Increasing readership through content personalisation and automation

With books that inspire such passion among their readers, parent company Pan Macmillan wanted the publisher’s website to let people come together to share their reading experience.


Pan Macmillan approached us to work with them to improve the online presence of their imprint, Picador. We worked collaboratively with the Pan Macmillan team to produce a website hosted on Kentico EMS, making use of both Kentico modules that allow great customisation as well as building bespoke modules to provide the functionality that the client needed for the project.


Our Approach

We worked collaboratively with the team at Pan Macmillan, running workshops to define the user requirements which would form the basis of the project as it progressed.

Since both Distinction and Pan Macmillan are advocates of 'agile' development methodologies, it was decided to run the project using this approach. The agile approach means that only the core requirements are agreed at the start. The finer details are then clarified in each sprint over the course of the project. The traditional ‘waterfall’ development cycle, you’d set everything in stone at the start of a project (often without knowing the implications).

We also realised that bi-weekly ‘stand-ups’, (short meetings that brought the entire project team together to share progress with each other), would be fundamental to the development of the new platform.


The design followed an iterative process, starting with proof-of-concept wireframes and sketches to show how things would work, which were then worked up to interactive designs.

Because of how Picador’s users access the site, we knew straight away that we would be using responsive web design. So as well as displaying on large desktop displays, when people are visiting on a tablet or phone the site displays differently to match the device and screen size.

Kentico Modules

Kentico EMS was chosen as the core platform for the project, which is extremely flexible to build on and create customisations. It was a perfect CMS for this project because of the range of features it has ‘out of the box’.

  • We utilised user management and permissions modules, which let us keep track of user information and which parts of the site people use. This enabled Picador to tailor content for particular users, ensuring they have an engaging experience with the website.
  • We also used the advanced document management and workflow modules. With over 700 books and 300 authors, the team at Picador need to let certain editors keep their own parts of the site up-to-date without being able to change other parts.
  • The Enterprise Marketing Solution module gave us a way to keep things personal. It lets us present things differently to different users – a level of personalisation that’s very rare in the rest of the industry.
  • The site is even more mobile friendly thanks to the way Kentico works with 51Degrees to detect the device at the server-side. So if you’re browsing on a phone with a slower data connection, we can give you a faster-loading site without forcing you to wait for desktop-sized images.
  • Social media integration, particularly with Facebook and Twitter keeps things really simple, giving visitors a way to log in without creating a new username and password.

Bespoke Modules

We also created two bespoke modules that we integrated within Kentico:

  • We created a commenting system to help build engagement by letting users comment on anything, including books, authors and features, all of which can be easily monitored.
  • We designed a sophisticated search and recommendations engine to make dynamic content suggestions based on a variety of different factors linked to the user’s account. What has the visitor already shown us they enjoy or dislike? And how does that compare to other people who use the site, and more importantly the people they interact with? Armed with this information we can give intelligent recommendations that are far more likely to catch users’ imaginations. And best of all, it ‘learns’ and improves as more and more people use the site!

It was decided that Windows Azure was to host the website, since it gives the flexibility to scale capacity up and down to meet demand. Azure is an ideal hosting environment for Kentico EMS, which was one of the first content management systems to natively support the platform.

The Results

The site caused a lot of interest from across the industry from when it first went live. The client is delighted with how it looks and feels and, more importantly, readers are already using it to discover new books and authors.

We’re really proud of this one, and it’s even helped our studio team expand their reading habits!

Just one month after launch, the stats are already providing great reading:

  • 44% increase in page views
  • 20% increase in pages per visit
  • 46% increase in traffic from organic search

And with the introduction of a responsive solution meaning the website looks amazing on mobile and tablet, the site has also seen a 10% increase in pages per visit and a 39% increase in the average visit duration. 

What do Picador say?

James LuscombeWeb Operations Director

"The redevelopment project was strategically very important for us and having the right agency to work with was vital, particularly as this project would lay the foundations for an underlying community platform not only for Pan Macmillan UK but the wider global Macmillan trade group.

Distinction worked with us from the conception of the project and ran workshops with us early on in the process to help identify features such as the EMS and work out the IA of the new site. This highly collaborative approach meant a wide range of people from the business were able to feed into the process from the outset. Distinction ensured we used Kentico and its features to the fullest extent throughout the project.

They also made sure even the largest stumbling blocks – such as importing the old content from a very badly constructed database – were never major issues. The agile approach we took made for a very smooth and flexible project.

Success for us was more than just increasing site metrics: it was also ensuring the site was widely adopted by our editorial departments and authors. We have surpassed our expectations and use as a central part of our communications plan."

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