How to Make Your CMS Work For You

When I launched the collegiette™ lifestyle website, HerCampus.com, in September 2009, we couldn’t foresee all the features that we would add to the site. A year and a half later, we've narrowed down the scope of what we offer and clarified our mission.  To go along with the changes in our business model, our site is getting a redesign from the ground up, which involves refining our Content Management System -- or CMS.

Here are a couple strategies to help you avoid some of our mistakes, plan for the future, and ultimately configure a CMS that works for your business from the start!

Learn how it works (and worked in the past). It’s important to take the time to understand the fundamental structure and philosophy behind any technology you’re considering for your business. Don’t get features hungry. Instead, figure out how a service will actually perform and if it will scale for your specific needs.  Look at case studies of how similar sites used technologies you’re considering.

Ask the right questions. There are a few essential questions to ask yourself during the early development stages of your content site. What different content types are going to be on your site?  What different roles will people visiting your site occupy (i.e. anonymous user, authenticated user, editor, administrator, and everything in between)?  How do you want to categorize your content (Sections?  Subsections?  Tagging?)?  What kind of workflow will go on behind the scenes to produce, edit, format, and ultimately publish content on the site?  What features will you build in to the site to keep your content discrete and secure?

Simplify your content strategy. If, after asking yourself the essential questions above, you’re looking at a long list (which will also inevitably grow over time) of different content types and features, you might be tempted to implement each separately on your site and end up with a jumbled mess of a website.  The ideal solution: consolidate your content types and implement a robust system of multi-tier taxonomies -- or content organization system -- and user permissions that will help categorize content. This will help keep your backend clean and make editing content en masse so much easier.

Put your system to the test. Sometimes it’s hard to know what specific technologies you need, especially in the early stages of your startup.  So experiment, then evaluate. Since we launched Her Campus, we’ve learned that running video contests is extremely resource-intensive and not the best use of our limited time. Instead, we will focus on making sure our tool for managing our highly popular sponsored blogging programs is foolproof.  Do the same for your company.  Schedule an evaluation of your business and content strategies every few months, to figure out what is and isn't working. It's OK for your website to be in beta a year or two, while you perfect your product and service offerings.

Make it elegant. Every website has its own hacks and tricks that only those managing the back end will know about. Try not to rely too much on hacks – instead, spend time building a solid foundation whenever you can. For example, a hack for promoting old content would be to change the original pub date to something more recent. A more elegant solution would be to build a flagging system in your CMS to promote older, evergreen content. Hacks may seem tempting, but creating an elegant solution will make your CMS more efficient and save you from wasting your time on little fixes.

Annie Wang is the co-founder, CTO, Creative Director, and Webmaster of Her Campus Media LLC (HerCampus.com), an online magazine for college women and marketing platform for companies looking to reach the college market.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.)The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.) provides its members with access to tools, mentoring, community and educational resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth. Our organization promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment.

About Annie Wang

Annie is passionate about synthesizing the various stakeholder considerations for Her Campus into a cohesive vision, and building an end product that best serves its readers, writers, and partners. She is responsible for overseeing strategy and implementation for user experience, branding, and technology for Her Campus. In September 2010, Annie took a leave of absence from Harvard University to work on Her Campus full time.

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