Sunday, October 4, 2015

Are you getting the most out of Sitecore?

Sitecore is a leader when it comes to web content management systems (for 6 years now they have appeared in the leadership quadrant in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management). In the growing (yet crowded) market that is web content management, to hold this position is a testament to Sitecore as a CMS and what it has to offer.

For existing Sitecore implementations, it can then be useful to explore the question Are you getting the most out of Sitecore? Perhaps the web site began with an initial like for like migration from another CMS, or a first stage where the goal was to get the site live (with marketing features added later). Whatever the reason, due to the sheer number of features available in Sitecore (which are ever expanding and improving), there is also the possibility that your website is not getting the most out of Sitecore. This post is going to look at some features available in Sitecore that can be used to meet your organisations goals, whether that be; higher sales volume, more leads, more engaged users, a better user experience and so on.

Official Sitecore modules

Sitecore offers a number of official modules (or add-ons/packages) for the CMS which provide a variety of features. These modules are both free and paid and the greatest benefit is being provided by Sitecore, you can trust the security, update availability (as Sitecore updates are made), and the ability to use official Sitecore support. These modules include:
  • Web forms for marketers: Allow content editors to create forms and add them onto the web site. The forms have a number of save actions such as saving to a Sitecore item, emailing users or even sending data to CRM. Find out more in Sitecore Web Forms for Marketers Overview and how-to guide.
  • Email experience manager: Integrate your email marketing activities into Sitecore (and reuse your web content/media). This allows you to send email campaigns and even emails triggered to a specific user on the website (once triggered). Take a look at The benefits of Sitecore's Email Experience Manager.
  • Print experience manager: Output print material that is targeted to the users of your web site (based on the data collected in experience profiles). Integration into tools such as InDesign allows graphic designers to work collaboratively with content editors (by using the content/media stored in Sitecore). 
  • Sitecore social (powered by Komfo): From within Sitecore you are able to share content and listen/respond on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. You can also personalise content to users based on their social accounts (such as their birthday or a liked interest). Tailored messages can also be posted to their social accounts (perhaps a custom Facebook post once they make a purchase).
  • Commerce Experience: Sitecore offers a product called Sitecore Commerce Connect which can be used to connect into a number of third party commerce solutions. This allows for product/shop information to be stored in Sitecore, and the whole shopping experience will be able to use the great marketing features of Sitecore (personalisation, email experience and so on). This allows for a common user experience across the main site and shop (across all channels - desktop, mobile, email, etc.).

Sitecore marketplace modules

The Sitecore marketplace allows third parties to create Sitecore modules, or even tools and provide them free or paid (via third party web sites). There is no need to spare expensive developer resourcing when there is a great respiratory available like this. Even if a particular module doesn't meet all business requirements, the source code can be extended to do so (at an overall time/cost saving).

Third party tools

There are several tools which come in handing when working with Sitecore, such tools are great time savers for developers which allows for more time to work on development tasks.
  • Sitecore instance manager: A great tool for managing Sitecore web sites. It allows you to install, locate, maintain, reinstall or delete Sitecore products and can be extended via the API.
  • Sitecore rocks: A plugin for visual studio (commonly used .NET code development application) which integrates into the Sitecore web site. This allows for faster development inside Sitecore and streamlines the process.
  • Team development for Sitecore: Is used to serialize your Sitecore content into code solutions and ultimately source control. This allows developers to work collaboratively with each other and content editors across every instance (dev, test, prod, etc.) of your Sitecore web site.
  • Sitecore log analyzer: Good for parsing over the log files generated by Sitecore. With this you can navigate through large volumes of log data and use the tool for grouping and analyzing data.
  • Glass mapper: Maps your Sitecore data templates to objects in C#. This allows for code to be more unit testable, for the objects to be generated automatically (or manually if desired) and for you to use standard .NET data types over the custom ones provided by Sitecore.

Sitecore marketing features

Perhaps one of the most exciting benefits to using Sitecore is it's large war chest of marketing features. Theres no such thing as the perfect web site, there are far too many factors that need to be taken into account, and of course every user is different and it's not possible to please everyone. However in saying this, I think with the right Sitecore CMS marketing strategy that you could get pretty close to having a perfect web site, with experiences tailored to each user and their preferences, interests, needs and wants.

So here is a quick overview of the Sitecore marketing features that you should be using. They all gel very well together, so as with everything a lot of planning and strategy is sure to provide the best outcomes for you and ultimately the site users.
  • A/B + multivariate testing: A/B testing allows you to test two page elements (be it design or content) to see which has the better results (on the strategic goals of the page/web site). To test multiple variations at once is therefore called multivariate testing. Sitecore handles both well with advanced analytics collecting on the tests, they are also simple enough for content editors to setup using the experience editor.
  • Personalisation: Personalisation allows a web site to give the right information to the right user at the right time. What this basically means is providing an adaptive web site which gives the best experience possible to it's users. With Sitecore you can used rules-based personalisation (based on IP address/location for example) or behavioral based targeting (show content based on a users browsing/purchase history). It is also possible to use custom rules for personalisation, an example could be connecting Sitecore to a CRM and showing specific content to customers in arrears in their billing, or perhaps custom content based on the service level they have.
  • Goals: In Sitecore, goals are used to track specific actions that you wish users to achieve. Goals would usually be put around actions such as completing a form, making a purchase or downloading a catalog. However you are able to call goals programatically for any custom interactions. Goals are also great as an exercise to get site marketers to really think about what they want users of the web site to achieve, it allows for optimisation and can be used to measure the results of A/B + multivariate testing.
  • Campaigns: Sitecore allows you to setup campaigns (each categorized and grouped) which can then be used to track (in analytics) the visitors from any of your campaign sources. The campaigns not only need to be used for email marketing activities, you could also use campaigns to track Google AdWords performance or social media posts/ads. The analytics then show which campaigns provided more value/goals achieved which then allows you to focus precious advertising dollars where they have the best results. It also means you can run more niche campaigns (even with smaller budgets) as there is solid proof that they can deliver results.
  • Engagement value: Engagement value in Sitecore is effectively a points system which can be used to set value on each visitor and campaign (on average). With precise planning you are able to assign points to the content/actions on your web site, that allow the engagement value to grow when a user is on the journey to meeting strategic goals of the web site. It's important not to get the points values incorrect, as this leads to optimising for the wrong users, a more detailed overview of engagement value is recommended reading. 
  • Experience profiles: Are a great way to build up information on the users of your web site. All interactions they have with the web site on all channels is recorded (search history, pages visited, campaigns activated, goals triggered, social profile information and so on). These profiles are anonymous by default, however it is possible to identify users and have named profiles. Take a look at Sitecore Experience Profiles and Identifying Users Overview for further details.
For a more detailed look at some of the marketing features available in Sitecore, please see: How to utilize marketing features in Sitecore to deliver a better web experience.

Conclusion

When working with Sitecore you need to remember that it's not just another simple CMS that puts out simple pages of content. It has many different features available, all of which that can be used together to provide the best experience for users, whilst meeting the goals and objectives of the web site owner. Don't buy the Ferrari and only take it out for Sunday afternoon drives, put it to the test and see where it takes you. Again, the question is: Are you getting the most out of Sitecore?

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