Website Personalization 101

Answers to common questions on targeting your CMS content

Targeting and personalization are hot topics right now in online marketing. But did you know that for every $92 we spend targeting users to drive them to our sites, we spend on average only $1 personalizing the experience once they arrive? That’s all changing very quickly thanks to the advent of the “experience management system” or EMS—the next version of the “CMS.” In recent talks for CMS Wire and MIMA Summit, I walked through the 101 of personalizing content on your own website. 

Why do I need to care about content personalization now?

Historically, the ability to target and personalize web content was not accessible to just anyone. Those who did it well were the digital elites, like Amazon, with their own proprietary algorithms. Conversely, we’ve had years of pervasive (often creepy) targeting ads that follow you around online. But that’s all changed recently thanks to the advent of two key things: the “experience management system” or EMS, and a ton of new data sources on your users. Whether or not you plan to use this new technology, it’s important to be familiar with the latest if, or when, you (or your CMO!) decide to.   

Does CMS personalization replace the need for personas?

Not at all! Personas are still a very useful tool to use internally to self-organize with your co-workers or employees to keep everyone user-focused. You can think of segments online as an extension of personas, which is cool because in a way it actually brings them to life (being too static is one of the criticisms of paper personas to begin with).

Remember that personas (and segments based on them) are what we call derivative abstractions—a set of informed assumptions that you go in with. The nice thing about segmentation is that you can refine it as you go. Some systems will even go so far as to help you identify totally new segments over time based on statistically relevant patterns—like people who search for garden tools after 8:00pm on Tuesday or something else odd you might never have thought of. 

What type of team would I would need in place to support targeting?

Overall, if you’re just starting out, it’s usually a few people dedicating at least some of their hours; then, as you get more advanced, you can have someone whose entire job description falls under “targeting analyst” or the equivalent. “Personalization Architect” is another title I’ve seen thrown around, but needleless to say, this is a very new area. What’s important to remember is that pulling off personalization is truly a multi-disciplinary effort—you will need help from marketing, designers, content people, and analytics people. Also important to note, this is an ongoing process—it’s not set it and forget it. The team needs to constantly review data and refine.

If you make different versions of your content, what shows up in a search engine like Google?

This is an area that continues to evolve by the minute, but typically, Google will still index what’s called the canonical or default set of your site content; i.e., what people will see if targeting wasn’t running. Which is actually very important to think about: you always need to have your default set of content, and then build from there. Some clients will use a blended, one-size-fits-all approach to default, whereas others may assign a particular segment (like consumer or small business) as the default. This can be tricky when people call customer service with a question on the website and they are looking at a targeted version—better tools will allow you to do what is called impersonating a segment to address that live. 

What happens if you have a user who falls into more than one segment? How do you prevent him or her from seeing conflicting messages?

This is definitely a concern as many platforms are still rudimentary in this area. In some of the better tools, there is something called parametric targeting, which can consider multiple inputs at once and make a decision for you. You can also do something called content weighting, where you assign a numeric value to content, like this article is a “10” for home-improvement, and a “6” for lawn ornaments. Then the system will calculate the best return. But, if you want to be 100% sure, you should do something called collision detection, where you can test multiple inputs to prevent competing messages that don’t make sense (particularly important in the component by component implementations we looked at). 

How does a “targeted content strategy” fit into a more traditional content strategy?

Traditional content strategy will cover the full spectrum of content creation and delivery, from substance, structure, workflow and governance. As we mentioned, targeting content may or may not advance that central strategy. Just look at it as another tool you can use versus a replacement.


Targeted Content Strategy

How do you extend personalization beyond the web channel?

Ideally, you will personalize your content both online and off through the whole funnel. But I will say there are very few, if any, tools out there now that give you a truly global view. It’s still different systems working in isolation. That said, there are quicker wins you can achieve, like integrating your email campaigns, that can be relatively simple and very effective.