Web personalization is certainly not a new marketing tactic, but it’s one that is becoming increasingly important. Our role as marketers and merchandisers is to create those “sticky” experiences that incite and excite customers to come back. And personalizing your customers’ Web experiences can go a long way in increasing engagement, conversion rates, and brand loyalty.
Whether it’s a story recommendation on NYTimes.com, song suggestions on Pandora, or search results on Google, online personalization has become ubiquitous, shifting consumer expectations toward anticipating more targeted Web experiences from their favorite online brands. In fact, a recent cross-industry survey by McKinsey & Company discovered that executives deemed shifting customer expectations as the No. 1 technology disruption to their businesses--above concerns such as changing delivery costs, improved products or services on the market, or the emergence of new channels/points of purchase. If a Web site fails to instantly connect your customers with what they want and in a personalized way, then not much is stopping them from taking their eyeballs elsewhere.
Going from a “one size fits all” to “one size fits one” approach doesn’t have to be difficult, but marketers frequently get tripped up on the basics. How do you roll out personalization? What’s the best strategy? Where do you start, and what personalization features can be rolled out later?
It’s common for marketers to make mistakes with their Web personalization programs along the way. Here are the five most common pitfalls and some recommendations on how you can help your company combat them:
>> Mistake #1: Overrelying on profiles--instead of actual customer intent.
If you’re marketing effectively, then a large proportion of your Web traffic will be new visitors--people you have no data on. But that doesn’t mean you know nothing about them. In fact, if you’re looking, you can pick up dozens of clues from each session. We call these weak signals “intent clues” because they tell you what the visitor is trying to do--and they’re available to you whether you know the name, address, or gender of the visitor. Once you’re tuned in to the visitor’s intent, adding in profile data can be quite valuable. But without any insight about intent, profile data alone has limited personalization power.
>> Recommendation: Think about the intent clues your Web visitors are sending out as they click through your site--things like scrolling, dwell time, and on-site search behavior. Now think about how you can leverage these even if you don’t yet know the visitor.
>> Mistake #2: Depending only on expert rules--instead of being guided by customer insight.
Personalization rules (“If they do this, give them that”) are commonly created by expert analysts who need to understand changing customer dynamics and the ins and outs of your business. They’re rare and overloaded because of the effort required to configure and maintain effective targeting rules. This leads to simplifying the approach (e.g., show the most popular products), which might not be the best strategy for engaging consumers online.
>> Recommendation: Deploy recommendation engines and other technologies that will automatically adapt to changing customer insights to generate the best content for each interaction based on intent clues. This will minimize the need for manual rules and will improve effectiveness of personalization.
>> Mistake #3: Relying on the clicks and purchase data--instead of observing customer engagement.
Most personalization solutions are based on watching obvious behaviors, like purchases or clicks. The problem with focusing on clicks is there are far too many of them, and they don’t necessarily tell you about the visitor’s true intent. Alternately, while purchases are a great indicator of intent, they are few and far between.
>> Recommendation: When you only pay attention to purchases and clicks, personalization efforts are too little, too late. You can learn an awful lot from what happens between these signals. Observing microbehaviors, such as mouse hovers, scrolling, or time spent on certain pages, can provide a good indicator of visitor engagement and what your customers’ real-time interests are.
>> Mistake #4: Limiting your personalization to the Web--instead of thinking about all channels.
Your Web site is probably your most important engagement channel, but it’s not the only place you interact with people. Despite the rapid adoption of mobile Web browsing and social media, many organizations still silo their digital personalization strategies to the Web and leave out other digital touchpoints, such as mobile, email, and social media.
>> Recommendation: Approach your personalization with a “big picture” mind set. Your customers and prospects see you as a single brand, so the overall experience you provide them should be consistent--regardless of the channel. When examining a given personalization approach, consider whether it can be used to enhance or complement the experience you provide in other channels.
>> Mistake #5: Undervaluing search behavior--and all you can learn from it.
Search behavior is one of the most powerful intent signals any user can transmit. But most Web sites (and many personalization platforms) ignore it completely. It’s a simple concept: The search phrase that brings visitors to your site should be a primary driver of the content they see the moment they arrive. For example, if you know a visitor comes to a site searching for one item, such as a ski jacket, then automatically adapt the landing page to show ski jackets to drive deeper engagement on the site.
>> Recommendation: Whether it’s natural search, pay-per-click, or on-site, the search term is a big, bright, neon sign that says, “I’m looking for X.” Especially once the visitor is on your site, you should be able to personalize the overall Web site experience based on their original intent.
Personalization is one of the most exciting trends in online marketing today. By avoiding these five mistakes--and following some basic guidelines--you should be well on your way to creating a more engaging experience for your customers and a more lucrative year for your company.