On May 5th 2016, I presented these theories below at the Sitecore Digital Marketing Summit in St Paul's, London, to a delightful audience of hopefuls looking to leverage the true possibilities of the Sitecore CMS personalisation feature set.
What is personalisation?
When a user visits a website, then are presented with the content which has been positioned and written by the content author. In some cases, this is done statically by a web developer, but in more conventional websites this is a task administered through a Content Management System.
Everyone in the industry knows what a CMS is, but not all are familiar with the power that can bring to the author. Depending on the setup, and the CMS, authors will have some facility for writing content, uploading images, positioning content to appear on the website, tagging content, so on and so forth. When a user visits this website, they are presented with whatever the author has chosen for them.
Dynamic content automation
Personalisation is the notion of dynamically presenting content based on visitor profile information. In so far as the user navigates through the site and interacts with the site, “personalised” information is presented to them based on their actions. For example, if a user completes a form and supplies the information that they are looking for more information, as they resume navigation, or return visit, the facility to request further information (such as contact details) could be surfaced earlier in their user journey. If the user is anonymous, the application can build an anonymous profile based on types of content viewed (taxonomy) which in turn will trigger the display of related content to the user at other points during their experience.
There are many possibilities for personalisation, and the Sitecore CMS is extremely powerful in delivering these. A number of these features are shipped as standard and the personalisation engine is open to developer customisation.
So what about personalisation in UX?
A typical website build project requires there to be some kind of design, from which to base the website appearance, structure and other attributes. The design process is normally of three stages; research/strategy, user experience and creative design.
During the User Experience (UX) phase, a UX designer translates the goals and ambitions of the business, from research and persona studies into a prototype of the website, like a blueprint. This is tested and refined before progressing through the flow. A UX designer with knowledge and awareness of the power of the CMS capabilities is far more enabled to produce a product which lends itself to the feature set, and therefore get a greater end result.
Because the notion of personalisation introduces an automated element of flexibility in the UI (replacing blocks of content, modules, dynamically), this should be considered at the UX phase, as opposed to a retrofit exercise once the website has been delivered.
For example, a layout can have a series of placeholders where content is placed by the author, in a structure that looks nice, but how flexible is this should the system automatically replace a piece of content in the placeholder? A good UX designer will know the flexibilities required and design an interface where module placeholders can seamlessly interchange images, videos, text etc. without degrading the experience.
This flexibility requires the interface to be generic, but also retain that visual identity and lend itself to the variety. Ultimately, the types of modules available are the same but they can have different data-sources and be placed in locations of different sizes – this must be a key consideration early on in the interface design.