The AA:  A Sitecore website built by Codehouse

The AA's award winning website rolls out on Sitecore XP 8.1

The AA, the UK's largest motoring organisation, chose Codehouse to be part of its transformation programme of delivering a new website on the Sitecore Experience Platform 8.1.

Brief

This exciting project involved setting up a brand new large-scale Windows/Sitecore infrastructure as well as build and launch of a series of key fully responsive/adaptive business-critical pages and modules. Codehouse was tasked to re-develop (in phases) The AA’s Homepage, Breakdown Cover, Financial Services (mortgages, savings, loans and credit card) Hospitality, and Insurance sections in Sitecore version 8.1. The core objectives of this project were to:

  • Deliver an omni-channel AA experience to its customers, members and broader audience
  • Improve customer engagement
  • Generate demand for services
  • Drive cost savings
  • Differentiate the AA brand

In order to achieve the core objectives our project team not only needed to address the many, and often complex infrastructure and integration challenges, it also had to deliver a large number of Sitecore modules to tight time pressures, whilst ensuring The AA’s content teams became confident with a brand new and unfamiliar content / experience management system.

Execution

Following comprehensive Discovery and Infrastructure workshops, we went about setting up the server infrastructure comprising of 16 Sitecore servers across 3 different environments. Not to mention a combination of MS SQL 2014 Always On Clusters, local MongoDB servers and a first foray into the xDB Cloud.

Working closely with The AA’s design agency, Rufus Leonard and SEO agency, Agenda21, our front-end and back-end development teams began work on a raft of page templates. The page templates have ‘flexifixed’ placeholders (which give content editors the ability to set the number of columns for each row on the template, and then to choose what modules are displayed in the placeholders in these rows). Modules range from Campaign Promos, Related Product Promos and Cross Sell Promos, to Product Detail and Product Comparison, which offer a direct path into the AA’s sales journey. A variety of financial tools were also developed including a Cashback tool, a credit card Balance Transfer calculator, an Exchange Rate calculator and a Mortgage calculator. All-in-all over 70 modules and 16 page templates were developed using the Kanban approach to Agile Methodology.

One aspect that makes this website sing is the modular design and the complex integration our development teams implemented. As with any project, challenges are faced and overcome; some of these challenges derive from ensuring websites remain connected to business critical systems so that they tick over as expected and deliver an uninterrupted user experience. The new site has necessitated interfacing with a large number of legacy and evolving new services including tag management, chat, vehicle registration databases, CRM, authentication and payment gateway.

To hone the customer experience, it was important that the site’s navigation is easy-to-use. To deliver this Codehouse applied a business-centric approach by analysing Sitecore analytics and using the insights to evolve and enhance the site’s navigation menu.

The AA navigation 

No business wants to fall foul of Google’s mobile optimised SEO requirements. Not only is the site responsive - delivering the same AA experience across desktop, tablet and mobile devices, some elements of the site are also adaptive. The introduction of img srcset technology, which is new in the HTML5 specification, ensures users are served with image sizes optimised for the resolution of the device they are using. This, coupled with a custom solution for integration with Sitecore puts the content editor in control of this flexibility. Editors upload a set of images to Sitecore’s Media Library for the desired environment parameters and srcset handles the rest. Appropriate fallbacks for legacy browsers are also catered for.

It’s well documented how important Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is. Codehouse worked with Agenda 21 to ensure the new AA website is delivered to the highest SEO standards. These include amongst others, JSON-LD structured data, schema microdata, an enriched SEO homepage footer, unique human readable URLs, metacontent, optimised paginated search results, editable canonical tags and title management.

Improving customer engagement and generating demand rates highly in any web project. The AA are already using some of Sitecore’s rich personalisation features to target personalised content at groups of users that meet certain profiles. Some of this personalisation relies on ‘out of the box’ Sitecore rules such as offering context specific information to users outside the UK but Codehouse has also developed a range of custom personalisation rules to meet specific business needs. More of these are in the pipeline.

Codehouse build the AA Sitecore website

Visitors to the breakdown landing pages are presented with customised content depending on their provenance.

Like many large organisations, the AA relies on a large team of content editors. Codehouse set up a series of roles assigned to content editors to ensure tight governance of content generation and publishing rights. In addition, all content passes through the AA’s workflows. This ensures that content is reviewed prior to it being approved and pushed live.

As well using the Content Editor Interface, the AA’s content team also use the impressive WYSIWYG Experience Editor (EE), which is configured to meet pre-defined placeholder rules that ensure new page layouts adhere to content hierarchy UX goals. The complexity of the rules behind the pre-defined placeholders required our team to develop a custom Rendering Analysis & Mapping Tool using the Sitecore PowerShell Extensions (SPE) module. This useful tool allows the AA's content team to select a page type from a simple dropdown selector and view a list of the allowed renderings.

Another vital aspect of this project was to ensure the smooth transition from The AA’s outgoing CMS, TeamSite, to Sitecore XP8.1. After all, what’s the point of having a new system if content teams can’t use it? To familiarise The AA’s content teams with a brand new and unfamiliar experience management system, our client experience team not only held a series of in-depth bespoke Sitecore training sessions (including off-shore), it also provided an accompanying in-depth Sitecore User Guide as well as valuable content support during content loading in the build up to go-live.

During training, the importance of a Sitecore champion was emphasised. As more training and content support was delivered, it became evident that The AA’s various content teams began to fully embrace Sitecore. This was a huge plus, and a relief - because content teams are integral to all website projects, for without their buy-in content creation could potentially be slow and arduous. It was refreshing to see not one, but many Sitecore champions who supported, and continue to support other team members resolve content related issues. Of course, our team is always available to provide support.

To meet the high level and detailed project requirements, our project team collaboratively worked with Rufus Leonard, other third party agencies, and The AA to run a series of manual and automated tests on dedicated test servers. In-house, we maintained our high standards by developing The AA’s new Sitecore XP8.1 website using industry best practice. We also scrutinised the site against our own XP Readiness Assessment (XPR) criteria designed to deliver an optimised user experience to Sitecore content editors and authors. Our XPR covers a range of areas that include Editors, Workflows, Security and more.

Codehouse build the AA's sitecore website 

Results

The new award winning website certainly differentiates the AA brand. Its bold and fresh aesthetics deliver a user interface that is easy to navigate on any device, so much so that the website ranks highly in Google’s Mobile Site Review.

When visiting the site, the impact is immediate. The home page delivers strong imagery with concise key messaging. Calls-to action are also abundant throughout the site on every viewport. Visitors are guided through carefully crafted journeys to find the information they need about breakdown cover and other AA products and then on to payment and fulfilment.

From a user perspective, the EE allows The AA’s content teams to quickly, and easily build pages from scratch. This impressive interface saves time by streamlining resourcing, which has the long-term potential of delivering fiscal savings.

The considerable effort put into this project has made the site conform to WCAG A-AA standards accessibility standards.

 Codehouse build the AA's Sitecore website

Post launch results are extremely positive. Since launch, The AA’s website has experienced a conversion rate increased by 22%, a sales and revenue increase of 37% and an upshot of 15% of visitors to the site. These increases are impressive, and provide further credence that a well-built and personalised website that delivers improved customer engagement is a value-added business benefit.

"A massive thank you to all the teams’ efforts that have contributed to launching the first few pages of the new AA website. Hugely exciting to see it all start to come together, and I am very pleased that we are now in ‘live mode’, learning from our customers and taking the learnings forward for the next phases of work! I hope you will all feel proud of this achievement in our transformation programme, and are as excited as I am about the next phases in the programme.” [Thom Groot, Digital Director, The AA]

Overall, this project harnessed all our Sitecore expertise. From complex IT infrastructure, information architecture and sophisticated integration, to impressive module development and effective training, this project has that ‘feel-good’ factor about it. And the good news is that this is just the beginning. This exciting and continuing journey will see us work even closer with The AA to deliver its additional offerings on the Sitecore platform.

Project Summary:

  • Over 70 modules and 16 page templates developed
  • Complex IT infrastructure & Information Architecture
  • Sophisticated integration
  • Personalisation with custom rules
  • Responsive and adaptive
  • Security and workflows
  • Extensive manual & automated testing
  • Training (Inc. off-shore), bespoke user guide & expert content support
  • SEO compliant
  • Conformance Level AA

Winner of the UK Sitecore Ultimate Experience Award

Sitecore Regional Ultimate Experience winner

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The AA breakdown cover

About The AA

Established in June 1905, The AA has over 15 million members and is the UK's largest motoring organisation. In addition to its flagship service, Breakdown Cover, the AA also offers services in finance, insurance, leisure and lifestyle services.

About Codehouse

Codehouse is a Microsoft Gold Partner focusing on web development on the .NET platform and in Sitecore and Umbraco content management systems. We are proud to be one of the most experienced Umbraco and Sitecore Solution Partners worldwide.

As a Platinum Implementation Partner we want to make sure you get the best out of Sitecore CMS and the Sitecore Experience Platform. That is why we offer expert Sitecore specific services that range from consultancy and training to maintenance, migration and support. Codehouse Sitecore Discovery is an open-dialogue consultancy service designed to get your Sitecore project off to the best start. Codehouse Sitecore Business-as-Usual takes over the on-going support and enhancement of your existing Sitecore solution. Codehouse Sitecore Migration delivers end-to-end migration to the Sitecore platform using industry best practice. The Codehouse comprehensive Sitecore Support Service is available to those for whom we have built Sitecore solutions as well as those who already have a Sitecore website and are looking for a flexible, focused Sitecore Partner.