Modern day web development tends to focus on the feature-rich capabilities of a content management system (CMS). What can the end user do? What functionality can we as content managers provide end users to achieve their goal? And what components can developers build for content managers to get them there?
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It goes without saying that the discussion around capabilities is an important one to have, and the foundation of every project discovery. But once we decide what the system we’re building is able to do, and are ready to build it, it’s equally important to keep in mind the ease of use along with way. That goes not just for end users, but CMS users as well.
An emphasis on elevation
The tagline of this year’s Sitecore Symposium was “Elevate the Experience,” emphasizing to marketers that a customer’s experience of a brand is just as important as the product or service they’re offering. As one session pointed out, 80 percent of customers believe this, according to Salesforce State of the Connected Customer, Second Edition.
We’re making it hard for the user to find what they’re looking for. If we make it too difficult, they’re going to leave.
But an overarching theme I noticed during the majority of sessions I attended was that part of an “elevated” experience meant a simple one.
Sitecore’s component-based nature obviously provides a plethora of capabilities. We can give end users a billion components, but if they’re difficult to use, then what’s the point? And if CMS users struggle with adding those components to pages in the first place, they may try to find difficult workarounds, implement them incorrectly, or not use them altogether. Then, all of our hard work during development goes out the window.
First let’s talk about the end user’s experience on a Sitecore site.
We need to simplify how we personalize
Personalization is something that Sitecore has been promoting at Symposium for years—and for good reason. The platform offers the power to personalize like few others do. How does that play into the UX conversation?
Basic UX best practices tell us the obvious: as an end user, I should know a button is clickable, and what to expect when I click it; that the arrows on a content carousel mean I can make the content rotate to see more, etc.
So here I am on a website’s homepage and see that content carousel. Perhaps I don’t care about the content that’s initially presented to me, so I click to rotate to see more. But that content isn’t what I came to the site for either. Now what? Head up to the main navigation? Maybe the footer has the link I’m looking for? Should I use the global site search?
We’re making it hard for the user to find what they’re looking for. If we make it too difficult, they’re going to leave. If we know something about them, then let’s show them the stuff we assume they’re visiting our website for.
Using machine learning to personalize
One Symposium session I attended—”Personalizing the customer experience for anonymous visitors,” given by Gavin Little—director of value engineering at Sitecore, had some great tips for what to ask ourselves in an attempt personalize even if we don’t have a logged in user.
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- How did they get to the site?
- When are they browsing?
- What device are they using?
- Where are they?
Taking advantage of machine learning takes personalization a step further. If we don’t know who the user is, we can use similar behavior patterns, created by monitoring other users, to predict their next move. In turn, we can not only show users what they’re there for, but also help them make a decision, such as a purchase.
In his session “Real-world machine learning—30 scenarios where ML makes sense right now,” Michael Greenberg, head of strategy at Hedgehog, recommended using machine learning to “predict value.” Greenberg explained that one way to do this is by building a model that takes into consideration the likelihood that a person would buy an item. If they’re interested in item A, might they also want item B if another user took the same path?
Considering both content producers and consumers
Making tasks easy for end users is one thing. But what about content managers and marketers?
With machine learning, the system can serve up a product customers want to buy and could also make it easier for the marketing to sell it. If a user is likely to buy something anyway, it may not make as much sense to offer them a discount as it would a person who you’d predict could be on the fence about their purchase, based on their site activity.
Machine learning can also be applied to the back end. As speakers from Velir pointed out in one breakout session, Sitecore users can utilize IBM’s Watson to do things like identify keywords within content to recommend tags, saving time so you don’t have to tag things yourself.
How DEG approaches simplifying the Sitecore experience
It’s common that those in marketing departments who are in charge of their company’s website may not be all that tech savvy. It’s our job as Sitecore partners to make their job easier.
One of the best ways to elevate the digital experience is to simplify it, for both content marketers and their audiences.
DEG’s own Sitecore MVP, Jeff Rondeau, gave some great examples of how we can add convenience for Sitecore users.
The vast library of components we build for marketing teams can be overwhelming. One thing we do at DEG is give them a simple thumbnail preview of the component they are about to add. Not everyone may refer to a component by the same name, so an image is helpful.
The little things matter, as also iterated by Aravind Ayyanar, Sr. Sitecore developer for Tata Consultancy Service Ltd., and Joshua Sampson, Sr. IT officer at International Monetary Fund in their session “How to make content authors LOVE using Sitecore.” Both speakers suggested that something as small as including recommended dimensions sizes next to your image upload fields can make a world of difference in saving Sitecore users time.
The 2018 Sitecore Symposium offered some valuable insights, urging marketers to “elevate the experience.” For me, the takeaway was that one of the best ways to elevate the digital experience is to simplify it, for both content marketers and their audiences.