Whether you’re Microsoft or part of a two-person tech startup renting space somewhere in Silicon Valley, you have to have an engaging homepage.
The magic to make that happen isn’t always there, though. You have production, web developers, marketers, content management system administrators, IT and others involved.
Jeff Litvak sits at the center of this process for Microsoft, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. As senior content publishing manager, Litvak supervises a team of production and site managers, web developers and publication team members for Microsoft’s Central Marketing Group.
Litvak is the architect behind the publication of more than a dozen Microsoft sites, including the Microsoft homepage, corporate information sites and specialized campaign pages.
Challenges? You bet.
Try managing daily updates to upwards of 100 local variations of the Microsoft homepage spanning more than 60 languages. And, on top of that, managing publication tasks for one of the world’s largest corporate websites.
Litvak and his team implemented a global operating model that governs scheduling, localization, targeting, experimentation, stakeholder reviews and page publication. Though pages are managed centrally, subsidiaries have flexibility to submit content to support local campaigns.
The good news? Litvak and all Microsoft web publishing stakeholders communicate through a workflow engine that’s meant the death of the spreadsheet. Look at it this way: through that process, Microsoft improves its own digital experience. And therefore, its external-facing DX execution for web visitors is better off, too.
Litvak will provide an overview of the model using the Microsoft homepage as a case study and outline the organization of his team at CMSWire's DX Summit this Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.
We sat down with him recently to learn about his experience using this centrally-managed approach to streamlining a massive publishing effort.
Centrally-Managed, Flexible Publishing
Nicastro: CMS is such a crucial part of digital experience execution. What’s your advice to organizations regarding Web CMS selection as it relates to DX execution?
Litvak: This is a difficult question for me to answer because most Microsoft marketing teams use purpose-built CMSs. The home-grown platforms were created primarily to support internal stakeholder workflow requirements and to leverage Microsoft technologies, not for site visitor DX considerations.
CMS environments notwithstanding, we've spent an enormous amount of time and effort standardizing key aspects of DX across our sites. This "One Microsoft" approach is relatively new for us. Previously, the marketing sites behaved relatively autonomously — differing designs, navigation, brand compliance, etc.
This legacy approach allowed each product group to tailor its messaging but it confused visitors, didn't exploit the value of the Microsoft brand or provide a consistent DX. As time goes by I think you'll see even more standardization, particularly in terms of accessibility, navigation and the underlying framework Microsoft uses to construct its marketing pages.
Nicastro: What is the single biggest challenge to maintaining order on Microsoft.com and how do you address this as an organization?
Litvak: The biggest challenge comes at the point the Microsoft homepage scheduling team completes the task of figuring out what content updates are supposed to go where for any of the 100 or so variations of the page and hands its plans to the production team. Essentially, control of the page passes from one group to another.
Prior to the introduction of our K2-based workflow engine, hundreds of spreadsheets were required for us to keep track of what was supposed to go where. The risk of mistakes — such as publishing a campaign in a market where a particular product wasn't sold — was enormous, as only a few people outside the product marketing groups knew the myriad combinations and permutations of which markets sold which products.
With the workflow engine, we've removed the dependence on humans to keep track of scheduling and minimized the number of spreadsheets needed to provide instructions to the production team (we're down to one).
Nicastro: Your process for maintaining Microsoft’s website includes a stakeholder review. What does that entail and why is it important?
Litvak: First, a quick word about who our stakeholders are. Microsoft homepage content usually comes from — or is produced in conjunction with — various product marketing units. My team partners with another MSCOM group (our acronym for the team responsible for the Microsoft.com corporate managed sites, such as the homepage) to ensure that any custom content creation fits with the product marketing plans. Thus, from a production and publishing perspective for the corporate homepage, stakeholders are marketers in the subsidiary offices.
It's very important for our subsidiaries to have a look at new content before it goes live to ensure we've gotten the messaging correct, avoiding not only grammatical and spelling errors but also contextual misunderstandings. Messaging includes all aspects of a campaign — text, imagery, multimedia content — not just the generally minimal amount of text we include in Microsoft homepage campaigns. Local reviews (as well as additional geopolitical checks) help minimize the risk of conveying messages the wrong way.
Though we manage most content creation and all publishing centrally, we want the subsidiaries to have a voice in what appears on their pages. Subsidiaries review new global campaigns as well as local campaigns we publish on their behalf. Only rarely — usually when we need to maintain confidentiality prior to a product's release — would we publish new content without subsidiary review.
Nicastro: A centrally-managed approach to Microsoft.com sounds like a winner for you. What’s the gist of this approach and what are the advantages of sticking to it?
Litvak: Our model centralizes all processes that go into the scheduling and publishing of the pages we manage. Using the Microsoft homepage as an example, all local variations use the same design (though not all show every content band) and content — including locally-sponsored campaigns — flows through a single scheduling and localization workflow. Production and publishing is handled by a single corporate-managed team.
Though the subsidiaries lose end-to-end control of what appears on their pages, there are distinct advantages to our approach: We maintain worldwide messaging, design and brand consistency. Also, a single production team is much more efficient (and cost effective) than having each locale responsible for its own publishing. Site management is greatly simplified as we're able to establish unified service level agreements and reporting.
Nicastro: Tell us one thing about maintaining a website that applies to a large enterprise like Microsoft and at the same time would apply to a small startup.
Litvak I think we share a common need for solid workflow processes to handle scheduling and publishing tasks. Whether you're a one-person start-up using an off-the-shelf publishing tool or, well, Microsoft, assets can get lost, simple template or CSS updates potentially mangle what visitors see and vital deadlines can be missed. Publishing is publishing: Smaller sites likely go through the same steps we do to get pages out the door. Our reach is obviously higher but is entirely transparent to a production person pushing the publish button.
Nicastro: Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with Microsoft, digital experience or web content management.
Litvak: Academically and professionally, my background is in journalism, with the original idea being that I was going to wind up a lawyer defending the First Amendment. I'm also an instrument-rated private pilot.