Personalisation & A/B Testing on standard values

I have been involved in a project where my client wanted to apply personalisation & A/B testing on the standard values rather than specific Items itself…

Initially I found the request quite odd, since the point of personalizing is to deliver a tailor made experience on each page and applying to the standard values, would mean to apply the same personalisation rule to multiple pages….

The example that my client wanted to test, was hiding the hero carousel for all the Blog pages for users who have visited the blog container landing page….

Having further conversations and thoughts, I realized that in order to Test & personalise you need to have some relevant volumes of customers & page views to understand  if the test & personalisation really work and if your website is not generating huge volumes of traffic, a workaround to boost your test & personalisation strategy is to apply personalisation rules on standard values…

The outcome of these experiments is the following one on Sitecore 9 and 8.2 update 6

Personalisation on the standard values in relationship to the presentation details, even if it is not “officially supported” works fine for my scenarios… I just added on the blog  template standard value a rule to hide the hero controller rendering if users has viewed the blogs landing page…

A/B testing on standard values does not work well, the test itself got executed but the reporting that come out is a bit funny… therefore you can potentially execute the test but the reporting would not help you to understand the winner for the test based on the engagement values & Sitecore goals… in the case you really want to achieve it, you should considering other tools for A/B testing such Google 360 or Maxymiser or write some logic withing your controller rendering to generate the test & instrument some custom reporting…




Profile cards in Sitecore 9

One of the things to know when you are going to upgrade your Sitecore instance from “8.something” to 9.0.x is that some templates may have been removed/deprecated in Sitecore 9…

An example of this issue are Profile Cards persona template…

In Sitecore 8.2 update 6 we have


and in Sitecore 9 we do not have any longer the Profile Card – Persona

image001 (3)

Honestly, I do not think it is not a massive loss for marketers and I consider this simplification a good improvement…

However, in the case, you are migrating a Sitecore instance from 8.x to 9 and you have profile card persona defined, you have to remember to manually change their template to Profile Card to avoid unexpected behaviors…

Lucene Index got corrupted on Sitecore 7.5

I have recently encountered a very bizarre issue with my application pool got restarted every 15 minutes on my Content Delivery instances…. I have started to see this error, just after one deployment….

I was running the site on Sitecore 7.5 and I do use Lucene indexes…

As often happen looking into the Application log through the event viewer I found the following error:

Application: w3wp.exe
Framework Version: v4.0.30319
Description: The process was terminated due to an unhandled exception.
Exception Info: Lucene.Net.Index.MergePolicy+MergeException
   at Lucene.Net.Index.ConcurrentMergeScheduler.HandleMergeException(System.Exception)
   at Lucene.Net.Index.ConcurrentMergeScheduler+MergeThread.Run()
   at System.Threading.ExecutionContext.RunInternal(System.Threading.ExecutionContext, System.Threading.ContextCallback, System.Object, Boolean)
   at System.Threading.ExecutionContext.Run(System.Threading.ExecutionContext, System.Threading.ContextCallback, System.Object, Boolean)
   at System.Threading.ExecutionContext.Run(System.Threading.ExecutionContext, System.Threading.ContextCallback, System.Object)
   at System.Threading.ThreadHelper.ThreadStart()
My first suspicious was some content author publishing when I was deploying could create some lock/race condition within the index folder?!
I tried to look into the index unsuccessfully with the index viewer and the only solution that I found, also due to the time constraint and do to the fact that site was going down every 15 minutes, it was to delete the physical folder containing the indexes, rebuild my index on the Content Authoring instance and copying the file of the index physically in the index folder…
Once I have done this operation everything run smoothly….
my take away if you are using Lucene, be always ready to re-delete and uplaod your index folder and mainly be sure that your site does not rely completely on the indexes….

Connect Amazon’s Alexa to Sitecore

Delivering an enterprise skill for Amazon Alexa means preparing and supporting loads of content so why not to use Sitecore the leader eXperience platform to manage your Alexa skill related content?

Here at VoiceCase we think that Sitecore is a perfect tool to manage complex SSML messages to support your Alexa skill via the Sitecore multi-channel capabilities…

Alexa skill provide different voice messages using SSML a markup language fairly similar to HTML – here  you can find extensive reference to SSML syntax


The simpler way to integrate your custom skill with Sitecore is via a synchronous call from your AWS Lambda to the Sitecore endpoint to provide the required SSML via a simple webApi endpoint (via json)


Other valid reasons for using Sitecore to store your SSML?

  • Multilanguage support
  • Approval Workflow
  • Rich Text Editor Customizations to support SSML creation for business users
  • SSML validation
  • Skill configuration settings on Sitecore

In addition to the simple integration, you may want to use Sitecore combined with Polly to generate custom audio messages to support your skill or Sitecore Media Library capabilities to host custom MP3 files to support your Alexa skill…

Here you can see how it looks a SSML message within Sitecore Rich Text Editor


We also strongly recommend the use of snipped withing the Sitecore rich text editor to support SSML speechons, this would allow business users to create wow effects for your Alexa users….


Other possible advantages of this integration would be the use of the Sitecore Personalisation features simple examples could be:

  • Personalization for anonymous devices (offer different messages for anonymous and registered users
  • Account Linking + Personalisation – deliveing personalized Voice messages for different customers, depending on the customer segment defined in Sitecore via XDB facets
  • Single view of the customer + Analytics – Sitecore Analytics could hold a 360 view of your customers across different channels and Alexa would be just an additional channel for Sitecore
  • Personalized Content leveraging XDB capabilities (behavior personalisation)
  • A/B testing capabilities to identify the more effective paths and customers preferred application paths
  • Sitecore Commerce to deliver conversational commerce

In the case you find this topic interesting, reach out and will be happy to help you to get the most out of your Amazon Alexa integration with Sitecore….

I have been presenting this topic to few user groups and here you can find additional slides–  a video & additional pictures of the presentation…

@steliodibello demonstrating Alexa integration with #sitecore @bekagool

— Ian Graham (@ianjohngraham) June 14, 2017




Sitecore Active Directory Module 1.3 setup guide

Recently I have installed Sitecore Active Directory Module 1.3 against Sitecore 8.2 update 3 – 170407 overall I got the integration fully working and I was happy with it…

I have performed the configuration on premise, but theoretically should work also in IAAS / PAAS approach assuming that you can perform the LDAP queries…

This is the list of the steps that I have performed to configure it

1) Download Sitecore Active Directory module 1.3

2) Install Sitecore Module

Upload and install the sitecore package

3) Amend the Connection string Adding:

<add name="LDAP_CONN" connectionString="LDAP://DOMAINCONTROLLERNAME:389/OU=Sitecore,OU=Dev,OU=AppStreams,OU=PARENT,OU=PARENT,OU=Locations... DC=com" />

Note OU are used to filter within the Active directory forest… Generally you do not want to have all the AD users on Sitecore but just a subset preassigned to your forest (eg. IT & Marketing users).

Also note that you need to have a service user to perform LDAP queries, in this case

4) Add Domain in the domain.config

<domain name="DOMAIN" ensureAnonymousUser="false" />

5) Amend Sitecore Config

<provider providerName="sql" storeFullNames="true" wildcard="%" domains="*" />
<provider providerName="ad" storeFullNames="false" wildcard="*" domains="DOMAIN" />

<provider providerName="sql" storeFullNames="true" wildcard="%" domains="*" ignoredUserDomains="" allowedUserDomains="" />
<provider providerName="ad" storeFullNames="false" wildcard="*" domains="DOMAIN" />

6) Amend WebConfig

Amend all the switching providers appropriately

<add name="ad" type="LightLDAP.SitecoreADMembershipProvider" connectionStringName="LDAP_CONN" applicationName="sitecore" minRequiredPasswordLength="1" minRequiredNonalphanumericCharacters="0" requiresQuestionAndAnswer="false" requiresUniqueEmail="false" connectionProtection="Secure" connectionUsername="DOMAIN\sitecoredev" connectionPassword="XXXXX" attributeMapUsername="sAMAccountName" enableSearchMethods="true" enablePasswordReset="false" />

<add name="ad" type="LightLDAP.SitecoreADRoleProvider" connectionStringName="LDAP_CONN" applicationName="sitecore" attributeMapUsername="sAMAccountName" cacheSize="2MB" username="DOMAIN\sitecoredev" password="XXXX" />

note that you need to have a service user like SitecoreDev to perform LDAP queries…

7) Test it

now you can login as a Sitecore Admin and try to add domain users and set them as Administrator…

8) Bugfix to login with AD users… within Sitecore 8.2 Update 3 you need to install the following hotfix in order to be able to login…


Copy the file in the Bin


<add name="switcher" type="Sitecore.Support.Security.SwitchingMembershipProvider, Sitecore.Support.139945" applicationName="sitecore" mappings="switchingProviders/membership" /> 

9) Test it again to login to Sitecore shell with an active directory user selected as Admin…

Happy Sitecore!!!!


Azure PAAS for your Sitecore Dev environment with Power Shell

As I have previously blogged about Sitecore 8.2 on Azure PAAS  I decided that it was arrived the right moment for me to provision my Sitecore Dev environment on an Azure WebApp…

The main reason for doing it is to keep all the environments as similar as possible and deploy my code easily from VisualStudio OnLine and simplify my build & CI pipeline for my Dev environment having a production environment PAAS…

In regard having all the environments as similar as possible,  it could be a bit expensive with a cloud consumption based model…  and you can be tempted, as I have been, to have a much simpler configuration without the Sitecore Analytics in the Dev environment.


My ideal configuration for the Dev environment is as simple as possible to keep the cost down and be able to validate my code, to do that what I really need is just one WebApp to use as CM/CD and the standard SQL databases Master, Core, Web, in addition to this you may consider to keep the Insight Analytics on to monitor the environment and notify if any error occur.

Having played a bit with the Sitecore Azure toolkit and the Sitecore Arm Templates, I realised that any of the scripts was helping me to achieve my ideal Dev environment since all the scripts provision Azure Search and Redis cache provider and so I decided to get hands dirty with PowerShell.

After few attempts to change the scripts, I decided to go for an alternative approach:

  1. Take CM scripts and the CM web deploy packages, pretty standard…
  2. Remove all the Configs that relate to Azure Search in the CM package and repackage the webdeploy and upload on Azure Storage
  3. Make a power shell script to remove: Azure Search, Redis Cache Provider, CD WebApp
  4. Happy days with a cheap Sitecore dev environment running on an Azure WebApp

Changing the CM web deployment package is a trivial task just unzip the CA package and change the configs as you wish, in my case disabling these ones and enabling the equivalent ones for Lucene…

  • Sitecore.ContentSearch.Azure.DefaultIndexConfiguration
  • Sitecore.ContentSearch.Azure.Index.Core
  • Sitecore.ContentSearch.Azure.Index.Master
  • Social/Sitecore.Social.Azure.Index.Master
  • Sitecore.Social.Azure.IndexConfiguration
  • Sitecore.ListManagement.Azure.Index.List
  • Sitecore.ListManagement.Azure.IndexConfiguration
  • Sitecore.Marketing.Azure.Index.Master
  • Sitecore.Marketing.Azure.IndexConfiguration
  • Sitecore.Marketing.Definitions.MarketingAssets.Repositories.Azure.Index.Master
  • Sitecore.Marketing.Definitions.MarketingAssets.Repositories.Azure.IndexConfiguration

In regard the power shell script, it is also very simple since it use just Azure Resource manager commands and it looks like that…


$Name = "DevResGroup";

$redisserviceName = "$Name-redis";		
$searchserviceName = "$Name-as";
$cdserviceName =  "$Name-cd";
$cdPlanserviceName =  "$Name-cd-hp";

 #Deleting Redis Cache
Remove-AzureRmRedisCache -Name $redisserviceName -ResourceGroupName $Name
 #Get Search service and store it in $resource
$resource = Get-AzureRmResource `
    -ResourceType "Microsoft.Search/searchServices" `
    -ResourceGroupName $Name `
    -ResourceName $searchserviceName `
    -ApiVersion 2015-08-19
#Deleting your service will delete all indexes and data in the service
$resource | Remove-AzureRmResource

#Deleting your CD WebApp
Remove-AzureRmWebApp -Name $cdserviceName -ResourceGroupName $Name

#Deleting your CD WebApp Service Plan
Remove-AzureRmAppServicePlan  -Name  $cdPlanserviceName -ResourceGroupName $Name

Sitecore 8.2 on Azure PAAS

As you have probably already heard, Sitecore 8.2 is “finally” fully suporting Azure PAAS

In practical terms since the Update 1 version Sitecore is shipping the full platform on Azure to run in PAAS mode and it is officially supporting it.


New building blocks of your PAAS deployment model will be:

  • Content Delivery servers on Web Apps (Azure App Service) – it means autoscaling + Application Insight
  • Azure Redis Cache for Session State Provider
  • Azure Search as distributed Search Provider
  • XDB – is still not fully supported in native PAAS mode, but you can provision it on MLAB or in IAAS mode on your VM – Note that Document DB x Mongo is not supported
  • SQL Azure – Master -Core-Web + reporting DB
  • Content Management as a different Azure App Service
  • Processing & Reporting as a different Web Apps or consolidated in the CM role

What has drastically changed? – Logs management now it is part of Application Insight, support for Azure Redis for the Session State Provider, Azure Search is now recommended instead of SOLR.

How do I deploy Sitecore on Azure?

Sitecore reccomend you also the Sizes to run Sitecore on PAAS

My personal recommendation having played with it is to go definitively with Update 3 or a following version and not to use the Azure Market Place to provision your production environment.