What Is Personalization?

Adobe’s digital marketing definition of personalization is the right content at the right time to the right person. We hear so often that senior leaders want to implement personalization on their sites and they want it yesterday. Gone are the days of “dumb” sites that offer the same content to 100% of traffic. Today, marketers know that visitors and customers want expect a tailored experience to their own needs and interests.

However when senior leaders want this kind of content management yesterday there is a lot of pressure to show progress. Here are some strategies to get you started successfully from the onset and avoid wasting time.

The Weakest Strategy to Start

1) Superficial targeting

“That’s me” imagery typically is not worth the effort. What is “That’s me” imagery? These are images that try to match the imagery to the visitor. For example, you know that a large portion of your customers are 35–45 single moms so you decide to test showing banners (same messaging) with women and children to create a familiarity on the site to visitors who fall into this audience. Results are typically flat. The reason being folks already know what they look like. “That’s me” imagery doesn’t add any new persuasion or address any hurdles of a visitor.

What’s better? Show different kinds of imagery or products based on the visitor affinity. Technical visitors might respond better to product views while nontechnical folks might respond to lifestyle or benefit imagery. Personalizing imagery to reflect a desire or suggested product, a need, a hurdle, or a question has been most effective for our clients.

2) High-value audience with low-value messaging

So many clients do lots of audience research and invest tons of money in their data. They pour through their analytics, purchase audience studies, and contract for a Data Management Platform. They identify a high-value audience and confirm a respectable level of traffic. However, many times after all that time and money is spent, these marketers don’t actually have something different to say to these folks. For example, you find that visitors from organic Bing.com have a lower engagement rate than organic Google.com. There’s enough Bing traffic per month to warrant addressing it. Some marketers might change a headline or personalize “Hello Bing Visitors” but does that really address the fundamental differences of the site’s Bing and Google visitors?

What’s better? Address the reasons why these visitors are different than the rest of the audiences. In this example, the Bing search terms may be more branded than the typical non-branded Google search terms. Bing visitors could be more familiar with your products yet are taken to a page with too many product options that overwhelms them with too much variety. A better strategy would be to evaluate the Bing product searches and limit the products shown to the most popular five.

The Most Effective Strategy to Start

1) Make user flow easier

We have seen considerable success highlighting the product that was previously viewed or previously added to cart. By providing visitors a queue to quickly complete their purchase or revisit where they left off, visitors see less noise and are more likely to convert. Visitors who have previously seen content may appreciate cutting that content down to simplify the page. Tailoring the site based on past or in-session engagement can be the most effective use of personalization because the targeting is based on declared interest of the visitor (through behavior) rather than inferred interest from purchased data. In this case, the visitor is showing you their interests through the filters they select, the products and pages they view, and the clicks they make or don’t make. Act on it!

Next step? Go into your analytics and check out the volume of visitors to a product detail or cart page and return to the homepage. What sort of traffic do you see? What’s the conversion rate of these folks, and is there opportunity to improve that? What’s the average order value? Are the orders a higher value for folks who move from the homepage directly to the cart? Or are the orders a higher value for folks who move from the homepage back into the site and eventually convert? Create a campaign to push visitors either directly to product detail or cart pages of the previously viewed product.

2) Address an audience challenge or desire

Visitors to your site have different histories with your brand and a variety of hang-ups to conversions. Identify the possible challenges for each of your major segments and address them full on. Showcase what matters to them most.

For example, when applying for a small business credit card, business owners who travel frequently may prioritize travel rewards and lounge access over other features and high annual fees. House painting business owners don’t travel often and may prioritize seasonal cash flow support and low annual fees over other benefits. By showing the visitor the benefit or product that is the most important to them, you are cutting down the noise and hurdles to application.

Next step? Outline the audiences that may respond best to each of your products or benefits. Can you identify these audiences through site behavior purchased data, CRM, or other means? If so, create these segments and monitor the level of traffic per month. With reasonable levels of traffic, these segments can show considerable engagement and conversion rate lift through addressing their individual priorities.

3) Give an offer to your high-value audience

To save your budget and preserve prestige, you probably don’t want to discount to everyone. However, you may want to entice a certain portion of your visitors who you consider high value. For example, you may want to share a 10% coupon to visitors who are in DMAs near your brick-and-mortar stores. Through previous testing you know that visitors to your stores spend an average of 25% more in store and so your ROI will be much higher for visitors near your locations. Or you might want to move your ski merchandise so you target a ski discount to visitors who have a ski affinity. Instead of sharing with all your visitors, you incentivize the right audience with the highest propensity for your offer.

Next step? Identify the audiences with the biggest opportunity. Consider geolocation, product affinity, return versus new, or CRM data. What offers are available to share? Of course, confirm with legal first that your campaign is compliant with your business and industry best practices. While you should never discount based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin there are many opportunities to incentivize anonymous visitors based on affinity, loyalty, or seen previous marketing campaign.

Test first!

Testing is the only way to measure the ROI of your efforts and evangelize this success at your organization. Good rule of thumb is to A/B test first and then implement to 100% of your segment in perpetuity. Test­ing is valu­able as well as fun. Happy testing!

Brainstorm for Action

Make the user flow easier:

  • Are your product options overwhelming? Pare down product recommendations based on site referrer, site engagement, and previous visits.
  • Can groups of visitors skip some steps to make it easier to convert? Can you remove content for particular visitors? Can you add more guided content? Can you suggest location and complimentary products? Identify which visitors need more guided help and which need fewer obstacles in their way.
  • How can you urge loyal customers and visitors who have started the funnel to get back into the funnel again quickly? Work with IT to build solutions to save cart and retarget products.

Address an audience challenge or desire:

  • Do some geolocations have issues with your page load time? Reduce content and simplify page for these locations.
  • What are the expected customers for each of your products? Are some for business and some for consumer users? Technical versus nontechnical? Consider your major visitor/customer segments and identify the content and products best for them.
  • How might your visitors categorize their options? By use case, by value prop, by price, user type? Consider which options might be most important to your major visitor/customer segments and highlight them.
  • Can you up the ante depending on the visitor sales cycle? Should you share different messaging or offers in his fourth visit from his first? Identify offers for visitors who need that extra push.

Give an offer to your high-value audience:

  • Who are your best customers? Can you identify these attributes in your new visitors? Purchase data to expose your best prospects in your visitors.
  • Are you trying to move particular merchandise or slow down sales for items in backlog? Incentive only the audience most likely to respond.



Great post! I've been struggling to find a way to differentiate between bing an google organic visitors for some time now. The audience profiles look nearly identicle in nature with the exception of a heavier female demographic.