How to Begin Personalizing Web Experiences

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Behind every organization’s Web site is a marketer that struggles every day with content chaos. Much of the chaos is rooted in the idea that you have to deliver a smorgasbord of fresh and relevant information that satisfies the needs of all site visitors. It’s a huge amount of work that places a burden on the marketers tasked with creating the content, and the site visitors who must sift through it all to find exactly what they’re looking for.

To step off of the never-ending content treadmill, marketers need to determine what motivates site visitors, and then take them on a planned content journey using personalization to target content to their specific needs and wants at every buying stage. This is how you create Web experiences that site visitors love. It means taking a more strategic approach to content creation, which is what we marketers prefer to do anyway. The effort is worth it though as it can have a dramatic impact on conversion rates, and gives marketers on average a 20% uplift in sales.

Given that fact, personalization arguably should be at the top of every marketer’s Web site strategy. So why isn’t it? Because knowing what needs to be done and actually doing it are two very different things.

What’s stopping marketers at the starting gate?

  • Complexity—personalized content strategies just sound complex. For many, this perceived complexity makes it a nonstarter.
  • Insufficient technology—the organization has mission-critical systems and tools that don’t support personalization.
  • Scope—the organization has many personas and many products making project hurdles appear insurmountable.
  • Process management—personalization can require processes that span multiple departments making coordination difficult to manage.
  • Lack of knowledge—marketers understand the importance of personalization, but lack the know-how to do it.
    They don’t know how or where to start.
  • Resources/budget—the demands on marketing resources are too great and would deter from other strategic projects.
  • Sustainability—concerns with how to manage personalization over time.

Whatever the reason, it is simply no longer good enough. Marketers can’t afford to ignore the opportunity that is staring them in the face—e.g., that average 20% uplift in sales mentioned earlier. If the tactics that worked for you last year are no longer producing the same results, the time to incorporate personalization into your marketing strategy is now.

Where to begin in four easy steps.

Know your site visitors.
To drive meaningful interactions, you need to take into account information that you know about the people visiting your Web site. Are they prospects or customers? Partners or employees? Start by creating personas—or profiles—for each of the various site visitors you have. The more specific the better. Identify demographics, persona buying stages (awareness, consideration, evaluating, etc), the information visitors want at each buying stage, and key motivating factors.

Create content journeys.
Analytics will help you better understand what content matters most to each of your personas. Using analytics, marketers can gain deep insights and uncover trends that will help you create and deliver content more strategically. With that data in hand, it’s simple to map out and organize the content journeys you want each persona to take at each stage in the buying process, and create a targeted content plan that will keep them engaged.

Start small
The biggest obstacle to successfully delivering personalized Web content is really your own ambition. Marketers that see the value of personalization often feel they need to launch it site-wide with a big bang approach. Don’t fall into this trap. Start small. Start by delivering specific content to a specific persona in a specific buying stage on a specific page on your Web site.

Analyze and optimize as you go
Decide the metrics you will use to measure how well your personalized content resonates before you launch it on your site—percentage of time that it’s clicked on, for example. Metrics will help you better align your content with what your site visitor is looking for. Once you’ve measured performance and optimized where necessary, you can expand your content pathway for that persona by adding an additional piece of content. Once you’ve fully optimized an entire content journey for a specific persona, then you can move on to the next persona.

When comparing the Web site experiences of two organizations—one with personalization and one without—the experiences will be markedly different. The Web site without personalization will serve the same content every time, regardless of visitor behaviors, preferences, demographics, devices used, or geographic location. Site visitors will have to work to find the information that is specifically relevant to their interests which can be time consuming given the volume of content found on many Web sites. Their experiences will be solely determined by how good they are at finding the right content. In other words, their experience is completely out of your control.

On the other hand, the Web site that personalizes Web content to site visitors will anticipate their needs, and deliver exceptionally relevant content. That relevancy creates Web experiences that they will love, and that they will reward you for with brand loyalty and better outcomes. Which organization do you think site visitors are going to engage with when ready?

Web site personalization is meant to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. It is a major differentiator in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace. A well-executed personalization strategy can be extremely effective, and it’s not rocket science.

The keys to success are good content, good data, good technology, and a good strategy. And remember—start small, and optimize.

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