Personalization: The Good, the Bad, and the Sitecore


The first time I was introduced to personalization, it was when I logged into my internet provider, and saw “Welcome, Brian” displayed at the top of the page. This made me feel warm and fuzzy. Nowadays, I more than likely get a “Hey, Shopper- You left items in your cart!” message when I visit a site. This does not make me feel warm and fuzzy. What happened to personalization actually being personal?

Personalization enables you to deliver targeted content to your visitors – but it has to be good content. Too often now Personalization is a sales technique – which is a valid use, but should not be the only use. Enrich your visitors’ time on your site. Show them what they want, and lead them to the next step, show them how you can help in their journey.  Researching pollution in the Atlantic ocean? A Greenpeace article on what is causing the problem is a nice piece of curated personalized content. Only showing them what I want to sell them, or what my algorithm thinks they want to buy, is bad. “Buying Ice cream? Chocolate sauce goes great with that.” is something we all know – personalizing your site to tell visitors this is not helping anyone.

Modern CMS engines, such as Sitecore, are pushing the idea of “personalization” very hard, telling customers they need to have a personalized website in order to increase engagement. And, although I believe this to be true, the key to doing this successfully is making sure you’re personalizing your content in a way that’s effective for your site and your audience.

“Reacting is good, but guiding is better”

Marketers have bought into the idea that everything needs to be personal. It doesn’t.

Before you start designing and coding, ask yourself, “How much personalization is my website/organization ready for?” Sitecore’s Business Optimization Services (SBOS) has a really useful assessment to help figure that out: the Customer Experience Maturity Assessment questionnaire can give you insights into your position in the Personalization space. They even have a board game to help get you and your clients started in the right direction.

It all comes down to planning. Personalization should enhance the customer experience, not complicate it. Start small, then expand as you get more and more information. Think about the process in 3 steps: Why, What, Where

  1. Create your personalization rule – the Why. Why is this area of the site ripe for personalization and  what will it add to the visitors journey? Plan what actions will trigger your personalization – don’t over complicate.
  2. Personalize the content – the What. What about this new content is different from what is already on your site? Think about how the personalized content will help your web visitor.
  3. Personalize the layout – the Where. Where will this change have the most impact, without distracting your visitor? Figure out how much of your screen do you want to personalize.

And then, reiterate! Good personalization is a journey – it never ends.

Think of your CMS as a blunt object – you can choose to use it to nudge your visitor, or to bludgeon them. To ensure that you’re implementing personalization properly, Sitecore offers its customers help with implementing personalization. Using its Experience Editor, customers can set up custom rules to change the content on their site, swap out images to be more in tune with what the long term path through the site is.

Good personalization can lead to a more engaged visitor and a better experience all around. And an engaged visitor has a higher satisfaction rate, which leads to a higher conversion rate as well as the probability of return visits. The better the experience the more likely they are to refer other visitors to your site, and increase your viral traffic.

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