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
  • Product details.
  • Product list.
  • Search results.
  • Basket.
  • Checkout.

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

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

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.