With the advent of brighter and shinier personalization tools in the marketing, I wanted to quickly break down the strategic process that you can use to apply to any personalization tool ever.

It doesn’t matter what the platform is – if you go through these steps, you’ll emerge from the exercise with clarity and real, actionable personalization exercises you can test on your website today.

1. Make sure you have the right personalization tools.

You can’t do any kind of personalization, of course, until you have a tool! And there’s tons out there that can help deliver personalized content to your visitors, users, customers, clients, etc. There are also functions you might already have in another tool that offers personalization – for example, Thunderhead (a journey analytics tool), Sitecore (a content and experience management system), and Hubspot (marketing automation and content) all offer different types of personalization and are all different tools.

So find out if a platform you already have can do this or if you need to add to your marketing technology stack.

2. Pick the overall goal(s) you want the prospect / customer / guest / visitor to achieve.

I’m pretty sure my grave will be marked “Identify your goals!” with how often I say it, but it’s true: define the overall goal you want to achieve with personalization, but be specific and concrete. Think back on your current marketing goals and decide where personalization might help you accomplish one of them faster.

For example, your marketing goals might be to engage a specific community or find new ways to segment your data. From there, you can hone in on an upcoming campaign or initiative to test personalization in. Could personalization help convert more users into a specific asset or webinar? Could you use personalization to get more click-throughs into a particular piece of content? How about just overall user experience improvement – i.e. auto-selecting the nearest store or location because it recognizes the user’s geo-IP?

Whatever the goal, determine exactly what it is and that will help you focus your personalization efforts without boiling the ocean.

Within your goals, you should have KPIs to let you know if you accomplished them or not. This will also help identify the success of personalization. The KPI might be very simple – number of registrations, click throughs, sign ups, etc. – but the point is that you have them!

3. Pick the channels you’ll target (that make the most sense for your goal).

Now we get to identify if the channel matters, and with personalization, you’ll find it often does. So after deciding what goal you want to target, use the channel as a lens upon which you’ll decide if the personalization needs to be tailored further. For example, if someone clicks a link from a tweet into a landing page, do you show them different content than if they were to search for the landing page or click from an email? How are you driving traffic to a particular page on your site? Or are you hoping literally anyone sees it? You might not know much about the person from Twitter, but if they clicked a link from email and you knew who they were already, does the content change depending on that channel?

Consider exclusions, as well. The above example was an inclusion – I’m including people who click in from email and Twitter and search, but another way to think about this is deciding who will be excluded from the personalization test as well.

For example, anyone who Registers on your website shouldn’t see the Register button anymore, but rather the Login button. After logging in, Login disappears and Logout appears. If the user clears their cookies for any reason, Register pops  back up again in addition to Login. Very simple example, but exclusions and inclusions are at work, here.

4. Pick some highly likely “real-estate” to personalize.

As you are building out your flow and you’ve decided the goal you’re going to target and how channels affect the overall mission, you’ll start thinking about the “real estate” on your website. Where is the absolute best place on your website to personalize?

A good dig into your analytics platform will help you identify the most popular entry pages on your website. You’re looking for the top pages that someone is more likely to visit either after completing your goal (like converting on a form or visiting a page), or just the top return pages in general and how they get there. This is why channel tends to really important.

After identifying a few pages on your website to personalize, pick the actual “component” or “block” as some tools like to call it. This is the actual block of HTML that will adjust itself to what you think it should be to get someone to complete the whole personalization mission you’re after.

5. Determine the outcome.

What dictates the type of personalization a person receives? What do they see instead of the default content? And why?

This how you’ll arrive at the actual outcome – showing the personalized content after a few requirements are fulfilled. For example, once you’ve decided on the real estate on your website, you’ll decide how that content changes to help the visitor accomplish your goal. Perhaps the image changes, you change the color of something, or you replace the copy, or all of the above! Do you hide content? Surface completely new content?

Determine what makes the most sense for what you’re trying to do and then execute it!

6. Gather results.

After testing out your personalization and deciding if you like what you’ve designed, run it on your actual visitors and study their behavior. Go back to your list of KPIs and goals and see if personalization affected it in any way.

The personalization tool you are using should have a way to report on its effectiveness, but typically it’s related to some digital goal – a form completion, a click, a page visit, etc.

If you find that your results are null or you can’t identify any real change, use your scientific skills to peel back the layers of why. Analytics can always help enlighten as to why something is working (or not), and testing new ideas – including creative and copy – will help guide your ideas.


This blog post would be remiss without real world examples! Here’s some of the personalization use cases I’ve developed with clients.

Personalization for Gender

There is a sports brand out there – I can’t mention the name – who offers a variety of products in a few different sports – think like golf, running, baseball, etc.

Marketing Goals: Increase ecommerce sales for the Running division
Digital Goals: Faster click-throughs into Running products and ultimate purchase

After working with their research team and digging into Google Analytics, we discovered that Females made up of 1/3rd of the traffic, but spent just as much as Males. This got us thinking – could gender be something we identify through the shoes a user purchases? Turns out that yes – gender is never completely assumable, but if someone consistently looks at women’s running shoes versus men’s running shoes, we can safely assume the user is more likely to search through women.

Personalization Hypothesis: Tag women’s shoes as “Female” and men’s shoes as “Male” and unisex shoes as “Unknown” and any other non-product pages as “Unknown”. Personalize certain areas of the website in a skew towards women, but only if we’re confident the user is likely female. We’ll focus on Male as our next test, but for now we’re testing Female engagement.
: Any channel
Real-estate: Personalize the Homepage Hero Slider, the Homepage Sports buttons, and the Menu Ribbon
Defined Outcome: Show more female-oriented imagery on the Homepage if the user appears to be Female and optimize the Menu to surface Women’s products sooner.

Event Personalization for a Policy Research Firm

A particular policy research firm wanted to improve their experience when someone registered for a live event that also just so happened to be broadcast online as well. They also wanted to increase the amount of conversions by showing the content more prominently on the homepage of the website.

Marketing Goals: Increase engagement of constituents
Digital Goals: Increase conversions of upcoming event and webinar and simplify experience after converting

When discussing the overall process of promoting the event and webinar, we learned that email was the channel of choice, but if they signed up for the event versus the webinar, they were put into two different lists, but were sent to the same pages after converting on the forms for either event or webinar.

Personalization Hypothesis: We can simplify the experience after converting on the form by personalizing the follow-up page that gets sent to them via email. For example, it’s all the same page they’re getting sent to, but if they convert via webinar, they should see webinar information on the page, and if they sign up for the event, they see event information and hide the webinar information. We also believe we can increase number of conversions by surfacing content on the homepage about the webinar.
Channels: We’ll be focusing on email, but specifically the Event Reminder Email, the Webinar Reminder Email, and any promotional emails about both the Event and the Webinar. However, depending on your personalization tool, you might not have to only focus on email.
Real-estate: Personalize the Homepage since it’s a highly-likely page to revisit, and personalize the landing page content to either show / hide event / webinar information.
Define Outcome: On the Homepage, if the visitor has not yet converted on either the Event or Webinar landing pages, no matter the channel, show them content that promotes the Event / Webinar. On the registration landing page, if the visitor has converted on the Live Event, hide the webinar info and show the Event information. If the visitor converted on the Webinar, hide the event info and show the Webinar information instead.

See? Not so bad, right?

Would love to hear what other examples of personalization you have come up with! What do you think would be really cool to try out or implement on your website to make your visitors’ lives easier?