Personalization in Sitecore is a daunting project for marketing teams – but one that pays off, with conversion rates that are close to double the average for web sites. Using site search to deliver personalization is an emerging opportunity, but the statistics show that this method is still not completely understood by marketing teams. More than half (60 percent) of marketers struggle to personalize content in real time, but 77 percent view this capability as crucial, according to one study.

My colleague Jeff L’Heureux and I, both Sitecore Tech MVPs 2017, decided to go straight to the experts: Digital Strategist MVPs. He and I worked together to interview them about how site search plays a role in personalizing content in Sitecore.

Our experts include:

These are their opinions on how personalization in Sitecore works. Interested in learning more? Stop by our booth at SUGCON this week!

Tim Ahlenius,, Inc.

Tim Ahlenius, Director of Digital Strategy, has been building, designing, and executing websites for 17+ years.  Ahlenius has spoken at several industry conferences and has worked with high-profile customers such as Samaritan Health, Stuart Weitzman, Beretta, USTA, BCU, and Townebank. His specialties include website consulting, analytics, experience marketing, personalization, and project management. In his current role, Ahlenius works with clients on strategy and implementation of their personalization needs through implicit or explicit data methods. Tim is Google Analytics and AdWords certified and has been named Sitecore Digital Strategist MVP for 2 consecutive years.

What is the importance of website search in your Sitecore projects?

Search is a highly important aspect of our Sitecore projects.  It is not only one of the three ways that people navigate a website (searchers, sorters and browsers), but it is utilized as a tool for other functionality aspects as well. For example, Find a Doctor, or Find a Location are two common functionalities that should be based off a strong search tool, not only because of the faceted navigation filters that should be present, but to also be indexed for the main site search results. Through all these areas, search is really trying to accomplish one thing at the end of the day, and that is to unite all your content, so that it can be found at the right time and in the right context by a visitor or customer on your site.

What are the must have features for website search? How advanced is the search personalization of your Sitecore projects?

To list just a few must-have features for website search is a tough effort. There are so many important features that make a great website search experience, such as:

  1. Relevant and self-learning indexing brain
  2. Intelligent auto-Suggest
  3. Marketing capabilities for results placement (boost / bury)
  4. Connectors available to other systems to unite data

Search personalization in Sitecore projects is focused on for personalizing content throughout a site to be contextually relevant to the search terms or filters commonly used by visitors.

How do you define the ideal level of relevance and personalization within Sitecore?

Relevance and personalization should ideally be closely united. Through the utilization of the keywords searched by a visitor and profiling, we can provide personalized content that is relevant to the latest visits, or campaigns that a visitor interacted with. At times the relevance of the content should take priority over personalization, and vice versa. This level really should be determined by your actual audience(s) that visit your website, and not an industry standard.  Your audience will tell you the level that they desire, you just have to test and find that level through the use of analytics based on the level of relevance and personalization that you implement for those tests.

Angela Gustafson, Horizontal Integration

Angela has 10 years of experience helping clients with their digital strategy and has recently received a Sitecore Digital Strategist MVP award. She’s helped clients, such as Starkey, CHS Inc. and Northwestern Mutual in leveraging the power of Sitecore’s platform to execute their digital strategy. She has a unique combination of digital monetization and audience engagement knowledge. Angela helps clients navigate the changing digital landscape, especially in relation to how users consume content, as well as execute large scale digital ad campaigns for their advertisers.

What are the must-have features for website search?

Predictive capabilities are more and more the norm. It’s no longer good enough to base search results on past behaviors, you’re expected to anticipate the user’s needs before they do. And as users’ expectations become more sophisticated, there’s a need for better marketer-facing tools to manage the search experience on their sites. You don’t want to have to rely on developers to make changes to facets or add boosting logic. Marketers expect to manage those aspects of the experience as part of their broader day-to-day content management efforts.   It’s important for us to focus on features that meet both the end user’s and business’s needs.

How advanced is the search personalization of your Sitecore projects? How do you define the ideal level of relevance and personalization within Sitecore?

I define the ideal level of relevance and personalization as that which results in the best, most engaging and most effective experience. Marketers are in a never-ending battle for relevance, and users don’t give second chances when they’ve had a poor experience. So personalized search, like other personalization capabilities, is about providing the right experience in the right context at the right time. More and more, that will mean anticipating the user’s needs before they even start to execute their search. This is a rapidly evolving and advancing space, and we have clients who want and need to be leading edge alongside others who take a measured and deliberate approach to modifying their search experience.

James Williamson, Bonfire

James Williamson is a seasoned marketing technologist with a foot in each camp; digital strategy and technology.  His marketing background coupled with 16 years of web, eCommerce and marketing system design experience affords a unique perspective when approaching digital projects.

What is the importance of website search in your Sitecore projects?

I’m sure everyone is going to tell you that search is increasingly important; especially for projects with a lot of content. Search is not only critical to an effective user experience, it’s also a driver for emerging channels like chatbot interaction.

What are the must have features for website search?

There are a lot of table stakes requirements for search; like faceting, synonyms and type ahead functionality. The ability to boost or filter results based on visitor profile is important. I’d add search analytics as a must have. I’d also add a business focused search management interface as a must have. We design great marketer experiences in Sitecore using the Experience Editor and other business user friendly applications. We should be able to do the same with search management.

How advanced is the search personalization of your Sitecore projects? How do you define the ideal level of relevance and personalization within Sitecore?

We include search in our customer experience design. We’ll use persona and user journey stage elements to tailor search results. We may boost technical content for an engineering persona or we may de-emphasize sales content for a visitor that’s in the customer stage of the user journey. A strong content model that maps alignment between customer segmentation and content makes that possible. The level of personalization evolves over time, as we consume the analytics and translate that into insights. We prefer to start small and launch fast.

Renate van der Vaart, Nutricia

Renate van der Vaart is a Customer Experience Journey and  Content Design Specialist, based on data-driven marketing, with over 4 years experience. Renate truly believes in Context Marketing and bringing Content Marketing, Omnichannel-management and Contextual Intelligence together to drive business results, and has been rewarded with SitecoreMVP-ship since 2017.

What is the importance of website search in your Sitecore projects?

Web search is very important because of the fact we can’t communicate everything direct to our consumers. To build an early relationship with our customers, our information needs to be found by consumers as easily as possible. If they can’t find it quickly enough, we will lose them to our competitors.

How do you define the ideal level of relevance and personalization within Sitecore?

My ideal world would be that a user finds whatever she is searching for using whatever search terms within our platform and finds good alternatives within the same profile/pattern/bucket.

Jill Grozalsky, Genuine

Jill Grozalsky is a seasoned digital marketer with expertise in personalization and comprehensive digital marketing campaigns. As a Marketing Strategist at Genuine, Jill develops strategic roadmaps focused on helping clients achieve both short and long-term growth from their digital ecosystems and assets by developing and implementing effective digital marketing programs.

What is the importance of website search in your Sitecore projects?

Onsite search is a key component to make sure users can find what they are looking for. Every site visitor has a preference in terms of navigating a site, looking for and consuming information, and search is critical reducing friction in a user’s journey to content or conversion (or both!).

One of the great things about search for Sitecore projects is that data from search behaviors can influence future optimization strategies like personalization or testing. When looking at onsite search behaviors and trends, if there is a term/product that is being searched frequently then perhaps it would be worthwhile to test placing that content earlier in the journey or promoting it in a more prominent way. Similarly with Sitecore and search data combined, we can see what terms different types of users (think personas/profiles/patterns) are searching for and use that to inform personalization strategies to make sure content/products are served up to the right users at the right time.

What are the must-have features for website search?

Faceted search to help users narrow down their search results

The ability to handle long-tail search queries – your site visitors are used to searching more long-tail keywords on search engines, and that behavior will mostly likely carry over to when they are searching on a site.

Making sure your onsite search can handle long-tail queries will make sure users can find what they are looking for faster.

Intelligent autocomplete – this is great in guiding users to products/content appropriately

A special thank you to all of our contributors, and our partners in the Sitecore network! Interested in learning more?

Best Practices for Site Search