By Katya Linossi, Head of ClearPeople’s Creative Services division, Loud & Clear

Online personalisation tailors content to create relevant individual experiences. It helps deliver websites that are easy to navigate, less cluttered with information and simple to use…It seems like everyone is in a hurry these days, especially online. That’s why online personalisation is regarded as vital to modern business – and companies are now scrambling to create a web presence that encourages deeper engagement with site visitors, makes the experience relevant to individual needs and gives a genuine reason to return.

Personalisation is not a new term and when it was originally used for websites, it helped to drive dwell times, promote deeper navigation and highlight advertisements and promotions. While these objectives are still relevant, companies that are aware of the ever-present demand for return on investment (ROI) are now using personalisation to up and cross sell in eCommerce transactions. This sales-driven personalisation is well implemented by the leading names in online retail business and demonstrates how effective personalisation can really be.

In addition to e-commerce drivers, website personalisation works to provide relevant content particularly on information dense websites. When information is easy to find, visitors are likely to return as they will value the website as a reliable and trusted resource.

Recent examples of personalisation include: Asda (recommended shopping lists based on previous purchases), Google (modified search results based on searcher behaviour), Groupon (offers based on location), National Autistic Society (tailored content based on user profile), and Nike ID (design and purchase of bespoke products).

These large organisations have acknowledged the need for personalisation and adapted it to save their visitors time and make them feel special. For example, Amazon attributes 35% of product sales to suggested shopping lists.

Fortunately, you don’t need the online marketing budget of an Amazon or Nike to realise the benefits of personalisation on your website; many of the tools and techniques can be applied by organisations with smaller budgets.

In our experience, there are six key guidelines to implement website personalisation:

1. Collect & consolidate data

A critical first step in successful personalisation is to collect and consolidate data for analysis and segmentation to create personas. This can be challenging as it requires data to be merged and critically analysed from multiple online and offline sources.

Common sources of online segmentation data include:

clickstream, site searches and existing engagement through comments on blogs and links clicked within emails. B2C (business to consumer) brands will also look at gender, age, marital status and socio-economic factors while B2B (business to business) brands should consider segmentation by industry vertical, job role or geographic indicators.

Information gathered from offline sources, for example, through qualitative research, can be combined with the online data, giving new insights into customer needs and intent. By understanding segmentation, a company can analyse and respond to its visitors’ demands in new and innovative ways.

2. Identify personas

Once enough data has been gathered and analysed, a company can start to identify ‘personas’ for different types of visitor. You may find that you have many personas and in this case, it is best to filter down to a more manageable number.

Then it’s important to continuously test new content and the assumptions about different personas so that engagement strategies can be tuned to give web visitors a better experience every time they visit your site. Furthermore, creating a defined set of metatags that align with the personas simplifies the process of showing visitors content appropriate to their persona.

3. Check your website’s structure

Website personalisation based on clearly visible goals, such as “suggestions for alternative products” can help consumers in their decision-making process.

However, it’s a mistake to think that personalisation will turn a poorly designed website into a successful sales generating business machine. Personalisation will only work if the foundations are well structured.

As the digital environment continues to shift, there are bound to be exciting developments in personalisation for websites and all digital communications. The challenge will be to create synergy between multiple campaigns and keep pace with continuously evolving user expectations. The next time you’re browsing the web, why not stop for a moment and think about how your own experience has been tailored?

4. Map web user’s journey

Well implemented personalisation is based around three magic Cs: Content, Community and Commerce, where content is rich and bespoke, a community is created when visitors engage with others to share experiences and insight, and commerce is typically a purchase or sign up.

We use tools such as Sitecore’s Online Marketing Suite to track user behaviour. Mapping a visitor’s journey on a site and building knowledge of their profile as well as their motivations and preferences is the start of any kind of personalisation journey. It might seem fairly basic, but this is often the area that’s skimmed over in a web project as it requires specialist tools and expertise.

5. Convert visits into sales

It’s widely acknowledged that servicing existing customers is cheaper than attracting new ones - satisfied customers tend not only to be repeat buyers but also spread the word. Today, personalisation has matured and is increasingly used to make sites more useful and attractive to the user’s (or persona’s) requirements – thereby increasing the likelihood of a return visit. Even if you do achieve a healthy number of monthly unique visitors to your site, keep in mind that these visitors will still need to be converted into sales or some other form of positive interaction.
Confusing, difficult to navigate websites won’t give visitors any compelling reason to use or shop on your site even if your offers are great. Take a fresh look at your website as if you’ve seen it for the first time: can you tell what your company/brand tries to communicate to the visitor in a matter of seconds?

6. Test, analyse, tweak and repeat

Verifying that the content created will appeal to the personas identified requires testing. To do this effectively, a company needs to set realistic results from personalisation, understand and record any changes in web user behaviour, monitor results of personalisation on an on-going basis, and adapt campaigns rapidly to emerging information.

Above all, the best way to adopt website personalisation is in small manageable steps. Online personalisation succeeds on content rich websites that are managed by organisations who can clearly identify and segment users, create bespoke content and quantify success. Is that you?

About ClearPeople

Established in 2003, ClearPeople holds three Microsoft Gold Competencies and is a Certified Solution Partner for Sitecore.

ClearPeople recently launched a creative services division, Loud & Clear, to cater for both the growing interest in SharePoint 2010 as a creative platform as well as the continuing high demand for Sitecore CMS.

By offering design and technical consultancy for two best of breed platforms, Loud & Clear is filling a gap in the UK market for the delivery of end-to-end web solutions, including strategy, design, development and robust implementations for both platforms from one unified team.

For more information, visit www.loudandcleardigital.com