UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 972 March 7, 2013

Creating Savvy and Sophisticated User Experiences through Personalization

The trend of personalizing websites is finally in full swing. We’ve been talking about it for years—flirting with it in fits and starts—but now the tools are at our fingertips and the strategies have matured for providing complex personalized user experiences on the Web.

At Siteworx, we're seeing an uptick in the sophistication of our clients where personalization is concerned. There is a real need for a full suite of methodologies around discovering requirements and implementing strategies that bring focus to personalization efforts.

Today, we can use information about a user’s device—along with many other behavioral, demographic, and geographic attributes—to present content that is most useful to them. By aggregating and analyzing visitor information and leveraging that knowledge in your content delivery framework, you can customize the information you present to your users and how you present it. The goal, of course, is to make each user’s experience more productive and engaging.

At its core, personalization is about making a connection between an individual and a message. It’s about tailoring the content, presentation, and delivery channel to exactly what the individual needs, when they need it, where they need it. Executed well, personalization delivers a better, more relevant user experience, without being over-familiar or explicit. From customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation, and web content management (WCM) integration to personalization architecture documents, the following considerations will help set you on the path to providing personalized user experiences that actually resonate with your users.

The Easy Part of Personalization

Integrating your WCM system with your CRM, marketing automation, analytics, and testing tools at a basic level is a fairly simple exercise. The hard part is determining exactly where to start and then developing a methodology that allows you to gain intimate knowledge of your users so that you can anticipate, and even predict, what they need.

While you can implement and continually refine a personalization initiative to create customized marketing campaigns, many of the tool integrations, either for an initial site redesign or for incremental enhancements, must be planned appropriately. If you fail to do this, you run the risk of wasting valuable time, getting mired in complexity, and having little to show for your efforts when it comes time to evaluate the ROI.

It’s important to begin with the premise that the level of personalization you attempt will ultimately depend on how you define your user at the first point of engagement. Consider adopting a strategy that leverages both implicit and explicit data so you are able to deliver a tailored experience to users regardless of how much information you have about them.

Where to Gather Insights to Drive Personalization Efforts

We can indirectly discover characteristics about a user through a number of means. Most devices and browsers are location-aware, and many different content decisions can be made using location-based information. We can develop sites that market products based on season, detect and deliver the appropriate language based on the visitor’s locations, or even show hours and contact information for the closest store to users we see visiting through a mobile device.

We can also drive implicit personalization by evaluating navigation patterns. Tracking where visitors go and how much time they spend on certain pages can help prioritize the content we display upon subsequent visits to the site. Quantitative measures like time on site or number of page views can help gauge a user’s interest in a particular topic, product, or service that you are trying to sell.

If you have a sign-up form for any value-added service, you can utilize the details a user provides to further complete their profile and customize their experience. Whether the details come from a subscription to your premium content, a sign up form for an account, or an online purchase, you can compile them to assist in displaying dynamic content.

Data surrounding gender, age, product preferences, industry, title, etc. is extremely helpful in presenting additional value-added content. Remember, you must use this data carefully and not abuse the privilege users have given you by providing their contact information. Badgering them with advertising will quickly turn them off to your product or service.

To learn how to qualitatively and quantitatively measure your content, read my colleague, Lindy Roux’s, article, “Putting Your Content to Work: A user-centric approach to evaluation.” In her article, Roux notes that a crucial step in content prioritization is determining different user types and possible scenarios. With the data that your site gathers during a user’s visit, you can discover details around that user and utilize that information in a number of different ways.

The Missing Piece in Most Personalization Initiatives

Over more than a decade of designing and executing complex Web and mobile implementations at Siteworx, we’ve learned that the best approach to take in providing a personalized experience is identifying user personas and finding out, at a granular level, exactly who our users really are. Whether through our own knowledge of the space, user interviews, focus groups, testing, or competitive research, we focus on developing a complete understanding of detailed user characteristics and types.

For example, Siteworx has integrated our website with our CRM system to identify which client, or potential client, is hitting our site. That integration allows us to then tailor our messaging based upon the industry the visitor is in, and the services we know they are most interested in.

Next, we look at journey maps, exploring the process flows, both inside and outside of the site, to discover the full experience for each of those personas. Journey maps display the various paths and decisions that a user may take to access content or purchase services on your site. This really displays all the touch points you make with the user or customer throughout the entire digital (and sometimes even non-digital) experience. Documenting these steps helps us to further explore the decisions a user makes. This process helps us determine how to accommodate our users’ choices using personalization and other features on the site.

Finally, we use a tool we believe fills a critical gap in most personalization efforts: we call it a personalization architecture document. This specification document details how a developer needs to configure the WCM or other systems to present dynamic content to users in real-time based on implicit and explicit data.

Each persona can be demographically configured, and variables can be set up to trigger content based on what we know about the user. The personalization architecture document outlines the strategy of content delivery and all the incarnations and functionalities required to configure the system properly. This connects our user experience to the technical implementation.

In detail, this architecture document is used as a guide to breaking up your user base into segments and associating the appropriate content to those segments. It also determines where that content should appear in various modules throughout the site.

Conclusion

The opportunity to provide optimized, personalized experiences is on our doorstep. It’s our job as designers and researchers to make great user experiences that help our users find what they need, where they need it, when they need it most.

 

Image of waiter's arm courtesy Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Matt has over five years of IT experience with specialization in user experience and user interface design. His project/industry experience includes: financial services, telecom, retail, pharmaceutical, utilities, chemicals, healthcare, and government. He is experienced with system implementation projects with responsibilities including concept development through implementation, testing, and go-live. He has specific expertise conducting user research, creating innovative designs, and setting strong usability standards. Before coming to Siteworx, Matt worked for LexisNexis as a Senior Product Designer where he was responsible for promoting user experience within an overall structure of deliverables that integrated the recommendations of the project team regarding user experience.

Add new comment

Comments

44
47

Matt great topic!

I've have seen multiple approaches for implementing personalization on sites. The most crucial part is making the right architectural decision up front, If possible!
Personalization is a fun and exciting way in building and designing customized experiences for each of your sites users. But personalization can slow down the performance of your site and the #1 item we must always remember is performance impact on user experience. Users today don't have patience and want everything instantly, this becomes a challenge when Technology starts evolving at such a rapid rate as smart phones have in the past 5 years. In the next 12-18 months you will start seeing more sites switching to something called Graph Databases. This new approach is heavily tied in to the old school Graph Theory, which allows you to build relationships between objects. What I really found interesting is that how natural it is to define these relations and the performance of giving Context to your sites data while serving up a personalized experience. I can't agree more that the next big thing will be personalized experiences.

42
61

I have to agree with Adam,

If anyone could share a really good example of personalisation delivering a great experience and working with content beyond Amazon recommendations, or tailored advertising, that would be interesting.

39
40

I can... but I singed an NDA...

46
43

Hmmm...for some reason the amount of personalisation features has been decreasing for example in mobile phones. Themes etc. have been dropped from devices when they became touch screen smart phones. Why? Because bad personalisation ruins the user experience. I have seen examples where there is a black background with black text on top of it...This relates to traditional definition of term "personalisation".

So, I see big risks in personalisation concerning good user experience. It needs to be made in smart way, and personalisation should be in control of somebody else than the user. User might end up doing wrong decisions, will ruin the experience because of it and will definetely blame the manufacturer of device or owner of the service.

The system need to make decisions beside the user and do them well.

45
48

Appreciate the author's efforts, but was hoping for more practical personalization examples vs. generalities like "use location and time of year". Also, company name-dropping is fine, but keep it within reason :)

39
42

Thank you for the information, its important to keep up with the latest trends with the fast changing technology.