Industry Insights

Craft a Killer CMS Workflow

Business sponsors decide to give marketers the green light to implement the Content Management System of their dreams. Its robust features dazzle the team: better storage, security, the ability to customize based on user needs, editing URL structures, and so on. But the shiny new toy is not a winning lottery ticket. Without a suitable marketing strategy and quality content – your website or project isn’t going to be as successful as you hope. Sharp features alone can’t solve strategic, workflow, editorial, or governance problems. Too often, a CMS is debuted like a flashy sports car and users are like aimless drivers.  

Content Strategy Is Key

First and foremost – your content strategy should always dictate your content publishing workflow. Figure out the primary content goals and the type of content you need. Then consider who will be responsible for creating, planning, maintaining, managing, measuring, and governing content.  Talk to the content team – they are on the frontlines in regards to programming and publishing content and they are the power users. All too often, CMS implementation considers the end user and not those creating content for consumption by users.

Talk to Your Team

In many of my roles as a consultant, I have described content strategy as defining business goals and user goals – and then finding the tight handshake in between the two. That’s the filling inside the sandwich. What’s your filling? Here’s where a content strategy and a CMS workflow are alike. They both resolve to meet business and user needs. These users aren’t personas, they’re your team. Talk to them first. Sit down with creators, subject matter experts, editors, producers, designers, reviewers, and approvers. Anyone who touches content at any point in the planning, creating and publication process should be consulted.

Have a two-way conversation and don’t just interview stakeholders. Talk to them. Ask about their content lifecycle publishing process. Ask about frequency, types of content, times of day, handoffs – anything and everything. Consult Kevin Nichols’ stakeholder interview questions to get started. Note the processes which work and take note of pain points. Ask what can be improved upon and why. Study the process inside and out until you can explain it to a content stakeholder.

Role play, anyone?

Within an assembly line, different folks have different roles. The same is true for a CMS workflow. Make a list of all the players involved in the content publishing process, including requesters, creators, editors, approvers or owners, product managers, reviewers/compliance, and copywriters. Set aside some space for other roles you have yet to identify – perhaps an on-site SEO specialist may need to bless the content prior to production. Keep in mind you’ll have more requesters than editors, approvers and producers.

Try to fit each role into 3 buckets:

- add and update content
- publish to staging server
- send link to editor for approval

- reviews and approves content for messaging, style and grammar
- edits content and sends it back to author for revision

- reviews content and notifies the team it’s ready
- publishes live content

Keep the list as simple as possible. It’s a skeletal framework for CMS workflow planning.

Take Stock of Tasks

You’ve created a list of roles, stakeholder needs, pain points, and activities within the publishing process. The next step is identifying tasks outside of CMS workflow and documenting every piece of the process. What’s the ecosystem? What’s the frequency of publication? Is there a day-parting strategy? How many platforms are you publishing across? Are there dependencies for each activity? When does content become archived and what’s the archival process?

Tasks to include:
- adding text, video, media, sidebar content, links
- creating new templates
- adding new pages
- adding metadata
- publishing to a staging server
- content QA
- content which requires revisions
- formatting content
- alt tags, captioning photos
- scheduling content for publication

Once you use that as a baseline, other detailed tasks will come to mind.

Document and Map CMS Tasks

Once you have a list of tasks, you’ll need to figure out how they play out in a visual sense. What’s the context for all these activities? To find out, chart the tasks in Visio or using quick and dirty methods like placing post-its on a wall and arranging the flow. You’ll start to see patterns or tasks that might be missing. The process will begin to take shape. Within that framework, it’s time to consider the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder. Soon, you’ll create permission levels based on activities.

  • Can an author create a page or edit one?

  • Will editors have access to edit all content across many departments and divisions or specific delineations?

  • Who owns approval?

  • How are multiple approvers managed?

  • What happens when many authors are working on the same piece of content within the same post?

  • What’s the approval hierarchy?

  • Are vendors or third-parties granted read or write access to promotional content?

  • How are edits and changes documented?

  • How are posts killed – if need be?

Yes, it’s very strenuous trying to assume all possibilities and document them, but this is what helps you evaluate existing policies/processes and ultimately alleviates pain points.

Govern Like a Boss

Yes, this is a CMS workflow driven topic, but don’t disregard content strategy guidelines and best practices. I’ve seen so many organizations throw away time and money by ignoring governance guidelines or simply not having any. To ensure content is on point and reaches the right audience with the right message at the right time, you really need standards. Use file naming conventions, controlled vocabularies, brand guidelines, editorial style and tone guidelines, editorial calendars and SEO keywords/content pillars as your foundation. Include proofing checklists for each discipline/area such as SEO checklists, branding, editorial, marketing, and compliance. Add other requirements as needed, too, because each brand has its own voice.
When the system is streamlined, it will be a snap (maybe) to produce large quantity, and high quality content that makes a lasting impression on your audience.  


Suzanne Baran

Suzanne Baran

With 18 years of experience, Suzanne has worked with the world's most beloved brands: Intel, MGM, Toyota, AT&T, Yahoo!, Fiji Water, Sony, Skype and others. Recently named the #4 top Woman in Tech Speaker by The Next Web, she's mastered content strategy, content architecture, governance, copy, digital marketing, SEO, SEM and CMS planning needs. 

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