Jim Bowes, Innovation Director, shares top ten tips for creating a website personalisation strategy.
Website personalisation is a major talking point among digital marketers at the moment. Delivering personalised content, and tailoring the digital experience to individuals, not only delights users but can dramatically improve engagement, sign ups, sales or donations, and brand loyalty. But where do you start with creating personalised user journeys?
1. Set a clear vision
It sounds obvious, but before you jump into personalising content for users you need to know what it is you’re trying to achieve. Whether you’re looking to drive revenue through product sales, increase website donations or grow your email marketing lists, get the key stakeholders together to work out exactly what you’re trying to do and what the benefits to the business are. It’s crucial for gaining buy in and developing a shared understanding of what you’re setting out to do.
2. Put together the right team
It’s no good just putting some content editors and developers in a room and telling them to get on with it. To successfully create personalised experiences for your users you need input from a lot more people with a first-hand understanding of what those users need and how meeting their needs creates value for the business.
You might not be able to spare the time of salespeople, marketing staff or community managers to work on the project directly. But someone in the team should be tasked with representing these different stakeholders and bringing their insight into the project as early as possible.
3. Create personas
User personas are incredibly helpful for simplifying the task of personalisation. By representing groups of users with similar needs, these fictional characters help you tease out a manageable number of different users for whom to tailor experiences. It’s much better than trying to be all things to all users.
4. Map user journeys
For each combination of persona and goal, there might be multiple routes through your website. Each of these journeys needs to be mapped out in order to identify points where personalised content might better meet the needs of users, and speed them towards successful goal completion.
5. Select appropriate technology
This is where things start getting technical, and confusing. Some level of personalisation can be achieved with a good analytics package and the more advanced platforms which offer multivariate tests (for example, Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer). For more sophisticated personalisation techniques, such as those which incorporate behavioural targeting, you might need a dedicated personalisation platform which integrates with your CRM and CMSs, for example, Oracle Maxymiser or Acquia Lift for Drupal. You could even develop your own bespoke personalisation platform.
The sheer amount of choice when it comes to implementation is a key reason for setting a strong vision with clear objectives at the outset. It’ll help you concentrate on creating value for your business instead of getting side-tracked by bells and whistles.
Implementation specialists can advise on the best technologies for delivering website personalisation which helps meet your business goals. You can then focus on what should be done rather than what can be done, thereby avoiding mission creep.
6. Map content to user needs
The needs of users will vary depending on where in their journey they are. Rather confusingly, I’m not just talking about the journey at the level of the website, but at a macro level. Whatever you call them — sales funnels, conversion funnels, supporter journeys — the path of your users from initial touch point to goal completion can be significantly eased by content that serves their very particular needs at each point along the way.
For example, a user visiting your site for the first time might be well-served by a landing page that explains who you are and what you do. For a return visitor who has already expressed interest, links to customer testimonials or case studies may be more apt. These are the kinds of tests that well implemented personalisation technology can help you conduct.
7. Set goals and measure success
For every point along the user journey at which you’re thinking of offering personalised content, it’s important to know what metric you’re trying to move. You also need to know that you can measure it accurately and that you have a benchmark for what constitutes success. This doesn’t just focus the minds of those implementing the strategy but also helps you determine whether your efforts are actually generating a return on investment.
Lots of personalisation projects fall by the wayside because of a lack of skills and resources when it comes to analysing the success or failure of efforts. Insights from the data can stop you from pursuing dead ends and suggest new experiments. Make sure you have the analytics capabilities from the start and that they’re at the disposal of the team implementing personalisation.
8. Start small and iterate
The beauty of an iterative approach is that it doesn’t require huge upfront transformations to the way your digital team works. Small isolated experiments can be conducted in the areas you expect to yield the most value with the bare minimum of resources. You can assess them for efficacy and then optimise and adjust in a recurring process.
As you test and refine your methodology you can then roll out personalisation to more user journeys across more of your digital properties, upgrading your technological capabilities and expanding your human resources as you go and letting your current success fund your future innovation.
9. Remember compliance
Much more than a footnote since you’ll find yourself rapidly accumulating a lot of data on your users that may or may not constitute personal data depending on your particular implementation and jurisdiction. Make sure someone with expertise in the rapidly changing field of local data protection legislation has oversight.
10. Avoid the ‘Snowden effect’
Since Edward Snowden’s leaks which confirmed the omnipresent nature of digital surveillance, consumers have become very wary of how organisations collect and use their personal data. To avoid negative effects on your brand you should avoid making your personalisation of content seem too intrusive, explicit, or even uncanny. And if you’re explicitly asking users for data (e.g. via a form) then make it clear to them what they’ll get in return.