Websites Need to Become as Personalized as Email

  |  February 18, 2014   |  Comments

We are at a point where the tools exist to make our websites just as targeted as our emails - technology today allows us to customize experiences, messages, and calls to actions across any content management system.

Over the last 10 years, marketers have gotten really good at personalizing emails. Retailers know your order history, style preferences, and sizes; airlines know your travel preferences and frequent destinations; and companies in all industries know what content you have downloaded and which events you have attended. Savvy marketers then use all this information to make sure their outbound messaging is as relevant and engaging as possible.

Websites, on the other hand, have lagged far behind email (especially once you get out of the e-commerce industry). How often do you go to a website and see offers and promotions for products you already own? This shouldn't be! We are at a point where the tools exist to make our websites just as targeted as our emails. Technology today allows us to customize experiences, messages, and calls to actions across any content management system (CMS).

Once you've decided to make your website be as personalized as your email, you'll have to determine how you will segment and target visitors. Here, I've outlined four ways you should try:

Visitor Information

This is the most basic level of personalization. At this level you use information that isn't tied to any demographic or persona. Even still, the data are specific to each individual. For example, you can track the number of times a viewer has visited your page to craft an appropriate message. The premise behind it is simple - someone looking at the site for the fifth time should not be seeing the same screen as someone looking for the first time. A first-timer will find basic information useful, while a repeat visitor will likely need information that's more in-depth. You can also capture how a visitor came to your website - did he type the URL directly into his browser? Did he navigate to the page from social media or a PR article? Identifying a referral visitor's source can help shape the message and experience they receive on your website.


Analyzing a visitor's IP address can give you a physical location, and you can personalize the experience based on that. For example, my company has prospects from all over the world, and we personalize the currency we use to display our prices and customize the information we ask for on forms. As another example of using location, say you're a clothing retailer: you can use the weather in a visitor's area to suggest the most appropriate images to display. That way you'll be able to offer a potential customer board-shorts in San Diego, a sweatshirt in San Francisco, and a ski jacket in Tahoe. Going further, you can use real-time to dynamically put in pictures of jackets and umbrellas when it happens to be raining outside.

Industry and Company

Here's where we start to get even more fancy. If a visitor is surfing from work, then their IP address allows you to look up their company, and in turn you can match that to an industry. Understanding which industry an individual works in can determines the images you use, the products you highlight, and the type of case studies you offer.

Knowing the specific company a visitor works for gives additional personalization possibilities. Most companies have a list of target accounts and ideal customers, and would want to know if one of those targets is checking out the website! When they do, you can specifically welcome them by name and perhaps use the opportunity to connect and say, "Three other departments at Acme Corp are using our product and are seeing a lot of success. How can we help get you on board?"

Marketing Automation Integration

This uses the information in your marketing automation system for true 1-to-1 personalization. For example, you can identify where a specific prospect is in the buying cycle and customize the calls-to-action you give them. For prospects that you are nurturing, you can share educational thought leadership and perhaps offer a free trial. If you know that the sales team is actively engaged with the individual, he would get an entirely different set of messages, reinforcing your brand and showing why your company is a safe choice. And, of course, you would have an entirely different set of messages and offers in place for current customers. As another example, you can use the website to reinforce the last offer and email seen by a prospect, creating a true coordinated experience regardless of whether you send the message to the customer or they come to you.

Knowing where an individual is in the buying cycle isn't the only road to personalization through marketing automation. Persona-based personalization is extremely helpful as well. You can create personas (they can be as complex or as simple as you want) and match your visitors to a persona in your system to send them the most relevant messaging possible. You're probably already customizing your nurture tracks to be relevant to each persona, so why wouldn't you do the same for your website?

The main takeaway here is that websites should not be static. We've learned so much about personalization through email and there is no reason why we can't have the same kind of targeted, dynamic efforts on our websites. We need to ensure that our customers get the right message for them, whether we approach them or they come to us.

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Jon Miller

Jon leads strategy and execution for Marketo. Before co-founding Marketo, Jon was Vice President, Product Marketing at Epiphany and held positions at Exchange Partners and Gemini Consulting. He is executive editor of the popular Marketo blog, Modern B2B Marketing, and author of the comprehensive handbook, The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics and Analytics. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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