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Personalization - before you begin

Most websites can benefit from personalization in one way or another. But there are some things you should consider before you jump in and rethink the way users interact with your website.
Personalization can be a very powerful tool to drive the bottom line of your digital business. This can mean different things to different websites. An ad driven revenue model will benefit from more pageviews per session, a lead generation site will benefit from faster and more conversions and so on. Depending on the model you’ll need a different strategy to hit your goals. Let’s find out how we can discover what you need for your site(s).

What is personalization?

This article goes a little deeper into personalization and contextualization. Basically it’s about using the right data points at the right time in the right place. Personalization is all about creating an engaging experience where visitors feel unique. It’s supporting the visitor in his user journey towards conversion. Don’t make this too invasive as people will be scared away if you push them too much. They still need to feel they are in control of their own destiny.

Personalization is a journey, not a goal in itself. It will demand more from your digital marketing team. It's not “set it and forget it”, you will need to create a culture to drive you ongoing digital engagement, learn from it and constantly evolve.

What isn’t?

Personalization is not about remarketing. It’s about the engaging experience you create on your own digital properties. You own the conversion responsibility. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon remarketing, they can work side by side. Knowing a person came back to the site referred by a remarketing banner can be valuable information to personalize and guide them to a conversion.
Personalization is not the answer to all of your conversion problems. You still need to have a solid strategy for your website. More about that later.
Last but not least, it is not a replacement for your entire marketing team! They will still have to drive the strategy based on sound marketing knowledge.

Common pitfalls

There are some common pitfalls to personalization you should be aware of.

  • Be conscious about not creating a filter bubble. You might end up narrowing the site too much and alienate people. There is still joy in discovering the website by yourself.
  • Personalization is about metrics. The same way you measure success, you should measure how personalization impacts your goal. If it doesn’t help, ditch it and try something new.
  • If you don’t have content to personalize, there is no point in doing it. You might want to use the budget to work on your content, it will have a bigger impact.
  • On the other hand, don’t focus on content alone. Personalization can also be about experience.
  • It should be non-invasive, visitors should not feel like a cash cow on the website.
  • Marketing should drive strategy and product selection, not you IT department.
  • Don’t overdo it! Less is more.
  • Don’t lose user context between different systems. If users have to move off the website, make sure you keep their context so you can leverage there too. Or you can start thinking about a unified platform.
  • Not all of your sites needs personalization.
  • Use a system where you own the data.

Riddle me this

Before you get all excited and jump in head first, let’s answer these 4 questions first. It will make you think about how personalization can help you.

Why?

Why do we need to personalize? Is there a business KPI mandating this? This will help to get buy-in when you have to get the budget. Don’t personalize for the sake of personalizing or just because everyone is doing it. There should be a clear business goal behind it, this will ultimately drive your strategy.
For example one of the goals could be to increase lead capturing on the website. There are different roads that lead to success. If you don’t have an easy to use website, start solving that. If no one finds your website, start with that. If people come to your site on the mobile device and it’s not responsive yet...well you get my point. Personalization will only help if your website has a solid base to start from.

Who?

This is basically a traditional marketing question. Who is your target audience? Chances are you used personas to create the information architecture of your current website. Personalization will allow you to dynamically discover the persona of the visitor based on their behavior.
If you don’t have those, you can look into the target audience you defined in your traditional marketing strategy. The only question there to ask is if they are still relevant in a digital world.
Other ways of coming up with audience segments is ‘good ole’ marketing research’.
Of course the digital world will give us a lot of options and tools to segment and personalize on different user contexts where traditional marketers can only dream of. We can now have realtime info about their location, device, weather, browsing behavior, … Be sure to think outside of the box when defining segments and personalization rules.

What?

Let’s now think about what you would like to personalize. One basic question to ask is: “will personalization help this page?” Will it help our KPI we defined as measurement for success.
What could drive the bottom line? How can we create a more engaging brand experience online?
What data do we need to be able to personalize? What data do we need to track during the user journey to be able to give the visitor the most engaging experience?
Do we actually need to personalize or can a better UX yield the same results? Can content marketing help?

How?

This should be the last question you ask. Define your goals first, then find the right technology that will enable you to achieve yours. Don’t choose a technology that will limit you in your personalization and contextualization options. Your personalization strategy should not be driven by technology! Of course technology will help you by giving you more tools and data to create an engaging experience, but don’t put yourself into a corner. Make sure the technology is flexible and extensible to fit your needs. Every website will need to capture different data points for every visitor. Future-proof it.

Crawl-walk-run

As with everything, start slow and take it step by step, learn along the way. Keep innovating and testing new ways to engage with your customers. They demand it.
One last thing: make sure it's easy to use. Well integrated with your CMS so non-technical marketers can, and will use it. The easier it is, the more they will experiment and the more you will learn about your visitors.

Good luck!

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