One of the many concerns that companies face when undergoing a content management system evaluation or conversion is the concept of future-proofing their content. This is especially a concern to those who publish content as a primary source of their business, such as news sites or other publications.
If you’ve worked through a CMS transition in the past, you most likely know how painful it can be to relocate content from one system to another, especially when the library of content can measure in the thousands or tens of thousands of items.
Why has this been such a pain in the past?
One reason is that the content management systems of yore were set in their own unique ways of doing things. They stored content in their own proprietary methodology, which may or may not have been in line with current industry standards. Throw in some of your own “customized” ways of using those systems and the data quickly became a mess.
Transitioning from the old to a new system probably meant either the creation of complex scripts to automate the process of conversion or some kind of manual intervention. One of the major problems with such conversions is the actual way the content is stored. Text content may have tremendous amounts of markup included which, when moved to a new environment, proved to be a disaster to manage.
Today, future-proofing content really means enabling it to be stored in a clean, transportable format, such that changing content management systems won’t be a major issue and that multi-channel delivery is not only possible, but easy.
We’ve written many posts and hosted some webinars about multi-content distribution, so I won’t dig too far into what that means in this post. But in summary, CMS products of the past were focused on delivery to websites only. Today, more and more devices and mediums will be utilized for content delivery, which means clean storage with long-term factors figured in will matter greatly.
Our philosophy in building custom content management systems is to store content in as clean a method as possible, maintaining as little markup as possible. And the markup we do use must be a stable and proven methodology as opposed to the technology of the moment.
(If you look back historically at content storage that proved problematic, you can see examples of manufacturers imbedding less-than-stellar code into content. I’m looking at you, Microsoft…)
With the above thinking in mind, what steps can you take to further future-proof your content as you move to a new CMS platform? We’ve assembled a couple of key points for you to consider.
Focus on Multi-Channel (Even If You Aren’t Ready Yet)
As mentioned before, existing CMS platforms were developed to focus on content distribution to the Web. As such, they were architected in a certain way to break down content into Web-centric pieces without any consideration to other future uses.
This is one of the primary reasons that many enterprises go with custom CMS installations, especially in media. Custom systems make the unification of content creation tools with storage and distribution easier to realize versus Web-centric platforms.
In planning your new CMS project, even if you are not yet multi-channel, consider planning as if you are. This will enable you to be better prepared for the future by not pigeon-holing your content to only one medium.
Don’t allow yourself to settle for a platform that limits your future possibilities, even if you are sure you won’t even need those additional channels in the future. Multi-channel distribution systems will store your content in a cleaner fashion than those built for Web only. That means as technology advances or your business evolves, you’ll have cleaner and more malleable content to work with.
Decouple the CMS
One of the ways to ensure content flexibility in the future is to focus on using a content management system that is decoupled from its distribution channels. The reason for this is directly related to my previous point: Decoupled systems have no choice but to store content in cleaner formats, as they are already built to be multi-channel.
Unfortunately, right now, there are only limited choices to decouple your CMS. CaaS, or content as a service is one possibility. However, it has its own limitations that we discussed in a previous post.
Another possibility is the custom-developed approach, which (of course) we are partial to. Either way, these two pathways can virtually ensure content portability and therefore be relatively future-proof.
If you are already using a system that is a bit limiting, consider alternative storage mechanisms that make sense for you.
For example, if you are using a system such as WordPress or Drupal, consider how you can utilize third-party software to store or output your content into other mechanisms with an eye towards the future. The content stored in this way can be cleaner without markup and give you a stable foundation in case you have issues transitioning later as new CMS platforms become available.
Always Have an Export Strategy
Your success in porting content from one platform to another begins not when you transition to the new platform, but back when you chose to transition TO the old one. This means you shouldn’t transition to any software platform without an understanding of how you can get your content back out of it.
Many systems today in the SaaS and CMS space work to make this as difficult as possible to retain customers, leading to nightmare transition scenarios. Maybe that’s a harsh criticism, and I’m sure that in some cases, the cause of this is because to handle the sophisticated use cases CMSs are designed for, some manipulation of content is necessary.
Either way, when choosing a platform, either ask your agency or provider how you would get the content out of the system should you want to transition again at a later date, and how it is being stored. Never get stuck in a corner.
For most online entities, their content is the most valuable part of their digital efforts. It takes time to produce, and it takes time for the content to make a difference in organic traffic rankings.
Preventing future nightmares happens when you choose your new platform, not many years later. Luckily, considering this early can help you avoid future issues and leave you in complete control of this valuable asset to your company.