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Tridion Web content management system upgrade aids children's group

Compassion International’s Web content management redesign using SDL Tridion paid off in increased Web traffic, site agility and improved donations.

When an organization outgrows its website’s ability to serve customers and complicates content management, it’s time for a change.

At Compassion International, a child advocacy organization that relies on donors to sponsor children in impoverished areas of the world, that change was necessary to ensure donors could easily use the nonprofit’s site. In 2007, managers realized a new enterprise Web content management strategy aimed at efficiency and agility would help maintain the website as the group’s primary conduit for raising money.

At the time, the organization had 700,000 active donors, and while the website handled 1,800 visitors at a time, it had trouble converting site visits into donations. The old content management system (CMS) did not enable site managers to tune for search engine optimization (SEO) nor did it offer much capability for making design changes without getting the IT department involved.

The global nonprofit, which has its roots in providing food, shelter and education for Korean War orphans, established a website in 1996 and implemented its first content management system in 2003, using Microsoft’s NCompass Resolution product recently rebranded as Microsoft Content Management Server.

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“We had been using it for a while and got a lot more out of it than we expected,” said Dustin Hardage, Web and interactive marketing director for Compassion International, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Though it used SharePoint internally, when Microsoft rolled MCMS into SharePoint 2007 as its Web content management (WCM) tool, the organization decided to look for another product.

“From our standpoint, for a public-facing website, [SharePoint] was not a good fit,” Hardage said. “The architecture was not built to grow along with our expansion, so we needed to redesign the entire program.”

In 2008, Compassion International started searching for a new WCM system to coincide with a redesign of its website. “It was just time to change, to upgrade our system and upgrade our user experience,” Hardage said.  

Requirements for flexibility
Allowing nontechnical users to improve SEO was one of the first requirements Compassion International developed for its new CMS, along with enabling greater flexibility in general. The organization is a .NET-based shop, so that consolidated the choices. Then it pored over evaluations from research houses Forrester and Gartner and developed an RFP process.

The company narrowed the candidates to four choices and had vendors come in for a day and a half to demonstrate how their products would handle Compassion International’s requirements.

Looking “under the hood,” examining what was available without customization and learning how to customize aspects that were not available out of the box were all key steps in the evaluation process, Hardage said.

While the request for proposals took between three weeks and a month to develop, actual evaluations took about two months before Compassion International settled on SDL Tridion. Then things really slowed down. Compassion International hired a consultant for the implementation, but the consultant didn’t deliver. Hardage estimated that set them back eight months.

A new consultant was brought in.

“It was like night and day,” Hardage said, explaining that after switching to San Francisco-based HintTech, the installation and deployment process smoothed considerably. “Their project management, Tridion implementation and hands-on knowledge is just fantastic.”

HintTech and Compassion International’s IT development team established a new back end and integration environment. Then Hardage and Tom Emmons, the nonprofit’s Internet marketing program director, handed the implementation team “a long list of requirements.” The team accommodated them with the help of two HintTech developers who “helped out for eight or nine months.”

A separate graphic design firm fashioned the user experience and front end of the website.

Numerous rounds of quality assurance and user acceptance testing later, Compassion International launched the new site and WCM system June 11. The application is managed with the nonprofit’s IT department with five developers and a database expert supporting the website’s content team.

A payoff and slick pates
“We got our flexibility,” Hardage said. “Tridion is definitely complicated. With flexibility comes some complexity.” The marketing team that uses the content management application to add pages and makes changes understands that it must take a few extra steps for the ability to do things like add components to any page and “make things work the way we want it.”

“There are some things we still have to go to IT for, but our ability to update Web pages has greatly increased,” Emmons said.

Since the deployment, traffic on each page of the website increased between 50% and 350%, and bandwidth has almost tripled. The site can now handle 4,500 donors at a time, up from 1,800. Search engine traffic has also increased, Hardage said, and conversion rates are up.

One of the advantages of marketing making fast changes is Compassion International’s ability to respond to natural disaster. For example, now the website team can design a standalone widget to solicit donations for a relief effort within hours of an earthquake or some other kind of event. And, Tridion has a device sensitive component for mobile WCM so potential donors can respond to events and appeals for help from any mobile phone.

And putting those capabilities in the hands of a marketing team frees up IT resources to tackle other business processes with technology components.

While the deployment was complicated and required a fair amount of planning and some pain with regard to switching consultants, there was some temporary embarrassment, too.

“Tom and I said we’d shave our heads if the team could get the project done a day ahead of schedule,” Hardage said. “Well, they finished two days ahead of schedule and we kept our word.”

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