Dynamic Content Customization for Marketers: A Primer

Consumers are getting savvier in their surfing and they are expecting more from a website. We don’t want to have to dig for what we’re looking for, we want it front and center. We desire a highly relevant, personalized website experience.

More and more companies are developing “smart” websites that learn about the user as she navigates the site and customize the experience accordingly. These websites are not a static, one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, these websites instead understand that every visitor has unique needs and motivations, and cater to fit these individual needs in a dynamic fashion.

In this column, “Smart Ads for Smart Advertisers,” I examined banner ads that assemble in real time to produce the most relevant version for a given prospect.

This time we’ll focus on bringing that same level of personalization and customization to your website.

What Is Dynamic Content Customization?

A typical website consists of a standard architecture that includes a hierarchy of content pages. When a user clicks on a specific link, she will always land on the same page. When a user returns to a website, she will always see the same home page. A dynamic website is one that changes based on the user. Instead of static HTML pages, the web pages assemble “on the fly” (dynamically) in real time.

The simplest form of dynamic content customization is when a user leaves a website and when she later returns and sees a unique version of the home page. Often this unique version served up is based on either observed or explicit user preferences. An example of this is language selection. If you chose English the first time you came to a website, you will always default to the English version of the website. Another common example of dynamic content customization relates to geo-location. Based on your IP address, the default home page of a travel site will always show your assumed departing location and travel packages related to this location.

Amazon is the token example of a “smart” website. It observes a user’s book interests and purchases, and then offers up suggested titles the reader might also be interested in based on others who viewed and purchased the same types of books. Apple iTunes “Genius” tool employs similar observe-and-suggest technology.

Essentially any site that learns about the user as she navigates through the site, and subsequently adapts the site to meet her intuited needs, is employing some form of dynamic content customization.

How Does It Work?

Dynamic content customization is typically made possible through the use of cookies. A cookie, a piece of code that can store information, is dropped on a user’s computer by the website. A rules engine is built on the back-end that tells the web server what content to display at what time based on the browsing history stored within the cookie.

The page templates and the page content both live separately within the database, enabling the content that is displayed within the template to be swapped out or adjusted in real time.

Your web development company should be able to build a rules engine/content customization platform. Another option is to purchase and deploy an off-the-shelf content management platform that offers dynamic website customization.

Marketers need to define the various potential customer segments up front to determine the content and feature-sets to create to meet these customer needs. These segments will help define the actual business rules that determine when and where to show each unique permutation or combination of templates and content.

What Are the Advantages?

The benefits are similar to what was outlined in my column about smart ads.

Most notably, the improved customer relevancy stands to significantly increase offer response and uptake rates. So with some additional investment upfront to put in place dynamic customization, you should see the return quite quickly in terms of customer acquisition and retention.

Another distinct advantage is the reduced workload (and cost) required for making content changes or additions. Discrete content elements or features can be easily added into the database and made available for assembly without the need to add a new page or navigation element to the main website.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.