The future of personalisation

Personalisation is rapidly evolving from being another marketing buzzword to a powerful tactic used to great effect by some of the world’s biggest brands. It offers marketers unprecedented power to create engaging online experiences, through reaching out to different consumers with creative messages tailored to them, rather than the same blanket messaging that everyone sees. In practice this involves separating users by their demographics, interests, location and even purchase history to make content as relevant to them as possible.

Why bother going to all this effort? Well, a recent study has shown that 88% of consumers say that more personalised online and mobile experiences would increase their likelihood to shop at a given retailer. Not only that, but experts have predicted that by 2018, organisations that have fully invested in online personalisation will be outselling competitors that don’t by more than 30%.

A number of underlying trends point to the emerging dominance of personalisation on the web. First and foremost is the way in which the internet has given consumers increasing amounts of information to help inform their purchasing decisions. Ecommerce site experts, Exit Bee point to the importance of this ‘research’ stage in the process saying, ‘With taking an informed decision coming to the centre stage, it is important to note that the consumer market has started to look for what adds value to them.’ Personalisation is that added value, and it presents marketers with the opportunity to understand their customers and their needs before reaching out to them, with the likelihood of increased conversions as a reward.

Anyone with an Amazon account will have seen a basic form of web personalisation anytime they log into their account with the site suggesting ‘top picks for you’, based upon the person’s most recent purchases displayed on the homepage. The idea behind this personalisation is to draw attention towards what else the website has to offer, upselling and cross-selling related products.

Personalisation can go a lot further than merely showing your most recent purchases on Amazon or having Netflix predict what you might like to watch next based on your viewing habits. Personalisation is really about the real-time individualisation of a site to not only suit each visitor’s unique needs and guide them through to a conversion, but it’s also about relaying that personalisation across the different devices they arrive on, be it desktop, mobile or by using an app.

A great example of web personalisation can be seen from Brooks Running, a sports shoe manufacturer. By understanding customer behaviour on their site they were able to dramatically cut the number of returns from users who were purchasing multiple shoes of the same or half a size different, only to return the shoes that didn’t fit. Noticing this trend, Brooks created a customer-driven, responsive experience that offered the user the chance to speak to a customer service representative and help them find the size that was right for them. This resulted in an 80% drop in the number of shoes being returned as well as 88% of those customers who used the service saying that they appreciated that extra level of customer service.

How granular you want to make your on-site personalisation is up to you. Personalisation platforms can allow you to serve content to users based on their gender, their location, their favourite brands and even whether they have shopped with you before. It all begins with collecting the necessary data and analysing it to understand your customers.

For those of us working in SEO, web personalisation comes with some unique challenges. Personalised web experiences that display the same page differently for each user requires dynamic URLs, and Google’s stance until recently was to stay well away from them. The reason being that Google spiders weren’t capable of crawling dynamic pages as well as static pages.

Erring on the side of caution, the solution would be to write a ‘base’ version of each page that you want to be indexed as a starting point. From there you can make subtly ‘enhanced’ versions of each page for the different groups of users you want to target. If you’re creating content that’s just for one group of users then don’t personalise it, give them their own page and Google the chance to read it.

Personalisation offers some fantastic opportunities for marketers. Data such as where the user came from, where they are located, which campaign they responded to, along with browsing behaviour, can be remembered across sessions and a rich picture can be constructed of the users’ wants and needs.

With personalisation, businesses can quickly begin to predict products that may be related, leading to much more relevant product suggestions. All this points to the increasingly important role personalisation will play in the ecommerce web moving forward.

Personalisation can benefit far more than just ecommerce sites too though – it can be adapted to any industry. Mindflash, a leading online platform for employee and customer training, saw a positive uplift in signups after implementing personalisation. Mindflash personalised their service by getting a better understanding of how new users were using their app, guiding them through common issues and getting them up to speed on how to use the program as fast as possible. Responding to new users personal needs through the onboarding process lead to a 25% increase in users upgrading from their free trial to a paid membership as well as mailing list signups doubling.

But marketers should be wary, there is a fine line to walk on personalisation. Over personalising a user’s experience can run the risk of being perceived as overly intrusive. It’s something that applies to online activity just as much as or more so than offline marketing. The underlying message of personalisation then should really be to understand what the customer really wants first, before arriving at a decision to personalise for the sake of personalisation.

Big rewards lie ahead for businesses investing in personalisation – if they get it right.