October 1, 2010, 11:36 AM

Repositories Runneth Over

New content management systems help e-retailers get the most out of video, reviews, images and more.

Flooring manufacturer Shaw Industries Group Inc. has a network of thousands of dealers. And it has a content management system loaded with product specifications, descriptions and video. The dilemma Shaw faced was how to help those dealers put that content to work on their own web sites.

The answer is the Shaw Web Studio, deployed in April, which allows dealers to log in to create their own consumer-facing web site from a pool of templates Shaw provides. Each dealer can then pull from the system, built on the iAPPS Content Manager from software vendor Bridgeline Digital, to populate its site with content about the Shaw products it sells. The system also serves product images on-demand from the Adobe Scene 7 digital asset management system where they are stored.

The content the Shaw Web Studio pushes to the dealer sites arrives with product information tagged so search engine crawlers can find it. Built into each template are navigation and URL naming conventions that further optimize pages for natural search.

“This has enabled us to deliver product data in real time directly to the dealer web sites, to be exposed to the consumer,” says Misty Hodge, web services manager at Shaw. And thanks in part to the rich, optimized content, some dealers are finding their new sites appearing on the first page of local search results, says Brian Bolton, vice president of marketing at Bridgeline.

What’s more, e-mail capabilities built into Bridgeline’s product could one day allow Shaw dealers to select content to push out to their customers in targeted e-mail campaigns. It’s all part of freeing the vast content Shaw possesses internally so that it can make dealer web sites come alive and help dealers sell more Shaw flooring products.

Many online retailers face the same situation as Shaw. They have a wealth of content about their products—360-degree product images, videos, product descriptions and customer reviews, just to name a few. They come from many sources, consumers and suppliers as well as a retailer’s own staff. The trick is to make sure the most current and relevant content appears on search ad landing pages, in marketing e-mails, on a retailer’s Facebook page and product detail pages, in comparison shopping sites and more.

Since so much of this is new—the types of content as well as the ways it can be used—it’s no wonder so many retailers plan to update their content management systems. Asked to prioritize their technology investment plans for 2010, 37% of online retailers surveyed by Forrester Research Inc. cited content management, putting it second only to e-commerce platforms at 49%.

“Managing content was kind of broken before, a little messy, but you could cope,” says Forrester analyst Brian Walker. “Now we are hearing from a lot of our clients that they need to get on top of this. Businesses are feeling pressure around managing content and the need to drive more localized, targeted, sophisticated content.”

The price tag

Retailers making the decision to invest in content management will have to allocate significant dollars. The cost varies by the amount of content, the features a retailer requires, the number of users, the links required to other systems and other factors. But Bridgeline’s Bolton says retailers could expect to pay $100,000 to $200,000 for a larger deployment similar to Shaw’s, with increasing discounts as more users participate. There are additional training and implementation fees in the range of $130 to $150 per hour, Bolton says.

Smaller e-commerce sites with less content to manage could get started for $75,00 to $100,000, he says, while larger retailers with more content and more extensive integration requirements might pay in the range of $300,000 to $500,000.

As retailers go shopping, they’ll find vendors are responding with enhanced content management technology. For example, since expanding its services four years ago to support e-commerce on its retailer clients’ sites, rather than just providing manufacturers’ product specs for physical store space planning as it used to, product data vendor Gladson has greatly expanded the number of product attributes it gathers from manufacturers and feeds to retailers. “We now have over 100 attributes we can collect on a product,” says chief marketing officer Stephen Cole. “It’s everything from nutrition to ingredients, to whether it’s organic or kosher or the package is recyclable.”

Some content management technology builds in important functions that are tied to content distribution. Bridgeline’s iAPPS content manager and other systems like it, for example, automatically update Sitemap.xml files, which alert search engines when an e-retailer creates new pages on its site or changes pages or navigation paths. That helps to boost the SEO-friendliness of the content they push out on the web and distribute for the use of partners.

Personalized content

Content management systems also can categorize the content they store by the type of user likely to need it, which can help retailers push out the right description or video to a site visitor.

Language learning products manufacturer and retailer Rosetta Stone has that kind of capability in the Day Software CQ5 web content management system it deployed in May. A key reason for introducing the system was to automate the personalization of site presentation by type of customer.

Each customer has her own reason for buying products that teach foreign languages, says Matt Cascio, director of architecture and strategy at Rosetta Stone. They may be looking to upgrade their job skills, or interested in connecting with their heritage. “We want to know what type of shopper you are and be able to target you with content that speaks to that,” Cascio says.

Rosetta Stone has segmented shoppers by placing distinct URLs in ads in print publications geared to different audiences; what’s presented on the page accessed through one URL will be different from what’s on a page reached with another URL.

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