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What I Learned From Building 100 Pages in Sitecore .
Over a six-week period, I built almost 100 pages in Sitecore for a website migration project. Both the CMS and I survived (just!), and I thought I’d reflect on what I learned, what went well and what I’d do differently next time.
Organise Content Early
I’m a huge fan of starting a project with content.
When everyone is familiar with the amount, quality and quirks of what’s actually going on the website (or any digital platform), it makes it easier to design a build a solution that will work. As this was a site migration, we knew what we were dealing with from the beginning.
We started the project with a content inventory and identified which pages were coming across in their entirety and which ones needed to be rewritten, absorbed into other pages or removed. Once we had our new sitemap nailed down, I used Gather Content to stay organised.
I was able to replicate the sitemap in Gather Content and create page templates that would be used across the site. I then used their drag-and-drop functionality to build out each page, indicating where blocks of text, images and video, as well as the calls to action, would go.
While there were times where I felt I was duplicating efforts (I built 100 pages in Gather Content just to build them again in Sitecore), it was worth the time up-front so both the client and agency project teams were aligned.
Paired with our page template designs, this platform allowed the client to easily visualise what the content on the page would look like. I was able to add suggested word counts and guidance on what type of media could be used to best effect.
The workflow process in Gather Content can be set up to move content through the creation and approval process with minimal fuss. It was a great tool and I’ll definitely use it again.
Talk About Images Sooner
On nearly every digital project I’ve worked on, the problem of images is constant. Low resolution, poor composition, the wrong orientation or the lack of any imagery whatsoever leads to website pages that lack visual consistency and are out of balance on the page.
While my content inventory gathered the page content we’d need to migrate, we didn’t talk about the images that were required for each page soon enough. That meant we were trying to find workarounds as we were building the pages.
A lot of our pages used a CTA component that had an image at the top, a headline, teaser copy and a button CTA. By default, we assumed a landscape image would be used, but we had a mix of portrait and landscape. When we used a portrait image, they came out quite stretched.
To solve this, we created a parameter which could be applied to each CTA component to tell it how the image was orientated and the proper styling could be applied. In essence, it created a window frame within the component, so regardless of which image we used, it would always fit within the frame.
By applying this new parameter and some front-end magic, we were able to use both landscape and portrait images in the CTA image window.
On another page, this one to list out some product accessories, we had approximately 25-30 images of varying styles, sizes and quality. Some products had images and others didn’t. We started with a grid of CTA components, but the lack of consistency and the slow loading times on the page were proving problematic.
Instead, we changed the format of the page and added a table with the product names hyperlinked to the image file in the media library. Customers could still see the image if it was available, but our page looked a lot cleaner and the loading time was much faster. Next time, I’ll do an image audit as soon as we kick off the project.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
It’s fair to say I wouldn’t have gotten through the project without the help of the project team, both client-side and internal, but I relied mostly on the help of my front-end developer. Sitecore can be a tricky CMS to work with (they all are to be honest), and there will always be challenges with the look, feel and functionality that will be beyond most marketers.
So my advice: make friends with your devs. Bake them cookies, do the tea run or, if like me you work in a different part of the country to them, find other ways to build rapport and work together effectively.
We made this work by:
- Using Slack for quick questions on the build, for banter, to send emojis (mostly the crying ones) and to bond over our shared CMS woesCatching up daily in the afternoons to share progress on page builds and talk through thornier challenges that needed more time and collaboration
- Using a shared Google sheet listing all the pages with details about the build, such as:
o which page template we were using
o whether the pages were in build, dev review or ready for QA
o what the staging site URL was for each page
o if there were queries that were sitting with the client
We set the client up on a Slack channel as well, which was great to have a dedicated place where everyone was able to get the answers they needed quickly. Find the communication channels that work for you and share often.
Create Once, Publish Everywhere
One of the great features of Sitecore is that the presentation of the content sits separately to the content itself. This means we can create content once and pull it through to various components on whatever page we need.
This was really helpful when working with standard calls to action, promotional banners or repeated information. Rather than duplicating that content on each page, we stored it in a sitewide folder and were able to reuse it across multiple pages.
It’s a great way to future-proof your website: if that content needs to be updated, the content manager only has to update it in one place rather than trying to find each instance of it across the site.
As I was building, there were times when I would create the content at the page level only to realise it would need to be used elsewhere. Sitecore makes it really easy to move content around in the Content Tree, so I was able to move things around and simply double check that the components on the page were pointing to the right data source.
Play to Sitecore’s Strengths
There are definite strengths to both the Content Editor and the Experience Editor, but I found myself drawn to the Content Editor, especially when working with pages that shared a lot of the same formatting.
As soon as I had a page with the basic format in place – the lead banner, the intro paragraph, the CTAs – I would copy that content to a new page in the Content Editor and then edit the content there rather than switching to the Experience Editor.
Once I had the bulk of the content created in the Content Editor, I would jump into the Experience Editor to build out the layout of the page. Then it was a matter of simply pointing the components to the existing data sources and checking to ensure the presentation was correct.
I found working in the Content Editor to be a lot more efficient and the CMS seemed to save a lot faster too.
Start Integrations Early
It’s easy to get caught up building the pages with the content near to hand, but one thing that I’ll do sooner next time is to look for those pages that have third-party integrations or that need other departments and agencies to feed in.
If you’re setting up an API to pull content into the site, if you need to hook up live chat or if you have forms that need to pass data between parties – start early. It will always take longer than you think and will likely take several tries to get it right.
For content migrations, use your page inventory to note which pages have difficult functionality and start the conversations as soon as you can.
It’s been a great project and I’ve personally gained a lot more confidence in working with Sitecore. It’s a powerful platform and I can’t wait to get started with the personalisation work we’ve planned out.
But I can see how front-loading the project with more due diligence around content, images and integration activity will save time and effort during the build stage and cut down on feelings of urgency as the go-live deadline approaches.
Bring on the next build!
Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.
A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.
So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance.
What is a Content Strategy?
It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.
But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business.
Who are my Audience?
You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.
So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context.
Do I need to tailor content?
As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.
Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:
What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?
Who are they most influenced by?
What voices influence their behaviour?
What type of content do they consume?
Where do they consume content and engage with brands?
Different Content, Different Objectives
All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.
There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.
Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale.
Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels.
Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.
Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.
Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.
How do I manage all this?
Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.
Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.
Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.
If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.