Personalization and site search is  a very hot topic for marketers and developers using Sitecore – but how do the experts do it well?

 I tried to spend the past few weeks connecting with my fellow Tech MVPs to  get the answer. As personalization becomes more and more important to our marketing-focused counterparts, every tech department needs to invest in how to make personalization easier, simplified and scalable with site search on Sitecore websites.

View their responses below, as well as view our other post with Digital Strategist MVPs on site search and personalization in Sitecore.

Scott Freeman Sitecore MVPScott Freeman is a certified Sitecore developer and 3-time Sitecore MVP with Mathematica Policy Research located in Princeton, NJ. Scott has been working with Sitecore for the past 7 years and has worked on AAA Mid-Atlantic, Ihop, Healio, and Mathematica Policy Research websites. After starting with Sitecore, Scott changed from a 15-year java developer to a Sitecore .NET developer. This change was prompted by Scott’s love of Sitecore. Follow Scott on Twitter @fozapd.

What are the major missteps that you see Sitecore customers making with site search solutions in general?

One of the major missteps that I see customers making is not putting enough attention on the search solution. Customers tend to think search is ‘easy’ so they tend to not put enough attention into it. I’ve seen quite a few projects that wait until later in a project before giving thought to search solutions. Choosing wrong can easily limit the user experience by making it harder to find the content they are looking for.

What’s your opinion on extending personalization into site search?

I’m very interested in extending personalization to website search as it could align nicely with Sitecore user patterns to deliver a better search experience. One example I think of within Mathematica Policy Research is a search for the word ‘Health.’ I’d love to change the results based on whether the user pattern identifies the user as Education Researcher vs. Early Childhood Researcher. In that scenario, surfacing health search results within the user identified topic area could make relevant content surface. This all leads to a great user experience and an increase in engagement with the website.

Gert Gullentops SitecoreGert Gullentops is a 2017 Tech MVP. In his role, he leads development teams to create great Sitecore implementations for The Reference, a full-service Belgian digital agency. He has worked there for two decades now. You can find him on Twitter @Gatagordo.

What is missing in a content indexing solution in order to use it for site search?

Content indexing always seems like a nice solution for search, and can be sometimes but it depends on your renderings. The main problem is always that a search result should be a page and not an item. Limiting the results to “pages” (i.e. items with a layout defined) is a start, but not enough because you will miss lots of valid results due to the principle of datasources. In Sitecore a page normally consists of several renderings that can take their data from a datasource – which means other items also display data on that page. Datasources are linked to the page, so it might be possible to take this into account when searching. But we are not sure if the datasource has the actual content used – it might be the parent of the items to display, or have links to the real data. And we are not even sure the data from the datasource should actually be in the search results – e.g. a call-to-action text that is displayed on lots of pages might need to be excluded.

In short, a context indexing solution has benefits (becoming up-to-date quickly is one) but also some challenges if not covered.

Where do you see Sitecore customers making mistakes when it comes to their site search solution?

I could name a few, but what comes to mind:

  • Not being able to find the correct results, such as:
    • returning items that are not pages
    • not returning pages that do have relevant content
    • not being able to return the most relevant results first
  • Not taking into account that the amount of content grows..
  • Issues with multi-lingual content

But if you take “customers” as a broader term, the most major misstep is to think that search is easy (or even ootb – as some do expect from such a product).

Extending your personalization into site search – what’s your take?

Extending personalization into search seems fancy – but I do believe that getting the search as a whole to work fine is already a major step. Implementing personalization so that it adds something relevant to the site (meaning: more than switching some small blocks on the site) is another step. Once a customer is ready with all that, it seems like a logical step to include this personalization in the search results. But to be honest – only truly innovative organizations are ready for that step.

Chris Williams Sitecore MVPChris Williams is 1 of 13 Sitecore MVPs in Canada and has been since 2012. He currently works for Perficient, Inc one of the few Sitecore Platinum Partners,  as well as runs his own mentoring business called Read Watch Create. He recently co-founded the Sitecore Commerce Mentoring Guild with Eric Stafford. Together they are helping others on their journey to learn more about Sitecore Commerce. Chris knows everybody and his passion for mentoring has helped many along their learning journey. Follow Perficient on Twitter at @Perficient.

Some companies may want to use a content indexing solution for site search. What will they end up missing?

In general content indexing solutions lack the ability to know the current context of the user. A music website user may be interested in Sax and Violins but if they put on their developer hat and search for strings showing them some results on violins is not going to help them. The key thing missing is determining the “hat” the user is wearing during that particular visit.

The other thing missing in a content indexing solution is determining which content is relevant and which is dated. A lot of search solutions rely on returned results and clicks by people and do not allow site users to provide feedback on whether the content was actually useful and update the index ranking accordingly. Here is an example: you do a search for “Should I use webforms or MVC for my Sitecore solution.” There is a really good article written by someone well known in the community on it so lots of people read it. But the article is old and at the time the article was written Sitecore MVC was still fragile, therefore the article said to use WebForms. However the answer now is to use MVC and others have written articles to say this that should be scored higher. This dated content surfaced because it was clicked a lot but someone reading the article that knew Sitecore could say no this is not relevant overriding the click ranking. Then when someone searches they are likely to get a more relevant answer.

Sheetal Jain SitecoreSheetal Jain holds a master’s degree in computer science and has been a five-time Sitecore MVP. He’s developed and implemented strategies to optimize user interface design for usability and accessibility. He developed a custom of building content management systems with a robust user interface for both web and mobile devices. He’s worked on Fortune 50 company projects, integrating complex systems in Sitecore to give users a one-stop solution for all their web needs. Follow him on Twitter @sjain_HI.

What will companies lose out on if they try to use a content indexing solution for site search?

Context Aware Site Search. In today’s world, most websites would like to serve relevant and contextual information to its website visitors through personalization and other marketing tools. It would be imperative that they would want to use a search engine to deliver the same context aware results for their customers. Most of the search providers do miss their target on this point.

Faster Time to Market. Most solutions with complex search capabilities either require decent custom development or a complex integration process. A search solution should be easy to configure and should get up and running in a short amount of time

Out of the Box Features. Features such as multi lingual search, multi word synonym analyzers and “Featured Results” are missing out of the box with a content indexing solution.

Sitecore customers may be making mistakes with their site search solutions. What have you seen?

  • Some may not realize that the power of Sitecore marketing capabilities could be extended to their search capabilities.
  • Some may not realize that a marketer can tailor the search results using business rules in sitecore experience editor.
  • Companies have not capitalized on how search can be context aware to your customers. Search is not expensive to implement.

What’s your take on extending personalization into site search?

An absolute must. You are missing on a lot of features if you do not use it. You can target your customers with relevant information leading to a better conversion rate


How would you answer these questions? Send us your opinion by tweeting at us @Coveo!