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Michael Thompson Headshot Posted by Michael Thompson July 16, 2019

Growing old disgracefully: Lessons learned reviewing 500 on-premises CMS websites

In a project to understand the competitive landscape, I reviewed 500 websites built with the product of one of our key competitors. Incredibly, I discovered that almost three out of four of these websites were running software that was two years out of date or more – and half of those were using versions no longer getting mainstream support. These companies, whether they realize it or not, are at risk of being left behind competitively and exposed for security risks.

The on-prem upgrade trap

Most of our competitors in the enterprise CMS space, including the one in this study, are on-premises solutions. That is, the websites are hosted, managed, and maintained on servers like traditional, legacy software. I wanted to understand how companies are coping with upgrades to their on-premises solutions. Because our own enterprise CMS solution, Crownpeak Digital Experience Manager (DXM), is pure-play, cloud-native SaaS, this is something our customers never have to think about – all upgrades are instant and seamless and everyone is always on the latest version. But what if you have to do the heavy lifting yourself?

My survey focused on companies that had been on the competitor platform for at least two years. What I discovered was striking:

  • 72% of companies still on the platform had not upgraded in the last two years. 
  • 40% of companies are on a product version so old it no longer qualifies for mainstream support from the vendor. This includes basic things like installation and development support, help with product defects and compatibility fixes. ·
  • 8% of companies are on a product version so old it doesn't qualify for support at all. That means no security or service pack updates, no patches or hotfixes. You're on your own!

Why are companies standing still?

With on-premises CMS, upgrades are notoriously complicated. Everything from custom integrations, to workflows, to security patches needs to be reviewed for compatibility with the update. Code needs to be rewritten and tested, staff trained, and productivity is disrupted. And in a vicious cycle, the longer you put it off the more difficult it becomes. Leave it too long, and you can become marooned on a technology island, cut off from support and from the march of technical progress. Vendors differ, but mainstream version support can be as little as three years. Upgrades can also be expensive. Very expensive.

When buying an on-premises solution companies need to be aware of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). This can exceed the cost of the base license several times over and upgrade costs are a key contributor. Given the choice, marketers would much rather direct this money to their primary focus – accelerating the company's brand. This means that technical debt can quickly accumulate. But standing still also comes at a cost to marketing. Without a frequent technology refresh, websites quickly lose their edge, becoming frozen in time. In my survey, I came across hundreds of examples of what I call "fossil UX" – features and behaviors that haven't moved with the times, and which instantly date the user experience.

Here are three of the worst offenders:

  1. Pop-ups. Remember them? Many sites are still using pop-ups to engage their visitors. Pop-ups for newsletter signups, pop-ups for app downloads, pop-ups for user surveys. These irritating calls for attention have been out of style for many years as marketers realized they were bad for everything from SEO, to website accessibility and visitor bounce-rates. A proliferation of pop-ups is a major signifier that your website is overdue for a makeover.

  2. The GDPR blockade In the initial rush to meet their GDPR compliance obligations many companies rushed to implement user consent banners on their websites. Because everyone was still working out what GDPR meant, initial implementations were very much a BETA – crude barriers to entry that required a user to accept your terms before accessing the site. Bad for the customer experience and, again, terrible for your bounce rate. Today's GDPR consent solutions are infinitely more sophisticated. Next-generation solutions, such as Crownpeak's Universal Consent Platform, are delivered as an integrated part of a website's UX. Turning obligation into opportunity, savvy companies are harnessing the consent process to build deeper, more trusting relationships with their customers. Whenever I encounter an old-style GDPR blockade, it's a sure sign a company is suffering from agility issues.

  3. Lousy load speed Load speed is a key factor in Google page ranking, and this is especially true for mobile sites. It is absolutely critical to get this right. In a random audit of 50 of the website homepages included in my survey, 38% had a load speed of over 5 seconds, one site took a sleepy 9.75, and another, an incredible 14.75 (tests were made over WIFI with a 194/MBS download speed). Many factors can contribute to a poor load speed, including template structure, infrastructure deployment, data center location, integrations, and tags. While contemporary websites are optimized for speed, a sluggish load time is a prime indicator of a creaky infrastructure.

Getting back into the fast lane

For any company that has experienced the pitfalls of upgrade inertia common to on-premises implementations, SaaS is often the primary requisite when they look to select a new vendor. The pressure is on marketers to be faster and more adaptable, and so more and more enterprises are opting for agility and to leave behind the costs and headaches of running their own systems.

For a deeper dive into the differences between on-premises and cloud-based CMS and their associated pros and cons, download our ebook: Choosing the Right WCM: On-Premises VS. Cloud.