Following content management's core concepts with your CMS

November 10, 2009

Content Management is nothing new, but it does have its fair share of growing pains as it relates to the web. With the number of options readily available, it is easy for designers, developers and clients to lose sight of content management's core principals:

  1. Sorting 'Stuff' — content defined by an end-user — into a content repository.
  2. Support the workflow of the end-user.

The web community has the first principal down thanks to relational databases, but we really struggle with the second. Since the end-user can vary from an individual with varying skill sets to a large corporation with endless resources, demands on a Content Management Systems and its specific workflow have create countless options in the marketplace.

With each options comes a list of pros and cons, fanboys and detractors which ends up creating some misconceptions. Here are some misconceptions I've read repeatedly in the last few weeks that neglect to take these core principals into account:

One type of system is better than other.

Is it better to go open source, third-party or proprietary system? Truthfully, there is no right answer because each option can meet your goal of publishing content to the web but could create a potential workflow nightmare.

I use to advocate for using third-party software. I preferred working with a system that offered continuing support thanks to its customer base. If I was unable to continue to help client with maintenance there was always someone within the community. Now a client would never feel like they've wasted their investment on piece of technology.

That philosophy helped me in large part but I'm not sure it was in my clients best interest. When I started using other technology that better suited their workflow needs, I found myself getting more projects in the long run. Just because a company can afford an expensive system doesn't mean Wordpress isn't the best solution for their needs. 

With the volume of clients and sites we work on, our proprietary system has proven the best option over time and I realized that within my first few days here.

CMSs should be more open to customization.

I think there is a false perceptions in the title 'Content Management System.' People seem to infer that they should have more control over the system itself and this can lead to people neglecting the content itself. Not all systems are created equal, so you can't be under the assumption any system will meet your needs.

If you feel like your system can't be customized, you have either chosen a system that doesn't fit into your workflow or you didn't define your content before development began on your system (I'll discuss defining your content in a future post). By ignoring your content from the start, you won't have a clear understanding of the work needed to publish your content and you will feel limited by any system. 

Buying into a system means that you are committing to a set of standards, like a fixed design, so that you can produce and manage content quickly be streamlining your workflow. If you can't conform to any set of standards, moving to a CMS isn't in your best option.

I don't need to learn HTML now that I have a CMS.

The point of moving to a CMS is to avoid coding and/or reduce the reliance of a developer to speed up your publishing process, creating a better workflow. So why would I have to learn HTML when I have a WYSWYG editor to do the work for me?

You don't.

While there is no need to learn the syntax of a web language like HTML still you need to have an general understanding of how it works. You need to realize that pasting source code info your CMS from an e-mail newsletter is going to break your page in all likelihood. You need to realize when something is outside of the workflow of publishing content.

CMSs are bad for SEO

This goes back to the same ideas with customization: If you don't make SEO part of your workflow and create/use a system with it in mind early, it's going to make it harder to have good SEO. If that's the case, is it the systems' fault or yours?


The success of any CMS is tied to its ability to conform to your workflow. Most complaints with specific systems can be drawn to the fact they weren't developed with your particular workflow in mind. After all, the end goal of using a system is to publish and management content easily and quickly. Most systems can accomplish that, which is align with the first principal. 

Having only worked with our in-house system for a few days, I can tell the team put careful thought into the workflow and it seems to be paying dividends.  


Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member


Thanks for the comment and compliment on our work!

The reason that we have a /page/ as a part of the URL structure is that our CMS is organized with Sections, Subsections, and Pages. Frequently, users will create a page that has the same title as a section (ie, an About Us page in the About Us section), and we do not want them to have to worry about duplicate URLs in those cases, so we have the /page/ or /section/ before the URI to clear that up.

This strategy actually does not pose any SEO limitations, as the URL is still optimized through the end URI. When looking at CMS, I think there are, at minimum, three important SEO elements to look at:

1. The URL structure is in plain english and does not feature a bunch of pointless and nonsensical characters (e.g., /123kjfgh485.aspx).

2. You have control of the URI, allowing you to optimize the overall URL? (in our case, the answer is yes).

3. If you do not customize the URL on your own, the structure is still smart and places the H1 of the page as the end URI.

Here is a more extensive article from Joel on 8 SEO elements every CMS should have:

Hope that answers your question and thanks again for joining the conversation!

Omar Vasquez's avatar
Omar Vasquez

Your team does great work. I did notice that your urls use page/name-of-page will your cms have that structure to the urls? Since their is no nesting of the urls is there any impact or benefit to seo? We are shopping around for a cms and are taking seo into consideration but I was not sure if your team chose that structure for seo purposes or if it is limitation on the system.

Omar Vazquez

Jillian Kuhn's avatar
Jillian Kuhn

Nice post, Patrick. Looking forward to more!

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