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Four Simple Steps to Get Started with Website Personalisation

One of the most noticeable digital trends in recent years has been the evolution of customer expectations. Today, for example, 73% of website users want a personalised experience and tailored suggestions based on previous interactions and 56% expect to find whatever they need from a company in three clicks or less.

The standard for online experiences is constantly being raised and just one exceptional customer experience is enough to reset the bar.

So, what can local government marketers do to help citizens find what they are looking for and meet their expectations? The answer lies in personalisation and the good news is there’s a simple way of achieving it...through site search.


Written by

2 December 2021

What is Website Personalisation?

Personalisation gathers up all the signals and data that a user sends online to deliver a unique digital experience that is tailored to their needs. But a lot of governments have limited resources, not only to invest and update systems but also to train their staff.

Many marketers think of personalisation as complex and complicated but it doesn't have to be. In this post, we’ll explain how you can implement simple and low-cost steps to start your personalisation journey for your government website using site search.

What is Site Search?

Site search is the functionality on your website that allows citizens to quickly find answers to their inquiries within the large volumes of content that your site contains. In a nutshell, it enables your citizens to search for any information or services instead of having to dig through hundreds of pages or reach out to your team for help.

With site search, you present an option beyond the main website navigation that gives citizens a way to find the information they are looking for. Government websites contain a lot of information and with new content constantly being added, a search engine is necessary to help users navigate with ease.

The Importance of Site Search For Government Websites

Site search and personalisation have continued to rise in popularity over the past few years. Organisations around the world are trying to emulate giants who have mastered search personalisation such as YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix. And we know why – advanced personalisation reports a $20 return for every $1 spent.

You are in the public sector though. You are not trying to sell more toasters or get more views on your TV series. So why should you care what YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix are doing?

Provide a Frictionless Online Experience

The common denominator of all of these giants and the key to their success is that their websites provide a seamless experience. Each of these sites knows what they want their users to do and in order to get them to do it, they have created a journey that is as frictionless as possible.

Think about the last time you ordered something on Amazon. Did you browse through the categories? Probably not. There are simply too many products and it would take you too long to find what you wanted. You went straight to the search bar and typed in a term that described what you wanted to purchase.

Implementing site search on your government website is a low-cost and low-risk project with high return activity, helping your citizens get what they want faster. This increases self-service and frees up resources that would otherwise be needed if those citizens had to call up or visit your office.

How Site Search Improves User Experience

The information that your site search gathers provides you with unmatched user insights that allow you to improve all aspects of your site content from language to user journeys.

Understanding Your Citizens’ Language

Site search opens up the window into your citizens’ minds. You start to understand how they describe your services and the terms they use to search for the information they want.

How does this help you? Once you understand how your citizens talk you can communicate with them using language that resonates with them.

In government, you often have your own vernacular and use particular words for services that your citizens might not use or understand. But you have thousands of citizens coming to your website, essentially voting on how something should be named.

You can use this information to provide a better experience for citizens, through updated copy and targeted campaigns.

Understanding User Intent

Site search quickly highlights where users are experiencing issues on your website.

For example, Wellington City Council noticed that they had large numbers of seemingly random searches on their website. People were searching for a random string of nine-digit numbers, getting no results and then leaving.

Were they bots? Hackers? No. They were just citizens searching for the nine-digit serial number on their parking ticket.

This helped Wellington City Council realise that people were landing on their site but didn’t immediately understand where they needed to go to pay for their parking tickets.

This information was used to improve user experience on the site by making the area for paying parking tickets more clearly accessible.

Improving User Journeys

Think about some of the services your site provides, such as applying for a licence or keeping citizens informed of rubbish collection dates.

You might start to notice patterns in the journeys users take on your website, based on the information they are searching for. These kinds of patterns are something you want to look out for so you can eliminate any friction and make the user experience seamless all the way through.

You may also notice that there are certain steps that create hurdles. You can create a better user experience by developing content around what to do in that step or by simply improving the user interface so it is more intuitive.

4 Steps To Start Using Site Search for Personalisation

So, you know you want to get started with personalisation. But how do you set yourself up for success? Here are four key steps for using site search to start your personalisation journey.

Step 1: Identify key personalisation metrics

The first step in ensuring a successful personalisation strategy is knowing what metrics you want to measure (and how you will measure them).

You aren't jumping into personalisation because it's a hot trend or to be able to tell everyone that you are doing it. You are implementing personalisation to save your team time and provide a better digital experience for citizens.

Start by understanding what metrics you want to measure. Think about what challenges you’d most like to impact. Do you want to reduce calls to your automated telephone service? Do you want to increase the number of return users? Do you want to ensure that everyone knows how to pay for their parking ticket?

Next, you need to determine where that data is. In most cases, Google Analytics is a great place to start, it gives you access to a huge amount of data about your site. However, you may also need to reach out to your IT team to gather more information.

From there you can start thinking about how you could impact those metrics. Keep track of your success and don't be disheartened if your first effort does not deliver the results you hoped for.

Step 2: Get Users To Identify Themselves

For personalisation to be successful you need to know who your users are. It doesn't need to be difficult or costly to segment your users – the simplest trick is to ask them to segment themselves.

You can ask users who they are when they land on your site and this will then help you deliver personalised content for them specifically. For example, a visitor to your local area who searches for “park” will have different intentions to a business owner doing the same search. They are looking for information that is relevant to them and their context. The visitor might want to know about parks and recreational spaces to enjoy. Meanwhile, the business owner is more likely looking for car parking spaces for themself or their staff.

When you ask your users to identify and segment themselves you can then deliver personalised content accordingly. You can place certain content at the top of the search results based on user segments and their assumed intent behind the search.

This is a great way to keep personalisation simple. It still has a big impact but is easy to implement and a great way to start.

Step 3: Get Content Up To Scratch

Your next step is making sure the content you are serving up in your personalised search results is up to scratch. Once you direct a user to a page or piece of content, ask yourself; can they easily engage with that content or service?

Are you giving your users the freedom to undertake self-service? The effort of personalisation has been to get them to the content they need, but if that content is not useful or user friendly, then your personalisation efforts were for nothing.

If you don't have great content your personalisation will not impact your primary metric. You will have directed users to where you want them to go, but they will then drop off due to the friction that your content creates.

Step 4: Analyse and Improve

The last step in setting yourself up for personalisation success is analysing and improving.

You picked a metric to measure so you need to monitor it. If things aren't improving as you expected, assess the actions you have taken and try to find an area that can be further improved.

Your search platform should be fast and simple for your admins to make changes to. For example, you may want to experiment with putting a specific search result in the top position for a search term for a specific segment. Something you should be able to do easily. You can then monitor the effects this has and continue to ask yourself different questions, such as are more people clicking on this result? Or are people scrolling past it and abandoning the search altogether?

To Sum Up

Site search can help you understand where your citizens are encountering problems and then remove the friction. By implementing site search, you get unparalleled insights into user intent and language that can help you identify where the biggest issues are on your website and start implementing personalized search results that provide a more seamless experience for your users.

And for more on this topic, check out our on-demand webinar, Personalising Search Results for Local Government.


Written by

2 December 2021

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