Optimization glossary

Website personalization

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What is website personalization?

Website Personalization is the process of creating customized experiences for visitors to a website. Rather than providing a single, broad experience, website personalization allows companies to present visitors with unique experiences tailored to their needs and desires.

Personalization is by no means a new concept. Waiters will often greet repeat customers and refer to them by name, even knowing what their “usual order” is. Shopkeepers can use visual cues to provide personalized experiences—an exhausted looking couple with three children probably wants to get what they came for and be on their way, while a single person slowly browsing the aisles might be interested in some chit-chat. The point is, in the offline world, personalization is so common, it can go unnoticed.

Website personalization attempts to use data to take that same level of one-on-one attentiveness and translate it into the digital world:

  • Online retailers can provide targeted offers to shoppers based on browsing behavior.
  • Travel sites can present visitors with promotions based on the current weather or season.
  • News and other media outlets can surface specific videos to viewers based on where they live.

Why website personalization is important

Consumers expectations have shifted to the point that people expect a personal digital experience that mirrors the typical level of personalization they receive offline. Many have grown accustomed to personalized experiences from their news feed, social network, and shopping recommendations. In fact, expectations have risen so high that companies who want to improve their products are changing their strategy to address this need directly. Many business and technology leaders name personalization as a top commerce technology investment priority.

The challenges of website personalization

For many industries — especially those that have existed for far longer offline than online — translating personalization to the digital world is challenging. It’s understandable that many retail, travel and media companies have struggled to bring the same level of personalization present in their in-person experience to their offline marketing. Some of the typical challenges include:

  • An over-abundance of non-actionable data. Companies have an abundance of data, but cannot use it to personalize digital experiences because it’s siloed in different systems.
  • Knowing who to personalize for. Even if they know which audiences are valuable, companies often don’t have a scalable way to target specific messages to those audiences. Content is locked up in a content management system and controlled by developers, while visitor data is not available for targeting in real time.
  • Measuring the impact of personalization. Even if they can target personalized content to valuable audiences, companies often lack a direct way to measure the aggregate impact of that portfolio of personalized content across their site over time.

How is website personalization accomplished

Advances in technology can directly resolve many of the above challenges. To be truly effective, website personalization requires several strategies seamlessly working together:

  • Discovering Audiences. This can be done by targeting visitors in real time based on the actions they take on your site (browsing children’s clothing, searching for trips to London, watching videos about a political campaign) as well as what you know about them with dynamic customer profiles (past behavior, stated preferences).
  • Planning experiences. If you understand your visitors, you can create compelling on-site experiences tailored to specific audiences that appeal to them. Doing so requires you you to elegantly manage the scale and complexity of those personalized experiences.
  • Continuous measurement and improvement. You should constantly measure the return on your Website Personalization investment. Not every personalized experience will resonate, so it’s important to always understand how these experiences are performing and adjust accordingly.