Is Your Current CMS Right for Your Travel Business?

3Sixty Digital
  • Date Published
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Find out if your current content management system is meeting all your needs.

Are you paying big license costs for something you aren’t utilising? Paying big development team costs for functionality that comes ‘out the box’ with most enterprise CMS solutions? Are your marketing and digital wasting countless hours due to a poor editor experience and insufficient setup?

These are very common situations 3Sixty experience on a near-weekly basis. It’s worth noting that as an agency we are CMS agnostic. Agencies typically have commercial relationships with CMS providers where they get a kickback on license fees, for us though, it’s all about recommending what’s right for your business.

First things first, a ‘CMS’ is your content management system. It’s what your website is likely built-in, the application is used to create and manage all of your digital content.

It’s possible to have an HTML based website in which you’d need to ask your developer to change the content using code, but this really isn’t an efficient or effective solution so let’s ignore this for now.

So What CMS Are You Currently Using and Is It Meeting All Your Needs?

The three typical situations we encounter time and time again are:

1. Travel brands paying BIG license fee costs for something they aren’t fully utilising

2. Travel brands consistently paying digital agencies/development resource fees for functionality that comes ‘out the box’ with most enterprise CMS solutions

3. Marketing and digital team members who are wasting countless hours due to a poor editor experience and insufficient setup

Of course, we do occasionally meet travel brands who have a great CMS selection that perfectly meets their needs, and it’s no surprise that these brands tend to be really excelling when it comes to digital performance. If this is you, then, go you.

1. Travel brands paying BIG license fee costs for something they aren’t fully utilising

This happens all too often: CMS provision is a big-money business. A CMS who partners with Gartner below, combined with big marketing budgets and slick sales teams — will typically have much higher brand awareness. If you use a CMS I suspect that at least some of these have been considered. Those at the top right of the quadrant below are seen as leading lights.

3Sixty was actually the first UK based agency working with Sitecore, it’s a very powerful CMS. It’s also fairly costly, and by fairly, I mean very. It’s not the most expensive, however, and if set up correctly you can unlock the automation, personalisation, A/B testing suites, etc. The problem we find, and this isn’t to say it isn’t a good choice as for some it’s ideal, we see medium-size travel brands using Sitecore and only utilising a very small percentage of the system. So they are paying 100% of the significant cost but using 10% of the functionality. For those, we’d absolutely look at license-free solutions such as Umbraco, which we use to power the Wanderly platform for travel startups. In addition to considering this for other mid-size travel brands up to circa £10m digital revenue; it’s flexible, robust, comes without a big license cost and our developers love using it.

There are hundreds of providers out there, here are some of the most commonly known and heavily marketed.

To summarise, Sitecore is a great CMS, our team who all have big agency experience, have worked with Sitecore a lot, they’ve also worked with Adobe, Episerver, and Oracle. For a couple of the enterprise CMS’s, I have two concerns. Are their budgets too heavily geared to marketing and sales as opposed to product development? Are you paying for something you simply aren’t using? Ferrari has just announced a £1m open-top supercar that’s like driving a formula one car. It’s a very nice car, but is this something you get full value out of each and every day, can you make the most of the scarily fast top-end speed driving around a congested London? Probably not! Although I fully appreciate it might be nice to tell your fellow travel leaders you have a £1m Ferrari, or an Adobe powered CMS.

2. Travel brands consistently paying digital agencies/development resources for functionality that comes ‘out the box’ with most enterprise CMS solutions

We’ve just talked about expensive CMS’s that aren’t being utilised. We quite often get the opposite. Perhaps a fairly small travel brand who are still using WordPress, or worse, someone who is using a bespoke CMS (this is always a nightmare). For the record, WordPress is a great solution, it’s got over 60% of the total market share, but this typically although not exclusively, tends to be for small work from home businesses.

We have travel brands that have gone from strength to strength and now need a more professional digital set up. Equally, we sometimes find travel brands with a decent level CMS, but which has been built in a way that means their developers are required to make even the simplest of changes. It’s often easier to hardcode something than build it in a way that provides flexibility. This is lazy development!

For 3Sixty we rely heavily on the creation of CMS widgets and components. This provides the ultimate flexibility. Whilst we always set our partners up with templates, having a widget and component approach means that our clients can create and tailor various page designs rather than being locked down to a couple of templates.

The most precarious place we find some travel brands is that they have a bespoke CMS which effectively weds them to the agency forever (or until they take a very big call to leave). This often means the travel brand is beholden to the agency if the agency goes out of business, what then? If they hike up their prices 50%? If they aren’t performing? Have other priorities? Stop investing research and development into developing the CMS — or if they continue investing but it’s at your expense?

If you find you’re paying for most things, or if you are thinking of adding in, e.g. personalisation or A/B testing, there are typically 3rd party programs that do this for a fraction of the cost and plenty of CMS providers that offer this as standard. There often comes a tipping point when it makes sense to invest in a better CMS.

3. Marketing and digital team members who are wasting countless hours due to a poor editor experience and insufficient setup

For some brands, you might have just got unlucky, whether you are using a CMS that isn’t very user-friendly (and there are a lot of these) or the CMS hasn’t been set up right by your agency (e.g. content approval workflows, or marketing automation) it could be time to change. Or at least take a step back and assess your situation. Time is money.

When 3Sixty design and build websites we always, always, conduct user testing to gain feedback from your audience and then test again to get validation that our new solution is as amazing as we think it is. However, it’s vital that we don’t forget about the CMS user too, so not the public browsing your website looking to find a holiday, but your digital/marketing team who are using the CMS day in day out.

We organise sessions with them to understand what they are using the CMS for, where the pain points are, what’s taking the most time. Whether that is having to resize images (many CMS’s have built-in image optimisation) or configuring deals and special offers, it’s important we understand things from their perspective. When we launch new websites, it’s great to see how much happier they are in their role and equally how much more productive they become.

It’s worth noting that we had a client come to us recently who was using Kentico and really didn’t like it, their team was inefficient, found it clunky and there were no workflows. They were ready to move. However, we worked with them to upgrade the CMS to the latest version and added workflows which was a total game-changer. So a poor set up doesn’t necessarily mean a poor CMS.

There are lots of good and some not so good options in the busy market place, without that exposure to multiple platforms it can quickly become a little overwhelming. It’s important that you find the right solution for you, a solution that you can fully utilise, that aligns with your business ambition and that helps support digital performance growth. CMS providers are changing shape constantly, there are continual leaps in innovation and the emergence of headless CMS is shaking up the market. 3Sixty as an agency is staying on top of the trends, and gaining as much hands-on experience as possible so that we are always there to provide you with the most effective recommendation (and not the recommendation that gives us a referral fee!).

I spoke to Will Hales one of our super talented developers to get a feel for his preference and upcoming trends:

What’s your favourite platform and why?

Umbraco provides a comprehensive Microsoft open-source platform that is very extensible with unobtrusive settings or features. Through an easy installation, you’re provided with the basic tools to configure a website using .NET that can be as small or large as you require.

What do users need to know about headless CMS which is gaining a lot of research and development from major CMS providers?

Headless CMS offers a means of thinking about content from a different perspective than the hierarchy imposed by information architecture that is derived from traditional web architecture. Rather than coupling ‘about us’ copy with an ‘about us’ page you’re writing content, this separation from the website allows a piece of content to be driven from one CMS platform to a website, mobile app, smart TV and social platforms. Furthermore using a headless platform offsets the overheads (security, cost, speed, maintenance) to a third party at a low monthly subscription. However, headless is harder to manage, content is not associated with a specific page so without digitally savvy teams and a joined-up workforce this could pose a challenge.

Headless is new(ish) so for some agencies, the unknown may drive up development costs. It does tend to be more effective when used in conjunction with multiple services (media providers, personalisation, form platforms), therefore everything is not managed under one roof, unlike large monoliths such as (unnamed CMS platform).

Lots of information to process here. You might be in a great situation, or perhaps you feel your current set up isn’t right. In which case, what do you need to do?

  • Firstly check whether your current CMS is supporting your needs, if it isn’t, validate that this isn’t a setup thing. Some CMS’s have released new versions, you could be on, e.g. version 5 which is a bit clunky, yet after years of R&D and innovation, version 8 is brilliant.
  • If you decide now is time for a new site, speak to agencies for advice and meet with a couple of CMS providers.
  • Assess what the CMS can do vs what you’d actually be able to use.
  • Ensure you’ve got the digital/marketing team to make the most of the functionality.
  • Work with an agency that will set the CMS up in a way that provides you with ultimate flexibility, and that supports your editor needs.