Website Personalization Strategy: Where and How to Get Started
It’s often said that design without consideration for user experience is little more than decoration. Similarly, with marketing technology, website personalization without a strategy is little more than a gimmick.
Website personalization delivers targeted content to your website’s visitors based on factors like their behavior or demographics. It enables you to provide more relevant, personal experiences on your website that better engage your audiences. But website personalization must be used in thoughtful ways, otherwise, it won’t be effective.
More and more organizations are selecting website platform or content management vendors based on their personalization capabilities. These features are a significant part of the sales pitch, especially for enterprise-level platforms. However, once an organization picks the vendor and launches its website, these personalization features often collect dust because they have no clear application out-of-the-box.
Worse, some organizations use them haphazardly as a proof of concept or to justify this large purchase. But they’re not deployed in a way that helps the business accomplish any of its goals.
Marketing technology like personalization is often launched as a transformational solution to an unclear problem. Or it’s used to address a problem people aren’t necessarily looking to solve. Similar transformational solutions include:
The Segway: The Segway promised to revolutionize personal transportation with its unique design, but it failed to gain widespread adoption because people didn’t see a practical daily application for it.
The iPad: The iPad was launched with great fanfare as a more portable alternative to the MacBook. But it took several years to find its place among Apple’s products since most users didn’t see why they would use it instead of their iPhone or laptop. Eventually it found footing as an educational and entertainment device for younger audiences when its pricing became more accessible.
For many organizations, website personalization technologies represent the ‘shiny object’ their C-level executives fixate on. And while it’s encouraging to have top-down buy-in for this investment, it’s hazardous to launch personalization without a true business strategy. If you run it without a strategy, you risk wasting time and money on personalization that doesn’t solve your audiences’ problems. And if it doesn’t help your audiences, it certainly won’t help your organization achieve its goals.
So, if you’re considering personalization for your organization's website, we recommend starting with these strategic principles:
1. Align to Your Business Goals
When considering personalization, we recommend revisiting your business goals to understand how your website users' behavior impacts them. From there, count the behaviors that have direct impact on the health of your business. These are the digital goals that need to be documented by your organization.
If you’re a subscription-based SaaS (software-as-a-service) company with a goal to increase paid subscribers by 30% year over year, what barriers to subscription on the website could be solved through personalization?
You could easily implement personalization to change your website header with photography from a visitor’s region. But that tactic doesn’t generate new subscribers—and it doesn’t align with the SaaS business model. A more business-aligned personalization would be remembering where a visitor abandons the sign-up flow and launching a modal to remind them to finish their sign-up process when they return to the website.
Personalization isn’t just a means to hasten conversion. It can be deployed solely for the purpose of creating a more comfortable and intimate digital experience between audiences and your brand, but it's still important to connect this to a specific organizational priority.
2. Consider Your Risk-Reward Proposition
If you’re not careful with your personalization, you risk getting it wrong. Personalization is an adaptive experience that provides a soft landing and clear path forward for users, while also accelerating their path to conversion. When your personalization technology or implementation is broken, it can be quite jarring for the user—and glaringly obvious that you’ve missed the mark.
The best personalized experiences are those that audiences don’t immediately recognize or remember as being unique to them. For instance, an Ecommerce apparel experience that asks you to select the gender you’re shopping for on your first visit to the site, can narrow the products it shows you by default on return visits. This is a very basic personalization tactic, but if launched errantly to the wrong customers or with the wrong set of rules, it could significantly impact on your conversions.
RunningWarehouse.com features this kind of personalization tactic, albeit only on your very first visit to the site. Running shoes and apparel are very personal purchases, and often the person on the website will be the person using the items. This type of gender/category segmentation is appropriate for running shoes and apparel, but you could imagine how it wouldn’t be appropriate in an Ecommerce experience where the buyer may be a gift-giver and not the item’s consumer.
3. Consider Your Behavioral Opportunity Segments
At its core, personalization is about segmentation. Your segments could be as simple as a user’s gender identification or geographic location. But often a brand’s largest opportunity segments are those of a specific user behavioral cohort, as in a group of users who have similar web behaviors.
Imagine the highest value behaviors or conversions on your website. It may be a form submission, a button click, an item added/abandoned in shipping cart, or any clearly tracked conversion-like event. How would you treat users who have completed that conversion vs. those who didn’t? If you could segment out all the users who have yet to complete the conversion goal, how would you customize the experience to encourage them? Similarly, how could you streamline the experience otherwise for those who have already completed a conversion and move them further down your marketing or lead generation funnel?
Personalization allows for an adaptive web experience that tailors the website to the needs of these behavioral segments. But understanding these segments often requires an audit of the high value behaviors in your digital experience and the sequence in which you want those events to occur in.
4. Personalization is Not Digital Individualization
Personalization is often wrongly conflated with individualization, a technique that requires a very rich data set to speak directly to each individual within a segment. The use of personalization tactics that surface excessive personal details of the user can feel intrusive and run afoul of privacy best practices. As we’ve seen at Velir, the traits or behaviors of a single user are typically not as actionable or scalable as defining a strategic approach to large segments of users who share those traits or behaviors.
At its best, website personalization is subtle, seamless, marketing tool that can build relationships with your audiences and gently accelerate their conversions. At its worst, it’s an easy way to alienate your audiences and impact your website’s conversions. So, it must be used thoughtfully, and based on a strategy that serves both your audiences and your organization’s needs.