As a marketer, if you’ve ever struggled with developing an online presence that speaks to ‘everyone’, you might be familiar with the worry that you’re missing the mark.
It’s a problem of casting the net too wide. A generic presence that speaks to everyone but connects with no one can be just as detrimental to your marketing as focusing too narrowly on the wrong audience. But what if you didn’t need to strike a balance?
Website personalization offers a way of presenting the right content at the right time and to the right audience – and it isn’t magic.
What is website personalization?
Website personalization is the process of presenting different versions of a website in order to create a unique experience, with relevant content for each of your website visitors.
By catering closer to the specific needs and desires of your users, you are more likely to lower the bounce rate of your website, improve conversion rates, and ultimately increase your bottom line.
Why does it matter?
Executed correctly, web personalization has the potential to significantly enhance user satisfaction and customer experience, leading to improved user loyalty and increased conversions, which can benefit the business in the long run.
Research has found that 80% of brands experience an uplift in engagement and sales once they start implementing a personalized website.
Moreover, since Amazon first introduced the ‘Customers who bought this also bought’ feature in 1999, users now expect personalization in their online experiences. An estimated 91% of customers are more likely to remain loyal to brands that serve them with relevant offers.
What are the benefits of website personalization?
Website personalization offers many benefits for both the business doing it and its end-users:
- Higher engagement: when users are presented with content that caters to their preferences and requirements, they have a tendency to spend longer periods on the website and revisit it more frequently.
- Better recommendations: providing the user with recommendations that are more relevant to their interests can lead to a rise in business conversions.
- Increased conversions: showing CTAs that align better with users’ personal buying journey can increase the likelihood that they will convert.
Where to start with website personalization?
The first step of a good website personalization strategy is to know your users. The more you know your audience, the more effective your personalization will be.
While you cannot realistically personalize your content for each and every user, you can however group them into segments of users who share common affinities and would enjoy the same personalized web experience.
Start with user data
Dig into your CRM and conversations with your customers to start building an overall picture of your target audience(s).
Here are a few questions to want to answer during your research:
- What are the different types of customers that I serve? Are all your customers one and the same, or do they belong to different demographic groups (i.e. students, stay-at-home mums, etc)
- What motivates my users to take action? Also called “job-to-be-done”, we are looking for the intrinsic motivation of your users.
- What are my users’ expectations? Do they all expect the same service, or are some looking for a more budget/premium/etc experience?
- What is my users’ LTV (Lifetime Value)? Not every customer is worth the same, therefore it’s usually best to focus your personalization efforts on the more lucrative users.
Each question should help you allocate users to a specific audience that you can then serve with personalized content.
You can also use data provided by your website to further segment your different audiences based on their behavior:
- Geo-location: segmenting your users based on their location can make a lot of sense if their location is an intrinsic factor influencing their expectations or behavior. For example, a university will display different content recommendations on their website to foreign students who expect more information about accommodation and support from the university.
- Device type: Understanding what devices your users are on helps you prioritize your web development efforts (i.e., mobile phone vs desktop) and distribute content more tailored to the specific tasks they try to achieve with each device. A university student using a mobile device is more likely to look for “on-the-go” information (i.e. campus map, library hours, etc) rather than browse the library website to read a specific paper.
- Traffic source: the referring channel of a visit can help you determine the type of content you should serve to a user. For example, paid traffic is typically geared toward content that drives conversions (i.e. sign up to a course).
- Events: Visitor interactions like clicks and pageviews can help you understand what a user is interested in on your website. For example, a visitor who regularly visits the Law faculty website of a university would likely benefit from Law content in other parts of the website, such as the library website or association pages.
- Search: search can dramatically improve your understanding of users since they type directly into your search engine to find specific information.
- External triggers: The weather or time of the year can also help you segment your users in unexpected ways. For example, bad weather planned for the weekend can force your users to look for indoor activities on your local council website. The Summer holidays around the corner might instead incentivize them to look for rental opportunities on your website. In both cases, pushing relevant personalized content on the homepage can help your users get to the answers they are looking for faster.
- Self-selection: Perhaps the easiest type of personalization to achieve, your website can give users the option to select a ‘profile’ type (i.e. ‘I am a student/uni staff/alumni’) at the top of your website to automatically display relevant information to that user type and a tailored website navigation.
What can you personalize on a website?
It’s possible to create entirely personalized experiences for your users across a range of aspects of your website.
- Text: Perhaps the most basic form of personalization - displaying different text blocks based on the user’s persona. Marketers do this all the time for their landing page headlines, depending on the type of ad the user clicked on.
- Imagery: Images can help a user confirm that the content on the page is indeed addressed to them. For example, images that match the demographics of the user (i.e. business attire people for an executive or director user segment) will improve the relevance of the page to them.
- Navigation: No need to show your entire website navigation to every user. Instead, just show them what they are most likely to be interested in.
- Data: Similar to text personalization, data personalization takes it one step further by showing relevant dynamic content to the user. For example, when a user signs up into a customer portal, he is served content that is only relevant to her (i.e. their personal information, recent service order, etc)
- Fonts and layout: In some cases, users are sensitive to on-page design personalization. People with poor eyesight might want to increase the font size, or tech users might want to use the dark mode of your website.
- CTA’s: You can personalize the Call To Action (CTA) on your website in many different ways. For instance, you can adapt your message to where users are in their buying journey to maximize conversion.
- Product recommendations: Typically used (but not limited to) on e-commerce websites, product recommendation widgets help guide prospective customers toward relevant products and solutions they are most likely to purchase, based on their profile, the history of their visit, product data (i.e. price, availability, etc) and other factors.
Website personalization examples
Check out the example journey below. Griffith University uses a simple personalization decision tree to help visitors find the information most relevant to them.
- I am a...: Visitors identify themselves among different user segments.
- I'm interested in...: users are asked where they are in their studies.
- Where would you like to study?: users are asked about the specific campus of interest.
Results: Visitors can view their personalization filters and easily go back a step, while relevant information is surfaced immediately.
What are the challenges of personalization?
The biggest risk of website personalization is to offer a poor experience that ends up alienating users.
65% of customers report that a single bad personalized experience is enough for them to swear off a brand – even if they really value the product/service. This is why it’s so important to get it right.
Incorrect data is the most common reason of personalization failure.
We’ve all received at some point an automatic email with an incorrect - or worse! - placeholder name in the header, looking like ‘Hi, [name]!’. How did you feel?
Bad website personalization provides the same sour taste in the mouth of your users, instantly breaking down any feeling of a relationship between them and your brand.
Not all your customer data lives in the same place. Doing personalization with some data missing can lead to an uneven experience for your users.
Typically, a Customer Data Platform (CDP) bridges the gap between all your data sets, giving you the big picture of all the interactions of your users with your website. A CDP will notably help you to:
- Share and act on data from various sources ‘invisibly’, while your customer is interacting with your website
- Scale your personalization and create a seamless user experience, and
- Eliminate the risk of jarring miscommunications that stem from bad personalization.
Can you “over-personalize” your experience?
If you pursue a complete and absolute personalization approach, only presenting users with tailored content, you risk blinkering them from content, products or services that they haven’t considered yet.
Human beings are unpredictable in many ways. Treating them as purely predictable by nature can risk creating siloed and limited digital experiences.
So, how do you strike the right balance with personalization?
The key is to keep ‘user agency’ as your north star and conduct user research to ensure your digital experiences promote it. Do people feel in control of their experience with you, or do they feel like they are being manipulated by your personalization?
Personalization can be easier said than done.
From a technical perspective, even simple personalization implementations can become a challenge, especially once you scale to thousands of users and multiple concurring personas to serve.
Content-wise, it can also be difficult and exhausting to create the same content for multiple user segments.
So, how can you overcome this challenge?
Start small and with a clear goal in mind. It’s easy to overcomplicate things and think we can personalize content for dozens of personas. Focus your personalization efforts on your most lucrative user segments to produce results and build momentum quickly.
Measuring the impact of your website personalization is a challenge if you don’t have enough data, your tracking isn’t optimized or you don’t have the time or resources to effectively manage your personalization.
The best way to start measuring the results of your personalization is by splitting your focus between short-term metrics and long-term KPIs.
Short-term metrics include information about engagement and user behavior, giving you signs that your personalization efforts are going in the right direction. Long-term KPIs instead focus on business results, such as an increase in sales, giving you hard data on the effectiveness of your website personalization.
What tools are best for website personalization?
There are several simple, yet powerful, personalization tools already built into the platform that can enable marketers to implement personalization at varying levels of complexity, from trigger-based to connected and insightful.
- Content: Some CMS come with built-in personalization capabilities, and can store personas and traits through cookies to deliver content personalization directly on the page.
- Search: search is a great place to start personalization. Surface the most relevant information that your users are looking for to increase engagement.
- CDP: for more advanced marketers, a Customer Data Platform enables you to orchestrate personalized content to individual users at scale based on their personal profile.
What’s the future of website personalization?
With technologies like AI rapidly shifting expectations and capabilities across the website personalization tools landscape, there is now an opportunity to go even further and build a two-way dialogue between you and your existing customers. Major platforms like Salesforce are quickly incorporating and expanding their use of AI to boost the usability and capabilities of their software.
What’s certain is that it’s only going to get easier for marketers and brands to build relationships with customers through AI – from sophisticated chatbots to the simple backend management of website personalization.