The last two decades have produced a number of unexpected developments in the Web that have transformed our online experiences. The new Web has become a primary and global commercial channel for most business communication and processes. In light of these dramatic changes, many corporations are creating outward facing Web sites that include opportunities for collaboration, personalization and interactive media experiences. The goal is consumer engagement.

To advance this goal, today’s enterprises utilize Web content management technologies along with other tools. These companies are taking a holistic, solutions-based approach that encompasses Web publishing and the processes that support it in order to deliver a consumer-centric online experience. This approach is called Web experience management (WEM). WEM solutions help organizations manage the experience of all site participants—customers, partners, and employees — to achieve their unique Web vision.

New User Expectations

Traditionally, corporate Web sites have focused on delivering the same message in an engaging way to all consumers — a one-way communication from the corporation to the consumer. As Web 2.0 tools have gained traction, audience expectations have changed dramatically in just a few short years.

Audiences now expect — and even demand — to be involved. Social networking sites have given consumers the tools to become self-publishers, and, as such, they expect this type of interaction and peer interactivity wherever they go on the Web. Today’s consumers aren’t interested in just reading about a product — they want to utilize a social network or communal dialogue to solve a specific problem. They don’t just want access to information — they want to contribute to and create it. Consumers are drawn to sites where they can interact and seek advice from peers and experience virtual face-to-face encounters.

Implications for Online Experiences

As a result of these new expectations by consumers, organizations must create online experiences that rival those of popular social networking or community sites. These experiences must be:

Personalized and tailored. Consumers expect to have information delivered in a manner that is relevant to them and that caters to their unique needs. The essence of this theme can be captured in the statement, "If the information is important, it will find me." The implication for organizations is that in order to meet these expectations, organizations must create Web pages that are personalized, remember user preferences and provide information that is important to users based on their interests. For example, when users research products or services, resulting content should be tailored based on their corporate attributes such as department, functional area or role.

From a Web content management perspective, the means to achieve this level of personalization is through the integration of an XML database technology. Typically, these types of personalized queries and tailor-made page layouts are resource intensive — particularly if done for every site visitor. But Web content management solutions that natively include an XML database address this problem through high performance and scalability.

Social and interactive. Not only are buying decisions influenced by peer reviews, so are opinions. This type of interactive feedback makes people feel as though they are an active member of a community.

User-generated content (UGC) — also known as consumer-generated media or user-created content — refers to the various kinds of media content publicly available and produced by end users. This term encompasses all digital media technologies, such as question-answer databases, digital video, blogging, podcasting, mobile phone photography and wikis. Many organizations are incorporating these new Web 2.0 technologies into their second-generation Web sites.

WEM solutions have begun to embrace UGC by providing capabilities that enable organizations to implement engaging and interactive Web experiences for their consumers. Companies are shifting from just providing static information on their sites to a model where they can interact with users, elicit feedback, and quickly iterate content or pages. WEM solutions enable corporate Web designers and/or administrators to centrally manage content, receive alerts when new content is added to a dynamic Web page and quickly post it back to the site.

Multichannel and bidirectional. The notion of multichannel publishing is the delivery of content through different platforms — print, Web site (HTML or PDF), mobile and others. Multichannel publishing does not imply anything about how the content is created and delivered, just that the content will eventually be fed into different channels.

The term publishing is seeing its own evolution, specifically within the Web content management space. Multichannel publishing has transitioned itself into what can be referred to as multi-channel interactivity, where Web content, once static, now has bidirectional flow — from corporation to consumer and back again.

The Corporate Response

The fundamental paradigm shift in how consumers interact online and the resulting expectations have not only influenced site design and redesign, but have also redefined what makes an appealing and effective Website. Corporate marketers are beginning to align themselves to this paradigm shift and are looking at WCM technologies to capitalize on new revenue channels. Companies planning their next-generation Website or consolidating various intranets or portals are looking into Web experience management.

Web experience management builds on a robust and scalable WCM technological foundation. It is a holistic view of Web publishing and the processes that support it, and it provides an infrastructure and set of tools for creating an engaging and interactive online experience consumers, partners and corporate constituents.

Four Components of Web Experience Management

Web experience management includes four components.

Design and site management provide advanced Web design interfaces that consist of native WYSIWYG design tools or integration with popular applications such as Adobe Dreamweaver. Site administration capabilities and features to manage a global, multilingual Web presence are also a part of this component.

Web authoring empowers business users with easy-to-use tools for authoring and creating Web content. This component can also include business process management (for review and approval) and content transformations for rich media.

Dynamic delivery ensures that sites are instantaneously updated with new content and provides personalized user experiences.

Web 2.0 and analytics are used for content and page-level reporting, including the collection of user-generated content through feedback forms and content rating. This component determines how the entire Web experience management process will begin again — starting with the design and site management component, where reporting and site analytics determine how a page is iterated.

Benefits of WEM

Organizations that invest in Web experience management are able to move away from static Web sites to those that are dynamic and personalized. They can tailor their messages to individual audiences, interact and elicit feedback, and measure and quickly iterate content.

Web content management is the core of Web experience management, and the focus on Web experience management has been positive for WCM providers and the WCM market. Many WCM providers have embraced Web 2.0, and the market is experiencing an evolution of its own. The ability to manage XML natively, dynamically publish to multiple channels, and manage the Web 2.0 experience can help a next-generation Web strategy.

In the current economic climate, making the case for a WEM solution becomes one of both short-term and long-term strategic and financial importance and should be considered as part of a broader IT infrastructure.

Although most standalone WCM products provide core content management capabilities, companies should look at solutions that are fully integrated with an enterprise content management solution and meet requirements for rich media transformations, digital asset management, business process management and retention management. Comprehensive enterprise content management solutions that also demonstrate business relevance in other functional areas allow companies to best position themselves as leaders in innovation and next-generation Web practices.

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