Jul 20, 2010

Content management can be dynamite.

So you’ve got yourself a brand-new website for your business. It looks great, delivers your business message quickly, and visitors are raving about how easy it is to find the information they need. The website even has a content management system (CMS) that lets you make changes to information and images on the site without so much as a phone call to your developer.

Depending on the type of content management tools your site uses and how they’ve been programmed to work, you can add, delete, modify and move around almost any piece of information on your website. Content management can be an extremely powerful tool — you might even say that it’s “dynamite”.

Just make sure you don’t use the dynamite to blow yourself up.

Over our 15-year history of building websites for businesses of all stripes, the developers here at NetSource Technologies have seen (and developed) a lot of websites with content management systems. Most such sites are well-maintained and informative, but from time to time we’ll encounter a true clunker where the content management system — for whatever reason — has been used not to enhance the website, but to seriously damage its value as an informational resource and marketing tool.

Of course, you want your new website to work in favor of your business’ bottom line, right? So here are a few of the most common content management mistakes and some tips on how to avoid them.

1. Don’t neglect your content management. Aside from the use of the horrendous little <blink> tag (which ought to be a second-degree felony), the most serious content management error is not to use your website’s CMS at all. There are way too many content-managed websites sitting out there with out-of-date information and dead content.

Once you’ve invested time and money into the development of a website for your business marketing, please don’t forget that it should always be something of a Work In Progress. That’s one of the principal advantages of the Internet as a medium — websites are dynamic and easy to modify. They are not stone tablets.

As your business needs change and as new information for your customers becomes available, take advantage of that CMS and update your website. If you and your staff don’t have the time to make the updates, then contact your developer and pay them for a little time to update the site for you. Otherwise, you’re letting a valuable investment go to waste.

2. Don’t cut and paste anything directly from MS Word. Microsoft Word can be a great tool for writing and creating business documents. One thing it is NOT, however, is an editing tool for website content. Every page of every MS Word document ever produced is a veritable minefield of hidden formats and coding that can destroy a well-crafted web page in seconds.

When you copy text from an MS Word document onto your computer system’s “clipboard”, the hidden formats and codes are sucked up right along with the text. When you paste all of that directly from the clipboard into a text window of a content management system, the hidden codes almost always go along for the ride. Click the “save” button and you’ve probably just swung a big wrecking ball into your website. From odd formatting that you can’t fix or get rid of no matter what, to pages of hidden code that make search engines give up indexing your page long before they hit the real text… the pitfalls are many.

Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. Once you’ve copied your text from an MS Word document, paste it into a plain-text editing application like NotePad. This removes all of the hidden formats and codes. Then copy the text from your new NotePad document and paste that into the text window of your website’s CMS.

Note that this tip doesn’t just apply to MS Word. Other popular word-processing applications may also send hidden code along with their text, including messages sent in Microsoft Outlook — so if you’re creating ‘copy’ for your website in anything except a plain-text editor, always follow this little tip before you paste the text into your website’s CMS.

3. Be careful about image shapes and sizes. Images — photos and graphics — frequently baffle even the best content management systems. Why is that? Well, mostly because a website CMS is essentially a computer program and, despite some current conspiracy theories, computers are not yet able to read minds. They don’t automatically know what you want to do with an image. The best they can figure out is how to take the image you give them and stick it into the specifications allowed by the programming.

This is the part of content management that takes a little bit of work. You’ll need to know a little bit about your CMS in order to handle images properly. Does your system re-sample and re-size images into proper ‘web’ images, or just take your original image and squeeze it into a certain dimension — possibly “morphing” the image in the process? Or perhaps it just crops the image to fit a pre-determined size.

You’ll have the most success uploading images through your CMS if you use some sort of image editing software first to correctly crop and size your photo. Unless your site makes use of some really top-end (and usually expensive) content management, there’s no way around this step. Regardless, photos always work best on a website when they’ve been properly sized and edited before being submitted to the rigors of a CMS.

It doesn’t matter much what imaging editing application you use. From professional programs like Photoshop to free, web-based editors like Pixlr.com, most of them will get the job done for you.  The importance of this step goes beyond making sure your website looks as polished and professional as possible with high-end image rendering. If you inadvertently upload a massive picture that simply gets “squished” into a constrained spot, your actually doing damage to your web page’s loading speed, which has recently begun effecting Google rankings.

In closing

Keep in mind that your content management system is a tool, while a web designer or consultant is a resource.  Even if you’ve decided to maintain your website on your own with CMS tool, remember to refer back to your designer as a useful resource for tips and advice as you learn.  At NetSource we’re just a phone call away when that pesky image looks all wrong or you can’t get that red, bullet point text to disappear.

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