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Why Website Personalization Is Harder Than You Think

Over the past 3-5 years I’ve been hearing a lot about website personalization. I have battled a lot with personalization over the years, and to be honest, good personalization can be difficult to execute. I’ve taken some time to reflect on the difficulties of personalization, and have uncovered three main factors that make personalization challenging:

  1. Resources/Time
  2. Reporting
  3. Expectations from management

Resources and Time
Properly executing personalization on your website is hard and takes a lot of time. For example, let’s say we want to personalize a section of our homepage by audience. After we decide how we will target the audiences, we then need to ensure we have content for each audience. Once we have those two items completed, we need to know what our goal is so that we can track success against these personalized items. If you want to personalize a banner on your homepage, how would you measure a success event? By clicking on a button? Once you have determined all of those items, you then need to implement all of these things in a personalization tool. This could require a few days’ worth of work before you have personalization running on your site. Then, you need to leave it running for a length of time so it can gain statistically significant data before you can deem it successful. After the test has run for a while you will need to go in and evaluate your data and the results. This takes a lot of time.

The next phase is reporting, which will help you determine if personalization has improved your web content. Reporting can vary, as I’ve done tests that were straightforward and others where there was not enough definitive data to determine if the new personalized versions were successful over the default. So when you are determining goals for your new personalization campaign, what should take priority? Should it be more clicks? Click ratio to your audience? Navigation to other sections of your homepage? Or do you directly compare it to the default you are testing it against. The answer is: all of the above. (I didn’t say personalization would be easy!)

When I build out personalization campaigns I actually nest an A/B test within each personalization so that I can see if my personalization for each audience does better than the default. But this is where reporting gets tricky. Some tools can’t nest a test within a personalization, and even if the tool can do that, it can also add a lot of complexity to your reporting. Before you know it, you’re looking at audience success and A/B test results at once. It is a full time job to set up and report on personalization campaigns, and a lot of companies make the mistake of adding this task to someone’s current job responsibilities. Multi-tasking personalization won’t allow it to be successful in your business. Hire someone.

Expectations from Management
Once you hire someone to run personalization on your site, you also need to set expectations with your leadership team and co-workers on what you can and cannot be accomplished Some teammates think the solution to all arguments is “just test it” or “can’t we set up a website personalization campaign for this?” But personalization experts will know that most of the time, just running tests and campaigns isn't a possibility. Yes you can set up basic A/B tests to help solve some arguments, but personalization needs to have a larger strategy tied to it and you need to be able to target an audience. Defining how we do that is much more challenging than it sounds. Your target audiences should be set and defined up front with the larger team, and then these audiences can be recycled to make new campaigns move faster.

Additionally, set the expectation that personalization won’t drive traffic to the website, but that it will help keep quality traffic on your site longer. When dealing with personalization you need to look at a different set of metrics, one that your leadership team might not be accustomed to. You’ll need to help drive that new way of thinking. Have I convinced you that this is a full time job yet?!

All in all, personalization can be an important and exciting element of your site, but it is not as easy as it sounds. To properly execute personalization, you need to strategize, and build on the right foundation.


Posted on by Dennis (not verified).

Hey Katelyn,

Thanks for these helpful factors. They are very similar to project management tips which include using scope, resources and time. On top of that, I like how you added the management expectations because they are not always easy to meet.

Thanks for the great post.

Posted on by Reagan Maddox.

Hello Katelyn,

Thanks for sharing your insights on this matter. For me, before personalization takes there is an identification "user persona". Like for inbound marketing, marketers need to make sure that they are targeting the right "persona". After which, personalization comes in. Since marketers know the right audience to target they can create various marketing campaigns in order to cater the various needs of their user persona.

Thanks again.

- Reagan

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