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Best Practices for CMS Integrations

I have been talking a lot lately about the swiftly moving evolution of the technology behind Content Management Systems (CMS) and digital marketing altogether, and the necessity for marketers to prepare. And, while modeling, planning, and building your marketing stack to distribute your knowledge and solutions may be the key to lasting success, there is one aspect of digital marketing that I do not feel I have mentioned quite enough: Integrations.

Integration may seem ubiquitous to the point of redundancy since, in our modern marketing world, we cannot conceive of a website without a high level of integration. If you want a site to be more than an island in the middle of the giant digital ocean, or a simple brochure that you hope will somehow land in a SERP, integration with other tools in the digital world is necessary. There are real best practices that should guide your overall CMS integration plan.

From a user perspective - internal or external, integrations are what makes a website elegant rather than simply informative; memorable rather than just useful.

And yet, integration tends to be something many projects, planners, developers, and marketers think just, somehow, appears as a natural part of the website creation or optimization process. Effective CMS integration, however, requires considerable thought and awareness around your business clientele, practices, and operations. Ironically, it seems to be the most simple and easy-to-use website that ultimately has the best, most effective, and well-planned integrations. But, when you think about it, that is what integration is all about. If you have put the right amount of work into how your site integrates with all the relevant platforms, those very integrations become almost invisible to the user.

In practical terms, there are just three types of integration when it comes to CMS: common integrations, Application Programming Interface (API) integrations, and custom integrations, but they all require consideration and planning.

Common integrations include many of the tools that seem no-brainers to digital marketers - things like adding JavaScript snippets, integrating with Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and other tracking tools. These integrations often include chat software, connecting feeds to enable marketing automation, and task-based integrations that help your site communicate with the other parts of the web like social media, CRMs, and content sharing platforms. These types of integrations tend to involve nominal work on developers’ parts - often requiring not much more than a connection.

The next level of elegance for your web experience can be achieved with some more complex - but certainly doable - API integrations. These tools and processes give your site and some of the cooler tools on the web an almost “secret handshake” when sharing and utilizing your business data. Think of tools like Salesforce, JSON-based publishing platforms, eCommerce platforms, and the like. While these integrations require a high level of planning and intimate familiarity with your data and how you need to best collect, move, and store that data, the integration tends to blend easily and provides an almost seamless user experience.

Finally, many cases are unique to each business that require custom integrations, the most time-consuming and difficult to achieve. It is a deep understanding of the business processes you are trying to achieve and/or enhance - for both your users and all levels of development and data manipulation - but they often become the most valuable to an organization. When considering custom integrations, however, it often pays to be conservative and critical of its usefulness. There is rarely a need to create an intricate process of integration for all potentialities - or, as we say, to build a rocket ship just to go to the corner store.

After considering the integration needs for your CMS, there are essentially four steps to building effective integration:

  • Identification of current systems and processes that need integration
  • Prioritization of integrations
  • Exposure and classification of the data scheme
  • Testing & validation

The process of self-identification can be lengthy and often difficult, but its importance cannot be overstated. It pays to fully map out all the levels of user experience - internal and external, inter-departmental, and across the entire organization. It also pays to consider all potential processes - certainly, those you currently depend on, but as many as you can come up with too. Think for a time about what the most perfect, most effective, elegant, complete, and successful user experience would be for your users. Even if this seems impossible, maybe even silly, the benefits that come out of this kind of pie-in-the-sky thought exercise turns into untold benefits at least as often as not.

Next, you will need to prioritize all these potential integrations, keeping all levels of user experience in mind, all the time. Ask yourself and your team a few questions:

  • “Which tools and integrations will bring the most satisfaction to our users?”
  • “Which will create the best effect, or result in the most complete solutions?”
  • “Which integrations will provide our teams internally the most information to help us continue to optimize for the future?”
  • “Which will offer the most future-proofing for our website?”

These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered, but you get the idea. When you have got a list of answers, scenarios, pathways, you will be well on your way to building a hierarchy to help build a powerful integration.

As you are considering all these possibilities, keep as many aspects as possible about the data schema your business depends on at top of mind. Where does your data live, and where should it live in the future? What is the source of truth for your data, and which is most important; which is least? How should the data be entered, and how should it be stored, most effectively? Which delivery system will best enable the most effective processing, tracking, and reporting? The more closely you examine your data - and the more work you put into modeling for your processes - the more lasting efficiency you will achieve.          

And, of course, to make sure your integrations are as solid, effective, and future proof as they can be, you must test, test, test, and test again. Run as many permutations of data through as many potential scenarios as you can. And, even when it seems you have tested everything, you, and your team - and your customers and other users - will find the most creative ways to push, and even break, your integrations. In some cases, you may have to continually reevaluate the API, ensure that the data set is preserved through scenario after scenario, and be sure that the processes you have planned, modeled, and worked on will continue to support your goals - both now and in the future.

Taking the time to approach integrations for your CMS mindfully - looking at your business with blatant honesty, peeling back all your blinders, and truly identifying and embracing your business processes - will make your website and your entire digital user experience an elegant, even immaculate one. Not only that, but a truly conscious effort in applying integrations to your web presence will help future-proof both the digital experience and your business overall, for years - maybe even decades - to come.