Will Ezell
Chief Technology Officer

dotCMS Rules, Targeted Content and Personalization

Feb 23, 2016
By: Will Ezell

Introduction to Personalization in dotCMS

For years, interactive teams have used dotCMS to build dynamic multi-channel digital experiences. As our users know, dotCMS offers a rich suite of pragmatic content tools built upon our “everything is content” philosophy, including custom workflows, granular permissions, large scale multi-tenant capability, RESTful APIs/forms, user defined content types and more.

With the release of dotCMS v3.5, we are happy to introduce new features specifically designed for modern digital marketers and their teams. While it has always been possible to personalize content in dotCMS, the 3.5 release of dotCMS includes dotCMS Rules, an engine which allows business users to drive both passive and active personalization and easily deliver targeted content. 3.5 is packed with a slew of new features and concepts such as Personas, Conditions, Actions, Visitors, Weighted Tags and Content Scoring, all interacting together to help marketers and developers quickly build more relevant and more engaging experiences for visitors, users, prospects and customers.

Editors Note: DotCMS Targeted Content and Personalization is now available with dotCMS 3.5. This blog, originaly published before the official release, has been updated to remove refrences to the beta program. You can download the software here: Download dotCMS 3.5. You'll find a complete list of resources at the bottom of this post.

dotCMS Previewing As Persona

Our Approach to Targeted Content and Personalization

Digital marketers have been on a quest for the holy grail of Customer Experience Management (CEM). Many businesses choose to implement ever expanding suites of Digital Experience (DX), UXP (User Experience Platform) or other user experience software packages. Others go the route of cobbling tools together in the hopes of building a best of breed UXP frankenstein. Regardless of the name or approach, the efforts and intentions can be be boiled down to the belief that the quality and relevance of user experiences in digital commerce makes a difference to outcomes, thus, improving the user experience is a digital marketer's tool to grow business.

visitor personalization

When it comes to the visitors and users of our sites and apps, we want to move and guide them to deeper engagement and conversation with us. We want to lead them on a journey to find what they are looking for, from unknown to known. The goal of the journey: move a lead to a prospect and a prospect to a customer.

While research that shows this is true, dotCMS feels something important has been lost in all these efforts, namely, team agility. To bring all these tools, solutions and capabilities together in a meaningful way often comes with development, integration and maintenance costs that are not talked about in sales demos. Our challenge with dotCMS 3.5 was to deliver the new personalization features AND to make them simple to understand, powerfully extendable and ultimately just useful to everyday digital marketers. We have worked hard to avoid overly complex (unusable and unproductive) layers, configurations and abstractions that slow teams down.

dotCMS 3.5 adds low overhead - think easy to manage and maintain - personalization features that can be added instantly to existing sites and can have an immediate and direct impact on how visitors interact with all your digital properties (sites, apps, pages, etc.). I think you’ll see we’ve taken a refreshing and accessible approach.

Personalization Personas and Tags

DotCMS 3.5 drives personalization and targeting using Personas and Tags. Personas allow you to categorize visitors into an unlimited number of groups (Personas). You can name and define Personas by interest in different content on your site or by any criteria you set. Personas are what clarifies specific content targets for content editors/managers.

When personalizing content, editors can assign Tags to content for a specific Persona (or multiple Personas) and then dotCMS will automatically serve this targeted content to visitors categorized as that Persona.
dotCMS Persona Tagging

Following our “everything is content” philosophy, Personas in dotCMS are just another type of content. Content managers can add fields, define properties, relationships, permissions to their Personas, exactly the way they would manage other content types. This gives unrivaled flexibility and creativity on how you can implement Personas and for multi-site installations, you can have completely different Personas on each site or share Personas across all sites. You get to decide.

Passive PersonalizationdotCMS Persona Starter Site Flyout Selector

dotCMS 3.5 supports both passive and active personalization. Passive personalization occurs without any specific action from a visitor and happens as a visitor browses pages or views content. dotCMS 3.5 will look at how those contents or pages have been tagged and store this information in the visitor’s session as “Accrued Tags”. As a visitor accesses the various content on the site, dotCMS uses these Tags to Personalize content and will show more targeted content items based on what has been learned about the visitors’ interests. If you visit the 3.5 live demo site and view a number of news content items, you will see how the the news listing and banners will change based on the types of news you have already shown interest in.

For further targeting, Rules can be created to assign Personas to visitors based on actions they have taken on the site. DotCMS will use these Rules and Personas to dynamically display content that has been tagged for that visitor/Persona.

Active Personalization

Active Personalization allows a visitor to self select their interests or even their Persona and based on these selections, dotCMS can display specific content to those visitors. Again, you can see this type of personalization on the dotCMS 3.5 demo site where you can self select the Persona you would like to be and then experience how the content changes as you browse the site as your chosen Persona.

Another handy feature to assist with both passive and active content personalization, Site Admins can “Browse as a Persona” in dotCMS Edit and Preview Modes to see exactly how content will be displayed to visitors who have been tagged as a specific Persona.

dotCMS Rules

The new Rule Builder in dotCMS has been designed to be used by site admins, marketers and content editors. Users can set up complex Rules for targeting content or performing other actions without writing a line of code. Rules can be used to sniff “ambient” visitor information such as the visitors geolocation, their refering url, their browser capabilities and their visit history. Rules are permissioned and scoped, so site admins can create site-wide Rules while content editors can be allowed to create Rules that run only on the pages they manage. Rules can be multi-conditional and support conditional AND/OR logic when evaluated.

Of course, with almost everything in dotCMS, Rules represent an open integration and extension point. Digital teams can build custom rule conditions (e.g. query an external system for user data based on a cookie) that fire custom actions (send visitor info to an external system) via dynamic plugins (OSGi) and APIs. But this is not mandatory - dotCMS 3.5 ships with very useful conditions and actions right out of the box. dotCMS building complex Rules

In the Real World

Here are a few examples of how one might use Rules, Targeted Content and Personalization in dotCMS to enhance user experiences. While dotCMS allows you to create complex, multi-level experiences, we’ll start with simple examples and move to more advanced.

Automatically setting a visitors language based upon country or browser language

dotCMS Rules can be used to geolocate a visitor’s country and based upon that, automatically configure a visitors selected language. Or, dotCMS Rules can be used automatically sniff the visitors Browser language and set the language based on that. Or both. Rules can be set to only fire “Once per Visit”, which would allow a new visitor to override the auto-chosen language to one they explicitly select. dotCMS 3.5 ships with simple rule conditions that can be applied for checking for any number of parameters, such as a visitors device, number of pages viewed, how often a visitor has visited, the visitors geolocation point, referrer or request parameters. A single rule by itself can go a long way toward delivering more dynamic, personalized experiences.

Redirect a user intelligently based on device

As mentioned, dotCMS 3.5 will let you create Rules that can sniff the device and viewport of your visitors. Based upon that and other information, you can intelligently redirect your visitors to a mobile app or optimized version of your site. Or you could just use the rule to set properties on the Visitor’s session which can be leveraged when designing responsive templates. Using dotCMS Rules is a simple way for marketers to serve optimized content to digital consumers.

Intercepting a site search query to send a visitor to a landing page

Another example of delivering targeted content is by createing a rule that can “listen” to your site search queries (or any parameters you choose) and if it matches a certain criteria, say for instance, it contains the word “pricing”, you can redirect the user to a specific landing page that has content or an offer directly related to a pricing request.

Assign a Persona to a visitor based on browsing behaviors

For example, you could assign a Visitor the Persona of “Prospect” if they have come to your site more than 3 times and have browsed the “pricing” page for your product. Based upon that Persona, you could choose to display a modal popup window that presented the visitor with special offer that they could use to engage with your product. Very helpful for guiding your visitors on their “customer experience journey.”

As you can see, there is no shortage of creative ways to gain value from using the new features in dotCMS 3.5. The beauty of dotCMS 3.5 is that creating these types of rule based interactions does not require any development muscle. They can be set-up easily by non-technical business users or content managers.

Take a Test Drive, Download 3.5

As you can imagine, the introduction of Rules, Targeted Content and Personalization in dotCMS 3.5 is the first installment of features that lead to more fully integrated personalization and membership; users/visitors as content. Uniquely, dotCMS 3.5 makes targeted content and personalization available in a way that is accessible, practical and powerful for realizing the digital marketer’s vision of transforming anonymous un-named visitors and users to known and named personalized experiences.

Anyone interested in trying out the new features can download the software here. Check it out and consider starting your next project with the newest dotCMS, It's the way to go.

Resources and More Info

We have several resources available for learning more about dotCMS 3.5.

Articles & Video

Try it Out - Live Demo

See for yourself, experience dotCMS Targeted Content and Personalization in action by visiting our live demo where you'll be served content based on an assigned Persona. Check out the live demo here.

You can get detailed information and more descriptions of the new Targeted Content and Personalization features in 3.5 by reviewing our latest documentation. We've updated dozens of pages related to the new version and here's a list of the highlights:

Thanks for taking the time to check out the newest dotCMS. Drop us a line with any questions or comments. We're always glad to hear from you.

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