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Content Management System (CMS) Best Practices

You know what a CMS is, but do you know how to best harness its power?

Getting to know the ins and outs of a content management system is weirdly invigorating. Learning what a content management system (CMS) is and what it’s capable of is enough to get the mind flowing with ideas that seem immediately applicable. 

You might even be right about a few of those ideas. Still, a CMS has sprawling capabilities and intricate details that call for a bit of studying before diving into your organization’s content with your shiny new tool.

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yoda gif saying "much to learn you still have"

Luckily, we’ve done all the training and would love to share our SparkNotes-length CMS best practices guide. 

5 Helpful Content Management Best Practices

These may seem like obvious foundational steps, but you’d be surprised at the number of organizations that don’t fully develop them. Having these content management best practices set from the ground up will ensure your more nuanced ideas have something solid to stand on. 

1. Develop a Clear Understanding of Your Target Audience

You can’t manage content without understanding who it’s for. It’s just chaos at that point, leading to wasted time, energy, and resources for content that doesn’t have a clear purpose. 

Creating content goals and defining your purpose has to start with the people you’re serving. You built a product or service to solve a problem that people have. You’ve probably got a good idea of who they are without thinking too hard (but a customer data platform can give you a super clear idea that may upend or solidify your assumptions). 

This is the time to double down and define your goals based on those people. What challenges are they facing? Why should they want your product? What do they gain from your product or service vis à vis your content? Why should they give you their hard-earned money? Where do they want to see your content? Are you delivering it throughout the customer journey? 

Answering these questions will help you define audience-based purpose, which your content would be empty without. 

2. Establish a Content Calendar

CMS workflow best practice starts with having content planned out. You’ve identified your target audience(s); now it’s time to do some good old-fashioned research. You may know a lot about your product or service, but if you don’t have content relevant to real people, whatever you produce is just a part of Internet noise.

Research is crucial here. Take the time to look into what your audience searches for and pay attention to the terms they use, which will inform your search engine optimization (SEO) and cut down on the bizspeak that can alienate audiences. (It’s also not how people usually search.) That’s why clearly understanding your audience is the first step to this whole process. 

This research is pivotal to putting together a content calendar that matches what your audience wants. A content calendar is important to your content strategy because it helps with planning, identifies which topics are ripe for SEO, finds holes in your editorial plans, and tracks how often you publish about certain subjects across the organization. 

Once you’ve got an idea of what your audience is searching for, reverse engineer their queries into questions your organization can answer and problems it can solve. It’s usually pretty clear why people are looking for any product or service — yours included: They want to make some aspect of their lives or work easier, and they’re shopping for the thing that’ll do the trick. 

So, explain to them exactly how your product does that. Show them ways their existence will improve and how their companies will save time or money — all because of your offering. 

Then, when you’ve got a nice list of problem-solving topics that align with your product solving their problems, you’ve got yourself a meaty content calendar that matches audience search intent.

3. Set Up Uniform Tagging and Naming Conventions for Content

A calendar itself won’t cut it, though. You have to apply content management best practices across an entire organization, and many orgs have more than one offering with more than a few applicable uses. Translation? Content that targets one problem shouldn’t be mixed with content that solves an unrelated issue. 

Tagging and naming conventions are a surefire way for you to know what and where your content is, allowing you to better serve the right content to the right people

Think about it this way: I’ve got a company that sells golf, soccer, and baseball gear. Granular naming and tagging conventions are going to serve better results than lumping everything under a generic category. Tagging specifics like “golf footwear” is the difference between someone getting content specific to their “footwear” query versus being served all golf-related content and leaving them to sift through it. 

Scratch that. They’re more likely to bounce altogether and enter targeted keywords like “golf shoes” — it’s probably where their search began, in fact. And the results? Webpages that lead to competitors, the opposite of what you want.

SEO is a major organizational focus and will continue to be as long as Google and other search engines control how people find things online. Gartner reported that 72.2% of overall marketing budgets goes toward pure-play digital channels, and 10.5% of that is dedicated to SEO.1 That's a hefty chunk of change on the table that deserves well-informed search language, tagging, taxonomies, and research behind it.

Creating a system of terms and tags that relate to your content and how people search for it is the smartest way to tailor results that best match search intent. 

4. Establish Systems for Content Monitoring and Maintenance

We live in a world of near constant change. Human beings are the biggest variable ever. Our needs and wants change with the ebb and flow of technology and the world around us. 

That means your content isn’t something you set and forget. Sure, there’s evergreen stuff, but a huge part of keeping content relevant is monitoring it and making updates. It’s not difficult to maintain and update content on an ongoing basis. When you keep sharpening the content you have, you’re investing in its long-tail value. 

Earlier we talked about CMS workflow best practices; monitoring and maintaining your content is a recurring task that’s a critical part of that workflow. Why recreate content when you can update it? The SEO value remains intact, you’re not eclipsing content with near-duplicates, and you’re telling your readers that you care enough to keep going into your content library to make sure it’s in tip-top shape.

And who are you doing that for? Them. 

5. Measure Your Results

Another recurring step: metric tracking — because if you’re not measuring results to inform future strategies, you’re not closing the CMS best practices circle.

The results you measure can tell you a lot about how your audience interacts with your content, new audiences, content topics to lean into, and subjects to reevaluate. Without this data, you’re running in the dark. 

Take the time to see the statistical fruits of your labor and apply those insights to your next moves. Data-informed strategies are a good response when those business-minded colleagues who don’t quite know what content teams do come a-knocking.

Keep tabs on how your content is doing and manage it based on those trends. Then start the cycle over again.

Get Started with a CMS Platform

Doing all that without a CMS is next to impossible. CMS best practices are way easier with everything under one roof.

If you’re ready to reevaluate your current CMS or just starting out with a CMS and not sure where to begin, we recommend looking at a system that supports each of these best practices in one place: Acquia CMS. Forrester hailed it an industry leader, so it’s analyst-approved and worth a peek.

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Gartner, The State of Marketing Budgets in 2021: Insights From Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey, Ewan McIntyre, Anna Maria Virzi, 12 July 2021.