Historically, organizations have implemented web content management (WCM) systems because of the promised intangibles — ease of use, simpler content creation process and happier end users. Measuring the ROI of WCMs and whether they cut costs is less clear-cut than other software solutions. It’s easy to show that moving to an open source website platform will be cheaper than staying on a proprietary platform, but how do you measure a software’s cost when its efficiency and effectiveness depends on how people use it, not just the software itself?

Whether you’re shopping for a new WCM system or implementing one for the first time, knowing how to calculate the ROI and make the business case for your software of choice ensures that you’re able to purchase the correct tool for your users’ needs.

Calculating the ROI for Your Organization

Most WCM experts recommend calculating the ROI of web content management by categorizing tasks and resources. This allows you to compare the time and money being saved with a WCM system, and thus the long-term value.

Because the efficiency (and thus the ROI) of web content management depends on how your team gets work done, the first step is to estimate how long each task currently takes. Then, compare that to an estimate of how long the task will take on the new WCM system.

Once you have a time estimate, you can begin to tie that to cost, which can be ultimately turned into a tool for measuring your ROI. Because there is so much variation between content creation processes, these numbers won’t be the same from organization to organization, maybe not even from department to department. It’s important to work from your team’s actual numbers, rather than industry averages.

Though it was written in 2009, Gilbane has a solid, simple process for estimating WCM costs. For each task, identify the resources it requires and multiply by the cost of each. In the below example, for the task of Web Page Design and Development, Gilbane identifies the following resources: Time to design, develop, review and deploy a web page; cost of a web developer; cost of one web page; and number of web pages to be designed, developed and deployed.

Once you have an idea of how much each task costs, you can work with the vendor or call references in order to estimate costs under the new system. It’s also important to check the performance of the new system (page load times, for instance) and weigh that against the performance of your current system to see how the time given to each task will be affected.

To get you started, here is a list of common tasks and resources to measure:

Content Creation Tasks

  • Authoring content
  • Publishing process (ease of publishing and workflows)
  • Editing or resizing images
  • Creating localized content
  • Updating more than one website (particularly for companies with lots of product lines, subsidiaries or multi-regional needs)
  • Updating content that lives on more than one page
  • Training new users

Web Development Tasks

  • Designing, developing and deploying web pages
  • Designing and developing web templates
  • Troubleshooting/support for content creators
  • Integrating marketing tools or other content services
  • Localizing content and web pages
  • Customizing out-of-the-box tools
  • Documenting web tools and processes

Common Resources

  • Number of content creators
  • Number of developers
  • Number of IT support/page managers
  • Hardware costs
  • Software license costs
  • Training costs (purchased from the vendor or in-house)

Recommendations to Begin Calculating Web Content Management ROI

  • Start by identifying the web content management tasks that would be moved to the new system.
  • ROI calculations are easy to manipulate. Have an unbiased party review your numbers to ensure that you’re making fair, rather than hopeful, estimates.
  • Don’t forget to measure the cost of initial training and future on-boarding, to create a more accurate sense of the long-term costs.
  • Cut things, not people. There are two mindsets with ROI. One focuses on doing the same amount of work with less people (i.e., firing some), and the second focuses on how much more work your existing team can finish, now that they have more time. With the increasing importance of content, taking the latter mindset positions you to scale and expand your content strategy to really impact your business across the board. The motto here is “Do more with less,” not “Get by with the bare minimum.”

Don’t Discount Soft ROI

A happier workforce is a more productive one. The process of content creation takes a lot of collaboration — brainstorming, drafting, gathering feedback, working with copy and design teams — and finding tools that make work easier drives the intangible ROI that most people associate with implementing a WCM system. An ROI evaluation can’t capture employee retention or work satisfaction, but improving your team’s daily work experience does impact your organization in a positive way.

By taking into consideration both a quantitative cost evaluation and a broader review of how you can improve the employee experience, you can create better insight on whether a new WCM solution is truly worth the investment for your team.

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