How to Reap the Benefits of Website Personalization
Personalization - marketers have been talking about it for some time but, if we're honest with ourselves, do we really know what it means or entails to offer a personalized experience online? It's something that's often succumbed to the "too hard basket" but the desire for relevant and relatable experiences from our target audiences is going nowhere. It's an inherently human trait.
Personalized experiences can appeal to us for many reasons; from providing a sense of uniqueness and authenticity1, to offering a sense of control and an ability to make our own choices2. For Gen Z students – who have not only grown up with smartphones but are also entering higher education during a global pandemic – the search for control and authenticity will hold even greater importance.
What are the benefits of website personalization?
When it comes to making a business case for personalization, it’s easy to find compelling statistics that prove even the most simple forms of website personalization can significantly impact the customer experience (and, in turn, spending habits).
Students are customers too, and the case for personalizing the student experience is equally compelling:
- 64% of students listed ‘personalized attention pre-enrolment as a key influencing factor, when selecting a university.3
- 46% of students like to see their name and interests referenced in university emails, brochures and web content.4
- 27% of students say they will look at another website if they cannot easily find information that’s relevant for them on their school’s website.5
- ‘Low student engagement’ is the top barrier to students remaining enrolled in their institutions.6
A more personalized and engaging online experience can have a dramatic impact on both acquisition and retention. Providing students with a relevant, personalized experience will not only help them to feel recognised, valued and engaged, but it will also prevent them from switching to a competing college when researching study options.
Don’t stop now
As marketers, we already know all of the above; but fear of failure is very real. While the immediate impact of the pandemic saw many higher education institutions rise to the challenge and transform their student experiences overnight, the sense of urgency that led to fast, smart decisions has waned – and with that goes the appetite for tackling personalized student experiences.
In a post-lockdown world, where many universities and colleges have already successfully delivered a minimum viable online solution to ride out any future lockdowns, now is NOT the time to slow progress. If anything, digital expectations are now higher than ever, with more students opting for remote learning than ever before7 and institutions that harness technology to scale personalized student services reaping impressive enrollment rates.8
Just before the pandemic hit, a survey revealed that just 9% of marketers were actively implementing personalization.9 Those who weren’t personalizing cited several reasons, most of which fall into that ‘too hard basket’ we mentioned above. Even more worryingly, Gartner predicts that 80% of marketers who have invested in personalization will abandon their efforts by 2025.10
So, why are marketers stalling (or giving up on) website personalization at such a crucial tipping point?
Here are four of the most common myths we hear when it comes to website personalization (and why you should ignore them):
- Myth: “It requires a tech overhaul”. With more than 8,000 marketing technologies in existence11, it’s easy to see why tech FOMO can often send marketers into analysis paralysis. Combined with most higher education institutions citing reduced IT budgets12, an understandable fear is that any new personalization strategies will also require fancy new website personalization software.
Reality: you can start personalizing your existing website today. There are many different ways you can personalize student experiences… and at many different levels. At Squiz, we talk about the ‘walk, jog, run’ approach and the fact that there are simple changes you can make to your existing website, today, that will help to deliver a more targeted experience for students. Check out our on-demand webinar, Personalizing your Search Results, which outlines four simple steps to personalizing your college or university website.
- Myth: “My team must have the deep technical understanding to make it work”.
It follows that if a major concern with website personalization is needing new technology, that the next concern would be sourcing the skills to be able to exploit that new technology. In fact, technical skills have long been a sensitive issue for marketers with 74% worrying that a digital skills shortage will directly hinder their ability to meet customer expectations.13
Reality: this can be the case with some providers… but it doesn’t have to be. In a market where technical talent is hard to come by, marketers are right to be concerned about ease of implementation; however, choosing an intuitive solution, that can be easily managed by both technical and non-technical users is the simplest way to avoid this issue.
Squiz prides itself on its simple and intuitive interfaces, with its full range of solutions built on familiar technology that doesn’t require specialist skills. Matrix Personalization Framework is a free tool, available in Squiz Marketplace, that enables marketers to segment content and deliver basic website personalization instantly.
- Myth: “It has to be done at an individual level”.
Many marketers set unrealistic goals for personalization, amassing huge quantities of customer data that they often don’t even know how to put to use. According to Gartner VP and analyst, Jennifer Polk, one-to-one marketing is a misleading and unachievable notion; in her words: “you’re going to burn yourself out before you even see the finish line”.14
Reality: In an ideal world, everyone would receive a fully-personalized experience, but it’s not worth chasing that dream and achieving very little in the meantime. Some personalization is better than no personalization, and starting at a macro level – for example, prospective student, current student, staff member – will help you to better understand your web users and provide a starting point for tailoring your offerings.
- Myth: “It’s just too hard”.
The statistics speak for themselves and, as we’ve seen, the majority of marketers are in agreement on this one. Whether it’s a vendor overselling the ease of personalization tools or marketers themselves wanting to run before they can walk, it’s clear that many have found themselves left without the technology, resources or expertise to deliver on their personalization goals.
Reality: it’s not easy… but it is very much achievable! Personalization is simply all about understanding what outcomes you’re trying to influence and intercepting a visitor’s path as they move around your website. That process can be as complicated or as simple as your time and resources permit. To gain confidence (and win internal support), Squiz suggests starting by defining the highest points of impact and working on personalizing those first (a bit like “lead scoring”).
Start personalizing student experiences today
If you’d like to learn more about how Squiz can help you to start personalizing your student experiences, check out our previous blog posts, Stop Procrastinating, Start Personalising, and Creating a Connected Campus During the Pandemic, or request a demo today.
1. Feeling special, feeling happy: Authenticity mediates the relationship between sense of uniqueness and happiness, Selda Koydemir et al. (2018)
2. Consumer control and customization in online environments, Laura Frances Bright, (2012)
3. National Student Satisfaction Report 2019, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, (Aug 2019)
4. 2021 E-Expectations Trend Report, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, (2021)
5. Ruffalo Levitz (2021)
6. Driving Toward a Degree 2021: Engaging Students in a Post-Pandemic World, Tyton Partners, (June 2021)
7. Half of All College Students Take Online Courses, Inside Higher ED, (Oct 2021)
8. The Pandemic Pushed Universities Online. The Change Was Long Overdue., Harvard Business Review, (Sept, 2020)
9. Hyperpersonalization Strategies Report, Ascend2, (2019)
10. Why Gartner Thinks Most Marketers Will Abandon Personalization by 2025, CMSWire, (Mar 2020)
11. Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (2020)
12. EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: IT Budgets, 2020-21
13. Perpetual Evolution: The interplay of talent and technology in the future of marketing, Digital Marketing Institute, (Oct 2019)
14. CMSWire, (2020)
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