The experience of seeing website content that feels tailored just for us is becoming more common. Maybe you’ve recently opened your favorite e-commerce sites to find suggestions for products that are just what you need. Or maybe you’ve searched for a restaurant and received a list of options right in your neighborhood. This is known as website personalization and many businesses have discovered how useful it is.
In fact, research by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company showed that companies that get personalization right see 40% more revenue than average. With numbers like that, it's clear that understanding website personalization and how to use it effectively can have a huge effect on your bottom line.
At the same time, consumers are becoming savvier about companies that collect their data to personalize their experience. They're also more demanding of robust security measures to keep their information safe.
We've pulled together everything you need to know about what website personalization is, how it works, how it benefits both you and your customers, and what to be cautious about in data collection. We've also highlighted some website personalization examples to get you started on your website personalization strategy.
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What is website personalization?
Website personalization is the process of delivering a custom experience to each website visitor. This can involve tailored design, content, or other aspects of the website. Web personalization uses data collected about visitors in order to present the most relevant, helpful, and efficient user experience possible. The following are some more details on the web personalization process.
Generates dynamic content
Customers expect to see something new every time they come to your site. If the landing page and featured products never change, there's less incentive for customers to come back again and again to see what's new. Dynamic website personalization works in real time, using visitors' browsing history to present content updated with what they might need in the moment.
One of the most useful aspects of the website personalization process is dividing your visitors into audience segments. Segments are groups based on certain characteristics that help you narrow down what content might be most relevant to them.
Once you know a bit more about each site visitor, you can improve the customer journey through your site by providing personalized recommendations, landing pages, or other content to improve your conversion rates. Following are some of the most common user segmentation categories.
Understanding who each site visitor is helps to deliver personalized content for each customer. Demographics include things like age, gender, marital status, geographic location, and household size. With this data, you can tailor the customer experience to provide useful recommendations. For example, if your e-commerce site sells furniture and you know that a site visitor is in their early 20s, they may be setting up a first home. Offering them personalized deals on stylish but affordable basics can help close a sale.
Website personalization can also use behavioral data to tailor content. Behavioral data identifies users' actions online—how often they visit your site, which products they click on, and what specific web pages they visit. If there is a user who has looked at a product several times but has not completed the sale, your site may offer them a pop-up discount on that product the next time they visit.
Knowing what technology your website visitors use can be helpful in a number of ways. Most people have had the experience of using a mobile phone to browse the web, only to find that some sites are formatted for computer web browsers. It's frustrating having to scroll back and forth to find the information you're looking for on the small screen.
If you know whether visitors are accessing your site on a desktop computer, tablet, or mobile phone, you can make sure the version of the site they see is optimized for that format and make recommendations based on their technology, like prioritizing app recommendations for someone browsing on a mobile device. In addition, website personalization can also tell you a visitor's internet connection speed. This information is useful for optimizing your website content, especially for those with slower connections.
Personalization vs. customization—What's the difference?
While they may sound similar, website personalization and customization are two different things. Personalization is done by the site, using audience data to offer a unique experience for each user based on factors like location and past behavior.
On the other hand, customization is driven by the users themselves, allowing them to customize certain aspects of the user experience like the site's language, accessibility settings, and in some cases elements like widgets and color themes. Both personalization and customization—independently or combined—can be great ways to ensure that your site is as useful as possible for every visitor.
Website elements to personalize
Almost any aspect of your website experience can be personalized. But before you implement personalization on everything from your pop-ups to landing pages, think about which elements make the most sense for your business and the experience you want to create for your customers.
Following are some of the most popular website elements that you can adjust to create personalized experiences. Starting with a couple will allow you to see how your personalization efforts affect customer engagement.
A landing page is the first web page a visitor to your site encounters. It's your first chance to make a strong impression and personalize your website for each visitor.
Think about what you want your customers to experience when they first visit your site. If you offer location-based services, you may take advantage of geolocation to display store locations or service providers that are close to your visitors. Repeat customers may see a landing page that offers them discounts related to past purchases.
When consumers go back to an e-commerce site they've visited before, they're used to seeing recommendations for products that are similar to past purchases. Websites use a visitor's behavior, preferences, and demographic information to suggest products that might be interesting to them.
This personalization tool keeps users on the website longer and helps create a more satisfying experience for shoppers who see products that match their interests. User information can also be incorporated into marketing emails to follow up on browsing history or suggest additional items. For example, if a customer buys a ski jacket from a site selling sporting goods, web personalization allows the retailer to send a follow-up email with a discount code for gloves.
Sales and discounts
Website personalization can be a great way to reward repeat customers and boost conversion rates for new sales leads. You can offer individually tailored discount codes, sales, and other incentives like free shipping or bonus products. Using customer data, you can implement personalization strategies that customize the discount for each site visitor. If you have visitors who have browsed your site multiple times without buying anything, you might discount the prices of your products or services the next time they visit to encourage them to close the sale.
Pop-ups are small windows that suddenly appear or "pop up" in front of the current web page. They can offer information, recommendations, coupons, or links to other pages. The key to using pop-ups well is not letting them get in the way of the customer experience. For example, if a user has a product page open for a while or looks at a product and then navigates away from it without buying, a pop-up offering a discount on that product may be enough to convince them to go back and complete the sale.
Sometimes, customers put items in their shopping cart but don't finish checking out. A pop-up may remind them to complete the transaction and offer them a discount or free shipping if they do so.
Even the content of your website can be personalized to deliver the most relevant information or sales pitch to each visitor. Written content personalization examples include blog posts, news updates, product descriptions, and even user-generated content like product reviews.
The website personalization doesn't need to be limited to content for users to consume. If your site collects information from visitors via contact or registration forms, these can be personalized to request only the necessary information based on user data. Say a user registers for a conference and location data shows that they're already located in the city where the event will be held. The registration form can offer the option to opt in to lodging information, assuming the registrant lives locally and won't need a place to stay. This saves the user time and effort.
Calls to action (CTAs)
A call to action (CTA) is a place on your site where you want visitors to take action. It might be a button prompting them to purchase a product, a request for their email address to sign up for your newsletter, or a contact button if they want more information about your services. CTAs are where you convert interested potential customers to committed clients.
CTAs aren't always about closing a sale. They can include other actions that encourage and reward engagement with your business, like signing up for an email newsletter or sharing a link to a product with a friend. Adding CTAs to the personalized content on your site is a great way to bring them into the sales funnel.
The benefits of a personalized web experience
Your website personalization strategy can benefit both you and the visitors to your website. Read about how creating personalized experiences can build your brand's audience, increase sales, and give your customers the dynamic content they've come to expect.
Benefits for you
Investing the time and effort to create a personalization strategy has many benefits for your organization, including improved sales, more effective marketing strategies, and stronger customer relationships.
Increases site visit time
Keeping visitors on your site for as long as possible is good business. It allows you to show them more products and gives them time to consider the benefits of a purchase. If you personalize your website, you can deliver content that will help lengthen their visits, which can increase conversions.
Creates better-qualified leads
Sales teams know that customers who have shown a genuine interest in a product or service are valuable. These sales leads are more likely to make a purchase. Your website personalization strategy can help improve the quality of your leads. Offering personalized recommendations, tailored content, and less-obtrusive information-gathering makes your customers' user experience more efficient and engaging.
Tailoring your marketing efforts to specific audience segments is also easier with a personalized website experience. Whether it's location data or browsing history, you can put your marketing efforts one step ahead by using these types of website personalization.
Helps with making real-time decisions
Website personalization performance is easy to track and analyze through web analytics tools, whether they're built into your website hosting and design or you use third-party sites like Google Analytics. This allows you to see how well your personalization strategy is working to influence each visitor's behavior.
If you're offering personalized discounts to repeat site visitors, it's easy to see how often they take advantage of those discounts and complete a sale. Changing the content on your landing page lets you track how much time visitors spend browsing that content and how often they click through to get more information.
Using this information, you can adjust your personalized recommendations or customized content to make it even more effective. In addition, you can collect data to include in your marketing reports to track your site's performance as part of your marketing efforts.
Produces higher conversion rates
When users see recommendations for products that match their tastes, needs, and past browsing history, they're more likely to complete the sale. Not only are they getting exactly the type of products they want, but personalization also helps users feel more valued because you understand their interests and needs.
Fosters brand loyalty
Savvy marketers know that for every new customer you attract, keeping an existing customer happy is just as important. When customers feel your site provides relevant content using their browsing history and preferences to guide them to the content they want, they're more likely to come back. Your personalization efforts can support brand loyalty and customer retention by employing customized discount offers and marketing messages, relevant content and recommendations, and brand loyalty incentive programs.
Benefits for your website visitors
The benefits of website personalization extend to your customers as well. By providing an experience that makes their use of your site easier, personalized, and more tailored to their needs, customers will keep coming back.
Creates a better website experience
Busy customers don't want to spend any more time than necessary finding what they need. Rather than making them visit different web pages to browse through products or information, a personalized website can make the experience simple and streamlined.
A customer who comes to your e-commerce site looking for a winter coat may be presented with several options on the landing page itself, based on data your site collects about their geographic location, browsing history, and demographic information.
If you run a non-profit health organization, visitor data may allow you to personalize the list of suggested articles a visitor sees, saving them the trouble of navigating around from page to page trying to find information relevant to them.
Generates better product recommendations
It's possible to buy almost anything online from anywhere in the world. However, customers can get overwhelmed by a seemingly endless number of e-commerce sites and options. By using data like browsing history, location tracking, and the time of day, you can deliver targeted recommendations to cut through the confusion.
In addition to providing personalized content and product recommendations, website personalization can save time for your visitors by pre-filling information in forms, prioritizing search results based on information like geographic location or browser history, or even providing more efficient tech support based on the device or browser the customer is using.
Things to watch out for in your website personalization efforts
With all the potential benefits, you may be ready to launch your website personalization efforts today. Before you do, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your personalized web experience is effective and keeps your customers happy.
Customers can be wary about data collection
Consumers have gotten more and more savvy about the way their personal information is collected and tracked when they use a search engine, browse social media, or look at website content. While the personalized content that results does have benefits, many people feel that companies record their data too aggressively or use the data too extensively.
Customers who feel that their privacy is being violated or that their personal information is being used as a commodity can develop negative opinions about a business. When collecting visitor data or information about user behavior, be careful about using more than is necessary to personalize the experience on your site. You should also consider performing routine security audits to make sure your data collection system is robust, secure, and up-to-date.
It's also a good idea to be clear with site visitors about what consumer data you're collecting, how it will be used, and whether your company shares that data with any other organizations. Giving online visitors an option to opt out of data collection is also a good way to foster customer loyalty and, in fact, is now required in many locations.
More laws about excessive data collection
In addition to consumers' concerns about their information being collected and possibly shared with others, some states and countries have started passing laws about what data can and can't be collected and what can be done with it.
The European Union led the way by enacting the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018, which includes rules about issues like privacy protection and consent. In the United States, the California Consumer Privacy Act passed in 2018, gives consumers in California the right to know what information a business collects, how the information is shared, and how to opt out of the sharing of their information.
Make sure you understand the laws in the location where you do business, but also in locations where your users live. Because this is a rapidly evolving area of the law, it's a good idea to stay on top of the changes.
Personalization can be a tech-intensive option
The technology required to understand customer data and use it to personalize their experience can be complex. Many site design programs offer some basic tools, but advanced personalization techniques often require investing time and expertise.
In addition, because of the need to be aware of customers' preferences about their data and relevant data privacy laws, businesses need to have technology in place to make sure they're following the rules. You should notify users what customer data is being collected and how they can opt out of data collection if desired.
Every advance in the personalization process requires more tech resources. This can mean higher costs for your online presence and reduced speed and performance for your website. No matter how useful your personalized experience is for your site visitors, if your web pages are slow to load, you'll lose some potential customers. When you increase your website personalization, make sure your website hosting capacity and tech support keep up so that each customer journey goes smoothly.
Personalization can remove the element of surprise
If your site is so focused on guiding consumers to the products you think they'll like, they may not stumble on something unexpected. In a brick-and-mortar retail experience, customers can browse more easily—taking in all the items on display with a glance. Serving up recommendations to your site's visitors may prompt them to buy things they've already shown they like, but it might obscure new products that they would otherwise discover and buy.
Six ways to implement a website personalization strategy
You can personalize almost any aspect of your website. But before you dive in, think about the overall approaches you can take to make sure your strategy is consistent and delivers the most value for your investment.
Understand customer data tracking and personalization tools
Websites that offer personalized experiences rely on a personalization engine—software that can customize multiple aspects of your website's user experience. This type of personalization software collects data and uses algorithms to generate dynamic content. Some of these software tools are built into website design and hosting programs.
There are also tools that integrate with your site that allow you to track data and choose personalization options. Most require no coding knowledge and some, like Hyperise, work via a Google Chrome browser extension. Others, like Adobe Target, are built to integrate with other business tools you may already be using, like Adobe's suite of content-creation tools.
Geotargeting is a form of personalizing ads and other content based on the geographic location of the audience. This allows you to deliver information, products, or services specific to their location. If your business matches in-home health aides with clients, using geotargeting will let you display information for the service providers closest to where your potential customers live.
Google Ads and other online advertising services also use geotargeting to deliver location-based ads to prospective customers. For example, a local party-planning service doesn't want to waste money advertising to web users hundreds of miles away. Using a digital marketing platform that collects demographic data for geotargeting will keep your online content relevant for your target audience.
Take advantage of machine learning
In machine learning, a computer uses data to look for patterns and predict behavior and then it uses that information in algorithms to deliver content through an algorithm. Machine learning can be a powerful tool in your website personalization efforts because it automates several tasks. For example, your site can personalize content through natural language processing (which uses machine learning to understand, interpret, and generate human language) to deliver relevant content.
Machine learning is also particularly good at predicting user behavior based on past actions. Anticipating what your target audience wants even before they're aware of it themselves can, for example, allow you to suggest another book to read even before they've started reading the one they just bought.
Use breadcrumb navigation
Breadcrumb navigation is a tool that lets site visitors see where they are in a site's hierarchy and helps them navigate through the site using a trail of links. Breadcrumb navigation can be integrated into website personalization to help each unique user navigate around your site in a way that makes sense for them. For example, you may highlight a user's most common categories, include custom links, or personalize breadcrumb trails with location-based links.
Stay on top of trends
Website personalization strategies and methods are changing rapidly, so it's a good idea to stay at the forefront of the field. This will allow you to take advantage of new data analysis tools and also keep up with your competitors. Pay attention to industry leaders and top competitors and follow relevant content on Mailchimp and marketing technology news sites.
Website personalization examples
It's likely that you've seen many examples of website personalization campaigns—some of which you may not even have noticed! Most web users have had the experience of seeing a social media ad that features just the thing they were searching for on another site. Or maybe after opening a food delivery site, they see restaurants already listed in order of geographic proximity to their home.
It's helpful to take a look at some website personalization examples in action. See how these well-known brands use the data they collect to present personal offers, deliver tailored content, and improve the customer experience. You may even pick up some personalization ideas for your own site!
E-commerce sites have many opportunities to embrace personalization to guide visitors to products suited to them and to improve the customer experience. This can save them from clicking around endlessly to find what they're looking for.
Amazon personalizes its landing page every time you open the site. If you've noticed the product recommendations listed under "recommended for you" or "related to items you've viewed" you've seen their personalization efforts in action. Amazon uses customer data like purchase history, customer wish lists and ratings, and even dynamic pricing to give each customer a unique experience.
Starbucks is a global brand that's known for its coffee but is also a pioneer in the use of website personalization. Opening the Starbucks website or app delivers a personalized experience, sorting the nearest coffee shop locations by distance or recommending food and beverages based on your recent purchases.
The goal of most social media sites is to keep users on their platforms as long as possible, increasing the amount of time they're exposed to advertising and sponsored content. They do this by using several types of website personalization like prioritizing content in a user's newsfeed, using location-based services, and even delivering ads targeted at each visitor. Following are some social media website personalization examples.
One of the most well-known features of the social media app TikTok is its continuous feed of short videos. The app seems to anticipate exactly what users want to see next, whether it's the latest dance moves or silly cat antics.
TikTok personalizes the experience for each user by studying user behavior—viewing, sharing, and commenting on videos—to decide which videos to present next. TikTok also uses tools like geotargeting and audience segmentation to keep delivering more of what users want as well as new material the app predicts the user will like.
Facebook is another social media company that uses website personalization to keep users engaged. Some Facebook website personalization examples include suggesting possible friends, delivering "on this day" memories from past posts, and suggesting responses and stickers in Facebook Messenger.
When you sit down to watch a movie or play a game, you may already know what you're in the mood for, or you may have no idea. Sites that stream movies, television, games, and other forms of entertainment use website personalization to keep users engaged with their content, provide a more satisfying and useful service, and increase subscriptions and ad revenue. Following are personalization examples from some popular entertainment websites.
Online streaming service Netflix is well known for its personalized website experience. It uses viewers' past behavior to generate recommendations; no two users see the same Netflix landing page. Not only will it recommend TV shows and movies similar to the ones you've watched, but you'll also get suggestions for content that's popular in your area—all thanks to the location data collected by the site.
Have you ever wished you could turn on the radio and hear the exact song you want? Maybe you wanted to listen to artists or songs you didn't even know but somehow they feel just right? That's the experience that music streaming service Spotify tries to create with its personalized approach to radio stations, playlists, and recommendations. The site bases its website personalization on listening habits, preferences, and demographic information for each user.
The future of web personalization
The experience of browsing a website is very different than it was a few years ago. The future of website personalization is likely to include even more tailored information but also more ways to help consumers and businesses keep data secure and private.
Customers expect a more personalized overall experience
Tracking users' behavior and personalizing their experience won't be done site by site. Known as omnichannel personalization, this strategy will allow an interconnected personalized experience from a website to a mobile app to a smart speaker and beyond.
Customers are also getting more savvy
Because web personalization has become more common, customers now realize that they're being marketed to when they encounter a personalized experience. Most users could probably tell you that a fast food restaurant's app offered them a discount on an item because the user's browsing history shows they've ordered it or something similar before.
That means that you can't rely only on personalization basics like product recommendations based only on purchasing history. Users will expect real-time personalization, delivering content, navigation, and design tailored just for them as they move through the site. In addition, new features like voice-activated chatbots or website guides will make the website personalization experience even more interactive and engaging.
It's all about AI
Website personalization has only started to take advantage of artificial intelligence. There are so many data points available on even the most basic of websites that studying and analyzing everything takes a lot of computing power. AI that's programmed to study data, recognize opportunities, and deliver a more personalized website experience will be a game changer, allowing even small businesses to take advantage of web personalization.
Security will be key
According to a study by accounting firm PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), only about half of consumers trust social media businesses to keep their personal information secure. The percentage goes up for companies in other fields, but there is still a significant number of people who are wary of any business that collects data.
Using these website personalization ideas can have a positive impact on your company's performance, but your personalization strategy will need to include a serious commitment to data security. Make sure your customers know that you're dedicated to using their data responsibly and will make every effort to protect the information that you gather. It's also a good idea to have a plan in place in case a security breach occurs so you can protect consumer data as much as possible, limit the damage, and avoid losing the trust of your customers.
Website personalization has become a common part of the online experience and most visitors now expect sites to tailor themselves to consumer needs. By understanding the benefits of website personalization for both you and your customers, you're ready to personalize your website to give each first-time visitor, potential customer, or loyal client an experience that's tailored just for them.
After reviewing some website personalization examples and considering what types of website personalization work for you, make sure you're following data privacy regulations and then get started delivering the targeted content your site visitors need!