June 8, 2018
Make Personalization a Top Priority (But Make Sure You Do It Right)

It's true that most people on the Internet expect a personalized experience when they visit certain websites. But what level of personalization do they expect? It's funny that we continually say, "you have to offer a personalized experience," but we don't say what that really means. How personalized do you need to go?

In our 2018 Digital Priorities Survey, we found that 65% of organizations are planning to adopt or improve a personalization strategy for their web experiences. Most of these organization say that it's a key priority for the year.

But personalization is a tough strategy to implement. It's not just about having the right technology in place, as Dean Barker, Founder and Chief Strategist at Blend Interactive says, it's not that simple:

"Barker said that many companies think personalization is magic - implement technology and personalization just happens. But it's not that simple. You change content; you create the new content, identify what content applies to what audience, make sure you can identify the audience, and then hope you've changed it in the right way and not the wrong way."

Approaches to Implementing Personalization 

There are a few ways you can implement personalization; all rely on having the right technology. First, there's explicit personalization, where you know the person visiting your site and you have enough profile information on them to present a personalized experience.

Typically, you can do this if the person has signed up for something, maybe a download, or a monthly newsletter. The person could also have registered to get access to secure parts of your web experience. You can store profile information in a marketing automation solution, a CRM, or a CMS. A cookie might be placed on the person's computer, or an in-session token is set when the person logs in through a form. The more information you have on the person, the more personalized experience you can provide.

Another option is implicit personalization. In this case, you don't know the person visiting the site, but you are tracking their clickstream and can get some basic information from their browser (geolocation), allowing you to personalize the experience to some degree.

Before you decide on the type of personalization you want to do, consider what your visitors might want or expect. Here are a few things to consider (you can read more of them here):

  • Don't personalize just for the sake of personalizing the experience. Without a plan including objectives and measurement, you are wasting your time.
  • Don't try to personalize to everyone. You can set up some basic content targeting without much effort but for an in-depth personalization strategy focus on a key segment (s) of your prospects.
  • Don't over-personalize. You can't personalize the entire web page or website. Know which elements of a page you want to personalize and focus on these areas.
  • Keep the visitor's context in mind. Find the stage in the buyer's journey where personalization is more important and focus your efforts there.

Once you have your strategy clear, then you can start thinking about what you need for technology and if your current CMS supports your plans. 

The Struggles Come in Many Forms

For those already doing some level of personalization, they rate their ability to do it well at an average of 4.5 out of 10.  The challenges to doing personalization well come in many sizes. In our Digital Priorities survey, we asked about challenges; here's what the respondents said:

Q: What challenges do you face in implementing personalization?


The two challenges that topped the list go hand-in-hand: internal resources and developing the right strategy. Most internal resources are familiar with their CMS technology and what it can do, but they don't always understand how to translate business requirements into functional and technical requirements best.

If you don't have a customer experience analyst who maps the customer journey, identifying touch points and expectations, then you should consider bringing someone in to help. You'll also need a content strategist to help identify the content needed and to develop it to enable personalization.

No Personalization is Better Than Bad Personalization 

One thing that you should understand is that it's better to have limited or no personalization than to create a bad personalized experience. If you go too far, people will think it's creepy, and if you make a mistake and offer the wrong content or ads or other information, you won't see the conversion you expect. You have to be consistent in how you track information for personalization, and you have to use it consistently.

A final thing to keep in mind is the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If you are serving customers in the EU, you must adhere to the guidelines for privacy, and be very clear what information you track and how you use it to improve the visitor's experience. 

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