 websites comes across as more competent than the one who has ‘many years experience in the industry’. A company that has offices in 4 countries seems more established than the one with ‘international presence’. Even when the numbers are not very meaningful, being precise and specific still works. Carolyn Mendelsohn, an award winning photographer, owns 321 snow globes. How about that?

Carolyn Mendelsohn

Carolyn Mendlesohn, award-winning photographer and author of widely acclaimed In Between series

Grids, frameworks and pre-made themes

As CSS frameworks and grids mature, more and more coders use them as a basis for their web development work. They allow beginner coders to step up their game and they help digital agencies to streamline their production. Frameworks might sometimes contribute to bloated code but they cut down development time and take care of responsiveness, which makes them a good choice for many digital projects.

In addition to Bootstrap, UIKit and Foundation, which have been around for a while, new front-end development frameworks such as Suzy, Jeet and Breakpoint are also getting traction.

Pre-made themes from EnvatoMarket and TemplateMonster can also be a valid choice. Developers of paid templates tend to respond to customer feedback and continuously iterate their product, so some of the most popular themes have now gone through many improvements, to become what they are today.

Smithsonian

Smithsonian magazine uses Suzy framework which offers on-demand grid.

Flat Colors

Google Material Design was first introduced in 2014. It’s a set of principles and best practices for web designers and mobile app developers. Google Material Design is about going back to basics, focusing on what’s important, but still accounting for multiple resolutions and devices – an over-engineered simplicity, if you like.

Google Material Design with its flat colours isn’t the only approach to web and mobile app design but it continues to be popular and trendy. Fabulous app, Google Material Design Awards winner, is a remarkable example of Google Material Design principles at its best.

Fabulous App

Fabulous is a mobile app that helps you to establish healthy habits.

Authentic images

The overriding rule with regards to choosing effective images for web is that they have to be relevant and genuine. When choosing images, think about the following:

  • Product
    Are product images appropriate and useful? If so, this should be your first choice.
  • People
    Can you use an authentic image to tell a believable story about people using your product and benefitting from it?
  • Quality
    How can you show that your product is of good, or superior, quality? Can you show the craft, the expertise or the materials that make it great?
  • Ethics
    Are you charitable, ethical, organic, green? Does your business give back to the community? Does it make the world a better place?

Overused staged photography will make your website look dated. Choose realistic images that portray real world and real people. Use new perspectives: selfies, feeties, drone and head-on camera pictures and videos. Try full-screen approach, with the image occupying the whole screen.

Chris

Christian Betancourt is e-sports, portrait, landscape, and lifestyle photographer

Video

If a picture can tell a thousand words, then video must be even better, right? Homepage background videos can tell a story behind a product or service within seconds – Evernote, Airbnb and Loyola Marymount University are notable examples. For longer, more sophisticated video stories in web design, have a look at edstafford.org and silenza.it (It’s worth noting that mobile versions of these websites do not display videos.)

Loyola Marymount University

Background video on the Loyola Marymount University’s website

Navigation

Humans can hold between 5 and 9 items in their short term memory. A landline number such as 496 0926 is relatively easy to remember, but something a bit longer like 07700900546 is far more difficult to retain in your memory. That’s why, for a long time, web developers and UX designers strived for a maximum of seven menu items (7±2) in the website navigation. But that’s changing.

The number of visible, main menu navigation items is now reduced to the absolute minimum. Paypal has only three visible items in their primary navigation. Tate have reduced the number of items in the main navigation from 11 to just 3 during their most recent redesign in 2016. Laterooms redesigned it’s homepage in 2015 to focus solely on the booking process.

Tate

Simple, clear navigation on Tate website

Continued influence of the mobile design means that hamburger navigation icon is more popular than ever. The jury is out on the effectiveness of this approach – it’s not just the meaning of the icon, but the size and visibility of the three lonely lines that affect the usability of the hamburger approach. Research and A/B testing seems to show that hamburger lines combined with a MENU label – such as the one on Adobe website – works significantly better than the hamburger icon alone.

Sticky navigation, such as on Pexcard by Rockpool Digital is still popular, and so are mega-menus – Museum of London built by WebCredible is a good example.

Museum of London

Museum of London was redesigned by Webcredible in 2016

Performance and intelligent analytics insight

Average weight of the homepage across the websites reviewed in this article is approximately 3.5MB. With all the high resolution images, interactive scripts, font replacement techniques, webpage performance requires special consideration. “If you can make the site load a second faster, you can drive engagement by 5%” according to Financial Times. Note the use of engagement as website metrics in this quote. Intelligent insight that goes beyond page views and unique visitors is increasingly important for understanding what works and what doesn’t on your website.

Financial Times

The aims of Financial Times redesign are shorter page load times, increased engagement, and better personalization.

The blend of personal and professional space, integrity, ethics

The line between the personal and professional space is not as clear as it was in the past. What we hear about business leaders on Facebook and Twitter, is often less formal and more in-the-moment than press releases and company’s own marketing materials. Integrity, ethics, telling people who you are, not just what you do, is more important than ever before.

Educate and Celebrate

Educate & Celebrate advises schools on LGBT and inclusion best practices.

Conclusion

In summary, modern websites of 2017 will use authentic images and full-width or full-screen layout to portray genuine, passionate, ethical people and products. Primary navigation will be reduced to the very minimum, and other links will be available through the ‘hamburger’ navigation, mega-menus and contextual navigation. Great websites of 2017 will use direct, persuasive language and will use numbers to demonstrate their achievements. Responsiveness, micro interactions and large, bold images continue to dominate the web, but they are only effective if website performance and page load times are reasonable.

Best of luck and have a well designed 2017!