Bring up the topic of website relaunches and redesigns with marketing teams and be prepared to hear some horror stories. From poor communication to digital marketing strategy issues, these website projects expose issues for marketing and website development teams.

We sat down with Rick Bauer, marketing strategist at Perficient Digital and Sitecore MVP, to understand how marketers can avoid common pitfalls to create a website that propels them to accomplish their marketing goals.

Q: Thanks for meeting with us, Rick. How often are companies relaunching or redesigning their website? Are you seeing a trend?

Rick: The trend that I see right now, and it’s been the same for several years, is a combination of needing to move forward with more robust technology and using that as an opportunity to update the look and feel of the site at the same time. A lot of companies are recognizing that they need to move from a homegrown website – driven by IT, custom build, the works – to what is truly a digital experience platform that can help their marketing team react more to the marketplace. Old custom-built platforms are being changed over to platforms like Sitecore to help their marketing team achieve their goals.

We’ve seen for a while now that the CMO holds the purse strings as much as the CIO or the CTO. This is definitely happening. They are saying that it’s time to move to a components-based architecture that can react to the marketplace and help them with their marketing strategy. Simultaneously, it’s also a great time to update the look and feel.

Q: So, overall it’s a technology shift. Is that correct?

Rick: Yes, from an operations level, who is making those decisions, it’s a technology and strategy shift. The CMO and these marketing teams are really moving from a traditional marketing setup to digital marketing, and they need their new website to evolve along with them. I see a lot of organizations trying to become more mature. Where it’s been easier for some companies is when they just start greenfield, or starting from scratch with their digital strategy. There are a lot of startups nowadays – Uber, for example – that are just completely built on digital. It’s much harder for these other companies who are doing a retrofit. Just like building a house, retrofit is a harder job that building new, but we’re seeing a lot more retrofits now.

Q: What are the common challenges and mistakes of companies who making this transition?

Rick: The challenge is the same answer for both: team and team. Getting the marketing team comfortable with technology, understanding best practices – these are huge hurdles to overcome. I always tell people not to overdo it and keep it simple in the beginning. Get a few simple successes and then repeat those successes. You’re really asking people to relearn how to do their job and it requires a whole new nomenclature. It’s the education side of it where people fall down. For example, even the ability to test at all is sometimes new.

A really common mistake is also misunderstanding the importance of the team and governance around your new website and digital marketing strategy. Whether you’re going with an internal team or working with a partner, the team is the most important piece of the puzzle. To put it simply, if you’re going to use an enterprise-grade platform, you need to act like an enterprise.

Q: The team is really important. How often do issues of alignment between marketers and developers come up?

Rick: I’m still seeing some silos there, but there’s progress. They’re talking more. I would say that there’s maturity in both directions. Marketers have gotten better at understanding what developers need and vice versa. Developers are also not just assuming that the marketers ask for things for no apparent reason, or simply to make their lives difficult. There’s a comfort factor that marketers and developers have to overcome with speaking each other’s language and working together.

Sitecore and Coveo take a lot of the friction out of this relationship. These are platforms that allow marketers to market and developers to develop. They allow richer focus on what you really should be doing. Marketers don’t have to ask developers to change page content; they can do it themselves. Developers then get to work on deeper tasks like app development or improvements to the site. With the platforms available now, it’s a natural convergence of the two sides. There will always be a left brain and right brain to this discipline, but we’re developing an understanding.

Q: What are the guidelines that you provide to teams looking at a website relaunch?

Rick: Certainly, getting the governance and process done right in the beginning. Figure out who your team is, who your stakeholders are and who’s responsible for what. Make sure the lines of communication is clear.

Once things are up and running, I always tell teams to make sure that they are not doing too much out of the gate. You’ll get closer to launch time and suddenly, everyone feels that they need pipeline rules, personalization, A/B tests, multivariate testing. You’re going to fail if you try to accomplish everything at launch. What about just a few goals? You can start with getting some thesauruses up and running on the search side and go from there. Go simple first and then expand.

Q: How do you measure success on the website relaunch?

Rick: It really depends. On one level, from a marketer’s standpoint, it’s quickly moving people through the customer journey, from general awareness to consideration all the way to decision. Anything you can do to accelerate that is a success.

But even being able to have that functionality where you understand that customer journey and what you can do to accelerate it is a success. The ability alone to have more intelligence on your website visitors and measure what you need to is a big success. In Sitecore, it may be just being able to see your engagement value scores in one place, and then having a dashboard where you can see all of that working. Once you can start watching your visits vs. your engagement value score, you’re really able to do a lot to push your marketing goals forward. You can make better decisions.

Q: There’s a lot of potential and capabilities that come with Sitecore. What capabilities are you seeing underutilized in Sitecore?

Rick: Good question, and it really depends. Working with personas and profiles is a big one, but you may not be able to get there right away. You can really go very far just by having the ability to watch your behavioral analytics and tracking your users as they traverse your website.

Even farther down the personalization journey, getting to true personalization takes a while and it’s definitely a journey to get there. I have seen people get started with  it, but it’s not easy. Part of that is by design. We could ask our development teams to hardcode personalization rules into the code and then just use that to personalize. But that would take away one of the more exciting aspects of Sitecore. We want marketers to own their personalization strategy and do this themselves.

Q: As marketers start to investigate options for their website relaunch, they also face the burden of “future-proofing” their website so they are not having to complete another relaunch very shortly. How can marketers and website managers do this?

Rick: Being on enterprise-grade platforms is a huge start. You’ll be more future-proof just by doing that. As far as technology and features, you need to look at platforms that are moving to or exist in the realm of machine learning and artificial intelligence. This should be a minimum requirement today and it’s really where we’re going. It can also help solve the team and content issues that you face when you are trying to personalize. AI can help drive content right when users need it and help drive users quicker through the journey – without having to get analytics teams involved. It will take some of the legwork off content teams as well. It’s very powerful.

Q: There’s some debate around search vs. navigation for content discovery – what do you prioritize? How would you answer this question?

Rick: Both are important in their own way. On one hand, as a business owner that needs to move inventory, I need to show my product on pages and get those products in front of customers. There’s some ecommerce logic at play. That’s my priority as the retailer.

Search is the most important piece to me as the voice of the customer, but it’s often neglected. This is your customer typing into the search box saying, “I need this.” If we as a business are not returning results that are personalized to that need, that’s a problem. Customers now want to feel as if we really know them and they’re telling you how to do that in the search box.

They’re both important. You need to have the voice of the retailer and the customer.

Q: Lastly, what advice do you have for marketers and website managers going into a website relaunch this year?

Rick: Learn. Investigate. Use your tools. There’s organizations out there that are doing the research and legwork for you, like Gartner and Forrester. It’s really similar to any purchase. When you shop for laptops, you want to get the best laptop for you in terms of speed and availability. Use these organizations to find the leading ones that are going to help you avoid getting bottlenecked in the future.

Getting started on your website relaunch? Be sure you are armed with the best practices for site search by downloading our guide.

Best Practices for Site Search

About Rick Bauer
Lead Technical Consultant and Sitecore Digital Strategy MVP, Perficient Digital
Rick provides insight, training, and a passion for maximizing the potential of Customer Experience and Digital Marketing solutions. He utilizes his years of hands-on experience and certifications to help deliver clear solutions and actionable results for marketers.

About Perficient Digital
Perficient is the leading digital transformation consulting firm serving Global 2000® and enterprise customers throughout North America. With unparalleled information technology, management consulting and creative capabilities, Perficient and its Perficient Digital agency deliver vision, execution and value with outstanding digital experience, business optimization and industry solutions.