website personalization
Technology - CMS

Why Website Personalization Matters...

Oct 22, 2010
Oshyn Labs

Guest Blogger: Lars Birkholm Petersen  


There is a lot of buzz going on around personalization in the online world; how to use it, does it matter, won't the visitor be suspicious, etc..


In the offline world, personalization is everywhere - if I go shopping for clothes and enter a store I have never visited before - the Sales Clerk will immediately analyze and segment me, according to parameters like:


  • Gender
  • Age
  • What I'm wearing (suite vs. casual clothes)
  • Style (beard, hair, watches etc.)
  • Brands I'm wearing


Say I'm 33, male, wearing jeans (Hugo Boss), shirt (Eton) and brown leather shoes (Lloyds) - the Clerk will show me clothes which match the brands
I’m wearing and my style. Perhaps the clerk will try to up-sell to other more expensive brands, like Armani, but he wouldn't go for "cheaper brands".

If I buy a new pair of shoes and return a few days later, the Sales Clerk will propably remember me and ask about the shoes (showing an interest in me). He could then try to sell me a belt, which matches the shoes - and he would probably succeed. One thing is certain - he would never try to sell me the shoes I already bought!


What could the Business Objectives be at the clothes shop?

I guess it is to get high revenues with focus on customer satisfaction.

How do they deliver that?

Focus on customer service with advice on which clothes to buy and make it easy to sell a lot!

The online world can learn a lot from the offline world!

Today even though we write 2010 as the calendar year, have many years of online experience, many sites are still so nineties static - showing the same content to all the visitors, even when the visitors have already bought these products (if it's eCommerce) or signed up for the newsletter… It's so static! And this static approach to delivering content is probably why conversion rates are low on many sites.


Why is that?

Many have not transferred their Business Objectives to the online world to build their online presence, with desired outcomes in mind.

Instead the focus has been on redesign, user experience, SEO etc… Which is not bad, but the main question, "What do we want with our website?", often is hidden in the background, while all the budget goes to redesign - and when you finished, you get a very nice, more user friendly, more SEO friendly website... But has it changed since the prior website? In fact if you compare your online presence today to your online presence in the nineties - what is the difference besides redesign, user experience and SEO?

What I hope, is that you don't recognize yourself above, but your answer to the question "What do we want with our website?", is based on your Business Objectives with answers like; increase revenue, improve customer loyalty/satisfaction or reduce costs.

And if your desired outcome is to increase revenue, your conversation with yourself, might have been:

"How do we increase our revenues?"

Well we sell a lot?

"How do we do that?"

Well we tailor our online presence around our visitors needs and behavior.

"What the heck do you mean by that?"

Well our visitors have different behaviors, sometimes they are just looking at our goods, sometimes they are gathering information in order, to be confirmed that their choice is right - and hopefully they end up buying our goods! If we sense and adopt to their behaviors, we can focus on getting the visitor with the lookingbehavior signed up for a newsletter, so we can start a dialogue early. We can show content, like customer reviews, shipping details etc. to the visitor who is confirming and building trust. For the visitor with the buying behavior, we make it easy with “Buy Now!” Calls to Action (CTAs), building trust and providing offers according to interest.

"Isn't that difficult?"

We have to know our different target groups, their behaviors, how they search and why they buy - and then we can tailor the content and Calls to Action for the specific target groups according to their specific behavior.

"Doesn't that take time?"

Well off course it takes more time, than just having an old-fashion static website (just kidding...), but the outcome will be that we sell more and increase our revenues!

Great! And then you know which content or Calls to Action to show to your different segments... And then you can build the design and the user experience around it - focusing on SEO and getting traffic.

Because your goal is set on conversions (sales, sign-ups to newsletter etc.), build proper content - which focuses on the conversions.

I'm excited to be a part of this transformation, where the
static brochure-ware sites are yesterday and personalized websites with focus on user behavior are today.

By the way, have you ever tried to open iTunes or Amazon on somebody else’s computer? Wow - you get a lot of content, that doesn't interest you, scary stuff!

Sitecore Online Marketing Suite gives you an out-of-the-box solution, with features like:

  • Real-Time Personalization
  • A/B Split Test
  • Visitor Experience
  • Campaign Management
  • Sales Enablement
  • And more!


These features are great for building more engaging websites, that sense the intentions of the users and adapt by showing relevant content.

With Sitecore Online Marketing Suite, you can create personalization rules, based on conditions like:

  • Which country or even city the visitor is from (Example: show targeted content to all visitors from London or run an A/B split test for all visitors from Iceland).
  • Visitor not new to our site (Statement: "What do you want?", when the user visits us the 9Th time - and still haven't made any conversions)
  • Keywords (show content related to keywords)


Another condition is to base rules on profiles scores. This means you can create different profiles, to profile your content with, these could be:

  • Target group (like B2C, B2B, non-profit)
  • Behavior (Looking, Confirming, Buying)
  • Lead value (a number)
  • Etc.


All content (like an article), can easily be profiled by giving each content a score according to the profiles.

Sitecore Personalization

Profiling content, gives you an effective way to tell how much each content "belongs" to your different profiles.
When the visitors clicks through your site, he will "earn" scores according to the profiling and you can create rules, based on conditions like, "if the value of a profile key is greater than or equal to 3" then show this content (action).

Sitecore OMS Rules Editor

The image above shows the rule editor in Sitecore Online Marketing Suite, where interest in yellow paint will trigger a yellow paint product offer.

This happens in real-time and is the result of Sitecore’s strong page rendering engine, which allows dynamic content and because Sitecore Online Marketing Suite stores the Visitor Experience.

By using Real-Time Personalization (or Behavioral Targeting), you get an cost-effective way to deliver your Business Objectives, it turns your website into an effective customer intelligence engine, which delivers targeted content.

This makes it easy to nurture your prospects, showing the right Calls to Action based on their behavior and clickstream - and senses buying signals from the visitors.

By having access to past visitor experiences, you can analyze and optimize your website, based on past success conversions. You can also track failures, and learn from what went wrong!

Is it only eCommerce sites, that benefit from Sitecore Online Marketing Suite?
No - every website, whether it is non-profit, Government B2C or B2B website has to have measurable outcomes!

  • If it's non-profit, one of your goals is to engage the visitor to sign-up for information or support your case. 
  • If it's Government, one of your goals is to engage the visitor to self-service, so you reduce cost related to phone support. 
  • If it's B2B, your goal is to get leads - this could be to engage the user, to submit a "call me up" form. 

By using Real-Time Personalization you close to gap between your goals and the visitor intentions, by showing relevant content in the right context and bringing the visitor closer to a conversion.


So why does personalization matter?

If your visitors have same behavior, same goals and looking for same information - they would properly look like this:

Visitors with Same Behavior

Then it's good to show same content to all visitors, because they aren't different.

But if you see your visitors as a group of people, with different behavior, different goals and as a mix of people, like this:

Visitors with Varying Behavior

Then personalization would be an effective way to transfer your Business Objectives to the online world, use segmented content to start a dialogue with your visitors and move them closer to a conversion.

By using A/B split testing, you can test content and optimize for what gives you best conversion rates. Content to be tested can be everything from different versions of the Front page to text or colors on submit buttons. Testing gives you an immediate response from your site users on what works and what doesn't! You can use A/B split testing to test personallized spots and call to actions, to ensure you get the conversions you build for.

Where to go from here?

If you use Sitecore Online Marketing Suite to deliver real-time personalization to your visitors, next step is to store the behavior and visitor experience, this can be stored in Sitecore (which is standard), but data can also be integrated to the CRM system, which then becomes your customer intelligence base for all offline and offline communication and behavior. Giving your Sales people access to real-time information about a prospect’s online visit.

The information, whatever it is stored on Sitecore or CRM, can then be used for personalized newsletters - based on online behavior and offline dialogue. When a link in the personalized newsletter is triggered, Sitecore can access previous information and deliver personalization upon that - moving the visitor closer to a conversion.

Sitecore Personalization Conversion Process

The image above shows a 360 degree customer view, where web (or mobile) behavior is stored in Sitecore or CRM, which is base for personalized newsletters, which links to the website and behavior is stored back into Sitecore or CRM.

If the visitor enters through search, organic or paid, the keywords can be the starting point for the personalized content.


About Lars Birkholm Petersen
Lars has 12 years of experience with Web Content Management, started as a developer back in the days where frames and active server pages where cool. Lars has been involved with project management and participated in over 100 different website projects and WCMS product development. Today Lars works with Sitecore, helping customers and partners with Sitecore Online Marketing Suite among others.

Blog: http://www.larsdk.dk
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/larsbirkholm

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