Adobe Business Catalyst Review - 8 benefits that rock for medium sized businesses

Adobe Business Catalyst Review update 2017

15-Oct-2017 09:12 AM

Our updated review of Adobe Business Catalyst includes 8 reasons to choose the platform for a medium sized business in 2017.

When you want a website developed that is truly custom and bespoke then consider and choose Adobe Business Catalyst.

I would recommend Adobe Business Catalyst for companies that have at least 10 staff and one person dedicating at least 50% of their time to digital marketing.

8 Reasons to Choose Adobe Business Catalyst for businesses Quick Links

Web Tools Your Business Under One Roof That Talk to Each Other

With Business Catalyst, you have web hosting, email, a CRM, a website, a blog, web forms, marketing lists, email marketing, an auto-responder, e-commerce, custom web development and reporting and analytics tools all under the same administration areas; and they all talk to each other.

Let me explain.

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Business Catalyst Web Forms

Business Catalyst has a drop and drag WYSIWIG web form builder that those with limited technical skills to create and build a web form and add that form to a web page.

Adobe Business Catalyst web forms

You can control the email auto-responder, the email users receive after completing a web form, and can control the confirmation page; the page the user lands on after completing the web form.

Business Catalyst CRM

When a user completes the web form and the information is processed it is sent and stored in the BC CRM.

CRM from Adobe Business Catalyst

Business Catalyst Marketing Lists

With a little more sophistication, you can connect a marketing list or multiple marketing lists to a BC Web Form.

A marketing list is a type of user segmentation.

I can create a marketing list called “buyers” to an online shop purchase form and then send emails to “buyers” who have previously purchased.

Within the email marketing module, you can choose to further segment those "buyers" down to the products they purchased, the order value or when they purchased.

I can add 2 marketing lists to an enquiry such as “Interested In Marketing” and “Interested in Sales” and follow up with emails solely about marketing to those who selected the “Interested In Marketing” list option.

Autoresponders : One Off or A Series of Follow Up Emails

If you are familiar with MailChimp, Aweber or GetDrip, then you will appreciate the benefits of capturing user information and scheduling one off or a series of follow up emails to turn interested users into paying customers.

Depending on your needs, you may only send one off emails to customers or users and BC has a built in email marketing module that enables you to create an email campaign step by step.

Adobe Business Catalyst email marketing

Additionally, those familiar with MailChimp and AWeber understand how to send a series of follow up emails to educate and convince users.

Adobe Business Catalyst have a step by step process that guides you through running an email marketing campaign.

If you are familiar with Mailchimp for email marketing, then this is similar and the cost of 10,000 emails sent per month is included in the monthly licence fee that start at $39 a month for the e-commerce plan.

You can send automated follow up campaigns like you do with MailChimp, although I would like to see the additional feature where you can remove a user from one list if they join another email list.

Creating an email design template within Adobe Business Catalyst

This is a fairly technical screencast outlining how to hack together a responsive email marketing template you can build with some basic html and css knowledge; it works great on mobiles, tablets and big screen devices.

I've tested in Apple Mail and Outlook on about 6 client campaigns.

I don't suggest to be technically savvy and I've taken and extended an idea for Joe Watkins so the template can be re-used again and again.

Now you can focus on content to turn prospects into buyers and existing customers into repeat customers with Adobe's great built in targeting and segmentation tools.

How to create an email campaign in Adobe Business Catalyst from start to finish.

Here's a screencast video where I outline how to create an email marketing campaign from start to finish using the Adobe Business Catalyst platform from start to finish.

Whilst the process only takes 10 or so minutes, it did take me an hour preparation and 4 years’ experience of Adobe Business Catalyst to get to this stage.

360 Degree User View in CRM

With Business Catalyst you get a 360-degree view of every person on your CRM.

You can look at prospects, customers and buyers and how they interacted with your website; provided you set things up correctly.

You can look at forms they have completed, products purchased, emails opened, marketing lists they are on and much more.

You can send emails to them within the CRM, and if you have customer service ticketing enabled and configured correctly, and their replies can be stored in email threads.

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Business Catalyst CMS and Blog Modules – Pages and Blog Posts

Business Catalyst has a content management system and blog module that let you create and edit pages and blog posts.

You can control the on page optimisation elements include the URL, page header, page title and description.

Adobe Business Catalyst Pages and Blog Posts

Asset Management (Media Downloads, Photo Galleries and FAQs)

Business Catalyst has 3 modules called Media Downloads, Photo Galleries and FAQs that enable you to manage assets.

Upload a PDF, add it to a page, then upload a new version of the PDF at a later date without updating the page the PDF is on.

Photo galleries and a list of FAQs can be created and added to a page with the same update functionality as Media Downloads.

Adobe BC Media Downloads module

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Front End Design Awesomeness

After you have signed up as a partner, you create a test website.

You can either create a blank website or you can use one of the free templates, purchase and import a template from various providers.

The other alternative is to use a front end web design tools such as Webflow or Macaw or Froont.

We have experience using the Webflow front end design tool.

You can read this guest post we published on the Webflow blog.

https://webflow.com/blog/building-websites-and-web-apps-with-webflow-and-adobe-business-catalyst

To quote myself “Webflow and Adobe Business Catalyst have proven to be a great match for businesses that need stunning front-end design and a powerful, easy to use back-end content management system (CMS).”

This gives our design and development team the ability to deliver truly bespoke awesome designs for clients with the power of the BC backend.

Website design in Adobe Business Catalyst

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Custom Web Development for businesses serious about the web

One area that BC excels in is web apps.

Web Apps allow us to create custom functionality for clients on top of the core platform.

BC web apps have allowed Platonik to develop a complete, bespoke recruitment website where the client runs their entire vacancy application process and vacancy marketing process from.

Web Apps have allowed us to solve problems we never thought we could solve for clients.

Bespoke web development we’ve created using Adobe Business Catalyst

Here are just some bespoke solutions we’ve need able to create with web apps in Adobe Business Catalyst.

  • Search, Sort, Renew Job Listing on a Web App.
  • Custom Pay a Deposit Payment Page where the client can add different prices and different vat levels.
  • A EU/VAT downloadable reports web business.
  • For a travel company website, functionality to add regions, countries and areas to enable the user to select an area on a map and learn about that area.
  • Use the online shop feature to sell membership access to online fitness training.
  • Custom golf tour package pages with detailed merchandising of related golf courses and hotels.

BC Partner Web Apps round up

Last year we reached out to the major Business Catalyst partners and asked them to showcase their favourite web apps built in Adobe Business Catalyst.

  • Member Comments
  • Voting App
  • Movie Reviews
  • Store Locator 

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Growing Apps and Plugins Marketplace

If you are familiar with WordPress, you will know there are thousands of plugins that are small solutions to solve particular problems.

Some are free plugins and some are paid for.

Business Catalyst has a similar army of apps, plugins and widgets that help to solve business problems that aren’t available in the main BC features.

Here are some examples of my favourite apps

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Landing Page Builder a Game Changer

Anyone familiar Leadpages or Unbounce will understand landing pages are required to run Google Adwords, Facebook Advertising and other digital marketing campaigns.

Two years in development, I was able to get onto the beta programme for the BC Landing Page Builder app.

This is by far and away the best point and click web app ever created for Business Catalyst.

  • 1. I can build landing pages for advertising
  • 2. I can build coming soon pages
  • 3. I can even build a brand new website 

The BC Landing Page builder also enables you to fully customise the layout and design of BC web forms so you have a landing page that will capture user information and store the information on the BC CRM for follow up email marketing.

Business Catalyst landing page builder app

landing page builder screenshot

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Hosting and Customer Support - No Worries

In addition to the in-context help when you are using the administration section of a BC website there is excellent customer service and hosting provided.

Whilst you don’t get telephone support, live support chat is good; I generally get issues fixed straight away and the forum community is very helpful.

To be fair Adobe’s support has improved over the years.

If only they invested in core module development the way they invested in support, most BC partners would be a lot happier.

In terms of hosting, since BC is a service as a software solution, hosting is managed by BC engineers.

I’ve only had one issue in 9 years, that was fairly minor, and it’s re-assuring to know a brand like Adobe has your back as opposed to some bloke in a garden shed office.

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Strong Community

With Business Catalyst you are never alone.

BC Sandpile is a group BC partners who openly share their knowledge to help improve all aspects of developing and designing with BC.

BCGurus is a paid for community that offers learning tutorials and pre-engineered design templates.

BC Academe focuses on advanced web development tutorials especially learning and applying Liquid programming to BC web developed.

EZ-BC provide custom templates, PSD to HTML conversion and PSD to BC conversion; think of them like an outsourced web development team.

Platonik Marketing host free and paid for marketing related tutorials for BC.

In addition, you’ll find BC at various Adobe Max conventions every year.

Whilst BC is small compared to other web platforms the community is very strong, helpful and welcomes all to the fold.

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SEO Experts Recommend Business Catalyst

Here are some thoughts from Search Engine Optimisation expert, Craig Bradford, on what he thinks about Platonik, alternatives systems and getting ranked highly on Google.

"I first came across the Platonik CMS when working on a client's website.

As our company specialise in SEO, the platform on which a site is built can make my job very easy or very difficult.

When I started digging around the back end of this clients’ website I straight away found it a relief to see the high level of functionality.

It's built in such a way that you can update your own website just as easy as using something like Microsoft word and adding pages is extremely easy.

I always find it frustrating when I decide to add content to a client site only to find that their web designer charges them £50 every time they want a new page, the Platonik CMS makes adding content easy and free.

To my delight Google and other search engines seemed to love the platform as well since the site started to rank quickly in all the major search engines with very little work.

Over all I couldn't recommend the Platonik platform more, for the amount of functionality you get from the back end of the site it's well worth the money.

Needless to say shortly after working with that clients’ website I got my entire site changed over to the same Platonik online business software."

Craig provides Search Engine Optimisation services.

Issues With Adobe BC

No matter which web platform you use there are always challenges, issues and missing functionality.

Business Catalyst are no different.

  • Don’t innovate enough
  • Online shops - EU and VAT
  • BC Analytics
  • SSL Certificates
  • Not for everyone

Business Catalyst Innovation

The innovation comes from BC partners and web developers as opposed the Adobe staff.

EU and VAT for Online Shops

I’m inclined to use Shopify now for online stores because BC just hasn’t kept up with the e-commerce space.

There are issues with EU and VAT functionality if you intent to sell online to businesses.

There are new EU VAT laws relating to selling digital products and services such as hosting, software and digital goods.

Even after 4 years of shouting, Adobe ignores.

BC Analytics need a re-vamp

Adobe Business Catalyst reports are not at the level of Google’s reporting tools and they have had issues over the years with robots and spam visits being included in the visit report results.

In addition, Adobe say they measure visits differently from Google but, from experience, there’s generally a huge gap between these 2 reporting methods.

So my advice would be to invest in a little custom development and use the new Apps solution and have your Google Analytics account added to your dashboard.

Adobe BC Dashboard

SSL Certificates

Although an https url is only a small ranking factor many BC partners want SSL certificates for client websites.

Whilst BC is a PCI Level 1 Compliant platform, the addition of SSL Certificates will give larger business a greater perception of web security.

BC is Not For Everyone

On the home page Adobe Business Catalyst proclaim “everything you need to build an online business”.

And then “built for web designers like you”.

Even if you are reasonably competent with html and css, you are still going to struggle with Business Catalyst.

You are going to need some advanced jquery and coding skills and, now, Liquid language experience.

Adobe’s technical team have over the years gradually retreated to hide away not only from their core clients, partners, but also from the overall web community.

Sadly, Adobe doesn’t offer everything you need to run an online business.

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An Interview with an Adobe Business Catalyst customer

We did a little question and answer with one of clients, United Sports USA, a sports scholarship consultancy who act as the conduit between kids looking for sports scholarships in the USA and coaches looking for potential athletes.

Here's the q and a with their Managing Director; also called Fraser.

Fraser, you had a website before we met and discussed your business.

Q. What made you change from the old website?
A. The old website was not as user friendly, and had no onsite optimisation.

Q. What has happened as a result of the new website?
A. We have had more enquiries and we are now able to be found by google, and we are ranking higher every week with google.

Q. What specific feature did you like most about Business Catalyst?
A. The fact that we can see which coach logs into the site and follow up with them straight away.

Q. What would be three other benefits about using Business Catalyst?
A. BC send me a weekly report on enquiries, site visits etc., this makes it easy for us to see what is working. We have email and text alerts when somebody fills out the enquiry form online. Also, the fact that we can send out a group email from the back end to all of the coaches on our database.

Q. Would you recommend Business Catalyst? If so, why?
A. Yes, definitely. It makes your business simpler and you are able to track things effectively.

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Adobe Business Catalyst Pros and Cons

Here is a summary of the main pros and cons of Adobe Business Catalyst.

Pros

  • Reliable hosting, no plugin updates, never gets hacked.
  • All in one Content management, Web forms, CRM, email marketing,blogging and e-commerce.
  • Good technical support and live chat.
  • Great web form to CRM to email marketing workflow.
  • Strong loyal web developer community.
  • Perfect for small to medium sized businesses that need custom and bespoke websites.
  • Ideal for lead generation focused businesses.
  • Web Apps provide a blank canvas for developers to build and develop pretty any custom website or solution.
  • Liquid coding for web developers.
  • A pathway for Adobe Muse website that want to go to next level.

Cons

  • Hosting same price as Shopify but higher than WordPress.
  • Limited pre-built templates and marketplace.
  • Not for DIY users. You really need to be a web designer or developer to use.
  • Limited plugins and apps
  • E-commerce functionality very outdated.

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Adobe Business Catalyst versus WordPress

Comparing Adobe Business Catalyst with WordPress is like comparing apples and oranges.

They are 2 entirely different solutions.

But what I’ve created is a quick guide to compare the main features; Business Catalyst features that win are on the left and WordPress features that win are on the right of the infographic.

Hosting with Business Catalyst and WordPress

BC hosting is more expensive than the typical hosting for a WordPress website.

Typically my clients pay $39 a month for 3 admin users with Business Catalyst.

I have a WordPress website hosted with GoDaddy and I’m paying £9 a month.

However in the last month I’ve had to pay my web developers to update some plugins and fix some issues as a result of those plugins.

2 hours of development plus the GoDaddy hosting fee means I’m actually paying more for WordPress than Business Catalyst.

Business Catalyst and WordPress Themes and Templates

There are simply millions of WordPress templates available.

I recently purchased a web directory WordPress template for a client project than would have cost 10 times more and taken 5 months instead of one month development had I developed this solution in Business Catalyst.

Even though I purchased a pre built theme for WordPress I still had to hire my developers to spend around 80 hours customising the theme to suit the client’s business needs.

I purchased the theme from ThemeForest.

It was obvious from the theme support comments that other customers needed custom development on top of the template they had purchased.

WordPress have Plugins, Business Catalyst have Web Apps and Apps

There are millions of WordPress plugins as you would expect from the most popular CMS.

BC don’t have plugins they have Apps and widgets.

The BC App store is only a couple of years old but App development has increased rapidly this year.

If there isn’t a plugin then you need to develop an App or create a custom web app in Business Catalyst; the advantage being you don’t need to maintain the app or continually update it.

Business Catalyst and WordPress CRM and Web Forms

One of the advantage of BC is the ability to create and add a web form and the user data is submitted and stored within the CRM.

A web form can capture an enquiry or capture a product purchase and the data is added to the CRM.

This is great when you want to easily send follow up emails to prospects and customers.

WordPress doesn’t have this built in functionality.

WordPress users need to bolt on solutions such as MailChimp or, as I’m not using now; Get Drip.

Beyond 100 subscribers GetDrip is $49 a month but super customisable.

Blogging with Business Catalyst and WordPress

There’s very little difference between the blogging functionality of WordPress and Business Catalyst.

WordPress, who practically invented blogging (after Blogger) do edge this feature for me because of the drop and drag functionality.

Business E-Commerce module and WordPress WooCommerce plugin

With the $39 a month hosting plan Business Catalyst offer an out of the box e-commerce solution to sell physical and digital products.

But the e-commerce module will require customisation and web development.

To do e-commerce with WordPress you are going to have to pay for a plugin such as WooCommerce and have that customised by web developers to suit your needs.

My business has have moved away from e-commerce towards lead generation websites as the e-commerce market is simply too crowded with Shopify and Magento owning the small and mid to enterprise e-commerce space respectively.

SEO and Social functionality within Business Catalyst and WordPress

When it comes to on page optimisation and social sharing WordPress is slightly better than Business Catalyst by virtue of adding Yoast or All In One SEO plugins.

In saying that you can still customise BC to achieve the same levels of on page SEO and social sharing.

Lately however, I’ve started using the Readability options within Yoast to help with better optimise page and user readability.

Bear in mind that on page optimisation is only one part of the larger SEO strategy; research, content creation and link building are much more important ranking factors.

Support from Business Catalyst and WordPress

The fee I paid Business Catalyst 8 years ago to attain partnership status is a sunk cost now but I love how I can get live chat support for any customer issue and get more serious issues to the engineering team.

You simply don’t get that support from the open source WordPress platform.

Support from GoDaddy is pretty good when hosting a WordPress website; especially as they automatically update new versions of WordPress.

But with all the plugins I have I either have to spend my time updating plugins or paying my web developers.

We are managing small business websites; those who 10 or more staff so trust, reliability and a responsive partner is important.

In a recent proposal a client asked me what would happen to their website if we went out of business or if I died.

I told them Adobe have their back.

So I believe having a $17 billion company behind your company website is really important.

WordPress and Business Catalyst Community

Of course the WordPress community is larger by virtue of their popularity and plugin popularity but the Business Catalyst community are smaller, loyal and feel like a family once you get to know them.

And of course BC community is a sub set of the larger Adobe suit of products.

Share this Business Catalyst v WordPress infographic

Adobe Business Catalyst v WordPress Infographic

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Business Catalyst versus SquareSpace, Pros and Cons

Unlike other many reviewers, I have actually built live websites in both SquareSpace and Adobe Business Catalyst.

The SquareSpace website I "designed" was for a small start up company that were offering drinks at entertainment and hospitality venues.

  • 1. I knew the client requirements and budget; small.
  • 2. The client knew what he was looking for and showed me similar websites.
  • 3. I focused more heavily on the logo and unique artwork in the project.
  • 4. I knew the content the client had would be fairly minimal.

Who is SquareSpace aimed at?

SquareSpace is, in my opinion, more geared towards the small business owner, the start up or the person looking to design their own website.

You start with a free template design.

I used the Montauk template to customise.

Design and Customisation Steps

  • 1. Logo - I started by uploading the logo my designer Andy created.
  • 2. Template - I choose and customised the Montauk template.
  • 3. Style Editor - I went to the style editor and changed all the colours and typography to the brand guidelines my designer provided.
  • 4. I added an announcement bar
  • 5. I added a mobile information bar
  • 6. I created a MailChimp form and added to SquareSpace
  • 7. I added images and words to the pages.

I had to add some custom css to remove the page divider line over the main navigation.

Pros of SquareSpace

  1. Huge number of great template design selections, free to use and you can switch the template very quickly if you don’t like it.
  2. Easy to use backend administration area - you customise in the browser, all in the left hand menu, perfect for the non technical person.
  3. Easy to add web pages and a blog.
  4. Easy to buy a domain.
  5. Easy to follow instructions for adding your own domain.
  6. Easy to integrate a form or newsletter with MailChimp.
  7. Easy to add Facebook and Social Share.
  8. Analytics are great.
  9. Looks fantastic in mobile devices - preview your site in desktop, tablet and mobile as you customise.
  10. Typekit fonts are easy to apply to truly customise your website in line with your brand.
  11. SquareSpace even offer a service to design a logo.

Length of Time to Customise SquareSpace.

  • Took me a day to customise, add page content and put live.
  • This was the first time I had ever used SquareSpace.
  • I would call myself an intermediate web user; with a fairly good grasp of html, css and building website projects.

Cons of SquareSpace

  1. SquareSpace is for the DIY user, build yourself user, not a web developer.
  2. Accept you are customising a template & not building from scratch.
  3. I would be concerned about creating long form page content on SquareSpace.
  4. There doesn’t appear to be extensions you can build on top of of a SquareSpace website - like BC web apps or WordPress plugins.
  5. Business Catalyst web app functionality give a blank development canvas for custom websites.

In summary, SquareSpace is ideal for the do it yourself, start up market and I have to say it’s a very alluring proposition.

However, like the siren who lured the sailors with her looks and music, just because a website is pretty doesn't mean it will deliver business results.

A business still needs a strong proposition or product and its website need great content, great backlinks and a good conversion rate for it to delivery business results.

For me, SquareSpace is ideal for those new to the web or selling online but Business Catalyst is for my higher end established business clients who need a totally bespoke and unique website built from near scratch or who have outgrown limitations of solutions like SquareSpace.

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Wrapping Up Our Review of Adobe Business Catalyst

We have been BC Partner for nearly 9 years and recommend Adobe Business Catalyst because we trust them with our clients' business and data.

We don’t have to hire an IT guy just to maintain a website.

We don’t have huge development costs when clients want extra work or additional functionality.

We can concentrate on the business side and our web developers can solve most technical challenges as a result of their skills in spite of the platform limitations.

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