The Website Management Shift from IT to Marketing

Norman Graves
April 07, 2016 5 min read

The question as to who owns the keys to the website is one that has dogged businesses for years. The battle lines were drawn between the geeks in IT and the staff in marketing. For a while the geeks held the upper hand simply because they were the only ones that could understand how the site worked, while to the marketers it was so much gobbledegook. This situation had some rather strange consequences including the most expensive copy typists in history. Computer Science PhDs were routinely involved in simply copying and pasting content while perhaps adding a few simple styles and publishing on the company website.
Something had to give and it was these financial pressures that led to the development of the Content Management System (CMS). Early CMSs were based on a print metaphor, not surprising when one considers that that is what they have evolved from. Then around the turn of the millennium, someone realised that you could store content in the form of HTML as a record in a database and serve it up into a page or page template dynamically. This made it possible to manage a website online simply by editing and manipulating HTML stored as database records. These early dynamic CMSs used online WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors to add and edit content and simple permissions systems to effectively manage the site through a set of additional pages, grafted onto the website as a sort of extranet.
Such systems held out the promise that marketing could take over from IT and manage the website without their help. However, it didn’t always work out that way, for while the technology would allow it, the politics often would not. The noughties were the scene of a turf war between the marketers and the IT geeks as to who should be responsible for maintaining the website. Gradually, over time, it is the marketers who have achieved this. This is in part because the demarcation lines between what is essentially the responsibility of marketing and the responsibility of IT has become clearer, but also more recently because the CMSs themselves have become more valuable as marketing tools.
When CMSs were first deployed, IT would worry about security. Pure dynamic web content systems, those which allow direct editing of content online and publish at the click of a mouse, are potentially vulnerable to attack. Security was just a password away – and we all know that passwords are not the most secure of things. Allowing direct access to the HTML content in the database also laid them open to so called ‘injection attacks’. The solution that has emerged is to separate the content editing function from the content deployment function. Marketing can now create and edit content to their hearts content in a secure walled environment called Staging, while IT can take responsibility for deploying that content to the live servers in a way that guarantees integrity.
The last five years or so have seen the evolution of CMSs to include tools that are of specific interest to the marketing function. These so called marketing optimisation systems allow marketing departments to optimise the website in ways that were practically impossible in the past. Web analytics have been around since not long after the web was invented, and over time they have evolved to become more and more sophisticated. It is by coupling these to various other functions that marketing optimisation comes about. Things like tagging the results of an email marketing campaign form part of the marketing optimisation as well as having the ability to test minor variations in page layout or design using A/B testing, and the use of lead scoring and targeted and personalised content allow for more effective cross selling and up selling.
Technologies such as this have made the operation of the website more and more of a marketing-led function which has led to a takeover by marketing of the operation of the website while the IT department focusses on what it is good at, managing the environment and security of the systems.

Written by Norman Graves