The Nightmare of Content Personalization

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Content personalization is the thing that goes bump in the night for digital marketers. It’s unknown and scary, and while you know it's important, you might be hiding under the covers hoping deep down that it'll just go away.

Chances are that you’re already making an attempt to personalize your content to some degree… but are you doing it well? Did you take the time to do your research and make a plan before getting started with personalization, or did you just dive right in?

Either way, content personalization can be intimidating - so much so that many businesses have no idea where to start in order to do it right. The good news is that while this process may appear to be a monster at first, it doesn’t have to be. With this post, we hope to give you the courage to go turn the light on and see what you’re dealing with. With proper planning and some insights about what's important, maybe you'll find it’s not as scary as you thought after all.

1. Identifying Personas/Segments

The most important part of content personalization is content creation. And in order to create the right content, you need to know for whom you're creating it.

When a visitor hits your page for the first time, they’re anonymous. With certain types of personalization tools, once that visitor starts clicking around, the personalization engine will start to gather information about that user. Let’s say you’re looking to personalize for a travel website. If a user clicks on something that indicates they’re looking to travel internationally, they will be shown more international travel options, while the domestic ones start to thin out. If they click on vacation packages for families, you’ve gained insight that they’re likely married with kids and might not be interested in a young single’s cruise, allowing the site to personalize accordingly. This tree of clicks and decisions the user has taken quickly starts to snowball - with each data point building a more comprehensive picture of the user and fitting that user more closely into one of the personas you’ve created.

Starting out, you and your team may be tempted to churn out as many customer personas as you can think of, casting a wide net to make sure that you’re hitting every possible type of visitor and potential customer. Resist the temptation! Instead, focus only on the most important user personas for your business goals.

Personas

Alleviate the horrors of content creation by keeping your personas focused and trim.

So how do you decide how many personas you need? Unfortunately, there’s no magic number. Due to a variety of factors including your industry, your users, and your company, it can vary pretty widely. With that said, you should be thinking closer to 5-10, not 40-50. A good rule of thumb is “as few as possible, but no fewer”. This means that personas should be actionable, prioritized against business goals, and web-centric. If you need to speak to a given type of user differently than anyone else, or you want them to take a different kind of action, only then does it makes sense to serve them personalized content. Also, if you know some of your audience isn't going to frequent your site, place a higher priority on your web power users.

2. Conducting A Content Inventory

Once you’ve identified personas, you’ll want to take an inventory of the content you already have. In order to personalize, each persona you identify will have specific and tailored content that you’ll need to create for them. Make sure to go through all your old and archived content to see what you already have that will work for the new personas you and your team have identified. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to determine what gaps exist and fill in from there. You can expect there to be a lot of gaps - if you think you have a ton of content to manage for your website now, then hold onto your hat! Just wait until you multiply that amount by 5 or 10 to satisfy all the personas you’ve created! 

Knowing what you have is just the first step. It’s even more important to have an audit done on your existing content. By auditing, you’ll be able to decide whether your current content is actually “good” or “bad”. Just because you have content that fits a persona type, doesn’t necessarily make it good content. 

3. Creating Taxonomy

Now that you’ve done the research and legwork, you’ll need to start strategizing your taxonomy based on what you’ve found. 

At its core, taxonomy is simply the practice of classifying content. In a similar way to how you associate categories or tags with your blog posts, taxonomy categorizes and tags your site’s content. Taxonomy is the association between your personas and the personalized content you’ve created, so your personalization tool you use knows what content to serve to whom.

When you create your site’s taxonomy, you want content to be classified not only in an organized way but also in such a way that you’ll be the best equipped to serve personalized content to your visitors. This guide on Drupal.org has some great guidelines and examples about the basics of taxonomy, and how to plan for a larger site.

Taxonomy vocabulary likely won’t simply be a set of tags named for personas. For example, maybe you have content related to luxury travel, budget travel, and family travel destinations. A person who has a family and is on a budget should be able to see things tagged just “family”, just “budget”, and both “family” and “budget”. A person interested in luxury who also has a family should be able to see the same “family” content, but would be shown “luxury” instead of any “budget” content. Building out your taxonomy this way means you can get a lot more custom, and make sure your personas are seeing all the content that relates to them. 

I need a luxury vacation on a budget

Creating taxonomy is a skill in and of itself, and if done poorly, can make serving the right personalized content to the right users much more difficult. Setting up the right taxonomy is helpful for content personalization, but also helps with things like search, categorization, and more. An experienced Drupal architect can help define meaningful relationships that will connect site content in a way that makes sense within Drupal's architecture, the requirements of personalization tools and an organization's overall content strategy.

Now What?

Content personalization is an iterative process. Once you’ve completed these initial steps and begin implementing your strategy, continue to track and report on what’s working and what isn’t so you can keep refining your tactics and content. Tweak and change your messaging as you add new products and services with A/B and multivariate testing. Find out what’s resonating with your users. And use market trends, events, and seasonality to make your content relevant.

Find The Right Tool

As a marketer, you should be focusing your energy on content creation and strategy. There are personalization tools out there that will help do the rest for you - and there is no shortage of options. Each one has a different take on how to create, deliver, and manage personalized experiences. At Elevated Third, we have developed and maintain a contributed personalization module called Smart Content, which is available on Drupal.org. Smart Content allows you to dip your toe in to personalization slowly by connecting the website directly to a source of data rather than relying on the whole ecosystem being perfect before you start. With it, Drupal acts as your decision agent (aka “the brains”), allowing you to define how your content variations are determined in the moment.

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If you’re looking to invest in an enterprise solution for content personalization in Drupal, we recommend a product from our partner Acquia, called Lift. Lift enables you to take full control over your personalization by harnessing customer data from an array of different sources to get a unified view of the customer, and allows companies to use this insight to serve the right custom content. This tool is incredibly powerful, and it’s unparalleled in the enterprise Drupal space in terms of capabilities.

Find The Right Partner

With the right tools in place, the next step is finding the right partner. Having a true partner with a deep understanding of UX, information architecture, and your business goals and KPIs is the difference between a personalized site and an intuitive, elegant conversion machine. Our team is staffed with thoughtful, certified Drupal experts who can think beyond code and work cross-functionally to build a friendly, functional solution.

We hope that this has given you a place to start navigating the world of content personalization, and made it a little less daunting. If you’ve completed these steps and are looking for a partner to take you to the next level, get in touch, or download our white paper on content personalization to learn more.