Building the 'perfect' CMS
Cygnus Business Media’s digital makeover – built on the back of a new, home-grown content management system – has increased traffic (as much as 20 percent) and advertising effectiveness (a 3x improvement in click-through rates) across its suite of Web properties. The new CMS has also enhanced Cygnus’ cross-platform publishing capabilities, including its budding mobile strategy.
Since restructuring around four “affinity networks” in 2010, Cygnus has spent the past year aggressively revamping its Web properties to better serve both its audience and its advertisers. It has launched 15 new or redesigned websites over the past year, including the new ForResidentialPros portal site that debuted last week. Another seven new or redesigned site launches, including upgrades to Firehouse and Security Info Watch, are planned for the next few months.
Despite the scope of the project, the investment has been “minimal” compared to the cost of implementing a third-party CMS, said Eric Kammerzelt, Cygnus’s vice president of technology.
The investment already seems to be paying off. Advertising effectiveness, measured by click-through rates, is up threefold since the new sites began rolling out. Redesigned sites have experienced 10-20% increases in page views and unique visitors, according to Tom Kohn, Cygnus’ executive VP of digital strategies.
Engagement is improving as well: User comments on Officer.com, for example, are up 200 percent with the help of new commenting software from Disqus that debuted with the site upgrade in April. And many websites have seen between 50-100 percent growth in their Facebook “likes” since re-launching, thanks to more prominent placement of social media buttons. “Social referral is starting to become a relevant acquisition source for our website traffic,” said Kohn.
Adopting a common CMS
Last year, Cygnus made a strategic decision to adopt a common content management system as a way to improve production efficiencies across all of its brands. The technology team has spent the past several months migrating a mix of Drupal-, Java- and PHP-based websites to a new CMS that it built in-house using PHP, a Web development language, and HTML5.
The decision to use PHP was driven by a desire for an integrated publishing solution that supports print, Web and mobile delivery channels. “If we were just building a Web platform, we probably would have gone with Drupal,” said Kammerzelt. “But we saw an opportunity for competitive advantage by building a workflow solution [using PHP].”
The goal was a media-agnostic platform in which editors could store all of their content assets and repurpose them multiple times for different media. Kammerzelt said the technology team worked closely with print editors to define the best workflows and processes for manipulating content for print or online delivery – workflows based on what the editors and tech team envisioned as “the perfect CMS,” he said.
“The publications still have autonomy, but there’s more standardization around the processes,” said Kohn. While each site has its own look and feel, they all share a common design framework that provides two significant benefits.
First, features and functionality can be rolled out quickly across all sites. “There’s no way we could have launched this many sites in this amount of time without that common framework,” said Kammerzelt.
Second, the framework provides gives Cygnus sales teams a standard set of inventory to sell across different sites. “It’s easier now to sell ads across all the sites because the inventory is locked into standardized templates,” said Kohn.
In search of digital revenue diversity
While the new websites have opened up new sales opportunities, Cygnus continues to look for ways to diversify its digital revenue.
“There’s been an overreliance on ad banners – not just by us, but for all publishers,” said Kohn. “We’re looking for better balance through more diverse revenue streams.” Those alternatives include e-commerce and, increasingly, mobile.
Support for HTML5 means that each website is optimized for access from mobile devices. But Cygnus is also venturing into the app world, experimenting with apps not just for its brands, but for its advertisers as well.
Cygnus developed an iPad app that’s based on a custom quarterly print publication called Farm Forum, which it produces for Case IH.
For its own brands, Cygnus has released an iPad version of Sustainable Construction and has four other branded apps in the pipeline for delivery over the next three months, according to Kohn.
As with the new CMS, keeping mobile development in-house should produce quicker returns on the technology investment Cygnus is making.
“There’s more work to be done on the tablet side, but we have dramatically improved our Web products this year,” said Kohn. “The power of our in-house CMS cannot be understated. It’s just amazing what this team has been able to do.”