Having a CMS for your website is pretty much assumed these days, but there is quite a variety of content management systems to choose from. At Newfangled, we've been building sites exclusively on CMS platforms since 2000, so we've had an up-close view of the comings and goings of the CMS market for just about as long as it's existed. In some ways, content management is unrecognizable compared to what it was in 2000; in other ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We're dedicated to working in partnership with marketing agencies and in-house teams to build conversion-focused marketing websites, and we've also been developing our own CMS to facilitate the needs of the lead generating marketing sites that we build. Our day to day lives as a web strategy firm are pretty busy, but every once in a while we are able to step back, look at the big picture of things, and recognize repeatable large-scale patterns that exist within all of the little things we do in our efforts to create sites that have a significant impact on our clients' businesses.
One such recent epiphany has to do with content management systems. We've noticed that a CMS tool which truly supports the conversion-focused marketing website needs to facilitate much more than just content updating. The true "conversion management system" has three levels of functionality—only one of which has to do with editing content. Wait, what? You've never heard of a conversion management system? Well, I guess that makes sense, because we just made it up. But we think it makes a lot of sense given that the difference between what a content management system does and what we're going to describe in this newsletter is pretty significant. When we talk about being conversion-focused, we really mean it, and we feel that your CMS should do much more for you than just allow you to edit content if you expect your site to truly be conversion-focused. For the rest of this article, the C in CMS stands for "conversion," not "content."
In describing the levels of a conversion management system to clients and prospects over the past six months, I've found it helpful to liken the three levels of a CMS to the three basic levels on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In case you're not familiar with it, the simplest version of Maslow's hierarchy has three sequential levels—survival, relationship building, and self actualization. The idea is that we need to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves (i.e., survive), before we can seriously consider building meaningful relationships with others, procreating, and forming clans. We then we have to go through that second stage before we have the time, energy, and resources to reach our own unique highest purpose in life, whatever that may be.
To me, there is a distinct parallel between that sequential hierarchy and the three stages of how marketers can use their CMS.
Level 1: Survival - Content Management
The core requirement of any CMS is that it allows its users to easily edit site content. If we can't update text, add pages, rearrange products, and upload images and documents, we're going to consider the CMS to be pretty lousy. Just about any CMS on the market will let you do this—and most go about meeting this need in roughly the same way—although some are much easier to use than others.
Level 2: Relationship Building - Lead Generation
Most marketers are satisfied with their CMS if it meets their level 1 needs. We feel that this is a combined result of most everyone setting the bar way too low and a lack of an understanding of what's possible. Once you're able to easily edit your site content, content marketing is a viable concept for you. Level 2 is about the CMS allowing you to use the site as the most effective marketing tool it can be. If we're truly relying on our sites to generate lots of qualified leads, then we need our sites to independently attract, inform, and engage qualified, unaware prospects on a regular basis. This will only be possible if your CMS was built with these crucial needs in mind. Here are some examples of how a CMS can help a savvy marketer realize each role.
The attract role is primarily about effectively using SEO and social media to attract the right sort of people to our site. As marketers, we want prospects who need our expertise but don't yet know we exist to find us when they query Google and their social networks about the issues they're facing that relate to what we do. Your CMS can help you do this in two primary ways. First, it of course allows you to easily add the content which will be the magnet that initially attracts people to your site, but it also allows you to independently edit the three primary Google-facing elements (H1 tag, Title tag, URL) of each page. Second, it allows people who do find your site to easily share your content with their connections via email or social channels, which in turn brings more people back to your site.
Once the right people arrive on your site, the job of the site is to make sure they can easily find the information they're looking for within one or two clicks at most, while simultaneously educating them as to who your firm is, what you offer, and how deep your expertise is. This is particularly important when considering that the sites that do have a lot of content on them are much more likely to have a higher percentage of their traffic (50-75% typically) coming in from organic, non-branded search terms, and that means that very few prospects will be initially landing on your home page. Instead, Google drops your prospect deep in the content jungle of your site, and it's your site's job to make sure they end up in the right spot.
An effective CMS will help with this, again, in two ways. First, it will present your prospect with a list of articles related to the one they're on. The logic being that if they were interested enough in topic X to search for it on Google, then they may very well be interested in these other articles about topic X. A strong CMS will automatically know which other articles on the site at this moment are most related to the page your prospect is on. This is very powerful and very effective. Second, today's best content management systems feature smart search tools in favor of static text box search tools. This is another highly engaging way of allowing your prospects to intuitively find the content they are most interested in on your site.
Once a prospect has found your site through search or social channels and has then been intuitively guided through your site based on their interests, they will probably know if your site is a good resource for them or not. Assuming you are employing a content strategy that is specifically geared toward your ideal prospect personas and focuses on the overlap between your expertise and their pain points, the site will do a very good job of convincing the right people to stick around and the wrong people to leave—which is a good thing.
When an ideal prospect finds your site, and then gets the feeling during the first 4-8 page views that your firm is exactly who they need to hire and that your content seems to be written just for them, your site's job is to convert them from an anonymous visitor to an identified early-stage lead through a clear, concise, and compelling call to action.
A good CMS will allow you to place and order calls to action on each page of the site. Our rule of thumb is that every page on a marketing site should have at least one and no more than three calls to action (CTAs) in the sidebar. These CTAs should be in line with the stage in the buying cycle the page is geared toward. For example, if the page is the last page in a step-based series of pages which talk about how you work with clients, it could be assumed that this prospect may be interested in working with you, so you'd want to place a CTA that is geared toward a prospect in the purchasing stage of the buying cycle (or Stage 4 of 4). Many other prospects finding your site through search and social aren't looking to hire a firm like yours today, but rather are doing research today for a hire they might make in the future. These people are in the researching stage of the buying cycle (or Stage 2) and definitely don't want to contact you or have you contact them, but after being convinced of your expertise may very well want to sign up to receive your newsletter or register for your next webinar. Your CMS should allow you to easily add, delete, substitute, or rearrange CTAs on every page of the site as you see fit.
Level 3: Self Actualization - Learning From Your CMS
But how do you know where to put which CTAs? When planning and building a site, any smart marketer who understands their brand and their prospects could guess at which CTAs should be on which page, and they probably also have an idea of what order CTAs should be in on pages that have more than one. But site analytics reviews and usability tests continually show that our best guesses are often wrong. We of course have to start with something, but once the site is live a great CMS will teach you how the site is performing through embedded and detailed analytics.
A Conversion Management Systems will show you what we call Micro Analytics, as opposed to what you find today in Google Analytics, which we refer to as Macro Analytics. For example, Google will show you that 25.46% of the people who came in through your home page then went on to view 3 other pages on average over the course of two minutes on average before leaving. That's great information to know—essential information, actually.
The problem is, we know that many very smart, dedicated marketers don't review their Google Analytics accounts as often as they should. This is for two reasons. One, Google Analytics is a remote destination. As a marketer, you're not going to go there en route to anything you'd typically do on a normal day. You have to decide to log in to your account and view your analytics as a destination unto itself. The second problem is that many marketers get lost in the sea of data Google Analytics offers them. Most log in once a month or so, see if the traffic is trending up or down, click on a few other pages because they sort of feel like they should, and then move on to something else without really having a deeper understanding of how their site is working or not working.
This isn't to say that Google Analytics isn't worth installing on your site. In the hands of the right experts, that data will tell many stories which are crucial to understanding the important trends of how your site is being discovered and used. What we are saying, though, is that most marketers don't know how to get that information out of Google Analytics and we're not that confident that this unfortunate trend is going to change anytime soon.
A conversion management system will make up for this in two ways. One is by bringing the top-level Google Analytics right into the site through an API. This puts the data that marketers want to see in an environment that they spend a ton of time in—the CMS. The other solution is that conversion management systems can now serve up what we refer to as "micro data." Conversion management systems will show you who exactly is on your site, what their involvement is on publicly-accessible social networks, how they got to your site, which pages they viewed and for how long, what their lead score is based on their site actions, which forms they converted on, what your organic ranking is for the search phrases people are using to find you, which referring sites are sending the most traffic your way, what percentage of that traffic from each source is converting, what the top converting pages on your site are, what the most popular CTAs are…you get the idea.
This information—the micro data—is info that immediately tells a marketer in a very tangible and compelling way how their site is working. What's more, it's putting it right in front of their face each time they log in to use the CMS, which in many cases is at least once a day or so. For an example of how all of this works, check out the video embedded at the top of this newsletter if you haven't yet.
Maslow knew when he created his hierarchy that most people would never reach the self-actualization pinnacle, and that many would never get out of the first stage, or what is commonly referred to as Maslow's Basement. Similarly, most content management systems won't do more than allow for easy access to add, edit, and delete site content (and unfortunately some don't even do this all that well). Our intent for this newsletter is to give you a new perspective of what's currently possible with conversion management systems like ours (NewfangledCMS), and what we believe will be the direction all content management systems will take in the future.