12 - June - 2018

Going global: multiple websites, singular strategy

Post by Mike C
Ixis Service

Online presence has become a vital component of nearly all modern marketing strategies. No matter what the scale, sector and scope of your organisation, you are very unlikely to be able to operate effectively without a website, an email marketing strategy or a social media channel or two.

Maintaining a clear and consistent online presence is challenging enough for a small business, but for large organisations with a global presence, it can become even more complicated. The web presence of large organisations is likely to spread across more than one website, and comprise different sites representing different global markets or different business strands. This diversity is essential in order to offer tailored content across regions and products or services; however, it presents some significant management challenges. How do organisations on this scale maintain consistency and coherence across a whole series of different websites? If your business includes subsidiary companies, how can you ensure that they each maintain your own high standards across their individual sites?

Problems and pitfalls

Some may wonder why it matters. If each subsidiary company within your organisation truly needs its own separate web presence, then allowing them to develop them independently should be the best course of action. But what are the risks and problems associated with each company going to a separate web agency and having its site built and managed independently?

There are two major areas where potential pitfalls could lie – and they relate to completely different aspects of the websites in question.

First, there’s the front-end design and content – though the importance of this varies. For some groups, the branding can be totally different across each subsidiary and all that is required is a group logo somewhere on each site, whereas for others, it is vital for every subsidiary’s site to have a unified look and feel. Even then, this is an easy risk to manage via well-prepared brand and content guidelines, and a single team or individual appointed internally with oversight for the look and feel of all websites.

The second pitfall, however, can be trickier to manage. When the back-ends for a group of websites are built and managed differently, it becomes far more difficult to correct inconsistencies between them. There’s also no central codebase and configuration for the group’s sites, which makes it very difficult to implement standard functionality such as single sign on authentication or sales CRM integration across the group – and yet such systems can be essential for the underlying operations of the organisation. Even more seriously, it becomes more difficult to fix problems with coding. If one website has been built with lower quality standards of security than another, that site could potentially offer criminals an easy route into the entire organisation.

Even if the lower security standard of one site does not give access to the rest of the organisation it can be a blow to the credibility of a large company if they fail to manage their subsidiaries and owned companies website to the same high standard as their main brand.

And this pitfall is not one that can be avoided by simply writing a set of guidelines and handing them out to disparate web agencies. These are technical inconsistencies – and they need to be fixed at a technical level.

A systematic solution

On a small scale the answer can be as simple as employing a single agency to build all the websites for the group, ensuring that they are fully integrated with each other and follow the same stringent security standards. However, for an organisation operating on a global scale where there may be dozens or even hundreds of different sites and languages to consider, this is a very tall order.

Nevertheless, the systematic ethos followed by a single agency can still be emulated on a worldwide scale – it just requires the use of the same tool, rather than the same team.

A single quality assurance (QA) system can provide a centralised point from which all subsidiary companies and their contracted agencies can clone a template for their website, with preset architecture and security protocols baked in. The individual agency can then go on to design the site according to their branding guidelines and desired look and feel. Crucially, the website can then be tested and checked against a single set of benchmarking criteria, enforced by the QA system. If the quality score drops too low - deployment to a production environment can be blocked, unless overridden by authorised users.

Ixis have implemented a project grading system that produces a report for agencies submitting their sites back to the organisations QA system - checks on code quality, known security vulnerabilities, bad practices in configuration and architecture, caching and performance and client side PageSpeed Insights.

Each website should be built using the same platform, to ensure true back-end consistency and enable exactly the same functionality to be rolled out comprehensively, if required. Open source platforms such as Drupal are particularly powerful here, because they offer companies and web agencies greater flexibility while still providing underlying continuity and standardisation. For global organisations, it is particularly important to select global platforms for building web presences – and again, Drupal fits the bill.

This technology-driven approach, making use of an intelligent QA system and a single digital platform to underpin all group websites strikes the perfect balance between freedom and control. It simultaneously offers subsidiaries full control over design, look and feel and web content, within whichever guidelines are chosen, while allowing the parent company to have full control over the programme each site is built in, its security levels and its standardised content management (CMS) system.

Mike C

Managing Director

12 years of Drupal development wrangling and a background in digital project architecture.

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