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Content Manager Pitfalls

Content management systems

Being the content manager for your company website, however small it is, can be a tough job. Sometimes you're expected to be a writer, designer, technical expert and manager all rolled into one. With that kind of brief, no wonder content managers sometimes make mistakes. This page lists some of the main pitfalls.

Form versus function

One of the main difficulties for a website content manager is planning and designing the website itself. Even when you're working with a professional designer, it's still easy to get it wrong. The two main pitfalls here are to do with usability and attractiveness. The first mistake is to create a great-looking, slick site that is difficult to use and has dead links. The second mistake is to create an easy-to-use, practical site that works well but is ugly enough to be off-putting. You need to steer a path between the two pitfalls. The best way of avoiding both mistakes is to try to think like a user, asking yourself how the site would appear to you if you were seeing it for the first time. Asking people to help you test it is also a good idea. Set your testers the task of obtaining a certain piece of information from your site, then ask them how long it took. You should also ask your testers to rate the visual appeal of the site.


Too much democracy

This happens when you have more than one web developer, or when you allow content writers to upload their pages directly. Many companies pay a lot of money for good web design, only to find this design undermined by lack of consistency as developers and writers alter pages to their own liking. The solution: don't give writers access to the design template, and make sure that web developers don't upload without central approval. All pages should be checked before uploading by one person, and that person should make sure that pages are in the company's agreed style.

Too little democracy

Writers often don't know anything about HTML. Some content management systems overcompensate for this by not allowing HTML at all. It's meant to make things simple, but it may mean that there is no way at all for writers to indicate formatting preferences, even for something as simple as putting text in bold. There are several ways to solve the problem. The most unsatisfactory, but unfortunately one of the most popular, is to simply upload pages with little or no formatting. This makes the process simpler, but makes your web pages unattractive and harder to read. Or you could ask writers to use a program like Word, and translate the formatting they do with that program into HTML yourself. However, this may be too much work for one person, especially with all the other tasks you have to do, and it may slow down the whole process. Other options include asking writers to learn and use basic HTML for their formatting. However, many commercial content management system s have a user interface similar to that of a word processing program, and can then turn the formatting into valid HTML.

Not reading the small print

Content managers are often saddled with the unenviable task of choosing which company should provide the web hosting. When you're comparing companies, always read the small print. Some companies offer "unlimited traffic" in their advertisements, but read the terms and conditions more closely, and it turns out that you are being offered unlimited traffic under a certain volume - that is, not unlimited at all. So don't use companies' advertised claims as your comparison criteria; read the terms and conditions closely.

Workflow confusion

A content manager's job becomes harder with every additional contributor to the site. Problems arise because people write at different speeds. You might upload one contributor's annual report and helpfully include links to the reports of different departments. However, if the contributors from those departments are being slow with their copy, you might end up linking to blank pages, irrelevant pages or nothing at all. It's really the "too much democracy" problem all over again; if you give contributors the ability to upload their own pages in their own time, you will get information up more quickly, but the site navigation will be more difficult because of the number of invalid internal links. So be a central point for contributions. Make sure that every contributor is required to get your permission before a page can be uploaded. Set deadlines and encourage contributors to take them seriously. It may sound very low-tech, but keeping track of contributions using a paper wall planner can be very helpful.