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Web Content Management is Not Data Management

by Gerry McGovern

Originally published on the New Thinking Blog in August 2005.

There are two almost polar opposite views of content within many organizations. The classic IT view comes from a data management perspective. It sees content as a commodity that needs to be cost effectively stored and distributed. Show a data manager a headline and they see 60 characters.

Peter Drucker has said that we’ve spent the last 30 years focusing on the T in IT, and that we’ll spend the next 30 years focusing on the I. Data managers focus on the T. It’s all about data warehousing and databases.

Web content management needs to take a totally different approach. It’s not about storage. It is about publishing. You need to separate the two important challenges of data management and web publishing, because otherwise the data management approach will smother the web publishing effort.

Your organization likely produces a large quantity of data/content. It is essential that there is a strategy to manage this data; to put it in some sort of archive so that it can be retrieved in the future if it might be needed.

Then you’ve got killer web content. This represents a tiny fraction of the content you produce. This is the content that if properly written and published will make your intranet or public website a success. If you try and mix data management and web publishing, the data will behave like weeds in a garden—it will smother and choke the killer web content.

This is a particular problem for intranets. Many organizations don’t have an overall information management strategy. Thus, the intranet is often forced to act both as a storage place for data and as a publishing environment for web content.

Because there is so much data produced it overwhelms attempts at creating a cohesive information architecture for the intranet. The content publication process is usually rushed, and rarely does the content have quality metadata. Thus, the search delivers poor results and the navigation is a mess. Staff tire of wasting their time and lose trust in the intranet.

The same can happen on public websites. I know of an organization that has a 10,000 page website. A little over 100 of those pages represent 25 percent of visits. Many of the other pages have never been read. Initially, the organization invested as much time and expertise in writing the 100 killer web content pages as the other less important 9,900 pages.

I have worked with many organizations over the years who have significantly reduced the size of their websites and saw much greater success because of it. The wrong content gets in the way of the right content. For every 100 documents of content your organization produces, chances are that 95 of them are data that needs storing, with 5 of them having the potential to be killer web content.

If you can develop the skill to identify those five killer web documents, polish them until they shine, and publish them separately from the other 95, you have a very bright future in front of you.

About the Author

Gerry McGovern has published five books about the need for customer-centricity in the online world. His last book, The Stranger’s Long Neck, helps you identify and measure top tasks. He used to be a rock journalist, interviewing the likes of Lou Reed and Nick Cave. His weekly newsletter was recently shortlisted for a Webby.

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