trenches, just like the web cms trenches

If anyone’s been through the web content management system trenches, it’s Jon Gold.

The director of web strategy and design at Blackboard was part of the team that underwent a major web CMS transition and implementation project. Washington, D.C.-based Blackboard provides technology and services to help students learn.

By “major web CMS transition,” we mean 17 websites, 14 languages and about 700 microsites and landing pages. Gold and Blackboard web strategists wanted to scale better globally. They selectedSDL and its SDL Web CMS to help accomplish the job — all amid leadership changes, personnel changes and rebranding.

Gold shared his tale during the recent CMSWire-SDL webinar, "Master Globalized Content Relevancy." You can watch the full webinar at the end of this article.

“We do a lot of digital marketing,” Gold said during the webinar. “We call it the Wild West with more than 700 microsites and landing pages."

'Staggering' Number of Web Properties

Arjen van den Akker, product marketing director at SDL, called it a huge task to manage those sites.

He pointed out the average number of web and mobile properties for organizations is 268, a “staggering number when you think about it.”

“I don’t think a lot of people know they’ll have that many properties but you might be surprised with what’s happening under the radar,” van den Akker said. “... A lot of companies ... can’t provide engaging digital experiences for their audiences."

Road to New CMS

That’s precisely what Blackboard wanted to avoid. 

In 2013, it embarked on a mission to enhance web experiences for its site visitors and customers. Blackboard serves 19,000 clients in more than 100 countries.

To accomplish its goals, it needed mobile-friendly upgrades, scalability, translation, flexibility and a lot of work localizing websites.

IT and marketing officials teamed up and came up with a list of requirements, researched industry reports like the Gartner Magic Quadrant and Forrester Research Wave and scored two finalists against their requirements checklist.

SDL Web won partly because of its open architecture that allowed Blackboard to integrate existing digital marketing systems like marketing automation and CRM with the SDL Web CMS.

Further, its web personalization capabilities were just what Blackboard required.

Building Toward Results

Blackboard transitioned to the SDL Web CMS in phases. It began by launching 25 pages using the SDL Web product on top of its existing CMS. Slowly, it began to migrate content from its legacy CMS.

The team looked at improving SEO on the site and updating existing static content that had been untouched on pages sometimes as long as two years.

It would later work on existing page templates and launch an adaptive layout approach, focusing on desktop first.

The results? Blackboard launched its first full international site in February and completed its migration of content with 500 fewer pages (from 700 to 200).

“We built all of the pages from the ground up as most content was outdated,” Gold said. “Most pages are now optimized for search, and 99 percent of the web experience is in SDL Web.”

Its SEO efforts led to a 177 percent growth in rankings on Page 1. Conversion rates climbed 17 percent year over year and bounce rate reduced by 8 percent.

Lessons Learned

SDL webinar

Gold said those undergoing a Web CMS implementation must think mobile-first. In hindsight, he said he and his team should not have focused on the desktop experience. Think of the diverse visitor — they will come to your site from different places and on different devices.

“You need to have a responsive site,” he said.

Plan for the unexpected. Blackboard originally figured its work with its implementation partner would last 60 to 90 days or six months in a worst-case scenario. It turned out to be three years.

Organizations would benefit to start their implementation project small, he aded. Ultimately, "we ended up seeing good results from the project.”