The Best Municipal Websites Have the Best Content Management Systems
A content management system (CMS) makes updating, creating and deleting webpages a simple process for any employee, regardless of technical skills. Many modern sites are built on a CMS, from open source systems (Drupal, WordPress) to more proprietary architectures (Ektron) and closed systems such as SchoolWires.
360Civic works with all major CMS platforms, so our recommendations are based more on the individual needs of a client, rather than advocating one solution for every project.
Many school district websites, water district websites,
and civic websites rely on CMS to:
- Manage the day-to-day changes necessary for the site to stay current
- Make new pages easier and faster to add
- Remove concerns over file name and page-naming conventions
- Create pages that are mobile responsive and search engine friendly
In short, a CMS allows content providers to focus on content, and not the minutiae of how to create web pages.
Closed systems like Ektron and Sitefinity have powerful tools, integrate well and offer extensible functions like email marketing and social media publishing. Many include hosted platforms, so that security, hosting and updates are conveniently all in one place.
The downside is they can be expensive, with significant implementation costs as well as yearly or monthly licensing fees. And if an organization should want to transition away from many proprietary CMSs, it is often difficult to migrate the data to other solutions.
Providers can also be acquired or go out of business, resulting in the software being changed or abandoned altogether.
Open Source CMSs
An open source CMS may be developed by one individual or organization and then adopted by a community of developers and users. Unlike proprietary systems, no one really owns the software, and the source code — how the program was built and functions — is freely available. Updates are handled by a curated community, and any competent development company or developer can create modules and extend the functionality.
Open source systems do not have ongoing maintenance or licensing fees, and simplify the process of transferring information from one system to another. Like proprietary systems, a community may lose interest and abandon development of an open source system — this has happened to CMSs like Red Dot — but unlike proprietary systems, having access to the source code means your software can continue to function far into the future with a little support from your internal IT staff or outside vendors. Communities are not profit-based, so they are less likely to disband because of monetary reasons.
Some organizations believe open source software is less secure or that support is less extensive. However, most communities provide 24/7 support through members, and have higher customer satisfaction ratings than many large companies. Proper deployment and a robust community of developers can make open source solutions very secure. Implementations such as Drupal can be hardened to financial grade standards.
Making the Right Decision
With the right vendor, any CMS can work well. The key to making a decision usually comes down to the following:
- If you are already invested in a system and it is working for you, stay on it. The cost of moving to another system may be significant, and you have to include training on the new system.
- If your current system is causing you headaches, you don’t have to be tied to one vendor. Explore options.
- Have your bidding vendors provide a one, two or three year cost for purchasing, implementing and maintaining your system. If budget is a consideration, open source will generally be much more cost effective than proprietary systems.
- If you are looking for a new system, consider open source as an option.
Training, Support and Content Still Matter
Regardless of what system you select, do not neglect the basics:
- Training needs to be part of any system. Your vendor needs to include extensive training and support until your users are up to speed on the new CMS, and provide resources for training later on as new users join and others leave.
- What is the cost for ongoing support? Even when you have your staff trained there are times when you may need additional help to create new templates or add functionality.
- Any CMS needs to be populated with content. Whether you transfer the content you currently have, revise it or add new content, this is often the biggest stumbling block to completing a site on time. 360Civic offers experienced content writers who can interview stakeholders, edit pages for consistency and create/develop content at no additional cost.
- Do you have the ability to recover historical pages or edits?
360 will customize your CMS so that you will be able to identify one or more pages of the site and set an expiration dates for content. You can have the content moved from the live site into the site’s archive. You will also have the ability to set a date in the future for the content to be live to the public. The CMS will track the most recent version of each item and assign that automatically so you’ll always know which version is the most current, as well as identify who and when they made changes. You are able to store previous versions in the archive.
- Do you provide the ability to assign user roles and permission levels for managing content on the new website?
The website administrative system will allow multiple levels of roles as well as access and editing rights for staff, department managers and designated individual content editors for the entire site and specific pages. In addition, the CMS will offer the option to lock content for different levels of content editing permissions. The site will also include an approval process to ensure that all content is reviewed and approved by the necessary people before it is made live for public viewing
- Do your solutions integrate with Google Apps, Calendar, and Maps?
Our development team has integrated with APIs across multiple programming platforms and application vendors. We have created integrations for custom mobile apps, integrated with Office, Exchange, Ektron, Oracle, credit card processing systems, CRM systems and accounting and ERP systems. We also have experience integrating with GIS and mapping programs. We have an experienced and well-rounded development team who are also experienced on security and making sure API implementations are done so as to not endanger personal information.
- Does your solution integrate with Youtube and Vimeo?
All of our websites support content delivery networks from third-party sources, including YouTube and Vimeo.
- Does the solution support embedded video and audio content?
The website will also accommodate embedded video and audio content. Located centrally, the storage area will accommodate all major content, graphic and media file types, including at a minimum PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, JPG, GIF, TFF, HTML5 video, WMA, MPEG, QuickTime, MP3, MP4, AVI.
- Does your content management system allow multiple images upload, management, and display?
For image insertion, the CMS will have a built-in image editor that allows the editor to resize, crop, rotate, enhance sharpness and multiple file uploading. Additional features can be added based specific needs for image control.
- Is there a storage limitation for content?
We are able to quickly scale your storage needs as we regularly monitor used and available storage. Our hosting fees are based on your site’s concurrent traffic and how much storage space you need for the site’s content and video assets.
- Does your content management system use a WYSIWYG interface?
360 would provide you with a web-based editing and administration WYSIWYG interface that looks and feels similar to working in Word. The administrative interface will give your staff tools that they are comfortable using.
- Can a parent site push content to one, many or all sub-sites?
The parent site will be able push content to whichever sub-sites you would like if your website includes creating multiple sub-sites. For example, you can push content to all sub-sites or only one site. It is completely customizable. When editing content, administrators will have several options for adding content on the website. Content can be shared to pages and subpages or deployed to other websites. When adding content, the editor can schedule it to appear live at a specific date and time and deactivated at a specific date and time. Deactivated, or content that is hidden from view on the public facing site, will remain on the CMS and the editor will be able to edit it as needed.
- Can you schedule content to be published or unpublished at a later date?
You will be able to identify one or more pages of the site and set an expiration dates for content. You can have the content moved from the live site into the site’s archive. You will also have the ability to set a date in the future for the content to be live to the public. The CMS will track the most recent version of each item and assign that automatically so you’ll always know which version is the most current, as well as identify who and when they made changes. You are able to store previous versions in the archive.
- Are social media tools integrated within the system?
Social media is a key element of our clients’ communication and relationship with their online audiences. Our design and development projects help our clients’ integrate social media into their overall web strategy and designs. Using Facebook and Twitter we have created social media and marketing campaigns that drive target audiences to websites and communicate important information about using transportation services. Social media is a very effective medium for increasing awareness. Our experienced copywriters develop content for our clients’ blogs, twitter feeds, and Facebook and Instagram posts. We’re able to ensure a consistent feed of information and communication to key audiences.
- Can site content be translated to multiple languages?
In both our civic and corporate client bases we have worked to implement multi-language search and translation capabilities. There are three levels of implementation that need to be considered:
- Natural language support. Our CMS setups include the ability to provide a translated version of any page that the content creates wish to provide (we can also provide writing and translation services). If the page exists, the visitor is given the ability to view the page in his or her respective language (either by clicking on a link, or through their profile preference or based on previous actions). If no page is available, the default is for the English page to show and no link is available. This works well when translations need to be very accurate and in natural language. These pages are also integrated with the search feature so a user can select their native language as a default, and searches will be prioritized by native-language pages is available. We also have the ability to recognize terms in certain languages and default to those if available.
- We can incorporate automated translation tools (such as Google translate) for pages where no translation is available. This works when information needs to be conveyed in real time, but grammatical, stylistic or legal wording in the native language is not needed or resources are not available.
- A combination of methodologies is needed for thresh hold languages. This approach allows for critical pages to be identified and translated with physical translations, while allowing for other pages to be available through translation services. In addition, our search capabilities are adaptive so that common searches can be identified and refined in terms of language and subject matter to better improve the search functionality. We also bring multi-cultural experience to bear on this, because a genuine multi-cultural UI is more than just translations.