Adobe Business Catalyst

Adobe Business Catalyst – A Review

In which, I review Adobe Business Catalyst, a platform for building websites and whatnot.

Recently, I was contacted by a client who was unhappy with her shiny new website, built just two months prior on the Adobe Business Catalyst (ABC) platform. This client is a smart, capable woman who had used WordPress to maintain a website for many years and has solid computer skills.

She had hired a well respected web development company to redesign and rebuild her website. A website she paid 5 figures for, and continues to pay for with an ongoing monthly hosting fee.

After the website developers designed and built the site, they turned the maintenance keys over to her, and she began working with the Content Management System (CMS).

She was less than thrilled. The text editor was clunky and didn’t behave properly. The photo functions were rudimentary at best, byzantine at worst. Inconsitence spacing. Odd formatting. Little glitches all over the site.

She could not get the text to format the way she wanted. Getting photos into a post or page required a huge work-around to get them sized and scaled properly. Things as simple as having text wrap around a photo correctly were seemingly impossible tasks.

Her website is primarily a blog, and information about the books she has written with links to buy them on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Pretty straightforward.

She has maintained her own website since the mid-2000’s, and has a ton of content that was ported over to the new site. Again, straightforward.

We met, I took notes about her concerns, and logged into the CMS.

Adobe Business Catalyst Content Management System

The Adobe Business Catalyst CMS interface certainly looks impressive. Look at all that meta!

Even though I was unfamiliar with the layout, I was able to get some of the basic formatting issues corrected. I took care of a few the things that needed to be done – after a fair bit of research in the Adobe forums and some trial-and-error. None of it was very intuitive or straightforward though.

Looking under the hood, the basic framework of Adobe Business Catalyst isn’t ideal. It adds a metric shit-ton of markup to the content rather than relying on CSS. It appears to be built on tables, but I’m still not sure about that. It’s hard to say really. Adobe won’t give a user full access to their closed system.

The blogging functionality is very poor. It is simply not a good or user-friendly blogging platform.

Themes – the templates that control how a site looks – are limited and generic. It’s just been a couple of weeks since I started this project, but I can already spot a site built on the platform from three sites away. You can, of course, design and code your own theme if you have the skill and patience.

Additionally, the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) functionality doesn’t appear to have any in-site feedback like the popular Yoast plugin for WordPress has. This forces blind guesses as to how posts are scoring unless you are really well versed in how to go about SEO. Its implementation is clunky and poorly thought out.

There are any number of other  issues that I could point out, but that gets tedious fast.

Given enough time, I could have repaired most of what was wrong with the site. It is, after all, only code.

But we decided to cut our losses and move the website back to the WordPress platform and put it on a server we have complete control over.

I should say at this point, I adore Adobe products.

I owned Adobe Illustrator 1.1 in 1987. I owned the very first commercial release of Photoshop. I was an early adopter of InDesign. I could not get through the day without Acrobat. I still use Dreamweaver nearly every single day. I have grown up as a designer with Adobe products and cannot imagine getting my work done without them. They are the best.

If Adobe searched their records, they would find that I have been responsible for purchasing hundreds of their products. During my ad agency years, I was the guy responsible for evaluating, choosing and purchasing the software the creative teams used. I chose Adobe products every single time.

I default to Adobe products.

In fact, the only time in my career that I have chosen the wrong platform/technology/program was back in the early days of Flash, when I chose Adobe Live Motion over Macromedia Flash, and I still maintain it was a better product.

I wish I could say the same about Adobe Business Catalyst.

Anyhow, after digging in and doing some research, I discovered that there are a lot of people with not a lot nice to say about the Adobe Business Catalyst platform. And I had to dig pretty deep to find it.

Adobe, being the heavyweight that Adobe is, absolutely dominates the search rankings for the term “Adobe Business Catalyst” in every conceivable permutation. It must be nice to have that kind of SEO clout.

From my research, there is consensus that Adobe Business Catalyst does some things very well.

The CRM modules are awesome. The Newsletter function is solid. The E-Commerce component is very good. Being cloud-based, backups and uptime should be nearly bulletproof, although you will see a fair bit of grousing about that online.

There is, however, one unpardonable sin with the Adobe Business Catalyst platform.

There is no way to extract and download your content from the site should you feel the need to abandon the platform.

I repeat – There is no way to extract and download your content from the site should you feel the need to abandon the platform.

Downloading your content as an XML file is not allowed.

Adobe owns your content. They have you locked into their platform and you can never leave, because they are holding your content hostage.

It becomes more trouble to move your content than to stay with what you’ve already invested in.

This is because it is software as service. The content you create lives on cloud-based on Adobe servers, and they aren’t about to give you full access to their servers. It’s a closed system.

I suppose that’s what passes for good business practice these days. It creates a predictable revenue stream. It maximizes value for the company. I’m sure Adobe shareholders love it.

I see that a lot of the big-time web development firms love the service and are eager to sell you on the platform. They can piggyback on the business model and lock you in. It’s a neat trick to create steady cash flow.

Personally, I find it unethical.

This particular client had 8 years of blog posts loaded into the platform. 8 years of content she had created, that she now has no access to. More than 300 pages of content that can only be claimed, one page at a time, with a tedious copy/paste.

Think about that for a second. It’s like renting a house, but the owner of the house claims ownership of every single thing you bring into the house.

That’s seriously fucked up.

I did find a work around. If the blog is set up as an RSS feed, you can load the content into an RSS reader and save the content to a file. But, with the metric shit-ton of markup the platform adds to the content, it is basically unusable without yet another metric shit-ton of cleanup.

“So, Patrick Houston Design Studio, what’s the bottom line on Adobe Business Catalyst?” you ask.

Adobe Business Catalyst is most likely a very fine platform for large business and large E-commerce sites, IF there is a full time staff of developers, designers and content managers to maintain the site – be they in-house, or via a maintenance contract with your developers.

If you are a big business, or a large, high-traffic E-commerce site with a lot of customers to manage, you’d most likely be a happy camper. Up until the day you decide to move to a different platform. Then you will be very unhappy camper.

Adobe Business Catalyst is NOT built for normal people with better things to do than fuss over their website 8 hours a day.

In a few days, I’ll show off the newly designed WordPress site. It’s extra-awesome and I’m very proud of how it turned out.

I’m Speaking At Wordcamp Fayetteville 2013

Wordcamp Fayetteville 2013

My topic at Wordcamp Fayeteville 2013 will be Finding and Choosing A WordPress Theme

I’m not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into here in volunteering to present at Wordcamp Fayetteville 2013, but it is sure to be interesting.

My session, called Finding and Choosing a WordPress Theme, is in the beginners section.

I’ll walk attendees through the process of finding and choosing an appropriate WordPress Theme for your blog or website.

I’ll be covering free themes available through the WordPress CMS, and premium themes available on the web, with hints and tips on what to look for when evaluating themes.

The session will be appropriate for beginning bloggers wanting to set up their own blog, or existing website owners who want to move their site over to WordPress to take advantage of the WordPress CMS (Content Management System) for site management and development.

The power of WordPress for site owners lies in its overall ease-of-use, its ability to design on the fly, and the extensive plugin availability that allows functionality enhancements without knowing how to write code.

Freddie The Mail Chimp

Email Marketing

Merry Christmas Email

Some of you reading this will have gotten an email from this site titled “A quick note from Patrick Houston Design Studio”.

The email had three purposes:

  • To wish my clients and friends a Merry Christmas
  • To announce the launch of this spanky new website
  • To demonstrate our new email marketing capabilities

In an ongoing effort to be of service to my clients, Patrick Houston Design Studio offers assistance with creating, managing and deploying email marketing campaigns.

If you didn’t see it, and would like to, click here.

Pretty nifty, amirite?

I used MailChimp to create the email campaign, but am also fluent in Constant Contact.

I chose MailChimp because it has a FREE service for small businesses like mine, limited only by how many emails you send per month – which looks like a generous amount to me. Constant Contact doesn’t have that feature, but will allow you a 60 day free trial, and their prices for small businesses are very reasonable.

One of the nifty features about both services is that they have plugins, widgets, short codes and raw code to install the functionality into your website.

See that little “JOIN MY EMAIL LIST” doohickey in the sidebar on the right? That’s the MailChimp List Widget for WordPress. It’s configurable to catch first and last names if you wish, and will add your email address directly to my master list.

Should you decide to join, I won’t be sending you much email to be sure. I can’t imagine doing it more than a couple of times a year, and I promise not to spam your inbox with a bunch of useless crap.

A few notes about the performance of my little email campaign:

Admittedly, I used a very small, select list to send the email to, but the performance has been impressive.

For the purposes of my campaign, I am in the Creative Services/Agency Industry category for response tracking.

Less than 24 hours after the email was deployed in what is not the optimal time to send an email (5:00 p.m.):

  • 74.2% of recipients have opened and read the email (the industry average is 17.5%)
  • 23.8% have clicked through to see the new website (the industry average is 2.5%)

My email campaign performed so well because I:

  • Started with a good list: I carefully selected the recipients from my contacts.
  • Had a timely message: Merry Christmas!
  • Had a relevant call to action: See my new website!

If you would like to get started with email marketing, give me a call at 501.590.5321. I’d be thrilled to help.

The PHDS Studio

Welcome to the Patrick Houston Design Studio website

The Patrick Houston Design Studio

In what has become a Christmas tradition, I’ve redesigned Patrick Houston Design Studio website.

I’m calling this one version 4.0. It’s my little Christmas present to my business.

This site is built on the WordPress platform. I’ve been working with WordPress for a while now, successfully using it to build sites for clients large and small.

It is a sturdy and flexible platform with excellent basic functionality that is expandable and scalable to virtually any need.

The Content Management System (CMS) that runs underneath the site is robust and seemingly bulletproof [crosses fingers].

Once designed, developed and deployed, a WordPress site is easy to add to and manage content with, allowing clients to take over much of the management of their website themselves, instead of paying me [hits forehead with hammer] to do it.

In the days and weeks and months to come I hope to do what I’ve never seemed to manage to do with PHDS versions 1–3 – namely, to keep the durned thing updated with all the fabulous work I’m so fortunate to do on behalf of a really great bunch of clients.

So, welcome to the Patrick Houston Design Studio website and I hope you’ll check back every so often to see what we’re up to.