Digital Experience Government Must #3: Implementing Personalization
by Dan Katz
Personalization for Government: Where to Start
The first steps of creating a personalization strategy involve observing your users and collecting basic user data. If you can find out basic demographic information, and a basic browsing history (both on your site and across the web), then you’ll start to understand not only what types of people are visiting your website, but why. Once you have enough background information, you can start to implement some personalization initiatives, like AB testing. This involves making a simple modification of an element or elements from any given web page and tracking user behavior given the two different test elements - ‘A’ and ‘B’. The elements could be things like different headlines, or different calls-to-action, which you’ll measure against each other to see which is more effective. Effectiveness is measured by number of actions taken, and AB testing will help you determine which action - A or B - will be more effective.
The other keys to introducing personalization are segmentation and profiling. This sounds a little scary to some people in government, but a lot of that has to do with a misunderstanding of what those terms mean in this context. Profiling and segmentation are simply ways to group like users so that they are aligned by behaviors and other defining characteristics. Let’s say, for example, that you have a group of users coming to your site from Washington DC. You see that they’re coming from the DC area, so that may become a geographic segment that you identify. Maybe you want to further narrow that segment down to users that are coming from DC AND have a .gov domain. That may be a segment of users that you can safely determine are government employees, given their defining information. You can also segment users based on behavior, either off-site or on, which tells you what content and information they’re looking for. If you’ve got content on your site that you’ve worked with your development team to align with taxonomy or to a categorization of different types of audience interests, it’s nice to be able to see a certain group of users looking at that specific content - especially when it’s the right group of users!
The other aspect of personalization that’s important here is tying in information about users from other sources. Information collected online comprises one data set, but you may also have data collected from in-person interactions, or through call center conversations. Being able to merge all of these different data sets into one database will help you make the most of your personalization strategy.
The ultimate goal here is to collect and use customer data to inform how you build the citizen experience. The more information you can collect, the more personalization you can apply, and the happier your users will be.
Citizen Personalization in Action Today
The State of New York homepage is a great example of personalization on a government website. If you go to their homepage, it actually shows you information that is specific to your geographic location in New York. If your browser can’t determine where you are physically, then you can type in your zip code for accurate details. While this is very basic personalization, it’s certainly a start. Once the State of New York homepage knows where you are, you’ll see things like jobs available or events happening in your area. It can also tell you whether the subway or rail system is having any issues.
The country of Aruba is another great personalization example. They have a tourism website that uses personalization based on the time of day you’re browsing. So depending on when you visit the site, you’ll see imagery that is consistent with the time of day wherever you are. Browsing at night? Maybe you’ll see a beautiful moonlit beach. Browsing in the morning? You might see a sunrise shining through some palm trees. It’s very subtle, but it’s a nice way to tailor the experience.
Personalization in Government: How to Implement
Government organizations that are considering making any changes to their digital experiences should consider personalization early on, during the discovery phase when you’re identifying the objectives of your project. If personalization is a priority, it needs to start from the very beginning. Utilizing a tool like Acquia Lift to track people’s behavior and collect user data is a great place to start, and from there you can plan and launch initial personalization initiatives.
It’s important to remember that personalization isn’t just a switch you can flip and forget about, it’s a practice that you have to engage in constantly. You need to continue monitoring user behavior on your site, and continue optimizing and re-optimizing content based on the behaviors you observe. The more you learn, the better you can personalize, and the more refined your citizen experience will become.
In the next post in this series on the New Digital Experience Government, I’ll explore Must #4: Omnichannel.