Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Step right up and watch me change this page! Blindfolded!

Over the years I have seen well over a hundred web content management system demos. I have even done a few myself. But it doesn't take watching many demos before you notice that they all follow the same general patterns. "Watch me change this page." "This is how I find the content I was looking for." "Doesn't this demo website look nicer than yours?" OK, the last one is more implied than said. In this era of Web Experience Management, there are some new elements to the story. "See how this page looks differently to different audiences with different intents on different platforms?"

Don't get me wrong. I still get excited by the possibilities of technology that can show a visitor the perfect content in the ideal format. The problem is that achieving this goal assumes that the user knows what the perfect content and ideal format are. But we don't — not by a long shot. The best we can do is preview a page pretending to be a visitor; and that takes a lot of guesswork.

The missing element in this story is the visitor. That is significant because the visitor is the heart of WEM. After all, the "E" in "WEM" stands for the visitor's experience, not the experience of the content editor previewing the page. How do we get the visitor into the center of the demo's narrative? It is hard to switch back and forth between the visitor and the editor without making the demo appear choppy and disjointed. Besides, as I said earlier, we usually don't know as much about the visitor as we would like to.

Perhaps a better way would be to use data to represent the visitor. Having done demos, I know that showing transactional data (like web traffic) is a real challenge. You need to have lots of recent data to make the demo look realistic. This is why the analytics segment of a WCM demo usually falls flat. The demo environment usually just has a few hits — not enough to see any real trends. That said, wouldn't it be great to go through a scenario that begins with realistic visitor traffic data?

I could imagine a story that started in an analytics area with the identification of an under performing section of the site. Perhaps, you are getting search traffic on the wrong key words. Maybe a lot of people get to the page but then you loose them. Maybe you dig a little deeper and you notice particularly low conversion rates within what you thought was a high potential audience segment. At this point you could show how you reconcile audience segments between the analytics package and the WCMS personalization engine. That is, the CMS might have a "big spender" visitor profile, but how do you see that same population on the analytics side?

From there, you might validate that these visitors are seeing what you configured them to see. Going deeper, you might notice that "big spenders" are predominantly coming from mobile devices. You preview the personalized page on a mobile emulator and, BAM, the answer hits you in the face. The graphic that you thought would be so compelling to this group doesn't scale very well on mobile and makes the page unusable. Only then do you start editing content.

There could be many variations of this story but the key point is that the platform is helping solve the biggest obstacle to engaging visitors: understanding them. I would argue that unless you understand your visitors to this level, you shouldn't even touch personalization functionality. You are not engaging visitors; you are stereotyping them and then ignoring them. You may even be making their experiences worse because you haven't really tested what they will see. You are flying blind. What kind of business value is there in tool that facilitates unproductive tasks? I would argue less than none.