This week my holiday begins. To not leave you empty-handed I will use my Sitecore weekly tips series to combine some tips with an article. I will try to give you some tips in the next coming weeks but I cannot promise you anything. Perhaps I prefer swimming in Lake Como in Italy a bit more ;-).
Let’s talk business now. So you have bought Sitecore. Excellent choice I must say. Maybe you have even built a site or two on it. But now what? Where to start? It seems so complex and difficult. What comes first?
I get a lot of these questions. So if you recognize them don’t be ashamed, it is perfectly normal. You are not unique. It can be indeed a hard thing to do. I have seen too many situations where Sitecore was chosen as the main Digital Marketing (or Experience) Platform and after two years it was used only for content management. What a waste of time and great tools!
So, let me help you get started. The following three key mindsets will help you to start using Sitecore in it’s full potential:
- Accelerate and standardize
- Use what’s available to you
- Get automated: just start
Now let me explain for each mindset what I mean and how you can use it.
1. Accelerate and standardize
In my opinion there are two major focus points you need to embrace. That is to accelerate on the parts that do not necessarily require custom code and secondly to get standardized. Decrease the time-to-market for your website and you will save time and money that can be spend to develop marketing related activities. Do not reinvent the wheel for every website.
Now standardization enables acceleration but it is also going to help your content editors and marketers. On every site built on your Sitecore platform the way of working should be exactly the same. Sounds obvious but can be hard to guarantee when you have multiple vendors working on the same platform. Governance is going to be very imported.
To get you started Sitecore has developed Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA). This is a framework which basically does four things:
- Shortens your development cycle: because you will create your User Experience design directly in Sitecore it allows your content editors to start earlier in the process. They have a wireframe styled website that already is responsive and can be filled with a sitemap and content. Simultaneously the front-end and backend parts can be added. It really shortens your time-to-market.
- Enables you to standardize: there is really put a lot of thought into SXA. To be honest, when I first started using SXA I was a bit skeptical. Also in earlier version I missed some stuff but with the latest two versions it really is a mature product. Going from around 100 default components, lots of admin settings like sitemap.xml behavior, configuring error pages to working with themes to give your sites a visual design, it all works exactly the same for every SXA site you build. And as long as you follow the guideliness, you will get more functionalities for each site on every update.
- Componatize everything: almost anything is a component so you can build all the backend logic once and use them on any website. SXA uses something that is called Rendering Variants (for example three different ways of displaying a hero) with which you can differentiate in the designs for each specific site. Build a component library from which you can choose for each site what to use and what not. Extend creation wizards to setup automated site configurations to save time.
- Empower your users: SXA comes with lots of configuration options that can be set via the Content Editor. So your site admin can, for example, configure how components should handle datasource locations and names. Or override the default data template of a SXA component by your own so it fits your organizational language. Little tip: involve your end users when configure a site and let them decide how they want to handle content. Or what do you think of the drag and drop interface in the Experience Editor. Very powerful stuff that make your users happy.
If you want to understand in more detail what SXA encompasses, read my blog about some basics and checkout some of my other articles.
2. Use what is available to you
With Sitecore you will get a lot of great tools. And it is a waste not to use them. The thing is that people often make it too complicated. They want the best plan before starting with anything at all. And there you have it. You have just taken the wrong turn.
See it like a training. You have to start at some point, make mistakes, learn from them and get better every time. So please use what is available to you. I will give you some hints on things you have to use for every site.
- Campaign management: to give you an idea, campaign management works similar like Google ads where you have the UTM parameter in your URL. This means every campaign gets a unique number that can be added to every external URL that is pointing to your website. So for example for a post on LinkedIn to one of your landingpages your URL can look like follows: https://www.yourdomain.com/page?sc_camp=abc123. This allows you to optimize external channels, recognize behavior of your visitors coming from specific channels and get a better understanding on which channels you should spend money and effort. Easy to configure, very powerful insights that are gathered for you. See my other article on how to start with campaign management.
- Engagement value & goals: looking at visitor numbers only is useless. It does not say anything. But when visitors represent a certain value you will get a whole new view on the performance of your sites. Sitecore has engagement values which can be used to give certain actions certain values. For example a view of a product page can have the value of 5 but a whitepaper download which requires submitting personal contact information can have the value of 25. The more a visitor is engaging with your brand the more valuable he becomes. And when you have this data (which is stored for every visitor in the Experience Database) the easier it is to do some special stuff on your site to engage with them even more. Or in other words, personalize the experience of this visitor. Again a great mechanism/tool, easy to setup.
- A/B testing: this is good to test which page, component, layout or type of content creates the best user experience and increases the Click Through Rate. And it is not that hard to begin with as long as you keep it simple. Don’t start with complex hypotheses, but do something like a different location for a Call To Action button. Or combine with campaigns and try different types of content based on the external channel visitors are coming from. Did you know that A/B testing in Sitecore can even discover new audiences by using Machine Learning? It is there, within your reach.
3. Get automated: just start
45% of marketing related activities can be automated, according to research done by Adobe on cmo.com. Think about it for a second. What does that mean for your organization? Almost half of your time becomes available for other things, like designing new campaigns, analyse your data in more detail to optimize even better. So, why not just start with some basic stuff.
One of the most obvious campaigns types you can automate easily is email marketing. Believe or not, most organization are still old school and use import files to create lists and send reminder or follow-up emails by hand. Wow! With Sitecore 9 and the new Marketing Automation engine it is easier then ever to get started. So start with a little campaign where you send an invite for something like a webinar and send an automated reminder email one day before your webinar begins.
If you really want to keep it as basic and minimal as possible, you can ask a front-end developer to help you with the complete HTML of your emails and use those HTML files as your emails. So no Email Experience Management templates need to be build. This allows you to do some quick short campaigns to get you started. The rest is only configuration. Check out my other blog for more information about Sitecore 9 Marketing Automation.
For all you guys that use external tools outside of Sitecore, please remember that the power of Sitecore is in the data. All capabilities can leverage this data in combination with the rules engine and this makes it a powerful platform. All external tools cannot consume this data without much effort if it is already possible. Keep that in mind!
In the end, the most important thing to realize is that it is not a 100 meter sprint. It is more a marathon. You just have to train for it, and at least get started. Collect date, use it to do some basic stuff and I promise you will quickly learn and grow.
Dream big, start small, but please start!