A CMS is just about content so it doesn’t need much attention, right? Wrong. In an e-commerce environment CMS means so much more than being able to edit and publish content.
E-commerce pages have dynamic content served by code and this content can change depending on the visitor session; given such variation, how can you weave static content into dynamic pages without screwing the display?
As the sophistication of consumers and online technology has risen, so have the demands on e-commerce managers to understand which tools are the best-fit for the business. Having worked on many CMS implementations and seen the pitfalls, I thought I’d share some advice on what questions you need to be asking.
Before I start, indulge me in a CMS definition. CMS is a rather generic term for a myriad of things. For this blog I’m defining CMS as the toolkit that enables web teams to access, edit and publish content to multiple channels including the website as well as targeting content based on customer segment and user profile.
1. What are the different types of content I need to manage and who owns what?
Yes I know this sounds obvious but I’ve seen this part often under-planned. You should start by mapping what content management means to your business:
- List everyone involved in producing, editing and managing content, including commercial teams selling web space to partners.
- List the different types of content that each person/team needs to manage.
- Outline which pages display copy, images, rich media, html snippets, overlays, pop-ups, pop-unders etc.
- Define what access you require to SEO assets such as meta tags, alt images, URLs etc.
- Define the landing pages you need to support the online channel.
- Define the access you need to CSS files.
- Define responsibilities - who has edit only access and to what, who approves what content, what is the workflow and what are the timeframes you have to work to.
It’s a straightforward piece of work but it takes time. You need to sit with key stakeholders and canvass their opinions and knowledge. Get this right and your project is off to a good start.
2. On what pages do I have dynamic content being served and how will this affect the implementation of a CMS?
Take, for example, your product details page. The bulk of the content is dynamically generated in a page template. The product data will be held in a database and the page will reference this to show the latest information. You will also be using cache management to serve pages quicker.
Around the product info you might want to display messages and banners to help with customer service and marketing. This content must work in conjunction with the dynamic content to ensure the page renders well and is legible to the customer.
You need to specify to your development team exactly what type of content and size, shape etc you require so they can plan the best way to integrate it into the page without compromising the existing content.
This discussion is most common for the following pages:
- Category landing page.
- Product details.
- Product list.
- Search results.
3. What merchandising tools do I want to use to personalise the shopping experience?
Enterprise level CMS solutions are getting more sophisticated; some have in-built merchandising tools that enable you to target content to specific users and customer segments.
When evaluating CMS providers, it is useful to define your merchandising hit list and see if you can kill two birds with one stone and reduce your cost base. Areas to look at:
- Display different content in marketing spots based on user profile.
- Ability to refine product display based on browsing behaviour of individual customers.
- Control site search and use business logic to define results based on search terms.
- Control navigation structure and refinements.
- Trigger activities such as outbound emails based on customer actions.
4. What testing do I want to do across the website?
Ask this question before you choose the CMS. Define what type of testing you want to do (A/B, MVT or both) and what content components you wish to be able to test – ideally everything so you’re not restricted.
It’s an important consideration because few CMS solutions natively support testing (i.e. you can’t program content tests via the CMS interface), so you’ll either require a customised plug-in or you’ll need the technical team to map how your chosen testing tool can be integrated into the CMS and where you access the testing UI from.
Make sure you work out what tools are programming and controlling the tests and where the data is being collected. You might use a CMS to display the content versions but a dedicated testing tool to program the conditions.
5. How do I want to measure the impact of my content?
Linked closely with Testing, it’s important to measure the impact of your content on site performance. To achieve this you need to understand how you can tag each content component to ensure the data is being collected in the right reports in your web analytics.
Many of the enterprise level CMS providers have plug-ins for tools like Google Analytics and the leading analytics suites like Omniture SiteCatalyst but ask the question, don’t assume it will work.
Start by defining what you want to measure, then work back to how it can be measured. If you’re not sure how it should work, speak to an expert.
6. What other systems does my CMS need to talk to?
Unless you’re running a pure content website, you’ll have any number of back office and ecommerce systems helping your site tick over. You need to understand how the CMS interacts with these systems to ensure it doesn’t destabilise the platform.
A good example is external cache management tools; if you want to implement rapid content changes but pages are cached to improve site performance, you’ll need a way of invalidating the cache at component level to release the new content.
So what do you think? I know this isn’t an exhaustive list, so what else do you think is important? I’d be interested to hear your experience of the above as well as other techniques you have used to improve the quality of your CMS solution.