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HomeRants > Talk like a human being. > Customize--then personalize. > Why personalize?


Personalizing pro & con:

Examples of personalized content

What personalization does for your site

Don't fake it

Why personalize?

People want to be recognized, catered to, and served personally.

You can't keep feeding them generic content, when they are able to customize their own content on places like Yahoo.com, Lycos.com, and the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition.

And you can't win repeat visitors if you post a bunch of generic, all-purpose pages on your site, when consumers are seeing how delightful real personalization can be, when they visit pioneering sites like Amazon.com, Land's End, and Reflect.com.

The content you do create must live within an increasingly personalized environment, being dished up in different ways to different people.


Reflect.com welcomes me back.

Examples of personalized content

  • Greeting guests by name, because the site has recognized them on arrival. Most people find this recognition reassuring, even though it is a cheap trick.
  • Displaying the content they asked for, arranged in their own personal order and format. Picking out the news feeds that interest them, prioritizing those, gives each person a feeling of control over the subject matter.
  • Offering products that are similar to ones a visitor has just bought, or bought on earlier visits. Far from offending, these relevant offers smooth a visitor's path, inform each one of news in areas they care about, and, generally, lead to sales.
  • Wish lists. These help friends and family figure out what to buy -encouraging them to visit the site.
  • Custom pricing. Makes a site very attractive to repeat customers.
  • Express transactions, like Amazon's patented, copyrighted, trademarked, and locked-up One-Click shopping, which makes all sales after the first one so simple that visitors can hardly resist.
  • Access to the guest's own account and profile information. Turns out people like to see everything they've bought from the site, going back to the first dinosaur saddle. Using the account, they can check on orders, see when things will be sent, change their address, express credit card info. Being allowed to modify their account directly lets them see what the site sees, and reassures them that it is accurate, and on the level. Also, because people see all the preferences they checked, they can make changes, to bring it up-to-date-if they believe that the site is really acting on their preferences.
  • Tailored e-mail alerts. If the consumers have to opt in twice, they are much more likely to welcome tailored e-mail marketing, particularly if it really does tell recipients about subjects they care about. What stinks is e-mail that obviously has no relevance to the topics they ticked on the form.

What personalization does for your site

If your text is going to stay afloat in this sea of information about products, prices, positions, and transactions, you need to remember personalization's larger purposes:

  • Making the site easier to use. If the site guesses right about what people are interested in, they do not have to search, or stumble around the menu system. Personalization saves time.
  • Making content more relevant, so it is easier to understand, think about, remember. People get it.
  • Increasing sales. People are not averse to buying. In fact, they enjoy it. Making product pitches relevant helps them get to the fun part faster.
  • Increasing loyalty. Once a guest has filled out some registration info, and seen that the site really responds, he or she might as well come back, to avoid taking the time to fill out the same info at some other site. Plus, there's a certain satisfaction to being recognized, catered to, cajoled personally.
  • Giving the consumer control. When guests feel as if they can manipulate the content on a site, the site itself becomes a little like their own personal application, a tool they can use.

Don't fake it

A lot of sites pretend to personalize their content, but have no idea what content to deliver to which visitors.

  • If the site doesn't collect much information in the user profile, then the software will make stupid decisions about what to offer a particular visitor, providing trivial, generic, or off-the-wall content.
  • Some sites ask a lot of questions, developing quite a detailed profile of each visitor, then fail to act on that information, leaving the consumer feeling cheated, or disappointed.

The best sites develop a very rich profile, and act quickly, and very visibly, to show the user the payoff, with intelligent suggestions, relevant content, and smart services. Paul Hagen, of Forrester Research, defines the best personalization this way:

Content and services actively tailored to individuals based on rich knowledge about their preferences and behavior. (Hagen, 1999)


Next: Create custom content for each group






















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Who am I writing for, and, incidentally, who am I? (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 566K, or about 10 minutes at 56k)


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