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Sitecore Optimization Guide

5 key steps to doing more with Sitecore

Taking full advantage of your powerhouse digital experience platform

Sitecore is a powerful, state-of-the-art digital platform. The Experience Platform (XP) is particularly robust and highly customizable, offering powerful digital customer experiences. Companies invest in Sitecore because it offers one platform to manage personalized content delivery across channels at scale. But with robust, custom tools like Sitecore, brands can also feel pain points. The implementation and maintenance of Sitecore XP is complex — and with highly customizable features, there can be unmet potential. Marketing teams are often left feeling frustrated when they discover that they don’t have the foundation in place to even begin to leverage tools like multivariate testing and personalization.

Can you relate?

To truly capitalize on the potential of the platform, we support organizations by starting with basics and maturing into the most complex features. This starts with architecting to scale and using a test-and-learn model to iteratively evolve day-to-day use.

No matter where you are in your maturity today, taking time to assess how effectively you’re using Sitecore can offer insights that inform your next steps with the platform. See how you stack up against these 5 key steps to growing your team’s capabilities within Sitecore XP.

1.  Validate your architecture

With Sitecore, what you don’t see can often create unintended roadblocks. That is certainly the case with Sitecore’s complex web of servers, databases, and multiple hosting solutions. It’s important that your implementation partner — whether that be your internal IT team or an external partner — is equipped to validate the architecture and ensure your marketing team is set up to use the full suite of tools that Sitecore XP offers.

Sitecore’s recommended architecture is extremely robust, with server counts easily expanding into the dozens across testing and production environments. If elements of the architecture are inappropriately configured, entire portions of the Sitecore suite won’t function. If not set up properly, you could run into the following issues:

  • Issues with basic authoring capabilities for your marketing team, including staging environments and workflows
  • Loss of Sitecore Experience Analytics’ ability to capture data from website interactions, missing out on valuable profile and interaction data
  • Inability to associate user sessions and associate profiles with patterns
  • Failure to log and capture goals and value scores to assist with A/B testing, personalization, and automation

It’s also worth working with your partner to ensure Sitecore’s upkeep costs are made clear up front. Customizations can be risky when looking to upgrade; you and your partner may want to consider Sitecore’s Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering.  

2. Create a component-based design system

With a solid foundation to build on, you’re ready to delve into tools like A/B testing. The majority of implementations will leverage Sitecore’s front-end editing tools (Experience Editor and Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA)). These tools are based on the concept of “components.”

Think of components like widgets that allow marketers and UX designers to build pages out of common pieces and patterns. The arrangement of the widgets on the page is almost like Tetris or Legos. Components live inside of layouts, which can help add guardrails or rules around which components can be placed in certain areas of a page.

Sitecore’s WYSIWYG Experience Editor is intended to be used with this type of component-based architecture. However, inexperienced IT or implementation partners — or those that take shortcuts — can fail to execute on this crucial step. Neglecting to build a component-driven site typically results in custom templates that are too rigid or code-heavy, forcing marketers to be reliant on IT when any kind of variation is required.

Components are also required to make use of Sitecore’s personalization and testing tools — which can be disappointing for teams to discover later if they have neglected this approach in setup.

On the other hand, templates can be too flexible, introducing risk into the integrity of the site code. Finding the “sweet spot” of flexibility vs. templated structures is key to getting the most of out of Sitecore. 

3. Establish goals and value scoring

With solid architecture and component-driven layouts, you’re now equipped to begin taking advantage of Sitecore XP’s marketing features. The platform offers a wide variety of tools for marketers, however, goals are probably the most impactful for teams to implement first.

Goals are user actions that have values assigned to them — generally, higher value goals are points of site conversion, while lower value goals may be milestones along the conversion funnel. The more goals a user accomplishes during a site visit, the higher their value total goes. And the higher the value total, the more valuable their session! Goals not only unlock the full potential of a variety of other Sitecore features, but they also help your marketing team define and articulate what is most valuable on the website.

Assigning value to key steps in the user’s journey can establish how success is defined when using some of the more complex marketing features in the platform. Setting up goals enables you to use the following Sitecore features that are inoperable without them:

  • Personalization rules based on goal achievement
  • Goal and value reports in Experience Analytics
  • Path Analyzer
  • Marketing automation rules based on goal accomplishment

To start using goals, we recommend that you select a handful, preferably no more than a dozen. Value scores should be simplified and done within the context of the other goals, arranging them in a hierarchy of value. It may be a good exercise to start with low/medium/high impact values and sort the actions into simple buckets to begin.

Teams should plan to pilot goals and review outputs regularly. You may find that some goals are triggered too often to be meaningful, or that value scoring needs to be adjusted. By adjusting your initial set, you can clearly define and optimize for value in the customer journey.

4. Integrate and automate

While Sitecore is often billed as a standalone digital experience platform, most marketing teams will need to integrate with an existing martech stack. That integration, using Sitecore in concert with your other platforms, will be the key to offering customers a seamless omnichannel experience.

One reality of day-to-day Sitecore management is limiting overlap and maximizing on the platform’s strengths. Sitecore offers a great deal of functionality, but similar features might exist in other tools, making it necessary for teams to be strategic in their use of Sitecore. Common overlaps in functionality include:

  • Sitecore Experience Analytics vs. Google Analytics
  • Sitecore Marketing Automation and Email Experience Manager vs. Salesforce Marketing Cloud
  • Sitecore Optimization and Testing vs. Optimizely

A partner can help guide you on how to limit overlap and optimize the use of your martech ecosystem.

CRM integrations

Your CRM platform, such as Dynamics 365 or Salesforce, should be a top consideration for integration. Tapping into your CRM data allows you to not only sync valuable website data with your existing customer datasets, but also to leverage all that information in Sitecore’s personalization and automation tools.

Marketing automation

Getting Sitecore tied into your marketing automation flows can be very impactful for users, and can help with processes like automated emails, user segmentation, and sharing of data between systems. This can also help with meaningful personalization that aligns with key touchpoints in your user journey. Teams can achieve this with Sitecore’s own automation features, or by integrating with other applications like Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Other integrations

Sitecore’s API frameworks make nearly any integration possible, though some platforms come with available connectors, often at a price. You will need to work with your IT team or a vendor to help ensure these technical integrations are executed correctly.

5. Personalize the user experience

Sitecore has robust personalization capabilities that very few competitors can match. However, while personalization is one of the most impressive features of the Experience Platform, the effort to use these features weighed against the business case might not be worth it for every company. Going overboard on personalization can result in confusing experiences that are difficult to test and measure and impossible for organizations to maintain at scale.

We recommend starting with explicit personalization. Personalize based on “yes” or “no” values. For example:

  • YES, a user is in the United States or NO
  • YES, a user is on a mobile device or NO
  • YES, a user submitted the form or NO
  • YES, a user is already a subscriber or NO

When ready to expand into patterns and behavior-based personalization, keep the patterns simple, and understand how they tie back to larger marketing goals. It’s very easy to overdo pattern recognition and lose the meaning behind why you are segmenting your customers. Some tips for approaching implicit, pattern-based personalization include:

  • Test the results of your pattern recognition first before you personalize against them
  • Ensure you can back up pattern personalization with truly customized content at key site touchpoints
  • Have a clear plan for measurement and determining the value of the personalization
  • Test scenarios first before committing time and resources

Maximizing your Sitecore investment

The results you get from Sitecore are only as good as the planning and infrastructure built up front.

Instead of thinking about all that Sitecore can do, consider how you are able to use it with the resources and expertise already available on your team. Sitecore is not one-size-fits-all, and your organization’s structure, in-house technical capabilities, and available manpower, plus the scope of your digital footprint, all deserve consideration.

If you have questions about anything you read or about your challenges with Sitecore, connect with Amy Brown, our Digital Solutions Director. Amy works with clients to craft experiences that make brands and customers more valuable to one another. She excels at bridging the technical to the practical and is well-versed in Sitecore products and integrations.

You can message her directly on LinkedIn or schedule a 30-minute consultation for a more in-depth discussion.

We can help make sure you’re getting what you want out of Sitecore.

Fusion Alliance has worked with companies to evaluate and improve Sitecore instances. As a Sitecore partner and a third party, we are uniquely positioned to work cross-functionality across marketing, IT, and other departments to review capabilities and remove the paralysis that often comes with having such a wide variety of tools and resources.

If you already have Sitecore implemented, our consultants will start with an assessment of the maturity of the platform before making any recommendations. It’s important to note that maturity is not determined by the time used, but instead by the features and capabilities being used. We work together with clients to determine a starting point, which informs the end result.

If you do not have Sitecore implemented yet, we can help you make sure it’s set up to maximize your investment from Day 1!

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Amy Brown

Chat with our expert: Amy Brown

Amy Brown is a Digital Solutions Director and Sitecore Practice Lead at Fusion Alliance. Amy works with clients to craft experiences that make brands and customers more valuable to one another. She excels at bridging the technical to the practical and is well-versed in Sitecore products and integrations. With more than 10 years of experience in the martech space, she has worked with Fortune 100 clients on the most complex of projects.