A content management system (CMS) supports the creation, management, distribution, publishing, and discovery of web site information. It covers the complete lifecycle of the pages on your site, from providing simple tools to create the content, through to publishing, and sometimes, to archiving. It also provides the ability to manage the structure of the site, the appearance of the published pages, and the navigation provided to the users.
The functionality of a content management system can be broken down into several main categories:
- Content Creation
- Content Management
Each of these will be explored in the following sections.
At the front of a content management system is an easy-to-use authoring environment, designed to work like Word. This provides a non-technical way of creating new pages or updating content, without having to know any HTML.
The CMS also allows you to manage the structure of the site. That is, where the pages go, and how they are linked together. Many even offer simple drag-and-drop restructuring of the site, without breaking any links.
Almost all content management systems now provide a web-based authoring environment, which further simplifies implementation, and allows content updating to be done remotely.
It is this authoring tool that is the key to the success of the CMS. By providing a simple mechanism for maintaining the site, authoring can be devolved out into the business itself. For example, your marketing manager maintains the press release section, while your product manager keeps the catalogue up to date.
Once a page has been created, it is saved into a central repository in the CMS. This stores all the content of the site, along with the other supporting details.
This central repository allows a range of useful features to be provided by the CMS:
Keeping track of all the versions of a page, and who changed what and when.
Ensuring that each user can only change the section of the site they are responsible for.
Integration with existing information sources and IT systems.
Most importantly, the CMS provides a range of workflow capabilities. These are best explained by giving an example:
When the page is created by an author, it is automatically sent to their manager for approval, and then to the central web team for their editorial review. It is finally sent to the legal team for their sign-off, before being automatically published to the site.
At each step, the CMS manages the status of the page, notifying the people involved, and escalating jobs where required.
In this way, the workflow capabilities allow more authors to be involved in the management of the site, while maintaining strict control over the quality, accuracy and consistency of the information.
Workflow rules bring order to the chaos of manual processes
Once the final content is in the repository, it can then be published out to either the website or intranet.
Content management systems boast powerful publishing engines which allow the appearance and page layout of the site to be applied automatically during publishing. It may also allow the same content to be published to multiple sites.
Of course, every site looks different, so the CMS lets the graphic designers and web developers specify the appearance that is applied by the system.
These publishing capabilities ensure that the pages are consistent across the entire site, and enable a very high standard of appearance.
This also allows the authors to concentrate on writing the content, by leaving the look of the site entirely to the CMS.
The CMS fully automates the publishing of your site
The content management system can also provide a number of features to enhance the quality and effectiveness of the site itself.
As an example, the CMS will build the site navigation for you, by reading the structure straight out of the content repository.
It also makes it easy to support multiple browsers, or users with accessibility issues. The CMS can be used to make your site dynamic and interactive, thereby enhancing the site’s impact.