The definition of a multisite implementation is straightforward: Any time you have more than one site — whether multiple websites, an online store, an app, or something else — on a single Sitecore instance, you have a multisite. 

There are many advantages for an organization deciding to do a multisite implementation, including the sharing of licensing and hosting, content, user credentials, a database, and more. Being able to re-use content and leverage customer insights across sites specifically creates synergies that usually increase opportunities for testing and personalization, as well as ROI. 

But multisite implementations also present challenges. Because they necessitate marrying requirements across sites and teams, they are complex. It’s often the initial stages of design and deployment where the Sitecore Business Optimization Strategies (SBOS) team has seen customers stumble over hurdles, which cause issues when they want to optimize down the road. Sitecore’s marketing frameworks are extremely flexible, capable of handling the most complex marketing configurations. But to get the most out of your multisite, you need to secure the resources to ensure your initial research and planning are thorough.  

This is the first in a blog series where we’ll be outlining practical strategies for multisite implementation. After exploring the key requirements that drive all SBOS engagements, I’ll discuss the four areas of research that each type of multisite personalization project requires, outline the four most common multisite projects we see, and highlight the personalization quick wins for each type of multisite project. In the rest of the series, I dive deeper into each specific type of project. 

Key requirements to overcome the challenges and reap the rewards

When it comes to Sitecore implementations, whether a single site or multisite, it’s important to make sure optimization is part of the conversation early on in the planning phase as well as throughout the project. The guiding principles for optimization planning identified by SBOS have always reinforced the need to:

  • Plan early and plan often: Create a personalization plan as early as possible in your project, and revise and update the plan regularly.
  • Collaborate: Work with cross-functional teams to build a comprehensive plan and to gain engagement, buy-in, and alignment across your business
  • Start small: Begin with quick wins and activities aligned to key business objectives
  • Evangelize: Broadcast your results to the wider business, with those results clearly tied to business objectives
  • Keep going: Plan, implement, measure, learn, and start again with an agile process and a prioritized backlog of tactics
  • Invest: Put a concerted effort into the people, training, research, and expertise needed to succeed

These principles are the same for a project for one brand, or for one that covers 20 different brands across 100 countries — it’s essentially just a matter of scaling up.

The research you need 

Regardless of the specifics of your multisite optimization project, there is key research that must be done to ensure you have a clear understanding of your business goals, your customer base, and what visitors want and need as they interact with your brand. We encourage you to do the following research before beginning the planning phase:

  • Objectives and Analytics: Along with the why, we need to know the what. What is happening on your service, app, or website? A good understanding of business objectives and KPIs along with the analytics of pages, content, and CTAs helps you create customer segments, and provides a benchmark for your optimization program to help validate the results. Having access to a good analyst and clean data is invaluable for this kind of project.
  • User research: Having a quantitative and qualitative understanding of who your customers are is critical for identifying the emotive aspects of dealing with your brand. And understanding these emotions reveals what you should personalize. Digital experience optimization does not replace good old-fashioned UX research.
  • Personas: You should assemble a behavioral picture of your customers by researching their needs, thoughts, goals, behaviors, and status. Having this documented will help you configure personalized components. It will also help you plan your profiling strategy across your content. Once you’ve implemented personalization, you’ll get to test if these personas are accurate and adjust them if they’re not right.

    In a multisite environment, you’re usually addressing different user groups. Make sure you identify and articulate the personas for all the major sites. For example, personas may be different by region (Americas vs. Asia Pacific) or user type (patients vs. healthcare provider vs. caregiver). Aim to create a manageable number, focused on your most strategic segments.
  • Customer journeys: Bringing the above together, we can now create journeys per persona (or groups of personas). Visualizing customer journeys helps all involved see the whole journey (digital and offline). The journeys should identify crossovers among sites and channels — from email to social to digital or even from offline to online. Then you can identify key points to optimize this journey; specifically, where you can turn a dead end into a continuing personalized journey.

The four main multisite models

With the above research completed, you can now turn your attention to the actual work of planning and creating your multisite implementation. In our experience, we see most multisite instances fitting into one of, or a combination of, four main models: 

  • Multichannel
  • Multibrand
  • Multiregion
  • Multisegment

The common factor across these models is that there’s a single Sitecore instance serving all sites. This ensures your data is brought together in one database (in Sitecore, this is the Sitecore® Experience Database™).

Multiregional sites

A multiregional site is when one organization with a global presence has all regions’ sites on the same Sitecore instance, such as Amerisourcebergen. Because these sites often share more similarities than differences, they can usually have a shared UX, design, IA, and even content. This can lead to very similar sets of goals, profiles, and campaigns across the sites. 

For this kind of multisite instance, it’s usually best to start the optimization process with one or two regions or countries. After this, it’s often fairly simple to roll out across the remaining geographies as skills and understanding build. Just be sure you don’t give into a common temptation — letting the first site’s stakeholders alone set the standards for everyone else. You need everyone to participate in the initial planning process, as it’s highly likely different regions will place different values on your various goals. 

The quick wins for these types of projects are often campaign-based personalization and geographic personalization. 

Multichannel (or Multiportal) sites

This is where an organization has multiple same-branded “sites” within Sitecore, which may include any combination of any of the following:

  • Main, public-facing website
  • Segment-specific, public-facing website
  • Customer portal(s)
  • eCommerce site
  • Other channels such as apps, kiosks, digital signage, etc.

Multichannel is a singular brand experience, and thus personalizing the customer experience across sites is crucial.  Dine Brands - owner of Applebees, IHOP and other much-loved brands - is a great example of successfully implementing this type of multisite. Key objectives for multichannel implementations often include lead nurturing, cross-sell, up-sell, and retention. 

Quick wins for these sites include profile-based and journey-based personalization. 

Multibrand sites

A multibrand implementation is when more than one standalone brand site is hosted on the same Sitecore instance. L’Oréal offers a superb example. Often called a “house of brands,” this type of multisite usually includes customer overlap between brands. It’s thus a great candidate for multisite personalization, although there are some technical hurdles to consider in planning out your personalization across multiple top-level domains.

To avoid startling customers, take a light touch. Some great quick wins are profile- and campaign-based personalization as well as marketing automation. 

Multisegement sites

Although not technically a multisite instance, this is when an organization is operating under a single brand on single domain but with very different customer segments, both B2C and B2B for example. A great example of this type of site is Brompton Bicycle

Although you won’t face any of the technical hurdles of the other multisite models, this kind of site can present very similar challenges due to very different objectives for each segment. And it often includes a commerce site or portal, which makes it a true multisite instance.  

As alignment around goals and engagement values is often a key challenge, empowering customers to segment themselves with a self-selector can be an ideal approach. Goal-based and facet-based personalization are two quick wins with this approach.

Plan ahead for present and future success

No matter what type of multisite implementation you’re considering or undertaking, remember that team alignment and thorough upfront planning can ensure you don’t hit too many bumps down the road. In future blogs in this series, I’ll dive into specific considerations and some quick wins for each model of a multisite instance.

If you’re in the process of preparing an implementation, thinking about preparing for one, or just interested in learning more about multisite best practices, I highly encourage you to download our guide, “Planning and implementing a multisite personalization strategy,” which consolidates the SBOS team’s best practices for multisite implementation planning.

Alison Sainsbury is Director of Business Value & Strategy in Asia Pacific Japan at Sitecore. Find her on LinkedIn.