5 CMS and Ecommerce Tips to Ensure a Successful Site

5 CMS and Ecommerce Tips to Ensure a Successful Site

Niteco knows the pitfalls that can make a CMS and E-Commerce project fail before its time. To ensure a successful site, follow these tips by Episerver MVP Nicola Ayan.


As experts in developing CMS and E-Commerce systems of all sizes, my colleagues at Niteco and I have seen many things. We can barely count the amount of times we’ve been called in by a company that asked us to salvage their failing site and turn it into the great performer the business needed. Having seen this many website development processes both from the inside and the outside, we come in knowing exactly which questions to ask and where to look.

To make sure that your CMS or E-Commerce project doesn’t go to the big database in the sky before you’ve gotten your money’s worth, here are the 5 CMS and E-Commerce pitfalls you should avoid at all costs:


1. Forget to include content producers in the software development life cycle

According to DemandMetric, 90% of organizations market with content. 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing, while 86% use it when it comes to B2B. A good 72% of marketers say content marketing increases engagement. The same majority say it has increased the number of leads, according to Optinmonster.

60% of marketers create at least one piece of content each day, says eMarketer. And as for the targets of this content: 70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advert, according to DemandMetric.

Based on these stats, it’s quite obvious how important content is in the world of marketing. A marketing manager once described to me the way they would produce and upload content for their B2B E-Commerce website. Someone from her team would produce the content in a Word document, adding images, video embeds, headings and links. Once done, they would pass this Word document on to their development partner so the tech partner could load the content into the CMS.

I was surprised. So I asked why this was the case. Was it because they didn’t have the capacity to do the content loading? Was the CMS new to them, were they still getting familiar? She said, “No, we’ve had the CMS for a while now. The CMS is just hard to use”.

I’ve had similar conversations with other content producers from different industries. The themes, however, are not dissimilar to each other: “I’m afraid I might break the website if I use it”, “We’re very dependent on developers when making content changes”, “It’s restrictive, I can’t format content easily”, “I can’t easily preview my changes”.

Adjust how you look at the development life cycle

If you look at the software development life cycle (SDLC), you typically start with the planning and analysis stages. You spend time understanding your customers and end users to be able to come up with the best user experience. You then build a design that matches this ‘ideal user experience’. You proceed to the build and test phases, go live and maintain.

But in the world of CMS, you actually have one more phase to include in the SDLC, and that’s the “content loading” phase. This is typically when the content producers are given the keys to the car. They can start driving, but will they enjoy the ride? This is also when (and I’ve seen this happen a few times in projects) the content producers see the editorial screen for the first time. And they’re shocked. And scared. And scratching their heads. Instead of worrying about crafting good content, they will also have to worry about how to enter the content in the first place, how to format, how to optimize and maintain.

Companies encounter this pitfall for leaving this too late in the cycle. Ironically, content creators are the ones who use the CMS day in and day out with the aim of improving brand loyalty, lead generation, increased direct sales. But they are slowed down by the CMS itself and with the way it was implemented for them. What should we do?

Back to the SDLC. We need to involve content editors and producers in the planning stages of our project, before any build starts. Future-proof your next project by aiming to understand early on what content marketing activities they will be performing on the CMS.

Do they have on-page editing so they don’t need to switch back and forth between editing and previews? Can they set up content approval workflows? Can they easily crop and re-size images? Would they like that to be automated? Can they easily add CTAs? How will they manage SEO? Will they need to be able to push content out to social media platforms?

We’re so focused on providing the best experience to our customers that we tend to forget the experience of content producers in dealing with the CMS. This should be a simple, straight-forward process that allows content creators to focus more on storytelling and less on the formatting and optimizations an article may require.


2. Not laying a solid foundation

Last year, we had a chat with an IT manager of a company which had an E-Commerce platform that was 4 major versions behind. They hadn’t upgraded it for a very long time. The site is still up and running, sales are still coming through. They seem to have good developers in house. But I asked why they didn’t upgrade. He said, “The development team has built so many features, functions and customizations in the CMS, it’s very feature-rich now, which is great. However, all of these customizations and extensions were tightly coupled to the CMS, meaning that these are now standing in the way of an upgrade. If we were to upgrade, these components would break and have to be re-written.”

When new features are required, it’s tempting to just build these on top of all or part of your CMS/E-Commerce platform. And because of this, websites can easily become this huge monolithic monster that can do everything but is hard to disentangle or change and maintain by your development team.

Yes, customizations are required. They are everywhere. And they’re good when they are implemented the standard way. However, when they are tightly coupled, hard to turn off, and can’t easily be swapped out for another component, this will stand in the way of innovation or of an upgrade and therefore shorten the lifespan of the platform. What should we do?

Before thinking about innovation and the latest trends in E-Commerce such as AI, AR, and chatbots, we need to ensure our platform is built on a solid foundation.

Think modular

First tip: A good website is like a Lego set. It should follow a modular architecture that will make modifying and customizing projects easy. Components and functions should be loosely coupled or decoupled. They should be modular, easy to turn on and off, and easy to swap out for another component.

But aside from the architecture, we also need to consider several important elements, elements which we call “the unsexy stuff”. These are speed, security and scalability. These are elements that are typically outside the control of marketing teams and unfortunately given less focus:

  1. Speed - Is your website fast enough? Are you getting drop-offs because of the performance? Is your website always up?
  2. Security - Are you PCI compliant? Have you done penetration testing? Is your data intact and secure? Are all your APIs secured?
  3. Scalability - Does your website scale to requirements? Is your infrastructure prepared to auto-scale?

It’s important to invest time and effort into building a platform that has a solid foundation if you want to future-proof your website. It is pointless, at this stage, to worry about the latest trends like AR or AI, machine learning, chatbots, voice and all these cognitive services if the website is not even going to stand up, if it’s not robust, fast, secure and scalable.


3. Not growing and evolving with the business and technology

As the lines blur between the physical and digital environment, multiple channels will become more prevalent in customers’ path to purchase, according to the Harvard Business Review. This is evidenced by 73% of customers using multiple channels during their shopping journey. No wonder that omni-channel solutions become ever more present.

Currently, 17% percent of retailers are in the midst of re-platforming, while more than 72% say they plan to switch within the next two years, says DigitalCommerce360. Interesting stats.

We have a client who was about to throw out their CMS/E-Commerce platform last year. We were brought in to assist them in maintaining their existing system, just ensuring that the lights are still on, while they were putting together an RFP to evaluate several platforms. During this period, we noticed that their platform was 3 major versions behind (that’s several years of no upgrades). Their frontend and UI were 7 years old. And any changes they had made since go-live were very trivial and minor.

Fast-forward 6 months, after back-and-forth meetings and discussions with them, we were able to convince the client that by just upgrading their platform to the latest version, and first focusing on the “un-sexy” stuff like performance, stability, and security, the lifespan of their platform could be extended, for even longer than they had wanted it to be. So we went ahead and upgraded.

Reuse what you have

After 10 months and upgrading the platform 2 major versions forward, moving to a later version of the enterprise search, moving off a legacy integration for one of their payment gateways, and implementing optimizations of the frontend delivery for performance reasons, the state of their website had never been better.

In their biggest annual sales event, they reached the highest number of concurrent users on the website (a 97% increase), sales grew by 134%, and interestingly the average session duration even decreased by 23% (from 9:31 to 7:20). Again, considering the amount of work that was saved, the outcome was significant.

Now, after launching a site, a lot of us tend to take a rest. Why not, right? We’ve put in all the hard work for a good 6 months, a year, a year and half. But after go-live, new needs arise, requirements change, new leaders join the business, new strategies are put in place. And when this happens, it’s tempting to find workarounds or fast-and-dirty solutions and jump back to “keeping the lights on” mode.

Add in the factor that the people supporting the system are most likely not the people who built it. You might have engaged with a development partner during the build and taken it in-house after the go-live. So it’s very likely that over time, workarounds accumulate, technical debt increases, the system that you now have is far from the one you actually need.

You didn’t upgrade, you didn’t invest in it further. Fast-forward 2 years, you want to re-build or re-platform again.

A continuous process

Once we’ve launched a new site, we shouldn’t think of it as “finished”. Our jobs aren’t over. We need to think of it as a living thing that needs care and feeding. We need to expect tweaks and changes to keep up with our evolving organizational strategy, business needs, and operational procedures.

And this is why the maintenance and post-go-live phases are just as important as the initial build, maybe even more so. We need to constantly keep investing in our platform to ensure it is still future-proof. When our business grows, our systems and platforms should grow with it. They can’t stay behind.

The same goes for technology itself, not just the evolution of our business. We need to keep up with the latest versions of the systems and the platforms we’re using, be pro-active in knowing the roadmap. Our partners might be optimizing their systems and therefore we need to keep up with the new ways of integrating into them.

Going back to my customer, they’re no longer re-platforming after the successful event. They’ve realized their platform is actually powerful. It’s now on the latest version and they now realize they just need to give it some love every now and again.


4. Solving the wrong problem

Last year, a marketing director told me their company knew very little about their customers. They said that they didn’t have much analytical or anecdotal data, but wanted to apply research methods to learn more. But then, in the same breath, they described to me their plans to redesign the digital experience with new creative, interactive tools and other “bells and whistles”. It raised an eyebrow for sure.

Why did it raise my eyebrow? Because they told me ‘what’ they’re going to do, but not ‘why’ and for ‘who’ they’re doing it, and ‘how’ it will benefit customers or even the business. They described tactics and ideas while at the same time confessing to not knowing what their customers want or need.

This reverse approach – or ‘starting with a solution’ – leads to solving the wrong problem!

Companies encounter this pitfall for various reasons: when working fast is considered more important than working smart, or when there is an underlying culture of business before people, or when flashy ideas are prioritized because teams think that is what customers remember.

But what customers want is an effortless experience, one that they don’t remember; that’s right… one they don’t remember because it did everything they expected, it met their needs and desires at the right time, in the right place and within the right context.

What do you want to achieve?

So how do you ensure you’re solving the right problem? Put customers first, embrace what you don’t know to formulate/frame problems and goals. It’s great to have ideas, but use formal and informal ways to validate or invalidate ideas, and be open to learning and changing along the way.

Focus on the ‘why’, not just the ‘what’, and ask yourself these customer-first questions:

  1. What feedback have customers given us about our brand, product and/or experience? This will help you empathize with customers, understand their needs and leverage cross-channel insights from customer focused teams and tools
  2. How are customers behaving and what is this telling us? This will help you formulate hypotheses and frame the problem from the customer’s point of view
  3. Have we outlined the customer benefit against every idea or tactic? This will help you get ‘buy-in’ for ideas across different parts of the business, which might have conflicting interests or objectives. The customer becomes the unifier.
  4. Are we aggregating diverse sources of data and tools to enrich our customer approach? This will ensure that you are using a streamlined yet robust understanding of the customer to inform systems and marketing decisions.

Asking these customer-focused questions ensures you are investing in solving problems that deliver the highest value. And to find the exact elements that need changing, it’s always a good idea to use A/B Testing.


5. A fragmented approach to ideas & innovation

As long ago as 2015, 75% of the world’s most valuable brands had created some form of virtual or augmented reality experience for customers or employees, or were themselves innovating and developing these technologies, according to the Walker Sands Report 2015.

As per the Inside Retail Survey 2016, 28% of Australian retailers planned to adopt VR within the next 12 months. However, over half the business leaders surveyed said they did not have a mobile app or mobile website.

Perhaps that is why 4 of the last 5 briefs we received listed creative ideas and innovation as a priority and key assessment criteria. When discussing this specific point with businesses they elaborate by saying, “we want ‘wow’ ideas that will make us stand out to our customers and from our competitors: personalization, chatbots, VR, AR, AI…”, and so on.

As they say, innovate or die. We do believe in that to a certain extent. It’s incredibly important not only to brands but to us collectively as an industry. We want to drive digital growth and new ideas that benefit people and improve the way things are done – failure to do so will see the stagnation or even end of industries.

So why have I listed this as a common pitfall?

A holistic approach to innovation

We’ve seen innovation being addressed in isolation, separated from foundational considerations and requirements. As I said earlier, you need a rock-solid foundation for any innovation to function and thrive.

How can you address this, drive customer engagement and deliver individualized experiences?

Think of innovation holistically and proactively, and ask yourself: “Are we ready for innovation?” Assess how future-ready the platform and proposed approach is. Thinking about this will not only you’re your innovation perform, but it will improve the pace of innovation in years to come.

In order to offer personalization, deliver emerging technologies, and create a seamless omni-channel content experience to your customers, you need to build systems and processes that automate and adapt. The benefit of this is that you’re getting your platform to do the heavy lifting and leveraging data and machine learning to deliver hyper-personalized, innovative and even predictive experiences at scale.

Easily said, but also easily done; here’s how. Ask yourself these ‘future-readiness’ questions:

  1. Is your platform extensible enough? Back to one of my earlier points; does it have the capability to display automated recommendations, further empowering editors?
  2. Do you have the right DXP architecture? Can it easily integrate with machine learning services?
  3. Is your website constantly evolving with the business? AI-driven processes are expensive. Robust, scalable, and flexible cloud resources are a prerequisite for agile, affordable experimentation in machine learning.
  4. Is your customer data ready? In order for machine learning algorithms to be effective, they need clean, structured, tagged, and organized data to reference.

This will get you ahead of the curve, tick that important innovation criteria, and deliver extraordinary individualized experiences for your customers.

Do you think that mistakes were made in the development of your site? Are you planning a new project and afraid that you’ll stumble on any of these pitfalls? Contact Niteco now to find out how we can help you to make your site the best it can be.

About The Author

Nicola Ayan

Nicola Ayan

Episerver Solution Architect

Nicola Ayan is Niteco’s Sydney-based Solutions Architect whose knowledge of Episerver has won her a spot as a MVP. In addition to her Episerver expertise, Nicola is also Microsoft certified. She’s an avid blogger on all-things Episerver and Microsoft. Contact her to discuss your next project: [email protected]