Quick Take Review: Hot Banana Web Content Management

14 minute read
John Conroy avatar
hot banana web content management
Hot Banana is a web content management system (Web CMS) with a heavy emphasis placed on web marketing and content optimization, but with a full range of core content management capabilities which attract customers with a broad range of needs.The CMS is a part of and integrated with the Lyris suite of marketing solutions, most notably with EmailLabs. The Lyris marketing suite -- following a slew of takeovers of top players in core marketing technologie --has now been formally packaged into Lyris HQ, which is comprised of Hot Banana, EmailLabs (email marketing), ClickTracks (analytics), EmailAdvisor (email campaign analysis and toolset) and BidHero (bid-management).

Hot Banana Web CMS

The Lyris HQ Hot Banana product is built to satisfy three core demands: Web Content Management, Web Site optimization, and Marketing Automation. The product is ideal for marketing companies, for SMEs for whom web marketing is an important part of their business but which also require extensive CMS capabilities, and also for organizations which do not fall into either category but for whom ease of use is important. In enterprise terms, the Hot Banana solution is more suited to smaller to medium-size web projects, but numerous such projects can be managed from the interface.Lyris HQ Hot Banana comes in two flavors: a licensed version and a hosted, browser-based Software as a Service (SaaS) version. Note that the SaaS version retains the full functionality of its licensed stablemate, so the content of this review is equally valid for both versions.Although originally envisioned as a Web content management system primarily for marketers, an intuitive user interface and strong overall features have attracted numerous customers in non-profits and faith-based organizations -- including The Vatican, the Archdiocese of New York, and shelternet.ca, a resource for abused women, education (e.g., www.scdsb.on.ca), government (e.g., www.wasagabeach.com), also tourism (e.g., www.bellind.com), and professional services and technology. Hot Banana also powers the intranets of organizations including Ingersoll-Rand, and another notable recent client is the Bank of Kuwait.

Company History and Origins

Hot Banana was founded in 1999 by a team of web marketing experts who wanted to build a platform which would serve web marketing needs. The organization is based in Ontario, Canada. In August 2006 the company was bought by Lyris, a specialist technology marketing company (then called JL Halsey). Lyris is a public concern with a market cap (as of the review date) of around US$ 100m. This review was conducted on Hot Banana 5.7, SaaS version.

Channel Partners and Overseas Sales Partners

HB have partnered to develop and deliver local expertise, sector knowledge, training and support. Partners are located in Denver and San Francisco, and also in Kuwait, South Africa and NSW, Australia. So needless to say, if you're a European content management sales channel person, and you're twiddling your thumbs at the moment...we can think of a number to ring.

Hot Banana Pricing

Licensed Version:
Hot Banana Pricing - Perpetual

Software as a Service, Browser-based version:
Hot Banana Pricing - SaaS

Lyris HQ Hot Banana Features

Platform Technology

Hot Banana is built with Adobe's ColdFusion technology and the licensed version requires ColdFusion MX application server and MS SQL Server. It runs best with MS IIS and Windows 2000/2003, but being that ColdFusion runs atop a Java server container, Linux/Apache is also supported. The vendor claims that the software can handle 250 page views a minute per server, and up to 50 GBs of traffic per month. The SaaS version of course does not have any such requirements, and is a straight subscription service. Hot Banana/Lyris has thrown a few bucks at its SaaS infrastructure lately and it shows -- during our lab testing, we found the web-based version to be quite responsive. We do think that ColdFusion is waning rather more than it's waxing and for that reason, we take a few points back in this area. Additionally, hosting the Microsoft stack with ColdFusion is likely to cost a bit more money than a straight .NET, Java or PHP-based solution, but if you go SaaS, this is not a concern. Rating: 3/5

Website Optimization

Optimization is of central importance to Hot Banana and considerable resources are dedicated to the tracking of website and campaign performance. SEO tools take central stage in content creation, and advanced keyword analysis reports are reached directly from the content creation and editing interface (below).

Hot Banana Website Optimization ToolsSuch analysis is a one-click affair, and a simple matter of entering keywords into a single field. No confusion at all here -- you enter the word you want analyzed and hit the big gray button. It's web app usability the way it should be.'Google Suggest Keywords' is also integrated and displayed with results to help you identify that killer phrase which always slips the net.Other optimization tools include:* Automatic Google Sitemap updating and submittal * Dedicated metadata management* SEO-friendly output by design* Affiliate tracking* Automated title attributes in hyperlinks* Automatic 301 (permanent) redirects of duplicate pages* Analytics vendors incorporated with automatic page tagging: ClickTracks, Google Analytics, WebTrends and IndexTools are all incorporated into Hot Banana, and if your preferred system is not on that list you can integrate it if it has page tagging and is JavaScript-based.* Automated Tagging * Lead Tracking/Conversion tools: Google Adwords conversions, Yahoo! and MSN conversion tags, WebTrends 8 scenarios and EmailLabs Action Tracking conversion tags are all part of the * Hot Banana Analytics Center* Advanced user tracking: scenario/funnel and path analysis* Conversion tracking* External link analysis and file download trackingVery high usability allied with considerable optimization power. Rating 5/5

Marketing Automation

In common with site optimization, marketing automation is an important core function of Hot Banana, and one of its key differentiation points over other products in the space.Marketing Automation Features:An extensive web form builder is provided to streamline the creation of forms and manage captured data, and such forms can also be managed, edited and reused. Forms can be multi-step, and can contain drop boxes, buttons, short and long text fields, required fields, etc. These forms can be pre-populated with information when the user is coming from an email campaign with personal ID tags attached. Meanwhile captured information from forms is stored and can be exported to CSV format (and can also be converted to XML); and can be transferred automatically to email marketing providers for targeted marketing delivery.HB also boasts integration with SalesForce and other CRM platforms and provides integration capabilities enabling linkage with yet more such CRM apps. And for customers using EmailLabs, captured web form data can be automatically migrated back to the customer list database.* A/B Conversion on landing pages: test different landing pages against each other to see which paths are providing the best results.* Press release manager* Micro Sites: Hot Banana is an ideal solution for creating, managing and analyzing numerous micro-sites. * Email marketing: As well as strong integration with Lyris EmailLabs and providing an open framework for integration with other email marketing managers, Hot Banana contains capable email marketing functions in its own right, particularly with regard to building email content.* Blog-management* Event and survey managementWunderbar! Rating: 4/5

Content Versioning

Content versioning is supported, but although usability is highin this area, the scope is relatively narrow and this product will not attract customers for whom versioning is a serious requirement. Up to five previous versions of a given page of checked-in content can be held, and switching between them is a simple matter of navigation via a drop list. Content can then be reverted to earlier versions with a single click. Rating: 3/5

Workflow Management & Usability

Workflow is stripped down but highly functional, doing the simple things well and without complication. Administrators can assign approval processes to any page or section of a website, and ensure that all changes made by particular authors or groups are approved. Editors are notified via email that there is pending changes, and the changes can be approved, edited or declined from the UI. In the case of denied content, reasons why can be posted back to the author. Meanwhile predefined workflow can be mapped across web pages or sections of the site.Rating: 4/5

User Management

At the top tier of user management sits the Super User, below this level lies a wholly customizable user hierarchy. Usersand groups of users can be defined from the admin panel, and permissions meted out in granular format. As well as permissions on what different users can actually do in terms of creating, editing content etc., tiered permissions on what users can view and access are also managed from the UI interface. One concrete use of granular permissions in this context is that it grants the option of allowing outside marketing agents and analysts limited permission to analyze your website data at source, granting them strictly defined access so they can analyze your data, metrics etc., while you maintain the overall integrity of your site's content.Multiple administrators are permitted, and an unlimited number of groups can unlimited numbers of users, and each have numerous administrators. Administrator rights can be predefined, and controlled access is applied to define author roles and access levels by Web page, to lock content, and to check content in and out. Rating: 4/5
Hot Banana Administration

Multilingual Support

Hot Banana's back office UI can be configured to run in multiple languages, so that different users can log in under different language profiles including English, French, Spanish, Chinese and more. The software is unicode-compliant and can support right-to-left and multi-byte character sets.Rendering output also features strong multi-language support. For instance, micro-sites and pages which are to be rendered in multiple languages will automatically be mirrored and posted from the primary content creation point. At which stage an automated translation workflow kicks into gear, whereby designated translators are emailed notifications of pages to be translated, and of course will be able to access the UI in their own language. Although, if they need the UI in their own language, then maybe they aren't the right translators for your organization...There is also the option of investing in the Automated Workflow Translation System (AWTS), developed by Belgian HB channel partner Connexion. AWTS exports a section, page or an entire web site to XML, and delivers it to an XML-compatible Translation Memory System (TMS) platform. A TMS greatly streamlines the process of translation, and when the translators are done, they post the content back through the same system. The translated content is converted back from XML and brought back to the web content administration interface -- ready to be published to its final destination.Hot Banana's internationalization features have attracted much praise, and recently paid off in the acquisition of some lofty international clients including the Bank of Kuwait.Rating: 5/5

Editorial and Content Creation Features

Ease of use is one defining feature of content creation with Hot Banana, another is an unusually smart and uncluttered interface. Yet the roominess and sense of space hides a wealth of features. Clicking on 'New Web Page', the user is invited to simply name it, ascribe a location (home etc.), and optionally pick from a template, with options including landing pages, multi-column web pages and email pages. From here the page or template is built using the WYSIWYG interface. The WYSIWYG tools can be toggled with the HTML view, offer previews in a new window, and have a button to launch keyword analysis from the browser. Advanced metadata can also be inserted via another tab. And content items can be scheduled for publishing.Workflow management is accessible for the individual page from the content creation interface, as are advanced sitemap settings (including the option to push the sitemap automatically to Google upon publishing), and content audits can be run.
Hot Banana Administration

Hot Banana Content Manager UI A few more editorial-related features:* FCK Editor for rich editing and advanced media editing (same ball-park as TinyMCE)* Inbuilt Digital Asset Management- all your site assets, files etc. can be managed in a central repository. This makes it easy for users to locate, say, brand-related graphics. Categories in the DAM repository are customizable and new folders can be added. There are various other useful features here, like applying alt-tags to resources and specifying which resources are searchable and by whom.* Extranet Manager: post content which is only accessible by entering a valid username and password. Extranet content is editable as per regular website content.* Smart copy/paste: copying and pasting content which contains links and images retains this information.* Advanced Image Placement: intuitive management of image placement.* Spell Check: use the FCK spell-checker to make sure the page is free of silly errors. Multi-lingual dictionary files are available.* Dynamic Content Engine- allows content authors to tag content and populate Web pages from one central repository. Authors can make associations between tags and content and, by using the Tagging Manager, determine the hierarchy of the tag to create a taxonomy of content. Web site visitors will be able to navigate through sections of content based on tag, category, title, author or abstract.

Hot Banana Digital Asset RepositoryIn short, the product offers wolfish content management gear in cuddly, sheepish clothing.Rating: 4/5

Customizability, Integration and Content Delivery

Hot Banana is a component based system with open source code for customers, and providesdocumentation, video tutorials and consulting services to aid customers integrate the product with other assets and to aid developers in customization.Content delivery is dynamic -- with caching options and server load balancing options. Integrative and deliverable enough for ya? You bet. Rating: 4/5

Our Take, In Summary

Here’s a summary table of the review:

Learning Opportunities

Core Platform TechnologyColdFusion, Java3/5
Website OptmizationA strong point and core focus for Hot Banana/Lyris5/5
Marketing AutomationAnother core focus and key differentiator. HB sports a strong feature set and is competitive i this area.4/5
Content VersioningVersions limited to 5. Fairly easy to switch between versions. Less of a strong point for HB. The product meets average requirements for content managers.3/5
Workflowconfigurable,sequential,notifications, comments 4/5
User ManagementMultiple administrators are permitted, and an unlimited number of groups can unlimited numbers of users. Roles can be defined and applied to groups.4/5
Multi-lingual SupportA strong point for the product. Native integration with a Automated Workflow Translation System is optionally supported.5/5
Editorial FeaturesStrong usability, templating support, content previewing, good metadata support, spellcheck, smart copy/paste, digital asset repository, native A/B testing,etc.4/5
Customizability & IntegrationSource code available to customers. Training, videos and consulting support available. RSS and web feed support. HB is not a product designed for heavy integration. It's one targeted at marketers and business people.3/5
Content DeliveryN/A for the SaaS version. With on premise install -- load balancing, caching, etc. Much of this is courtesy of the ColdFusion server platform.4/5
Product Strengths* Easy and intuitive to use* Ideal for marketing-oriented sites* strong inbuilt analytics, reporting and auditing* Making professional-looking, attractive landing pages and email pages is fast and easy* Strong integration with other marketing products, open linkage* Extremely strong internationalization capabilities and optimization features* Has the full range of Web CMS capabilities for medium-scope, multi-user web projects, albeit many of these capabilities are pared down and limited in scope.* Fast SaaS* Extensible and modular. Integration with the Lyris HQ marketing suite.* Other useful integration capabilities with Salesforce.com and other CRM, Google etc.* Multi-site management is a snap using a master drop-down site-picker that looms above all else.Product Weaknesses* Some customers, or rather some developers, will be unhappy using ColdFusion* Inflexible back-end requirements* Content Management is effective but somewhat limited in scope

Who Should use this Product?

We feel this CMS is most appropriate for those who run small and medium size organizations, for whom marketing and branding is a priority, and for whom ease of use is important. Additionally, the product seems like a strong contender for organizations which have an international focus.