Should You Focus on Web Experience Management Today?

Ms. Cynthia Siemens
March 13, 2012 — 1,771 views  
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The emergence of mobile and multi-channel marketing has fueled the fire around customer experience management (CEM or, as dubbed by Forrester, CXM), but especially web experience management (WEM). There’s zero debate as to whether or not engaging and retaining the attention of potential and existing customers is worth doing—it’s a matter of survival in this era of extreme media dispersion and distraction.

Oracle’s acquisition of Fatwire, among similar industry moves, makes it very clear that it’s considered an imperative by the enterprise software industry as well as by the customers Oracle hopes to continue serving.

For companies currently getting their web content management technologies and processes up to speed for the purpose of greater business agility, the questions are: Do we have time to “do” WEM in the sense and to the degree that the business media is saying we must? Does this need to be one of our highest priorities as a practice apart from or in addition to other brand and digital-content projects?

Turns out these are very important questions.

Where Does WEM Fit?

Up front, let’s note that the Gilbane Group’s Mary LaPlante opined back in July 2008 that “WEM is evolutionaryrather than revolutionary, enabling stakeholders to see WEM as a natural extension of traditional online marketing.”

Just as importantly, she noted that WEM is a practice, not a technology or a product, and it’s a practice that involves the integration of business, marketing, and IT processes, using traditional marketing approaches as a “legacy of understanding” on which to build and extend WEM.

In her white paper, LaPlante said that personalization, user-generated content, community, and collaboration are the components of engagement in the practice of WEM. In the three years since she drafted the paper, these components have indeed proven to be instrumental in engaging customers and others throughout our business ecosystems.

Deep Personalization: Not for Every Business Model

So let’s just look at personalization for a moment. Personalization of web content has been a major focus of enterprise marketers and digital agencies for a number of years, and has shown itself to be an effective catalyst for customer engagement—when it’s done well.

Personalization – along with its companion practice, multivariate testing – is compelling because it’s intended in its ultimate implementation to automate the process of determining and presenting customized content for digital audiences on the fly.

The bottom line, however, is that for WEM to drive results, someone—or a team of someones—has to take the time to:

  • Create variations of content and layout
  • Test user behavior on those variations
  • Define meaningful outcomes from those tests
  • Use those outcomes to modify the site or branch it for different target groups
  • Lather, rinse, and repeat across different devices, platforms, geographies, etc.

As independent content strategist Seth Gottlieb has said in his blog:

Most content organizations do not have the maturity, discipline, and energy to fully leverage this kind of technology… Investment is higher than expected: you have to manage more complex technology, you need to develop more content, and you need to test a lot more.

No doubt this is meant not as a slam on most content organizations, but rather as a reality check. After all, any marketing or content professional who’s helped develop a website with even two or three different experiences – for two or three different consumer profiles, or for multiple buyer personas – knows how much work goes into planning, development, layout, and testing of that customized content. Personalization also adds complexity to management and staffing. Then, once the investment of staff time and agency dollars has been made, it can be very tough to measure the return.

And deep personalization of content isn’t right for every business or business model. On ad-driven sites, more clicks mean more revenue. For companies with a longer sales cycle, taking customers deeper into compelling and targeted product or service information may only require the deployment of a few tactical landing pages per project, rather than a highly personalized user experience.

In fact, your web CMS may already have capabilities in place to simplify targeting, as well as A/B and multivariate testing.

How to Know Whether You’re Ready for WEM

There are a few tell-tale signs of organizational readiness for a deep investment in web experience management. Those signs are:

  • You have a marketing and/or corporate communications messaging strategy
  • You have a strategy for your content
  • The content strategy has largely been executed
  • Updated persuasive and shorter-term content is easily launched
  • You’ve established a solid, reliable time-to-market baseline
  • You have analytical data on your messaging and e-marketing projects and know what’s been working
  • You have high-level buy-in on your justification for investing in WEM.
What You Can Do Instead and Until

Analyst Ian Truscott has said, with tongue in cheek:

Every conversation about engagement cannot be solely about just understanding the visitor. The reason why I get so excited about web engagement from a content management professional’s perspective is that it drives organizations to look closely at the lifeblood of the web engagement thing—content… I think to do this engagement thing properly, start with a decent WCM and content management strategy before you start rushing to provide your visitor with a personalized view of your grubby, out-of-date undergarments.

The platform on which you can execute a well-designed WEM strategy includes these milestones:

  • Fully flesh out your content strategy. For great resources on how to do this, see Six Revisions and CM Pros.
  • Fully analyze, strategize, and execute excellent site navigation and search capabilities across all your sites.
  • Execute these strategies and get most of your content in place.
  • Take advantage of the tools you have in place to do targeting, testing, and analysis in small bites that map to your top-of-list marketing and business objectives.
  • Begin outlining the people, processes, and tools you’ll need to support the creative and analytical aspects of deeper personalization and overall experience management.
Use the Testing and Targeting Tools You Already Have

With many major WCM companies integrating analytics and customer data connectivity, your current CMS may have some tools in place for easing the process of microsite development, testing and targeting, and analysis. Your team may also have access to other marketing technologies that can help you ease into WEM, a step at a time.

It just makes sense to lay a foundation for future web experience development and management—if an in-depth practice of WEM is right for your business in the first place. After that, you can begin small with testin

Ms. Cynthia Siemens

Cynthia Siemens is the Editor-in-Chief of She has worked with software and technology companies for over 20 years, including Symantec, Cisco, Adobe, CA, Oracle, LivePix, Logitech, Uniloc USA, and Knowledge Adventure.