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How to build your website personalization strategy based on customer shopping activity

Personalization is not a new phenomenon. In fact, internet giants such as Amazon have been using it since the early days of the internet. Although it has had its ups and downs in popularity, online companies have always been looking for ways to practice personalization for their visitors and customers. However, it’s only in recent years that personalization has become an essential part of user experience for the majority of online businesses ,thanks to the emergence of smartphones, apps and social media as well as advancements in algorithms and machine learning.

However, although everyone is swooning for personalization nowadays, a wide majority of personalization practices are not proving to be effective. In fact, many of them are not simply ineffective—they are detrimental to user experience, customer satisfaction, engagement and conversion rates. In this post, we will explain how failing to develop a solid website personalization strategy could result in ineffective and harmful personalization habits in your online business.

First things first: what is website personalization?

Website personalization is the practice of delivering personalized experiences for online shoppers based on their attributes, preferences and behavior. Online websites use personalization to tailor their website content, product lineup, offers and prices to resonate with their customers’ individual needs and desires across different stages of the customer journey from consideration to advocacy.

If you have not noticed by now, the following 3 categories of online business are widely (and sometimes aggressively!) using personalization practices to show you personally tailored content with the hope of impressing you and increasing your engagement with their products and services.

  • Social media websites: taking the well-deserved first spot, these websites are often under fire for over-personalization (aka abusing personalization!). The boogeyman Mark Zuckerberg’s mega social network Facebook is the best example of this.
  • Online retailers: the almighty Amazon is the perfect example and may be the pioneer of personalization in online shopping.
  • Traveling and booking websites: You’ve probably seen irritating FOMO enforcers and aggressive social proofs on sites like Booking.com, Airbnb and Expedia.
  • News websites: Google News, Guardian, Le Monde and New York Times are just a few of the news services that offer a personalized news module or use advanced algorithms to evolve and improve their news based on your interests
  • Online streaming: Services such as Netflix, Hulu and Spotify are heavily investing resources for personalization algorithms and ML (machine learning) to suggest content based on your interests.

Why is a website personalization strategy critical for every online business?

Back in 1998, Jeff Bezos once said, “if we have 4.5 million customers, we shouldn’t have one store. We should have 4.5 million stores.” 23 years later, Amazon is the world’s biggest online retailer and marketplace. There are many elements to Amazon’s stellar success, but its innovative vision of personalization and a well thought-out personalization strategy are for sure among the most important factors.

Let’s dig a little bit more into the details of how a website personalization strategy can drive multi-faceted value to your online business.

1- Personalization is a natural expectation

Getting what we want is not a choice—it’s a natural function for humans! Unfortunately, technology has not yet reached the stage of being able to offer exactly what we want. It’s just a matter of time until smart advertising will serve us only and exactly what we want in terms of brands, websites, apps and streaming services. So, the sooner we embrace the promise of the future, the better!

2- Personalization has become the standard

For all online shops these days, personalization is an imperative. Personalizing visitors’ experience is so common that it goes unnoticed in all facets of our digital interactions. Many people take personalization—at least in its most basic forms—for granted.

Forrester reports 89% of businesses invest resources in personalization.

This means you don’t need to look for a reason to embrace this practice. Rather, you must do so, just so you can catch up with the standard. Otherwise, your online shopping competitor could easily overtake you in the race to grab a shopper’s attention. However, later in the article we will explain how practicing standardized, shallow website personalization strategy can damage your business and discuss what specific actions you need to follow to make your personalization distinctive and outstanding.

3- It’s your best chance of increasing customer engagement

The more relevant your website content is, the higher your chances are of grabbing visitors’ attention in the very small window of opportunity they give to you. This is especially true for first time visitors. With personalization you can hope to get a lower bounce rate and higher time spent on your landing pages and hence a higher lead generation and customer conversion rate.

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4- It reduces your marketing costs

Personalization has proven to be an effective way to increase ROI (return on investment) of marketing activities. Levi Strauss has reported that its customers accepted 76% of personalized recommended products, resulting in an increase of 52% in their annual revenue.

5- Personalization is probably the best retention strategy

Buyers not only consider a brand based on the value it gives right away but also remain interested in it based on the value they get from that brand over time. Personalization is one of the best ways to trigger that interest.

The more aligned our offers are with our customers’ preferences over their journey with our brand, the more loyal they will be to our brand over time.

How exactly does personalization operate?

Before diving into how to build an efficient personalization strategy, we need to thoroughly understand its components and how they function.

The fatal Motivated Sequence!

According to John Monroe’s Motivated Sequence theory developed in the 1930s, before a customer buys your product or service they take a particular journey during which they undergo different stages of persuasion. The process involves lots of information processing and cognitive effort. Every online business’s goal should be to successfully drive the visitor forward to the end of this journey. Let’s have a look at the stages of the persuasion process in detail.

  • Attention: The journey of persuasion begins with a need. The visitor has faced a problem and is looking for a solution to address it. For example, you grab their attention with an ad or relevant blog post in their search results.
  • Need: You have a very short time to grab their attention by suggesting you have an answer to their needs (via your product or service). Visitors will look for early signals related to their problem in your landing or product page. Your choice of headings and slogans will be especially helpful here.
  • Satisfaction: If you have successfully accomplished the previous steps, the user is now ready to spend a little more time on your website. Now they’ll go through details of your solution and consider how it might help them address their problem.
  • Visualization: This is where you paint a picture of your solution to help the visitor accept it. The step shows the visitor what a world where their problem has been solved looks like and is probably the most important step of the persuasion process with regards to your website personalization strategy.
  • Call to Action: A successful persuasion journey ends here, as the visitor has made up their mind to adopt your suggested solution and your previous pay off.
website personalization strategy

Each step of the motivated sequence involves informational as well as psychological processes on the visitor’s end. Psychological processes are playing the most important role here, as specific biases are triggered and planned decisions are taken to proceed to the next step.

Persuasion stageCognitive function
1- AttentionCredibility
2- NeedCommon Ground
3- SatisfactionPreference-matchingEmotional Connection
4- VisualizationPreference-matchingEmotional Connection
5- Call to Action

Running a successful persuasion journey requires a good grasp of using cognitive bias in marketing. The most important steps of the persuasion journey, however, are the satisfaction and visualization steps. In these steps, you should aim to trigger an emotional connection between your brand and the visitor by showcasing a solution based on the exact parameters of the visitor’s problem. Your visitor will only be ready to take the desired action if your solution successfully matches with their preferences.

Your website personalization strategy will be the cornerstone of the psychological process. It should involve the accurate collection of the visitor’s need parameters in the beginning of the journey (step 1), showing early signals that resonate with those parameters (step 2) and finally showing the closest match (personalized solution) to their preference parameters as the solution in step 3 and 4.

Personalization is the secret ingredient for successful preference-matching

To put this in a more practical context, every time a visitor lands on a page, they are giving you some data about their need (parameters)—as if they were as they are filling out a form—that you should use to tailor your suggested solution in the following steps.

website personalization strategy

For example, when a visitor is reading a post about “Free tips on iPhone photography” on your blog, they are giving you the signal they are likely a photographer or have some issues with their current photography tools and do not have the budget to buy a premium tool. Therefore, your mission is to personalize your following content based on that need by showing relevant products (for example, your free premium photography tool, a free iPhone photography guide as a freebie or even an exclusive coupon).

Such a comprehensive website personalization would require:

  1. A comprehensive strategy 
  2. A capable automation mechanism that can flawlessly execute it.

Failure to do any of the above would damage your personalization goals and risk your business goals accordingly. Let’s have a deeper look at the pitfalls of a poor website personalization strategy and then I will suggest ways to avoid them.

What are the pitfalls of a website personalization strategy?

You have probably come across some bad personalization campaigns in your inbox or social media:

  • A Christmass promo code email received on January 1
  • Creepy campaigns that know a little too much about you 
  • Big bold ‘Dear FNAME’ at then top of a promotional email, 
  • Emails that know you are a new customer while the website treats you like a first time visitor
  • Retargeting ads that keep following you forever, even though you have already purchased what they are trying to sell you.

These poorly executed personalization campaigns have many causes but are generally the result of lack of a well-planned personalization strategy. Let’s see how:

Lack of ad hoc personalization (who are you personalizing for?)

We have to choose our personalizations in a way that they resonate with the segments they are built for. We should avoid creating mass personalization as much as possible as it may end up being shallow and or something not everyone can relate to.

What is the most common need among all types of marketing campaigns? First, customer needs and, second, as much information about our customers as we can gather. This could mean thousands of individuals, all with their own challenges, preferences and behavior.

The material used to conduct such research would be the clues we collect from users’ behavior across all channels of interaction, unified and transformed into meaningful segments.

We should create customer segments for e-commerce websites based off of the potential value of customers targeted by personalized marketing campaigns.

Shallow single-channel personalization

As a customer, you might feel quite special when a company sends you an engaging email with a discount on the anniversary of your membership. Unfortunately, this warm feeling fizzles out the moment the call to action button takes you to a generic landing page. This kind of singular personalization approach works on one channel but abandons all the rest—and should be avoided at all costs!

Showing an email that promotes cross-selling items based on the purchased product X followed by a homepage that still promotes the product X (there should be a facepalm emoji around the homepage image)

Serving relevant content to your customers across all channels requires a multi-channel approach based on the comprehensive collection of information from each individual. How you personalize each email, popup or ad relies on what you know about their behavior across your web pages. To provide an effective example, imagine sending a cart abandoner a follow-up email, plus showing a personalized home page, a first purchase discount popup and relevant ads. Who could resist?

The beauty of personalization is being able to serve personalized campaigns across all channels from a single dashboard.

Expensive martech stack

There are two ways to implement cross-channel automation for your online business.

1. Use separate tools to plan and compose automations in different channels. This is not recommended for the reasons explained in the previous section (lack of harmony and collective awareness). Plus, this approach may require higher costs, a steeper learning curve and more maintenance. In fact, this approach accounts for most of the mediocre personalization out there, as 91% of companies report resources for personalization are limited or not available due to lack of time or budget.

website personalization strategy

2- Use a unified automation tool that is capable of operating across different channels
Your automation tool should be able to arrange, execute and maintain automations across all channels from a single dashboard. This will make a seamless personalization strategy possible and ensure lower martech costs, unified analytics and easier maintenance. Unified tools also have the advantage of having unified pricing that includes all the necessary costs. For example, you won’t need to pay extra for email delivery services like Amazon SES, SendGrid, etc.

Pressure on server resources and performance consequences

Using multiple tools to automate marketing across different channels will require more server resources. This is especially important when your marketing automation tools use your own server resources to sustain various personalization campaigns.

This is a common issue in the WordPress space, as marketing tools are mostly plugins that are installed to your server and will use its resources to operate. For example website personalization tools, funnel builders or exit-intent popup plugins add their own script to your page, which will affect your web page loading speed and performance.

SEO consequences

This problem is mostly caused by automation tools and the way they operate. This is especially the case with web-page content personalization and redirection tools.

This may be a particularly big issue if your web page personalization tool uses:

HTTP Redirection

This process is used when you want to personalize your visitors’ experience with a personalized version of a webpage. For example, if a translated version of your landing page is offered to Spanish visitors, your automation tool should execute a soft (browser-level) redirection using an in-page script after the traffic arrives on your server. If it executes a hard redirection (HTTP-level) such as 301 or 302, this can result in SEO side effects, as Google will think you default homepage is obsolete and the Spanish page is the new default page. The old homepage’s ranking power will be assigned to the Spanish homepage. But you didn’t want this at all!

URL and content Duplications

For running personalizations that do not cover an entire webpage but only a section of it, you should make sure your website personalization tool is capable of personalizing content in the HTML layer of your page and NOT editing a duplication of the original page. Otherwise, this will cause major SEO issues such as duplicate content and canonical page issues.

No -or unactionable- analytics reports

Another instance of a mediocre website personalization strategy is when you do it only because it’s trending or your competitor is doing it, rather than checking if it actually works or not. In fact, it may not be beneficial to your marketing, but rather detrimental to your business.

One of the key principles of a healthy website personalization strategy is constantly reviewing the key metrics of your campaign and deciding to continue, stop or refine. Actionable metrics along with the customer feedback will give you the material you need to measure your personalization ideas and facilitate a well-informed feedback loop.

When choosing metrics to measure the performance of marketing automations, it is critical that they have the following qualities.

Actionable not vanity

A vanity metric provides information that is not actionable. Rather than laying out a course of action, they just make you feel good. Action metrics, however, lay out a clear path before you.

Vanity MetricsActionable Metrics
Total impressions, total sales, total revenue, total clicks, total leads, total customers,…Generated traffic, active leads, potential customers, generated revenue

Comparative not absolute

What makes a metric useful? Try comparing it to its symmetrical counterpart. For example, compare the same metric before and after running a personalization campaign, or compare the results of non-personalized and personalized campaigns. Some key metrics include:

  • email open rate
  • email click rate
  • coupons used
  • abandoned carts

If things have impoved, you’re on the right track. If not, you may need to make some changes.

website personalization strategy

What’s next!…

Given all the points mentioned above, the ideal tool to facilitate a healthy website personalization strategy should have the following qualifications:

  • Holistic service (SaaS) using its own server resources and offering a unified pricing
  • Collects and unifies customer data from all customer touchpoints
  • Offers rich attributional and behavioral filtering criteria for automated customer segmentation
  • Offers a variety of personalized content modules
  • Runs personalized automations for each segment across all touchpoints (such as web pages, email, pop ups, etc.)
  • Provides in-depth and actionable performance reports both at the general and campaign-specific level so that you can learn and refine them over time.

In the next step, I will walk you through a solid personalization strategy using Growmatik. Growmatik is a cross-channel marketing platform for online businesses. Let’s get into it!

How to create a Website Personalization strategy based on customer shopping activity

As we explained in the previous sections, your strategy should be a reflection of your target persona, their preferences and the behavior you expect from them. In the context of online businesses and ecommerce shops, our best bet for achieving a solid strategy is to examine the customer’s shopping activity. This will directly affect the success of step 3 and 4 in the motivation sequence (satisfaction and visualization) and increases the chance of conversion in your campaign.

Let’s walk through the 6-step model to create a website personalization strategy based on customer activity:

  1. Strategize > Define your business objectives
  2. Discover > Know your customers in depth
  3. Segment & Target
  4. Orchestration > Plan automations 
  5. Personalize > Content for automations
  6. Measure > Learn and re-iterate
website personalization strategy

1- Define your business objectives

Following our discussions about ad-hoc implementation, a meaningful website personalization strategy should only be based on solid research about your target customer and, secondarily, the website funnels.

Study your target customer

Define your target customer. What do you expect from an ideal lead or customer? Are they living in a specific location? Do you expect them to spend a specific amount of time or money on your website? How frequently do you expect them to interact with your shop? Your research should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Who is your target and why?
  • What content do they expect from you?
  • When are you going to give it?
  • Where are you going to give it?
  • How are you going to give it?

Study your website funnels

The secret to personalizing your customer’s path to subscription, purchase and long term loyalty lies in plotting out that course so you can better personalize it.

Use the Growmatik Analytics page to get insights about different traffic referrers to your website including websites, UTMs and countries.

In Analytics page > Site engagement section, click on more details buttons

website personalization strategy

In order to find valuable contributors, make sure to check not only the count of referred traffic from a source but also the number of sign-ups and sales.

You can also use the Growmatik Customer Journey tool to narrow down journeys up to the point of conversion. Select specific locations, sources, landing pages, subscription channels or specific products to see what your traffic is doing in the funnels to and from those points.

Using the above techniques you can find out which funnels are working and which are failing and can figure out a strategy to improve them using relevant personalizations.

2- Know your customers in depth

Your customers leave you clues whenever they interact with any of the touchpoints with your brand. From the moment they arrive on your landing page for the first time and along their journey they browse different pages, interact with popups, buy products, leave reviews, react to your emails and more. They buy some items, welcome some offers and reject the rest. All of this is the information you need to base your personalizations on.

Customer data is the cornerstone of your personalizations

Growmatik collects and unifies all this information from your customers’ activity on your website, emails and more. When a user first arrives at your website, a user profile is formed and enriched over time based on their behavior across all channels. The important metrics to consider for behavioral personalization are:

  • Landing page
  • Visited page(s) 
  • Current page
  • Visit date(s)
  • Number of orders
  • Number of used coupons
  • Number of purchased items
  • Order value
  • Purchase date
  • Purchased items
  • Product categories
  • Top purchased items
  • Abandoned carts

3- Segment & Target

With a holistic user profile at hand, you can use the People section to play with the behavioral filters listed above to create simple or sophisticated segments to use as the target of your personalizations in the next step.

Two of the most important segments to personalize for in shopping websites are in-site activity and RFM values.

In-site activity

Filters such as Visited pages show you the customer’s interests based on their previous browsing so that you can personalize your websites pages for their future visits. For example, when a user has visited the mobile accessories page, you personalize your homepage for the next visit.

website personalization strategy

RFM

The other important segmentation type in e-commerce is RFM segmentation, a highly popular way to segment customers based on their interaction with and loyalty to your brand. RFM stands for recency (how recently they bought), frequency (how often they bought) and monetary (how much have they bought). By setting different bars for each of these metrics you can segment different levels of interaction and loyalty from customers and serve each group the relevant content.

FactorUsable filter
RecencyWhen was the last order placed?Visit date
Purchase date
FrequencyHow many orders were placed within a time period?Number of purchased items
Number of orders
MonetaryWhat was the monetary value of the orders placed within a time period?Order value

For example, if the recency you expect from your customer is at least to have visited in the last 30 days or at least 1 purchase in the past 90 days, those who fall outside this period can be segmented as ‘inactive customers’ and can be targeted with a reactivation campaign.

4- Plan automations

Once you have done the research about your customers, defined your ideal customer and shaped your potential valuable segments, now you are ready to build automations that serve personalization at scale to each respective segment. As we discussed earlier, your automation agent should be able to plan, compose and measure automations across all touchpoints from a single dashboard.

In Growmatik, you can directly assign automated web page personalizations, pop ups and emails to each segment once you create it in the People section. Automations in Growmark are composed of ‘IF a THEN b’ statements with “a” as the condition and “b” the triggered action when the condition is met. For example:

  • IF segment is away THEN send email
  • IF current page is Men’s Watch THEN display discount popup
  • IF Valentine Gift page is visited THEN personalize homepage with Valentine gifts
website personalization strategy

You can create as many automations for a segment as you want (as long as it makes sense and matches your personalization strategy). For the action part of your automation rules you will be asked to define the content you want served for the audience. You can choose easy-to-use templates or create your own personalized content using Growmatik builders. Let’s do it in the next section.

5- Personalize content for automations

The content we serve to our segments is the result of all our efforts and a sign of how efficient our website personalization strategy is. Your customers will never know what you have done in the research and data collection steps but they can definitely understand if the content you serve them is well-informed and tailored to their needs. This is therefore a very important step in our personalization model.

Growmatik’s web page personalization tool is simple and visual. It’s capable of editing page content without altering the source code. In the Growmatik page builder, drag and drop new elements, such as images, icons and text, to personalize everything from webpages to popups. We recommend using the following personalization components:

Dynamic product list

Include product lists inside your content that reflect your customers’ shopping or reading history. For example, Growmatik allows you to include related products, product categories, abandoned items, related upsells, related cross-sells, related discounted items inside web pages or emails. You can consider including personalized products inside your cross-selling or follow-up emails.

website personalization strategy

Dynamic blog list

You can also include blog lists tailored to your customers’ previous reading history. With Growmatik you can place related posts inside your email and webpages as well as posts from a specific blog category. For example, in your nurturing emails for segments of different product categories you can place blog posts related to each segment’s product category.

Dynamic keywords

Personalize content with dynamic keywords such as date, location, UTM parameters, purchase dates, purchase items, order value and more. This comes handy in post-sale and cross-selling emails.

Dynamic coupons

Use exclusive coupons to help strengthen your offer to your customers. You can use them in your popups for first-time visitors or to recover abandoned carts. Growmatik allows you to craft functional coupons and add them to your emials and popups. Simply define the coupons within Growmatik and the program will deliver a functional code to users.

6- Measure, learn and re-iterate

Here is the last step in an effective website personalization strategy model. Once automations are executed, you should monitor their performance both:

  • While operating to notice problems and decide to stop or address the issues AND
  • After the campaign is over to judge its performance. Based on this you can decide to repeat or amplify it in the next campaign

The performance assessment can be done in two different scales:

General growth

General growth metrics are useful when you want to check the performance of your website in general during or after a campaign is run. For example, you can compare the indirect sales increase before and after a personalization campaign was carried out.

The Growmatik Analytics page provides general analytics about website traffic, sales, customers and email campaigns. Each section includes multiple related metrics. You can view the related Growth chart for every metric by clicking on that metric. The generated chart is comparative and shows how the metric performed in comparison to the previous time segment based on the selected time frame. The increase/decline indicators next to each metric also show growth in numerical percentage.

Credit: Track site-wide growth in indirect orders, revenue, conversion rate, average order value, order frequency and repeat customer purchase before and after a personalization campaign was run

Credit: Track site-wide new leads, returning leads, new customers, returning customers before and after a personalization campaign was run

Campaign-specific growth

You should also track the performance of the personalization campaign itself. In the Growmatik automation report, you can find related performance metrics with regards to all of the actions inside an automation campaign. There are two types of automation report metrics:

  • All-inclusive reports for all actions
  • Individual reports for every comprising action (for a closer look at each action within a compound personalization campaign)

Using the time selector on the right hand side of Growmatik you can create comparative reports that will come handy when comparing the performance of an automation rule in the weeks since it began operating.

Credit: Track direct sales caused by a specific personalization campaign

Some of the metrics you should keep an eye on when assessing a personalization campaign are: 

  • Impressions (for web page personalization)
  • Email sent, open rate & click rate (for email campaigns)
  • Revenue generated 

Conclusion

That’s it! The 6 steps above provide a good model to follow when building a website personalization strategy for your online business. Just note that this model is not a one-off process and should be consistently executed to feed your personalization with continuous well-informed insights and decisions.

Plan and execute
a cross-channel
personalization strategy