Sathish Balakrishnan Author's Perspective
4 Minute read

3 Best Ways to Test your Sitecore Personalization Journey without XDB

3 Best Ways To Test

In 2017, in-app purchase revenue was the number 1 source of mobile app revenue, accounting for 48.2% of earnings compared to 37.8% from paid app downloads. What does this have to do with Sitecore?

We are entering an era where users would much rather try products/services before they purchase, and this is no different for the B2B space or Sitecore. Tryability gives you the ability to be sure your purchase is in line with your needs, get addicted to that game or software, and want more.

Additionally, I personally feel that Sitecore marketers are able to wrap their heads around something more simplistic and see immediate value as compared to putting together tables and content maps for personalization that eventually fizzles out.

The ‘Free’ version of Sitecore Personalization

I have spent a good chunk of my career on both sides of the Sitecore fence – client and partner. Most companies (including the ones I’ve worked for) purchase Sitecore because of the Customer Experience promise that it offers, which includes engagement tracking, personalization, and testing.

In my experience, 90% of the companies I have worked with and am still working with, have purchased Sitecore’s Experience Database (xDB) and have been paying the price for years, but struggle to put it into practice. Real Story Group discusses this as a trend with Sitecore.

The solution: Try out xDB in CMS-only mode and buy it when you know you are ready. While Sitecore personalization is not really free (hence the quotes), we do have the ability to run personalization in CMS-only mode, giving you a trial before you buy version for Sitecore’s xDB - making it cost effective, until you have a content strategy, to fill out every personalization scenario.

Additionally, all the personalization software options give marketers the ability to try out Sitecore personalization and get a feel for it, before investing their money in it.

So what is Sitecore CMS-only mode?

At a high level, CMS-only mode is basically personalization within a database. Whatever you do in that session (before you close out your browser) is recorded and can be used for personalization. This is because there is no database storing your historical data, once you close out the browser.

This necessarily means that Sitecore and your website has forgotten about you and you have to start the experience over again.

Here’s a list of all the experience management features that are compatible and incompatible in CMS-only mode. (

Upgrade to Sitecore 9.1 Using this Handy Guide

Sitecore CMS-only Technical Details

The section belpw shows is how to run Sitecore CMS-only mode. Set these two values accordingly in your config files:

  • Xdb.Enabled set to false
  • Xdb.Tracking.Enabled set to true

  1. Rule based Personalization: Campaigns and Geo-IP
  2. Contextual Rule based, rules based personalization is one of the best ways to try out Sitecore personalization. When a user first comes to your website, the only knowledge you may have is:

    • What was their referring channel or website
    • Where are they physically located

    If you are running a campaign, you can setup the campaigns in CMS-only mode. Although, these campaigns cannot be tracked, they can be used to personalize your website.

    In this way, you can personalize your home page to focus on the campaign they have triggered and ensure that they move to the next step with the specific call to action. Additionally, you can use Geo-IP to personalize images on your site and to show them events, offices, products, or even people they can contact near them.

  3. Personalization on Goals Triggered
  4. Goals and Engagement Value are two of the best features of Sitecore Experience Platform. Tracking these can show you how engaged the user is with not just your website, but your brand, and you can gear information to them based on the stage of their journey.

    While most of this is not available in CMS-only mode, the one thing that can be done is once a goal is triggered, do not show that goal again and instead focus.

    A few examples of this personalization are:

    • Once a visitor has subscribed for a newsletter, don’t show that CTA on your website, and replace it with other CTAs
    • If a visitor has read articles which a professional on your website has written, you can target them to contact that professional
  5. Explicit Personalization
  6. Implicit personalization happens when you connect behavioral data, such as articles read or goals triggered to profile a visitor. Explicit personalization, on the other hand, occurs once a visitor explicitly gives you their information. This is a great way to personalize your website in CMS-only mode, because unlike implicit personalization that may work better with more clicks and history, this is used when you already have the explicit information from the user.

    A few ways to trigger explicit personalization are:

    • When a user fills out a form, you can use information such as their title or their industry to personalize information on the website to them
    • You can have a visitor click on 2 or 3 persona options before they enter the website (such as “I’m looking to hire” OR “I’m looking for a job”) has a great implementation of explicit personalization called ‘customize your experience’. However, this is better suited, when you are saving their data. You don’t want your users to fill out information that you forget as soon as they return to your website.

Final Thoughts:

There are explicit benefits to having xDB. Historical data is important to create a full-fledged personalization experience in Sitecore that targets every stage of the customer journey.

However, CMS-only mode and the ‘free’ version of personalization are few of those lesser known features of Sitecore. Do try out these simple means of personalization to get you started immediately, and make it lesser of a big project, and more of a short-term objective.

Sathish Balakrishnan VP-Technology and Delivery

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