By Robert Springer
Web content management (WCM) software has matured from being a tool that IT controlled to being a vital part of staking a brand’s presence in the digital marketplace. And yet, the industry is still experiencing growing pains. WCM software vendors keep adding more features to software that is already overly complex, creating “demoware” that only companies with deep pockets can use.
“The gap between what the tools can do and what the customers can do to exploit the technology has really never been wider, with respect to things like personalization, multisite management and globalization,” says Tony Byrne, the founder and lead WCM analyst at Real Story Group, a publisher of independent evaluations for technology buyers. And the glut of technology is chasing a dearth of content, Byrne adds. Sure, personalization is great-if you’ve developed enough content to provide users with a unique digital experience.
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
The WCM buzzword in 2014 was “customer experience.” Everyone is talking about customer experience, according to Jake DiMare, digital strategist at Agency Oasis, an interactive digital agency. One of the reasons for the chatter is that marketing now handles WCM, not IT. This puts the focus on the customer, not the technology.
“What we’re learning is that the customer doesn’t only interact with the website when they’re making a decision about whether they want to do business with an organization,” DiMare says. “So the other big challenge or opportunity that we’re helping people wrestle with is how do we string together all these various systems of record to create a better customer experience from the cradle to the grave?”
WCM is no longer just about placing content, according to Mick MacComascaigh, research VP and lead analyst for worldwide web content management at Gartner, Inc. Instead, WCM is an integral part of a brand’s customer acquisition and retention arsenal.
“How can I maintain a relationship with individuals out there in my target audience so they continue and have more frequent touchpoints with the brand?” MacComascaigh asks. “That’s why brand sites are pumping a lot of money into this area, so it’s that idea of contextual delivery of highly relevant experiences.”
He adds, “Now, it’s more on the side of, if we want to achieve these organizational goals, what do we need to do and what do we need to invest in order to achieve those goals? So what this means is, instead of focusing on more functional or technical areas, they are incorporating web content management into their higher-level strategy.”
WCM and the cloud are proving to be a good match for many companies, according to Byrne. And while companies have been talking about putting their WCM in the cloud for years, 2014 was the year that the movement actually took hold. “Amazon is probably making more money at WCM than anyone else, including the vendors,” Byrne says. “More and more people are able to put what would otherwise be their on-premise WCM implementation and use Amazon as infrastructure as a service or platform as a service. And there are all kinds of third parties that have emerged that will manage that process and relationship for you so you don’t have to deal directly with Amazon.”
A LOOK AHEAD
A leaked report, which caused a great deal of embarrassment for one company, could end up benefiting the WCM industry as a whole. The May 2014 leak of The New York Times’ internal innovation report detailed the newspaper’s failings in transitioning its leadership in print journalism to digital channels. While embarrassing for The Times, DiMare was encouraged by what some of his clients decided to do with the information: Take a hard, critical look at their digital strategy.
“What this means to me is that people are taking a step back and they’re thinking, ‘What’s the right way to do this?'” DiMare says. “They’re starting to organize around their customer experience and not just pay it lip service. If we put our customer at the center of everything we’re trying to accomplish here and think clearly about their journey with our brand, what are the right experiences to deliver?”
A customer-centric view could cause companies to take another look at adaptive design, according to Byrne. “I don’t just want a smaller and tidier version of my site-I want someone coming in on a mobile device, particularly a smartphone, to have a completely different web experience than restacking things from a responsive standpoint,” he says. “I think in the coming years, you’ll see a return to adaptive design.”
MacComascaigh is predicting an explosion of innovation in another important area of WCM: A/B testing. A/B and multivariable testing used to be “the last thing you tried to do with your website,” he says, but it will soon become the norm, as companies continue to experiment with what works on what type of screen.
“People still don’t know-and they won’t know in 5 or 6 years- what works and what doesn’t, so they have to just play with things; a graphic that works brilliantly on a tablet may work terribly on a smartphone,” MacComascaigh says. The ability of WCM software to allow marketers to do A/B testing without involving IT will allow companies “to adapt their additional presence in a great agile way to use what’s right and take away what didn’t work,” he says.
The integration of WCM software with other digital marketing services is another trend to watch, Byrne says. Companies will start to realize that their websites are not the “be all and end all” of their digital presence, just a vital part of it. Byrne says that the majority of his customers don’t want their web CMS to be the “Swiss army knife” of their digital marketing.
So customers will need to integrate their WCM with purpose-built systems for social engagement, email marketing, and marketing automation; vendors that realize this will have an advantage over the competition, according to Byrne. For all of the evolutionary changes, organizations are now realizing that WCM is not just for managing the content on various screens-it’s an integral business tool that can improve the bottom line.