Over the years I’ve been involved in numerous Sitecore CMS builds, and naturally, the same question demands to be answered first:
“Why Sitecore over a ‘free’ open source platform?”
With competent open source platforms capable of satisfying most common requirements, it’s important I get the answer right - particularly given the large license fees associated with enterprise solutions.
The process and science behind product selection should be robust. At Orange Bus, we will go through a multitude of criteria and score them appropriately: Functionality, cost, strategic fit, downstream operational costs, scalability, extensibility, adaptability and availability of skilled resource, all play a part.
However, from my experience of Sitecore builds over the years there are some very subtle and variable factors relating to how the CMS is managed, setup and iterated upon, which if done correctly, will really backup my support for Sitecore. It’s vital that the client is empowered to fully exploit the following capabilities:
Implementing personalisation features using Sitecore’s Marketing Foundation suite, is in my opinion the tipping factor in giving Sitecore a competitive and compelling edge over an open source offer. (There are obviously other factors under the right circumstances, such as the administrative command it gives to a power user and the deep analytics, but a whole article could be written on each of those alone.)
It’s important to make the point, that this is not primarily a technical build issue. Yes, the setup is KEY, but the failure to personalise overwhelmingly seems to come from the planning and organisational structure of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th stages of the product roadmap.
If this is done wrong from the outset, then the chance to personalise the eventual website is gone. It’s a costly rewrite from this point.
A generic .NET developer may get a site up and running, but the foundations may not have been laid correctly. If the build has been done through a webform approach rather than a Model-View-Controller (MVC) approach, and haven’t followed the principles set out in Sitecore Helix, the site simply won’t be able to flex to your evolving needs. Conveniently, we have Sitecore certified developers here at Orange Bus. Handy!
From this point on it’s all about the strategy of identifying and implementing for personalisation, at a power-user level.
I’ve seen many times an organisation obtain their new, shiny Sitecore site and hand it into a standard Content team, never to grow beyond the capabilities of an open source CMS.
Frustrating, but sadly an easy and understandable result.
To take a website and elevate it to the point where it’s serving relevant content to the right customers, at the right time, even when that customer is anonymous requires the following:
- Their needs to be a marketer/strategist within the Content team, not just content entry resources. This person is responsible for identifying the different profiles of their potential visitors, understanding and setting goals for them, and developing a content strategy hung off the back of each one.
- Content entry personnel who are then responsible for setting profile cards and profile keys, as well as setting the parameters within which the system serves content, and of course, creating that strong personalised content for the end user.
- Creating habitual cycles of iterative development is vital. Iterate the content and personalisation strategy every 3 months, dedicating time to review the analytics, refine the goals and implement the next wave of personalisation
- Use a phased approach to Sitecore capability, remembering that optimisation comes with time:
- For the first iteration, start with some basic personalisation with simple rules to configure. For example, identify visitors via their location (geoID), or the domain they are coming-in from and serve content accordingly.
- Subsequent iterations should devise profile cards that map to personas. Target the simplest personas first. Deeper dives into more complex profile cards and nested parameter settings can come in later iterations.
ALWAYS RETROSPECTIVELY TEST!
The efforts are worth it. Statistics show an uplift of up to 20% in conversion (whether that be channel shift, increase in sales etc), just through personalised content.
There are some real success stories out there - the Easyjet and Southampton football club websites springing to mind. They are continually serving you content based on your location and your ongoing behaviours.
It may not be immediately noticeable, but then neither should it. The point of personalised content is for it to feel obvious to us as a consumer. Take similar journeys through comparative websites and you will soon see how much work is going on behind the scenes to prevent you from hitting dead-ends, or making you work too hard to find the information you really want.