Local upstarts make up-to-date Internet sites easy
by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver , Issue #734 November 18-24, 2003 High Tech Office column
Recently, we looked at how businesses could let potential customers know about their Web sites. Once customers get to your Web site, though, there needs to be content to make their visit worthwhile. And if you want visitors to come back to your site again and again, the content needs to be useful and needs to be constantly updated.
In July 7's column (Issue #714), we looked at Macromedia's Contribute software. This low-priced program separates Web-site content from design, making it possible for designated employees to update online text and images while leaving design intact and without needing to call on high-priced Web designers for every little update.
Since July, Macromedia has released version 2.0 of Contribute, offering improved ease of use and security, as well as a Mac OS X version. But choosing to standardize on Contribute requires getting your server set up properly and users trained.
Two local companies believe they offer a better alternative. Both offer Web-based services, allowing users to update Internet content from any computer with a browser and an Internet connection.
Staff members at Surrey-based Hi-Performance Enterprises (www.hpmarketing.com) offer themselves as experts in getting visitors to make a third visit to your site, by helping clients keep content current and to create Web sites that focus on actually doing something, rather than acting as online brochures.
With clients including many Lower Mainland chambers of commerce, the company provides custom-created content management software called Pages, together with modules for managing events, membership lists, ad management and more. There are even optional modules for surveys and for managing both online and offline financial transactions.
A site map shows the organization of pages on the Web site. Pages can be marked as hidden or visible, and sections can be moved around with a few mouse-clicks. Changes to the location of a page in the site map are applied to all the other pages that link to it. Clicking on a page name opens it for editing.
Designed to resemble Microsoft Word, the content editor allows modification of existing pages and addition. Text can be edited and formatted, images can be inserted and resized. Adding content can be as simple as copying and pasting from an existing word processor document.
While Hi-Performance has focused primarily on the needs of local chambers of commerce, Maestro CMS(www.maestrocms.com) provides Web site content management to over 1,000 clients worldwide, including SFU,Crystal Decisions and the David Suzuki Foundation. It describes itself as "North America's leading content management solution offered as a Web service." Pricing, starting at $399 per month, is based on the number of pages and URLs to be managed, and on optional features such as an event calendar, not on the number of users or CPUs.
Also browser-based, the company's software offers a fill-in-the-blank approach to managing Web site organization and content that can be used with minimal or no training. It supports multilingual Web sites, a feature that is increasingly important as companies try to use the Internet for international sales. (No, the software won't automatically translate your content to, say, French or Chinese. And if you've seen computer-generated translations, you won't want it to!)
Both of these services make it easier for organizations to allow non-technical employees to keep Web content up to date, making both Internet sites and in-house intranets more effective and timely communication tools.