As a SharePoint Architect who specializes in Web Content Managed (WCM) sites, I wanted to share some of the trends that I am seeing in the market. Choosing a platform for your public facing web site can be a daunting task; I hope that I can answer some of the common questions and concerns that you may have as you start your WCM journey.
First, a brief look back. I built my first website in 1997. It was a GeoCities site filled with progressively loading JPGs and animated GIFS. It was awesome and I loved it. I remember going to it every day and watching the hit counter go up and up and up. I loved it because the platform made it easy for me to do what I wanted to do, as long as I knew enough HTML to get those table-based layouts just right. That really was the start of web content management for me: those template-based sites that would let moderately technical users create a web site and manage their content.
A lot has changed since the days of GeoCities. Today we have truly enterprise-level web content management tools like SiteCore, SharePoint, Ektron, and a whole host of others. Not only have the needs around content creation grown; the business requirements have grown as well. Today’s tools need to be able to:
- target content to multiple audience segments
- track where users are coming from and what they are viewing and doing
- push data about users to a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to feed the sales pipeline
- provide event registration and file downloads
- stream audio and video
- let users engage with the business
- integrate with social media
The web site is truly part of the corporate communications ecosystem.
Technologically speaking I have come a long way from GeoCities. Today I work with SharePoint and SiteCore. I have had the privilege to work on projects for large colleges and universities, high tech companies, and financial services companies, building web presences and extranets for them on these tools. As part of my day I work with clients to figure out what their web content management needs are, how these needs integrate with other business systems, what are the metrics that they need to report on, and how they engage with their users to get their messaging across effectively. All of these questions affect the decision on the right content management solution for their business.
I have been working with Microsoft web content management technologies since 2002 with MCMS and SharePoint. Web Content Management is part of the functionality that comes with SharePoint and with the release of SharePoint 2013 this gets a lot more robust. SharePoint 2013 makes it easy for non-technical users to create and manage content for a web site, similar to what GeoCities did for me back in 1997. It does this through a web based interface similar to Microsoft Word that lets the authors create content directly in the page. Authors only need to know how to use Office and navigate the site to be able to edit content. SharePoint 2013 makes it easier for visual designers and front end developers to create pixel perfect designs through new features such as the Design Manager (which integrates with standard web development environments) and implement them in SharePoint rather than having to modify their designs to fit the content management system.
In today’s web environment no self-respecting site should launch without a robust search engine. The search functionality in SharePoint 2013 is much more robust than it was in the past. Content in SharePoint is now search-driven rather than collection-driven as it was in SharePoint 2010. We all remember the content query web part that let you create a query to search against all the content in a site collection through the API. Now, we can use the Content Search web part that lets us surface content across site collections and web applications because it reads from the search index. This is faster and has less of an impact on the rendering time of the page. Consider being able to pull a listing of news items from your public facing web site and easily surface it on your intranet or extranet site.
As part of the growing Web Content Management capabilities at BlueMetal we are happy to announce our partnership with SiteCore. I have been familiar with SiteCore for a number of years now. Previously I worked for an agency that had all the technical staff trained in SiteCore. I was impressed with the product and how easy it was to develop in compared to SharePoint 2007. While SiteCore and SharePoint both offer the ability to manage web content and publish content to users, SiteCore shines from a truly digital marketing aspect. The platform makes it simple to track users on their journey through the web site and serve content to them that is relevant not only to attributes in their profile but to the pages that they have clicked on during their visit. It also comes with a robust marketing campaign tool that lets the marketing team create vanity URLs specific to campaigns and change the content on a page based on the referral URL. From a development perspective there are differences as well. SiteCore takes a much more standard .NET developer-based approach so the skill set necessary to develop a site is more generic, rather than requiring explicit knowledge of the SharePoint API and App Model.
SharePoint and SiteCore are only two tools in an already bursting toolbox. There are tools like Ektron, Kentico, Drupal, and Joomla, all that have their own pros and cons. When you are selecting a content management system it is important to look at what your core needs are and find the tool that will best fit those needs. You don’t want to think that all you need is a brochureware type site and then get part way through your implementation only to realize you must now spend significant money to develop a custom solution to integrate with your CRM tool that a more high-powered platform could have done out of the box.
From the starting days of GeoCities and AOL to enterprise level CMS platforms like SharePoint and SiteCore we have come a long way. Managing web sites has gotten easier and more complex all at the same time. The advances in platform and functionality make it an exciting time for me as an architect to help my clients make the right decision for their business regardless of technology. And if you have read this far then you are as passionate about creating usable systems to manage public facing web site as I am. Let us know how we can help navigate you through these difficult decisions.