The content management life cycle

One of the most important tasks for any web manager is managing the content on your web site. The key to managing your content is understanding the content management life cycle.

The content management life cycle discussed in this article differs from others that you may have seen because it is designed as a starting point for how content management systems can be used to support the life cycle. This article introduces the life cycle itself. Discussion of how content management systems can support the cycle will be covered in future articles.

The content management lifecycle

Identify

The first stage in the cycle is to identify the need for content. Identifying the need includes determining:

  • exactly what is required
  • why it is important to your business or organisation
  • why it is important to your audience

These last two are easier to work out if you have a web strategy.

Plan

Having determined the need for a piece of content you need to plan it’s life cycle. If you have a content strategy, or plan, this is much easier.

What you need to consider includes:

  • where will the content come from or who will create it ?
  • what format should the content be in. 
  • who needs to review it and approve it before it can be published ?
  • how long should it remain on the site, and what should happen to it when it is removed?

Create

Having worked out how the content is going to be managed it is necessary to either create it, or acquire it.

Content can be acquired from many sources (for example you might include weather information for your area from an available service). Or you might want to acquire data from some of your own internal systems for display on the web (for example, information about stock availability). 

Alternatively the content needs to be created.

Format

Ideally the content and its format should be separate. This is so the content can be delivered in multiple formats. These formats could include a web page, email or PDF, for example.

A format stage would not normally be included in a content management life cycle—but it is included here as it is an important function of content management systems.

Approve

In the simplest scenario one person may be empowered to create, approve and publish a given piece of content. But ideally a content plan should cater for content being edited and approved for publication by individuals other than the creator. For many organisations this will be highly important.

Publish

Approving content for publication is not the same as publishing it. When content is approved it may be:

  • ready for publication straight away (or the next time content is published, if that is scheduled)
  • ready for publication at a scheduled time and date
  • ready for publication at a time and date to be determined.

The latter could occur when content has to be ready for publication, but can’t be published until another event occurs, the timing of which can’t be predicted. (For example, web content about a new product that can’t be published until the product is officially released.)

When content is published it is available to be accessed.

Again, many content management life cycles would not include a “publish” step, but it is an important function of content management systems.

Deliver

Delivering the content is not the same as publishing it. Publishing means it is available to be accessed, but the deliver stage is about delivering it to the audience. This is mostly an issue for the content management system, and this stage would not be included in most life cycles.

The content management system may be required to “deploy” the content for static delivery, or may play a role in the actual dynamic delivery of content. (There are also other deployment scenarios, for example: deploying content for dynamic delivery by portal software.) (If you aren’t sure what the difference between static and dynamic is, have a look at our article on how a web server works).

Review

Once content is developed it needs to be continually reviewed to ensure it is still meeting the purpose for which it was created and that is still accurate and current and appropriate to be on the site. To ensure that such reviews occur it is necessary to flag a review date, and action, for each piece of content. A review strategy should form part of the content plan.

In one sense, review marks the end of the true cycle, as review of the content involves it going through the previous stages again (even if only briefly or in concept).

For example, if it is decided that the content needs modification then it has to be reauthored, and the changes should be approved, published and so on.

Archive

One of the possible results from review is a decision to archive the content. This is “archive” in the sense of removing it from the site, rather than moving content from, say, a current blog, to an online archive of last years’ blogs.

When removing content from the site you need to consider:

  • will you still need access to the content,  for example: so you know what was on the site at any particular time
  • are there any requirements to keep the content available for a particular period (eg legal requirements)
  • is there a period of time after which it would be desirable (or necessary) to no longer have a record of the content (eg should it be culled).

Archival of content needs to be approved (as it is changing the content available on the site), and there is a publishing action (in the sense that the content is unpublished).

Published: Thursday, 30 August 2012