One of the big challenges that all marketers face in the era of big data is the utilization of the data. There are two simple and yet pervasive issues that marketers run into in trying to nurture data-driven cultures. First, a common challenge is that often the tools marketers use for tracking and reporting marketing data are separate and fundamentally different from the tools used to build websites, email campaigns, and other marketing initiatives. The second challenge is that the data from the various marketing channels is not typically integrated, leaving marketers with an incomplete picture of the end customers and forcing marketers to fill in data gaps with assumptions.
Many platform providers are looking to solve this problem by bringing various marketing functions and various marketing tracking systems all onto one platform. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen organizations such as Oracle, IBM, and Adobe acquire marketing automation companies, Web analytics companies, and CRM companies with a vision of bringing all of these functions together as one solution for marketing teams. The promise of the combined platforms is exciting for analysts, as it would mean the data is all in one place and presumably connected. While I usually focus my platform reviews on analytics tools and dashboarding tools, for this article I’m going to review a customer experience platform that has a similar vision to solve common marketing problems with a unique approach.
For those not familiar with Sitecore, their most popular product is fundamentally a Web content management (WCM) system, which is the namesake of the company. Over the past three years, Sitecore has built new functionality normally found outside of the Web content management system feature set that both complements integration with platforms such as CRM, email marketing, and marketing automation while augmenting the functionality of them. Once the Sitecore Experience Platform is implemented, site owners can manage the site as well as perform other marketing functions such as sending email campaigns, individual emails, developing campaigns, and running variant tests all from one console. It is prudent to be skeptical about whether one platform could be best-in-class at each of these different functions. Since one of Sitecore’s biggest strengths is the flexibility with which it integrates with other platforms, maybe there is no need to. Sitecore provides one massive benefit over integrating multiple applications from multiple providers – it can house the data all in one place.
I’ve been hypothesizing about the benefits of integrating Web analytics with content management systems for the better part of the last decade because I think the entire Web would be a better place if content authors and other site contributors had direct access to engagement analytics related to their content available in the same place that they are adding/editing content. But Sitecore has taken things a step further. Sitecore is using the Web analytics data plus data it catalogs on lead and customer behaviors in a CRM-esque manner. Below are some of the most impressive Sitecore Experience Platform Analytics features:
- Goal Values: The WCM module allows site owners to associate values with visitor actions. These actions could be something as basic a product pageview or something more commonly in line with business goals such as filling out a lead form. While the WCM allows the content contributors to decide what the value of the goal is, I would assume that most organizations are figuring out real world values of leads, qualified leads, and customer transactions in this area.
- Engagement Analytics: Sitecore has a whole suite of out-of-the-box reports that show real-time and historical data similar to what is found in Web analytics platforms such as Google Analytics, Webtrends, and Adobe Analytics. Reports show data such as traffic acquisition by channel, engagement with content, email opens, and visitor geography. Each report has a fair amount of drill down ability to view specific record data.
- Value-Based Reporting: Remember the Goal Values mentioned above? Sitecore is trying to get the website owners to think about the reasons why the website is there with a group of value-based reports. The analytics data within the WCM has a series of reports focused on the business value of visits, traffic channels, groups of content, specific pages, and assets around the site.
- Content Editor Reporting: Possibly one of my favorite elements of the Sitecore Experience Platform is the way content performance reporting is integrated within the content editor in the WCM module. While getting to the reporting takes a few clicks and I would like to see the data persist in future versions, this is the most cleverly integrated reporting I’ve seen in a WCM. I smile with joy at the thought of every site content editor having quick and easy access to reporting on how well the content/page performs against business goals.
- Executive Dashboard: Sitecore supplies a series of executive dashboards to quickly show how well the site acquires traffic, engages visitors, and converts visitors. While the name implies the dashboards are for the top brass, they are actually good information for all roles. Drill-down reports for each data point help viewers find information on individual pages, users, or visits.
Is This a Replacement of Traditional Web Analytics?
I would not remove any current Web analytics tags or recommend any analysts ignore their current web analytics reports and solely focus on Sitecore Analytics. Just as I believe Sitecore is augmenting advanced marketing platforms with functions such as email campaigns and personalization, I think Sitecore Analytics should augment the reporting that traditional Web analytics platforms such as Google Analytics provide. While Sitecore is putting usable data much closer to the point of site management than any other Web analytics or WCM provider, Sitecore Analytics does not have the full ad hoc querying, segmentation, and custom report generation capabilities that Google Analytics has. It is also good to have multiple Web analytics data trackers to act as validators against each other.
What’s Next for Sitecore?
Sitecore will be launching a major new release of their flagship Web Experience Platform in the upcoming months (V8.0). They have given the Sitecore community some previews of how their data model and reporting will evolve in the next release. Their interface for retrieving data and viewing reports has been cleaned up notably in this upcoming release, which will hopefully mean that more site owners will use the data. But the coolest advancements, and the ones that I think will have the biggest impact on businesses running the platform, is how the reporting focuses on important customer behaviors such as product research cycles, lead cycles, sales cycles, lead nurturing, and customer research. The new reports show how individual visitors or groups of visitors research products during a complex sales cycle and what type of content and assets influence their progress through the sales funnel. This will push all site contributors to gain a more advanced understanding of how prospects, leads, and customers interact with the entire digital channel (Web, email, social) throughout the buy cycle.
Sitecore 8: Reporting Screenshots
Web teams are constantly struggling to get the most comprehensive data on their prospects and get that data into the hands of the team members that need it. Platform providers like Sitecore, Oracle, and Adobe are making great strides to make organizations utilize the data they are gathering in ways that will benefit the businesses as well as the end customers. I believe this trend will continue across the industry and am excited to see what further advancements 2015 brings.
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