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Episerver and Sitecore Content Personalization

Enterprise content management systems continue to break through with new personalization features. The platforms are always updating, of course, so I recently sat down with two of our senior developers to learn more about what is possible with each platform. I assembled the following post to share what I learned. 

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive technical evaluation between Episerver and Sitecore. I am simply a marketer seeking to better understand the functional opportunities on two separate platforms.

Episerver Personalization Features

First let’s start with Episerver. I sat down with Tanuj Joshi, a certified Episerver developer and Ektron expert. He and I worked closely leading up until the 2am www.brightfind.com website launch. Tanuj is laid back, patient, and not someone to overhype a message. Here’s how he began our conversation:

“All that I can say is that you will be shocked by what Episerver can do.” – Tanuj Joshi

OK, my interest is piqued. Let’s dig in.

What Content Types Can I Personalize with Episerver?

Any and every type of content on your Episerver website has the potential to be personalized. Personalization.jpegGone are the days of PageBuilder (for those of you Ektron users) and here is a new era toting extraordinary customization across all standard pages.

Let’s be clear: we are not simply talking about personalized page display set by predefined data points; we are talking about every component on a webpage having the opportunity to be made more relevant to each visitor. As a marketer, I’m psyched because this means I’m not limited. I tested what “everything” means against various types of content, and they check out:

  • Calls to action
  • Copy
  • Imagery
  • PDF displays
  • Video displays

Can I Personalize Any Content at Any Time?

There is one caveat: plan well, because your backend developer must know prior to implementation that you’d like to use a section of the page to render personalized content. This will impact how he/she sets up your page. Here’s why:

The developer will need to set up and identify where the personalize-able content areas (drop-zones) are placed on a page. Once these are set up, then the marketer can freely enter any and all personalization rules for these blocks from the dashboard (without technical assistance – win!)

Which Episerver Personalization Features are Out-of-the-Box?

Sure, anything is “possible.” But what’s going to be easy, included, and headache-free? Out-of-the-box, Episerver comes with the capacity to:

  1. Personalize content by location
    Episerver can detect an IP address and serve targeted content based on location. Content administrators can segment based on region, country, and continent. And here’s a fancy feature: you can also preselect a location using Google Maps and specify a radius.

    If you go the country route, Episerver can display content in the correct language of your website visitor. Note: this is not a translation function.

  2. Personalize content by visitor groups
    Visitor groups can be created based off of any criteria, including both authenticated and anonymous visitors. For example, you could create multiple visitor groups to represent different levels of membership. Or if you are having an annual conference, you could segment visitor groups by those who have registered and those who have not.

    It’s worth noting that the criteria for visitor groups can be defined by any number of characteristics that exist in the Episerver platform or any integrated third party applications (like a CRM or Association Management System [AMS]). Did you catch that? If your CRM/AMS is integrated to Episerver, you have the potential to show authenticated visitors personalized content based on any field in their contact records. However, third party integration is either a customization or licensed add-on, so this aspect is not technically out-of-the-box.

    Episerver has an in-line editing feature, which is real game changer for editing content. If you would like to display targeted content while using this editor, you can take advantage of setting personalization rules by visitor groups – for different chunks of content within a single content block.

  3. Personalize content by user path
    For those marketers who have identified the funnel on their site, they can leverage that to display personalized content by setting rules in the dashboard:

    “If a visitor visits X page and completes Y action, display Z content item.”

    You can use this functionality to display highly relevant content like calls-to-action or offers that fall in line with their identified interests. In short, this can assist in creating excellent (helpful) user experiences that advance your visitors down the funnel and toward your goals.


Are There Other Personalization Options? 

Yes, there are quite a few other out-of-the-box personalization options. Additionally, if you’d like to customize your content personalization options and expand functionality to include something not mentioned above, it’s worth noting that Episerver has an Add-on store filled with possible integrated 3rd party applications. Similar to the Android or Apple store, some apps are paid and some are free. There are some pretty spectacular things that can be found in this store, depending on what you’re seeking.  When downloaded, the app installs a plugin into your Episerver instance and display on one of the tabs in your Episerver dashboard. 

Sitecore Personalization Features

Next I sat down with Sai Ede an expert Sitecore certified developer. I learned that Sitecore and Episerver have some very similar personalization features, but a few key differences. While the personalization capabilities are comparable, Sitecore allows a bit more leeway because you do not need to pre-plan every place you want to personalize.

The features Sai and I discussed are applicable to Sitecore versions 6.5 through 8.1.

What Content Types Can I Personalize with Sitecore? 

First, it’s worth noting that everything in Sitecore is component-based whereas Episerver is more page-based. The website administrator can assemble pages simply by dragging and dropping components onto the page, and because it is set up in this way, everything is customizable and has the potential to be personalized.

Can I Personalize Any Content at Any Time?

Unlike Episerver, you do not need to let the developer know personalized components ahead of time because personalizing content requires no additional coding. However, there is a one-time site-wide personalization setting in the Sitecore.Analytics.config that will need to be modified by a developer. This is essentially the “turn on” switch for personalization across the website.

Once the personalization setting is configured on the backend, the website administrator can set personalization for each page (or component of a page) without any additional developer assistance.

Which Sitecore Personalization Features are Out-of-the-Box?

Sitecore has many different ways to personalize content, many of which overlap with Episerver. Below are the major ones we identified. It’s worth noting that these rules don’t need to stand alone; they can be set in conjunction with each other for even more sophisticated personalization.

  1. Personalize content by location
    Like Episerver, Sitecore can detect an IP address and serve targeted content based on location. Segmentation possibilities are much broader with Sitecore, though, as you can target by:
    Area Code Longitude
    City Postal code
    County Metro Code
    DNS Region

    You can also display personalized content by specific business name if the visitor is coming from a registered IP address. 

    Just like Episerver, Sitecore can display personalized content in the language of your visitor, but there is no automatic translation function included in the platform. If you have language-specific imagery associated with text, like a country’s flag, Sitecore can identify the appropriate image to display.

  2. Personalize content by visitor (user) groups
    Sitecore comes out-of-the-box with sample predefined user groups:
    Analyst My Company
    Competitor Press
    Existing Customer Prospect
    Human Robot
    ISP Supplier

    In addition to these predefined visitor groups, the website admin can create others without the assistance of a developer. Then based on rules that they set, a user will be added to a particular group and can receive personalized content delivery.

  3. Personalize content by time zone 
    Your visitors are likely coming from all over the country (if not world.) Sitecore lets you personalize content that’s specific to your visitors’ time zones. For example, you may want to run a contest that ends at 3pm local time, and Sitecore gives you the ability to accomplish this by setting these dates and times in advance.

  4. Personalize content by domain
    If you have subdomains on your site, like blog.example.com or ecommerce.example.com, you can display content based on which domain the visitor is coming from. For instance, if there is a visitor with a full shopping cart on the ecommerce portion of your site and they abandon it and navigate back to the main site, you can provide a personalized message that encourages them to complete their purchase.

  5. Personalize content by Sitecore analytics
    Sitecore has robust, comprehensive analytics. In order to track, though, a developer must turn them on in the backend. Once they are on, you can target content based on any number of data points. For example, you could preset the rules to display X content to the 300th visitor. Or if you are counting registrations for an event, you can display a message that you’ve reached maximum capacity by how many visitors have reached your registration thank you page.

Are There Other Personalization Options?

Yes. You can personalize content based on the traffic referral, i.e. provide different content based on social media channels and referring websites, but a developer needs to write custom code to grab the parameter out of the URL.

If your AMS or CRM is connected to Sitecore, you can personalize content based on any field in the visitor’s contact record: lead score, age group, conference registration, membership renewal, you name it. This is a huge value proposition to integrate your contact database with Sitecore, and extra powerful when you use it in conjunction with any of the above listed personalization rules. However, it does require custom integration and the personalization rules must be set up by a developer.Personalize my Website.  See Episerver or Sitecore in Action.

Episerver and Sitecore both offer top-of-the-line personalization features, just as you’d expect for identified leaders in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. Each CMS offers a variety of benefits and functionality to ensure your website visitors are finding the content that’s right for them. If you have any questions or thoughts, leave them in the comments section below. 

Christie Gunden

Written by Christie Gunden