Sitecore CMS getting started

As a marketing business user and digital strategist

It is quite possible, in my experience, to quickly acquire the knowledge and skills required to confidently utilise the Sitecore digital experience platform. In 4 months I have learnt a great deal and achieved a lot working with Sitecore, across both the composable and integrated platforms. 

The following are the resources and approaches to learning and up-skilling that I have found most effective:

Sitecore White papers

Unfortunately there is not an easy way that I can find to browse all White Papers. However here is a list of specific resources that I have found useful. As you will see, most of these gravitate around the topic of Sitecore Business Optimisation Strategies.

Sitecore Learning

https://www.sitecore.com/knowledge-center/getting-started/training/learning-subscriptions

There are free and subscription-based learning options. The free Essentials courses are good for a foundational overview. However, the new on-demand learning plans for the composable products are excellent as they go into a lot of detail and include quizzes and other practical exercises as you progress.

According to the Statistics screen within the Sitecore Learning Home portal, I have spent a total of just under 31 hours across 46 active courses in the last 4 months, with a peak period in July where I accessed 66 different training materials.

Sitecore user group events

https://www.reddit.com/r/sitecore/wiki/user-groups/

Luckily for me, the ANZ Sitecore User Group Conference 2022 (SUGCON) happened in my city the month after I started working with Sitecore. Attending this event was very impactful in accelerating my familiarity with the overall Sitecore ecosystem, including getting to meet many Sitecore clients, vendors, and other representatives.

Since then, Melbourne had its own User Group night, which was another great chance to further establish relationships across the Sitecore network, as well as giving me the opportunity to present to my peers some of the work we have been doing in the Composable space.

Many of the Sitecore User Groups post videos of their presentations on YouTube. You can find some gold when searching for a specific topic. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of content from User Groups over the last 3 years as many were conducted remotely.

YouTube videos

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=sitecore

Speaking of YouTube, what was learning like before YouTube and 1.5x playback speed? Learning certainly took a lot longer, and was a whol lot less convenient.

I have found the Discover Sitecore channel in particular to have some high quality and instructive content –https://www.youtube.com/@DiscoverSitecore. This channel is also good very learning the very basics – https://www.youtube.com/@unofficialsitecoremarketin680/videos

Sitecore Slack

https://sitecore.chat/

To be honest, the Slack forum has not been as valuable in my learning as the other options above. The reality is that there are not as many people in the Sitecore world doing digital strategy and optimisation as there are Developers and other technical people. Subsequently, most Sitecore Slack channels don’t discuss topics relevant to me (or that I can understand!)

The ‘Learning-at-Sitecore’ channel is good for keeping up with frequent learning updates. And on the occasions where I have asked a question, responses have been relatively speedy and helpful.

Getting on the tools

The learning options above assume you have access to Sitecore products. Whilst this may be difficult for people without a Sitecore licence or who is not a partner, there is nothing stopping anyone from signing up for Sitecore Send (Moosend). It’s free to create an account and start working with the software. https://www.sitecore.com/products/send and https://moosend.com/

Of course, there is nothing like learning ‘on the job’. For all the hours I’ve spent in Sitecore Learning and watching YouTube videos, working with real clients and implementing real optimisation use cases is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate from a newbie to a confident Sitecore digital strategist.

Sitecore – Say Hello to the Composable Future

This blog post title borrows from the name of a series of Sitecore events that were held in Sydney and Melbourne during November 2022. The events were designed as a smaller, more informal version of Symposium. Presentations covered

  • the recent and upcoming Sitecore product innovations
  • a deep dive into some of the latest solutions, and
  • some example-based presentations that spoke to the application of these solutions in the real world.

It was great to see a focus throughout on customer experience, including topics of data-driven marketing, and privacy and personalisation, all whilst delivering on business outcomes. These are all topics of interest to me.

What follows below is a collection of my notes and reflections.

Customer context

Thanks to the Uber and Amazon’s of the world, our customers expect fast, frictionless, and flawless experiences. All commercial businesses are under this increasing pressure to transform the experience they can offer. Very few brands can fully meet their customers expectation. This creates an opportunity for businesses that can ‘get it right’. To get it right, transformation is required across 3 dimensions – people, technology, and strategy.

Enter ‘composable’ – an approach that addresses the technology and strategy elements in a significant way.  A composable approach enables you to adjust your technology in a fast and flexible way. The Gartner quote doing the rounds indicates that those with a composable strategy can expect an 80% faster speed to market for new features. A composable strategy also allows the flexibility to pick and choose the combination of solutions that are right for the unique characteristics of each business.

Composable strategy

Dave O’Flanagan, Sitecore’s Chief Product Officer, spoke in some detail on Sitecore’s composable strategy.  He acknowledged the challenge of keeping up with Sitecore over the last little while as it has expanded the breadth of its product offering. Sitecore itself has also struggled at times to effectively communicate its strategy.

The big idea is that Sitecore has built its composable DXP as a broad suite of capabilities based on a combination of product acquisitions and new product development. The acquisition strategy was to build a differentiated composable proposition based on products that were ‘born composable’, like Boxever. Essentially, Sitecore’s current composable DXP is an unbundling and expansion of its previous all-in-one platform approach. Sitecore is now pretty bought in to composable – it bought 4 companies to prove it!

According to Dave, Sitecore is committed to delivering composable products that can work standalone, or, operate as friendly-neighbours in a mixed technology and vendor ecosystem. The aspiration is that each product can compete for best-of-breed in its each product category, as well as work very well together as an integrated stack. The reality is that few businesses are faced with a martech greenfield, and so Sitecore is positioning itself to be able to offer options to all.

New solution deep dive

It’s not all composable though. Sitecore continues to invest in its all-in-one XP platform. Release planning for version 10.4 is underway. Dave reiterated that this platform offering remains part of Sitecore’s strategy for similar reasons to the above, as it provides an alternative offering for customers that can’t go composable. For example, there are industries and geographies that cannot at this point utilise a public cloud offering.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, Sitecore has simplified it’s composable offering into 3 clouds: Content, Engagement and Commerce. You can read more about that here. Sitecore’s ambition in this space is to be #1 leader in content, and a disruptor in engagement and commerce clouds.

A focus on content products remains the core and centre of Sitecore. Sitecore intends to continue to be best known for its market-leading CMS, but also wants to offer comprehensive end-to-end content products. Content experience is the customer experience, after all. 3 of the 4 new product announcements relate to the Content cloud offering.

XM Cloud

  • Flagship enterprise headless CMS product rearchitected for cloud.
  • This will be the core thrust of Sitecore’s GTM. Examples were referenced of complete implementations in 6 weeks.
  • The product is at 90% feature parity with XM.
  • Advantages of cloud are well-known but the big one worth repeating is that upgrades just happen.
  • Comes with embedded personalisation and real-time analytics built in. These features utilise IP from the composable Personalize & CDP (Boxever) products. Here’s the good news: to upgrade from the lightweight built-in XM Cloud personalisation and analytics features, it is just a ‘click of a button’ to export and activate in Sitecore CDP & Personalize.
  • Completely new UI focussed on developer and marketer productivity
  • All the ease-of-use of some of the best-of-breed SME tools in an enterprise product, including the ability to visually build components in a drag-and-drop interface to assemble into pages and sites.
  • There are also DevOps improvements through tooling and APIs baked into XM Cloud to optimise developer productivity.

Content Hub One

  • This is a new product build of a headless CMS
  • Features simple functionality for content authoring, modelling, and delivery.
  • Fundamentally different from full enterprise CMS, and much simpler than anything Sitecore has done before
  • Built on capabilities of Content Hub engine, with simple interface and API options.
  • Really simple content authoring focussing on developer productivity, all content delivered by APIs.
  • Part of Content Hub family, with easy upgrade path to full Content Hub suite with enterprise capability

Sitecore Search

  • New content search product, built using the technology of Sitecore Discover
  • Incorporates predictive real-time AI
  • Provides tooling for marketers to boost, tailor results, tune etc.
  • Can index content any number of sites and federate results into single search interface.
  • Another product that is easy and quick to implement.
  • This is a critical new offering for Sitecore
  • Commerce and Content search will remain as separate products for the next 9 months or so, but are on a pathway to being more integrated and unified

Connect

  • Part of engagement cloud
  • Integrate products in no/low code environment
  • Comes with thousands of connectors e.g., Salesforce, Marketo
  • Addresses the additional integration cost that comes with a composable approach
  • An acquisition of a market leader in iPaaS solutions
  • Note the intention is Connect would not be required for integration between Sitecore products, as this should be enabled OOTB. However, there are some limited use cases where Connect could work within a Sitecore ecosystem as well

Future direction

A few final notes on where Sitecore is going. Sitecore’s key product investment areas are in improving product performance, cost effectiveness, and privacy and security.

The composable DXP strategy will required strategic decisions about where to unify and integrate their products where it adds value, whilst maintaining a commitment to an overarching composable approach. A good example of this is the introduction of a unified tracking capability via a single script for all Sitecore products.

There are initial steps underway to rearchitect Sitecore Forms into a headless cloud offering

Sitecore pricing model has been redefined, but not made public yet. The model should feature more usage-based pricing bundled into tiers. More information to come.

Sitecore Send (Moosend) – everything you wanted to know

Overview

Sitecore acquired Moosend in 2021. Moosend is an innovative SaaS-based marketing automation and campaign management platform. When you access the platform, it is still branded as Moosend, but for the sake of clarity (and longevity of this blog post), I’ll refer to the product as Sitecore Send.

Getting started

Anyone can sign up for a free 30-day trial. If you work in the Sitecore or Marketing Automation space, why not dedicate a couple of hours and give it a spin? If you are familiar with marketing automation tools, you’ll be able to master all the key Sitecore Send features in that amount of time, no problems.

From here, I’ll walk through my first impressions of the tool for delivering the typical package of marketing automation capabilities, in approximate order as you would need to use them for a typical ‘sign up to email list and trigger nurture campaign’ use case.

Create your email list

Go to Audience > Email list. From here you can see existing lists, or create a ‘New’ list. Every list has a dashboard where you can see key stats like growth rate, member source, engagement rates etc.

Sitecore Send email list dashboard

Your new list will have no members. So the next step is to ‘Add a member’. You can add these manually or import from CSV, Excel or use a Google Contacts or Salesforce plugin. Nice.

Sitecore Send import members

You are then prompted to configure a couple of other important settings for your new list. You can set a URL to redirect users after they unsubscribe. This would be a nice opportunity to provide your users with alternative subscription options, next steps, or nice ‘sorry to see you go’ messaging.

You must also specify your opt-in settings e.g. single opt-in, soft double or strong double. Ensuring you have explicit customer permission is an important aspect of any email and marketing automation activity.

You can create any custom fields required for your new list. This can be customer-facing or hidden fields. For example, you may wish to capture phone, address, birthday, interest area etc.

Finally, you can create segments. Whilst this may not be as useful if you are starting your list from scratch, it looks like the product comes with 9 out-of-the-box (OOTB) templates you can pick from, which is pretty helpful. You also have the option of saving any segments you create as templates to re-use across other lists.

Sitecore Send segment templates

The tools to create your own segments are intuitive and powerful. Simply build your rules from a large range of dropdown options.

Sitecore send segment details

Growth tools

Once you have your list, you will want to grow your subscribers. The two main ways to do this are via a subscription form and/or landing page.

Firstly, create a subscription form. Again, there are some easy OOTB options for different types of form presentations and interactions. To make the right decision here, you will need to have thought out where and how you want users to subscribe. For example, do you want to embed a form on your current Contact us page, or do you want to fire a pop-up subscription form on targeted pages across your site? Depending on your choice, Sitecore Send offers a range of templates and simple options to choose from. 

Then, there are plenty of options for fine-tuning the UI of your chosen subscription form type.

Sitecore send sign up design options

Depending on your chosen form type, there are various visibility and publishing options for configuring the UX of the form, such as where, when and how it appears on the page.  Sitecore Send appears to have all the common use-cases covered, such as showing for first-time visitors only, time-delayed display, showing on user action or page exit. You can publish to an existing website, link to a stand-alone form URL or embed in a page using a <div> tag.

If you don’t already have a website to host the form, Sitecore Send allows you to create a landing page, hosted as part of its platform, or publish to a WordPress site using a connector plugin. Again, there are plenty of OOTB templates to choose from, and a plethora of other options such as sharing on Social, easy conversion tracking, and linking with a Google Universal Analytics account.

Sitecore send design template options

Once you have selected a template, or started from scratch, there is a simple drag-and-drop editor where you add your content and configure the page to your exact requirements.

Sitecore send landing page builder

Automation

Once you have your list and growth tools in place, setting up Automations is the next thing to consider. Sitecore Send gives you a head start in this area by offering a range of Automation ‘recipes’ to choose from, such as triggering reminders for abandoned cards, new customer thank you’s and re-engagement emails.

Sitecore send automation recipes

Sitecore integration

Whilst I’m not overly technical my understanding of the main integration options comes down to the following:

  • As mentioned above, you can simply embed Sitecore Send forms within any existing site, including a site managed by Sitecore XM. When using this method, you can use Sitecore CDP and/or Sitecore XM APIs to push data there on submit
  • Alternatively, you can continue to use Sitecore Forms within XM and push form data to Sitecore Send and Sitecore CDP APIs.

Campaign

Sitecore Send makes marketing automation campaigns easy.

Sitecore send campaign options

Select your campaign type and you will be guided through the necessary steps to configure your new campaign. Expect all the normal options like Subject line, email list, delivery schedule, GA integration, Sender details, send test emails and so on. And again, the range of OOTB email templates sets Sitecore Send apart. There are dozens of templates to choose from, across a broad range of categories. Of course you can also create from scratch.

Sitecore email campaign templates

Reporting

With an email list built, new subscribers coming in, automations in place and emails getting delivered, the last thing you will want to take a look at is how your email campaigns are performing. Sitecore Send Reporting menu has you covered with all your expected marketing automation analytics in pre-built dashboards.

Sitecore campaign reporting dashboard

I think that’s all the main features and functionality. A pretty easy-to-use platform that covers all your basic marketing automation needs.

Sitecore User Group Conference (SUGCON) ANZ 2022 – Reflections and key takeaways

First things first, I am a Sitecore noob. My first login to Sitecore was last month, in July 2022. Since then, I’ve played with Content and Experience Editor, Experience Analytics, Experience Optimisation, and the Marketing Control Panel. Most of my time over the last few weeks was spent outside Sitecore, learning and delivering Sitecore Business Optimisation Strategies with various Aceik clients (remotely), and getting to know my new Aceik A-Team (also remotely). Whilst I have worked in all things digital for a long time, the Sitecore solutions (both the integrated and composable flavours) are all new to me.

In this context, it was great that my Sitecore strategy mentor, the gregarious Greg Baxter was the first to kick things off. An engaged and expectant tone was suitably set, and Colin te Kempel didn’t disappoint. He went straight into addressing the big question(s) that I knew was hanging in the air coming into SUGCON; with all the talk about the new composable Sitecore stack, what is the future for Sitecore’s Platform DXP? The answer, as I understood it at least, is that whilst the future is composable, most customers should expect to keep rolling with Platform DXP for now. This is particularly appropriate if XP is working well and/or showing potential to deliver business value. To back this up, Colin talked through the various software enhancements, fixes, and service improvements scheduled for v10.3. Sitecore Symposium in October seems a likely release date. Beyond this year, Colin was keen to unpack a number of themes that would guide the further enhancements of the platform offering through to 2024. The introduction of a stand-alone SaaS content search solution was one item that particularly piqued my interest.

Andy Cohen worked through a demo of XM Cloud. A fair bit of the technical content in this session went beyond me, particularly all the stuff that involved pumping out commands in the CLI. However, it was good to get eyes on the new Cloud portal launchpad where all the composable apps can be accessed. I also noted the mention of Pages, a replacement for Horizon editor. Andy was clear, XM Cloud is headless only, so to be clear, it is headless only. XM Cloud does come with some kind of analytics built-in, as well as some kind of trimmed down personalisation and testing capability (a subset of features from CDP/Personalize?). I am keen to explore this.

Anthony Hook encouraged us all to read about the 2nd Age of Martech by Scott Brinker. I’ve googled his stuff and will follow this up as well.

My brain was getting pretty full by the afternoon tea break, but I’m glad I rallied for John King’s session on the Data puzzle. He threw down an impressively comprehensive playbook for getting the data strategy right. Mirk Roettgers then spoke about the need to move from transaction-centred to people-centric engagement. This is enabled through a deep understanding of the customer lifecycle combined with integrated and connected technology to bring the data, operations and reporting together effectively. 

It hit 5pm on Day 1 but surprisingly the talks kept coming! Andy Parry finished the day with some detail on what delivering good Sitecore headless solutions looks like. He graciously answered my question and offered a couple of good ways to deliver personalisation using a headless XP setup.

On Friday morning there were 2 sessions delivered by the Aceik A-Team. Both were based on a POC website we built to show how we can deliver effective customer experiences using the new composable Sitecore tools. These sessions were so good that they deserve a post on their own 😉 Another notable session from Friday AM was Mike Marquette who talked through a framework for delivering optimised customer experiences through personalisation. Vincent Lui’s presentation was notable as a client-side example of delivering digital transformation initiatives using a blend of Sitecore and non-Sitecore solutions.

My final takeaways came from a session on the Sitecore community and the history of SUGCON. It was great to hear about the various ways that the community supports Sitecore users through forums, Slack channels and a MVP program. I got a strong sense that there is a network of Sitecore employees, partners, vendors, and users who are passionate about contributing value to their community and driving improvement in the practice of delivering digital solutions using Sitecore products.

All-in-all, an insightful and useful couple of days. It has accelerated my engagement with the community, built some solid knowledge about where the product suite is heading, and provided a healthy dose of inspiration for helping our client partners deliver some awesome digital experiences.