Today’s savvy web visitors are increasingly looking for that ‘little something special’ and are flocking to websites that treat them in unique and targeted ways.

To keep your content fresh, engaging and relevant to ensure a visitor returns time and time again, investment in an effective personalisation strategy is key. 

I previously blogged about the five principles to consider for online personalisation, which covered the basics of what you need to know before you get started.

This post moves on to discuss the practical steps you should take before getting stuck into the execution phase.

Develop personalisation personas

Personas are detailed descriptions of a typical kind of website visitor. Most web developers use them when designing websites to improve navigation and usability. But personas are also very useful when planning personalisation, as they will force you to really define your typical audience groups.

Think about different visitors that are likely to visit your site, for example, existing customers, prospects, partners, job-seekers or even the press, and consider what each visitor group will be looking for on your website.

A good first step to ensure that you have the right knowledge about each group is to work with persona maps and then begin building some personalisation rules. Persona maps are a way of identifying a particular type of person and the individual needs they will have. Once you understand who you’re speaking to it’s much easier to start crafting a much more targeted and effective site.

The form below is an example of a simple persona map that can be used to identify a specific user group:

Use what you know

Once you know your different audience groups, you need to work out how you can identify them when they visit your website. To do this, you need to use any insight or piece of data you can associate with a visitor.

This may seem challenging at first, but you probably know more than you think. The challenge is to use the right piece of data that will drive your content targeting decisions. For example:

  • From their profile on your site you may know their gender, age, birthday.
  • From previous interactions you know what pages they’ve viewed, what emails they’ve opened and what links they’ve clicked.
  • From community activities like comments on blogs, which may give insight into their interests, level of engagement and sentiment.
  • From their behaviour and clickstream you can build a good idea of their intent, for example which products they have browsed.
  • Their IP address can determine their location, or, in B2B, their company or industry (A note of caution: give your visitor the opportunity to change the personalisation decisions you have made about them. For example, they may be in London, but could be interested in finding your stores in other parts of the UK).

The next question to ask is: if I had data or insights on any of the above for specific personas, what content would I want this visitor to see? Or, more importantly, what content would they want to see? If you can answer these questions, a personalisation rule is born.

Clearly this is an organic process that needs to be tested. You might find that certain personalisation rules are more effective than others at driving conversions. It’s therefore important to test visitor behaviour on an ongoing basis.

Map content to the purchase journey

Remember, your visitors will need different things at different stages of their buying cycle, for example:

  • A ‘Who We Are’ video may be perfect to engage early stage visitors.
  • Case studies will help convince visitors to move along the purchase funnel.
  • A detailed whitepaper will be of interest for those about to make a decision.

Establishing where a visitor is in their relationship with your company is a useful way to personalise the information you give to them.

So, how do you know what stage they’re at? 

  • You can ask them in forms.
  • Track their forum activity.
  • See which web pages they’re visiting.
  • Observe how regularly they visit.
  • Establish whether they’ve responded to recent offers.
  • Integrate the insights with your CRM system.

Measure success

It is only through measurement that you will be able to determine the success of your personalisation strategy. To do this effectively, you need to:

  1. Determine tangible business value metrics, like sales and ROI.
  2. Identify and record real-time or long-term shifts in customer behaviour.
  3. Build teams capable of monitoring the results constantly and responding rapidly to emerging information or customer insights.

Personalisation programmes can fizzle out quickly if your web analytics team can’t evaluate the results. So keep your personalisation approach simple, quantifiable and measurable.

And remember, an effective personalisation strategy is always evolving, so continuously benchmark and improve your personalisation rules to increase ROI. In contrast, while you’re busily working behind the scenes, your efforts should be barely noticeable to your visitors - except in their delight in getting the information they want in the way they want it.

Maria Wasing

Published 12 April, 2011 by Maria Wasing

Maria Wasing is VP of Marketing Europe at EPiServer and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (6)

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Depesh Mandalia, CEO & Founder at SM Commerce

Good articles which cover a lot of the best practices and advice.

For me, personalisation is simply a pillar of your overall user experience. If you ask a customer whether they felt the experience was 'personalised' well they'll have an entirely different response to whether the experience was useful, helpful etc. Some of the suggestions around personas and creating content relevant to personas is as much about creating a fantastic user experience as it is in personalising it. A personal experience knows you and perhaps what you want, which is where segments and personas are at best a broad stroke. 1 to 1 targeting is all the rage however you can ring-fence customers and remove the aspirational aspect of their shopping journey too, reducing basket sizes and spend...

Consider this: if you're walking down the aisle of your local electrical retailer heading towards the TVs, and you notice the fridge freezers are on offer (your current one is coming to the end of its natural life though it wasn't the intent of your store visit), you'll probably walk over and take a gander; replicate this online and the only signals you have are a few clicks into the electricals > TV category - you lose the opportunity to widen the horizon, thus the biggest challenge for personalisation is executing it at the right time as much as it is about executing in the right way. Leveraging your knowledge and insight from every touch-point becomes the holy grail of personalisation though knowing all you can about a customer does not by any means guarantee a sale the next time they visit...

over 7 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

The key to personalization is understanding your audience. The more you know about what they want from your site, the easier it is to deliver. That's why keeping an eye on your site analytics is so important. What pages are providing the best information for your users. What pages are failing to deliver?

over 7 years ago


Allie Fisher

Having the deepest understanding of the individual consumer and applying this insight in the best possible way should be at the heart of every personalisation strategy.

It's important to capture the widest amount of user interactions, from downloads, purchases to more implicit data like rating and sharing, all these tell a story about the consumer's tastes. These interactions are valuable, but only if used in the right way for the consumer.

Context should come into play in the delivery of personalisation. The time of day, location and device used all affect what you may purchase or consume. So for example, what I might watch on a weekday afternoon, when the kids have come back from school may vary to what I watch later in the evening. My personal TV suggestions should reflect this.
Understand your consumers, yes, but application is also important.

over 7 years ago


Peter Birganza

I have personally experienced that how to get customer attraction for your website development. A good way in my point of view is a complete focus on your target market that how deeply you can understand it and how you deliver your knowledge to them according to their requirements. You are required good communication, writing skills and also be relevant to the topic is required necessarily. Provide them full information that they required but in a concise and concrete way to win their interest by your writing. These are some basic tips that can help you a lot in improving your website personalisation buddy.

over 7 years ago


Ifraz Mughal

Concise post dealing with the detailed practicalites needed when developing personalisation projects. Thank you Maria!

Personalisation works if the business has taken the time to understand its own goals and objectives as well as using any research it can get its hands on to be able to paint a picture of what its customers look like and what they want out of the interaction.

Engaing with a User Centred approach to design, development and ongoing business strategy is key.

over 7 years ago


Maria Wasing

Great comments.
@Depesh - sounds like you have a lot of experience from personalisation. Agree with you that you should not personalise to much and hence limit the customer and reduce their options or inspiration. A guideline is not personalising the main content, but work more with items around. But never limit the options, instead make a suggestion, but also make sure that the information can be expanded. A good example is personalisation based on location. Auggest the closest location immediately, but also make it easy for the visitors to find all locations, if that is what they might be looking for.
@nick - agree, analytics is key. I did write some around that in a prior post here on e-consultancy
@allie - yes, mapping the purchase journey requires a deep understanding of the customer. Persona sheets can help and also "clear" away any differences in opinions internally, between different departments that migh have a different view of what the customer really wants from us. It is a great tool, I have used it myself.
@peter - good point, content has to be matched and developed. A content plan is part of personalisation I think and it sounds like you have had success in working that way.
@ifraz - thanks for the feedback, much appreciated!

over 7 years ago

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