Myths and Truths About Personalization

Know what tools can—and can't do

Personalization is often sold as a magic solution to all marketing needs. You just put it in place and it “auto-magically” delivers for your goals, making a completely automated and customized site view for every user type, every time.

It would be great if personalization were that simple and easy to implement—and if the tool really could think for us or create the entire set of content for each user without any extra effort. This is where the reality of personalization comes in.

Don’t get me wrong. Personalization is a powerful tool and there are robust CMS platforms that can do some types of personalization out-of-box. Some tools, such as Adobe’s Target Premium, even have “automated” capabilities.

But these tools, just like every other kind of tool, only work as well as the craftsman using them. A hammer doesn’t work by itself—even if it is a 15 amp, 2000-strike per minute demolition hammer. Automated decisioning and targeting still requires human beings to develop the marketing strategy, to plan the user experience for the strategy, to understand all the variations of content needed to make it work — and to create the content.

Far from “auto-magic,” when you implement personalization, your site management effort will increase in many ways—along with your results if you implement it well.

Good things to consider before you start your personalization plan

Personalization tools often work at a specific, component level

This means your page templates have to be developed in a way that individual elements on the page can be targeted. You need to build your site to be able to support this requirement. For this reason, it’s best to have a plan for how your site will need to use personalization before you begin the site architecture rather than reverse engineering components and the site experience later.

Some personalization requires custom code, especially explicit personalization

Also, site-wide personalization such as limiting the views of product options by the user’s geographic region may require custom code to be implemented. Geo-targeting is not always accurate based on IP address, so you may need to add-on a tool to help accurately target users.

The rules—even if they are applied by machine learning—always change

For example, Google now masks inbound search terms and you can’t personalize a banner based on inbound search. This was a key personalization tactic prior to Google’s changes.

Results are not instant

There are shorter-term personalization tactics and longer-term ones. The right type of personalization to use should be determined by your marketing goal. It can take months for tactics like profile-based personalization to yield results.

You may need to combine personalization with A|B testing, goal monitoring, or engagement scoring to be able to track results and optimize your personalization

In this way, you can validate that your profiles or segments are accurate, your targeting is on track, and your efforts are yielding results.

You still need to plan a site with an effective user experience and a solid content strategy

Making the right content available to the right users at the right time is a fundamental part of how the user experience and content are planned—long before personalization capabilities were accessible or accurate.

Beware the filter bubble

If you personalize the experience too narrowly, you may limit your users from finding content they need. This is called a filter bubble. In this case, personalization negatively impacts your user experience.

Think of personalization as a secondary tool

Your primary tool is creating a well-organized site with the right, discoverable content for your audiences. If you think of a good site experience as a 100-meter dash, personalization is just a turbo boost for the last few meters.

There is no easy, all-at-once personalization of a site

If someone tries to sell you this, be cautious and ask for the full story. Personalization strategy takes time to plan, and implement. It takes optimization and monitoring to see results.

Most of all, personalization takes a smart strategy and great content — neither of which can be automated by a tool