Marketing change log: What used to take weeks now takes minutes

Mistakes are a fact of life on websites, and if you’re a content marketer like me, the whole world is watching you make them. Typos, convoluted copy, calls to action that just don’t drive traffic … they all call for change. And if you’re stuck with a legacy CMS, that change isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

I’ve worked with almost every major CMS platform as a content marketer for enterprises and mid-size corporations. I have the scars to prove it: stories of painful migrations and website “freezes.” Customizing one part of the platform only to have another part break. Content migrations that forced me to copy-paste, copy-paste so many words that I actually dreamed command-C and command-V.

I was attracted to Contentful initially because it solved a real problem that I had on a daily basis: managing content changes across many digital properties. But I was also a little scared of it — the phrase “content infrastructure” was new to me, and if there’s anything I learned from working with developers to deliver websites and apps, it was that no change would be easy.

In fact, the fear of making additional changes to copy because of the drama associated with developer implementation created a kind of copy paralysis. Sure, a website’s supposed to be a dynamic, living thing. The quickest way to ruin a website is to declare that project “done.”

But because I was beholden to developers for every change that wasn’t simply staging a new blog post, it was like being back in the dark ages of print brochures, where every little typo and tweak would cost another five grand at the print shop.

Now, having all of the copy — every little bit, and all the images and media — within my control is a revelation. Let me give you an example of what happened today. One of our customers mentioned to our customer support team that a mockup we used for our knowledge base articles contained a developer stereotype:

“Would you consider using a more inclusive example for the Contentful demo other than ‘John Doe’ the male web developer?” the customer asked. “Some alternatives could be ‘Jane Doe’ or ‘Betty Holberton.’ Or maybe one of your favorite non-stereotypical web devs? Thanks!”

The customer was right. And we intend to foster diversity and inclusion in our language and business practices, so it was important to me to make it right quickly.

Now, if this was an issue flagged at one of my prior companies where I managed website content, changing something as simple as an image on a non-blog page would be anything but simple.

Here’s the process I used to go through:

  1. Fix the image first (developers wouldn't consider the issue unless I had the replacement content in hand)

  2. File a ticket for the developer, with new image attached

  3. Wait for the development team to prioritize my ticket. This issue was not on a major page, and not a major error, so the timeline would likely have been four to six weeks.

  4. Hear back from the development team that they fixed the problem on staging

  5. See the image was placed correctly at the top of the page … but they failed to fix it on the bottom of the page (where the image appears again). Revise the ticket.

  6. Wait some more

  7. Developer reports that the image is now inserted both places. Asks for staging approval.

  8. I give the approval. It goes to QA.

  9. More waiting

  10. It gets pushed to production, sometime (and usually developers don't circle back to alert me)

  11. Boss wonders if this has been done and I go back manually to check...

Instead of this lengthy process, I used Contentful and had the power to make my own changes immediately. I asked our brand designer for a new image. Then I searched our content model & media for instances of the image:

Then I uploaded a new image and hit “publish.”

Changes went live within a few minutes. I was able to report back to my team that the issue was fixed, all on the same workday!

This seems like a simple fix — it is, and it should be. But issues as tiny as fixing a typo or changing the microcopy on a button can be hung up for weeks waiting for a developer to attend to it.

That’s because, while the promise of a CMS is the ability for marketers to manage copy, the reality is that not everything is “CMSified” (to quote a developer I used to work with), so some copy is simply hard-coded in the site and can’t be changed by a mere marketer.

I talked with a former colleague, now a digital content producer for one of the world’s leading sportswear brands, and she said “quick fixes” on her team generally take six to eight weeks if a developer must get involved.

If there’s anything marketers clamor for regarding websites, in my experience, it’s the power to make changes.

The power to change web copy when it isn’t working … “test and iterate” should be our mantra, but it’s hard to keep evolving when every little change seems bound up by development red tape.

The power to update content with a global edit … I shouldn’t need an army of copy-and-paste elves to make changes across every digital product, site and app, when I only wanted to change one darn word.

And the power to preserve the integrity of a brand by unifying design, copy and media in one place to ensure consistency.

I always imagined this power would come at a high price: I’d need to spend weeks to learn a new, complicated system, or (shudder) dust off my ancient HTML skills, or learn to code. But the web interface has proven startlingly easy for this non-technologist. Just after I joined Contentful, I got the login, I clicked around a bit with a colleague pointing out a few things, and then I published my first blog post with just that much training.

In this case, I’d never replaced media images on a page. But it was easy as using a search box to find the relevant pages and media, then clicking a button "insert media" with a friendly drag-and-drop interface to replace the highlighted text (below) referencing the image. No code.

The power to change makes me as a marketer more fearless, more willing to experiment. I’m not longer bound by the worry that everything must be perfect and carved in stone before we push a change live on the site.

Undoubtedly, there will be mistakes. But that’s how we’ll keep getting better.

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