Consumers get savvier every year, and it’s not always easy to grab their attention. That’s a big reason why the web is moving toward increasing levels of personalized content.

When a website runs tests, iterates on pages, and shows different experiences to unique visitors there is a better chance to engage the user.

The static homepage that gets updated once a year is a thing of the past.

For a great example of personalization in action, check out how Optimizely uses personalized content to provide a unique experience based on the knowledge that a visitor is a Microsoft customer. It’s clear that the version using content personalization is more inviting, more informative, and more likely to get someone to start using the service.

What is Content Personalization?

Content personalization is the targeted delivery of a piece of content to a visitor due to some specific set of criteria. Personalized content is also referred to as dynamic content because it updates in real-time to ensure customized user experiences.

Dynamic content comes in many forms:  blog posts, case studies, resources, sections of a page, headlines, images, data, body copy, CTAs, or one of many other touchpoints commonly used by digital marketers, content marketers, and growth marketers.

That’s a lot of buzzwords, so let’s make the idea of personalized content a bit more tangible with a personalized content example.

Let’s say you are in charge of marketing for an HR software company whose target audience is in SMB SaaS. You are using the latest tracking software, so you know where your visitors are coming from and who they are.

Visitor A is a small business owner with three employees who lives in Ames, Iowa. Visitor B happens to be Head of People for a 500 person SaaS firm based in NYC. Should you display the same page to both of those visitors?

You might be thinking that you can build a site that speaks to both prospects at the same time. While that’s technically possible, the data shows that your site will convert better if each visitor is delivered personalized content.

88% of U.S. marketers reported seeing measurable improvements due to personalization — with more than half reporting a lift greater than 10%.

That being the case, you’ll want to treat each visitor differently.

You might point Visitor A, the small business owner, to a blog post about how they can implement your freemium software. They might become a great customer as they grow their business, but right now they aren’t an ideal high-value lead.

The other visitor, the Head of People for the mid-market company, is a totally different story. This is the exact person you want to reach, so it’s critical that the page is optimized for conversion. That might mean pointing them to a case study or testimonial about how a similar business implemented your product at scale with great success. You could also provide a phone number to call priority sales support. You want to pull out all the stops in terms of encouraging this customer to take action.

There are other ways of using customized content to serve these two distinct visitors. Want some idea?

  • You could specifically include text that points them to content “For HR” or “For Small Business Owners.”
  • You could A/B test two CTAs for each visitor and use that data to improve conversions the next time around.
  • You could change up your images so they are industry appropriate.  

The possibilities for content personalization based on tracking are near limitless. Take the Amazon home page as an example of personalization done really well.

The items in red are directly personalized. They know my location, Chicago, Illinois, as you can see in the top left of the page. The swappable content module in the lower left entices me to explore areas where I am known to make purchases and I not only recently viewed those New Balances, but I also bought a pair last year. Furthermore, they deftly include my name at multiple locations on the top of the page.

But their content personalization goes even deeper — note the images outlined in blue. I shopped on Cyber Monday last year, so they are pushing me toward Cyber Monday deals. I also looked at electric razors recently, which is why I am seeing a retargeting ad for it. I have also used Audible in the past, which is why they are trying to rope me back in with that deal for 53% off.

The amount of personalization and dynamic content is pretty amazing. And they are doing this differently for millions of visitors every day — content personalization in action!

Why Is Personalized Content the New Standard?

Personalized content is becoming the norm, as evidenced by the fact that  78% of CMOs believe custom content is the future of marketing.  But why is that the case? Let’s explore.

More Marketers Fighting For Overwhelmed Eyes

One downside of the explosive growth of the internet is that there is simply too much content to digest. Even though I am an  “extremely online” person, I still have a backlog of 100+ articles I want to read. Whoever intended to market to me on those pages is missing out.

I’m not alone in thinking the average person is experiencing information overload. A study by Adobe showed that consumers spend a whopping one third of their day engaging with digital content. That’s a lot of content.

Even more startling is that we see over 5,000 ads per day. The competition for our eyeballs is more intense than ever.

Unfortunately, we have to couple information overload with a reduced ability to focus, whether be it on ads or content. Studies show we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. Basically, the internet has become like speed dating: One side (marketers) has a short time to impress the other person (their hot date), or they are moving on.

What this boils down to is that sites have precious little time to make a positive impression. By showing each visitor personalized content, marketers can cut through the noise and get people to actually pay attention.

Increased Efficiency Means Less Wasted Time

By delivering personalized content, flows, and CTAs, your visitors can sort themselves into categories. This makes follow up easier and more efficient. For instance, look at how Humboldt County’s stunningly beautiful visitor site quickly sorts people based on interest. Once they give you that information, it’s so much easier to provide consumers services that they actually want to buy.

Content personalization can also be used to funnel out less valuable leads. Or alternatively, as was the case with Visitor A in the Amazon example, you can direct them to parts of your site that are more self-service and passive.  

With content personalization, each visitor has a better experience because they see what is relevant to them more quickly and can easily determine if a product is a good fit. When people are able to easily find what they want, your efficiency skyrockets.

Personalization reduces acquisition costs as much as 50%, lifts revenues by 5-15%, and increases the efficiency of marketing spend by 10-30%.

Consumers Have Come to Expect It

When you have consumers used to being served relevant content in ads and on websites, they’ll expect it from your brand as well. Seeing generic or irrelevant content is like seeing an old design. It’s jarring and strikes people as odd.

I’m personally picky to the point where I get annoyed if a site doesn’t update their copyright year in the footer of their site. Welcome to the web of 2019. If you show irrelevant content or even the slightest hint of laziness, you risk alienating users.

This is not just a minor point about aesthetics. Non-personalized content can cost you big time.

Recent surveys show that 42% of consumers get annoyed when their content isn’t personalized, and 66% of consumers will not purchase from a site when they feel the content does not speak to their specific interests.

Increases Time on Site and Increases the Likelihood of Taking an Action

When relevant content is served up immediately and continuously, your site becomes sticky. If the user reads an article and they are immediately recommended another piece that looks interesting, there’s a greater chance they will continue to engage with your content. They may revisit your site next time they want your subject matter expertise. And if they feel that the content is directly speaking to them, the likelihood they make a purchase goes way up.

78% of US internet users said that personally relevant content from brands increases their purchase intent. Even more impressive is that 79% of consumers say they are only likely to engage with an offer if it has been personalized to reflect previous interactions the consumer has had with the brand.

When It’s Done Well, It’s Not Even Noticeable

If you are hesitant to personalize content because you think it will make your site look weird, or that you will creep out visitors because they know they are being tracked, you really have nothing to fear. As mentioned above, people actually want brands to show that they understand them, and they certainly want the most smooth experience possible.

Think about the last site you visited— did they address you by name? Or prompt you to log back in? Were the headlines you were seeing relevant to your interests?

Chances are you didn’t even notice. The web is becoming more personalized, and rather than freaking out, consumers are embracing it — both passively and actively.

How Do You Start Personalizing Content?

If you’re sold on the benefits of personalized content and want to create dynamic content of your own, the three key factors are knowing your audience, configuring individualized sites, and iterating.

Know Your Audience

Of the sites that don’t personalize content, 53 percent cite lack of data as the reason that is holding them back. If you want to get into the upper echelon of personalized marketing, you have to embrace data as the key to the future.

Here are the components you need to focus on when it comes to tracking and analyzing your audience. Each piece of information gives you a valuable data point that can be used to personalize your visitors’ experience.

  1. Technology: You’ll want to know what browser they are using, what device they are on, and whether they have visited on multiple devices. Mac Chrome users differ from Firefox PC users — use that to your advantage.
  2. Demographics: The more granular you can get here, the better. You should be tracking where the user is from, their occupation, their industry, their marital status, if they have kids, whether they own a house, and how much money they make. If you don’t directly collect this information, you can fill it in through data providers such as Clearbit or Full Contact.
  3. Psychographics: This covers the users’ interests and preferences. Do they like horror movies? Are they a Republican? Do they read fiction? Targeting users based on psychographics can allow you to make connections with even the most niche audiences.
  4. User Behavior: It’s incredibly helpful to know what channel your user was acquired from, when they visited the site, how many previous times they visited the site, and whether they have bought an item before.

Set Up a Test

Once you have collected and analyzed your user data, it’s time to map out your different personas. Meaning, who exactly is your audience?

Once you have a feel who your visitors are, you can create personalized marketing funnels based on broad categories. Find something on the generic version of your site that you can swap out so that different users see different versions.

Maybe you try showing iPhone users a CTA to check out your webinar, while Android users get a CTA asking them to merely sign up for an email list. The possibilities are limited only by the amount of data you have and your imagination.

As you get more granular, you might think about how you can serve different content to Mac users who make six figures and came to your site from than you do to Chromebook users making minimum wage and clicked over from Facebook. Both can be potential customers, but where you direct them and what they might be interested in will likely vary quite a bit.

Once you have figured out which aspect of your site you are going to switch up,  launch a test.


Maybe your initial test goes well, or maybe it’s a total flop. Either way, it’s a win, because you learned valuable information. As the notorious founder of Apple put it, 

““Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations."”STEVE JOBS

The key is to adopt a testing mentality. Keep collecting data, keep iterating. Eventually, you will reach a significant result amongst your segments, and the conversion increases will follow.

The Marketer’s Role in Personalization

You might be getting the feeling that with all these technological improvements, the human marketer will eventually be phased out. That somehow data analytics, AI bots, and machine learning will automatically generate perfectly personalized web experiences.

That’s far from the case. These tools cannot operate independently from a skilled marketing team that knows how to utilize data and separate signal from noise. As good as the tech gets, it’s still on the marketers to leverage the latest technology to best serve the unique goals of a company. It’s the marketers who have to set up and execute experiments in personalization so that the system as a whole continues to improve.

If everything goes well, the end case is better for everyone. These personalization statistics are hard to challenge. Companies who invest in personalization get to outsell less sophisticated competitors this year by 20%, marketers get to play key strategic roles by leveraging cutting edge technology, and customers get curated web experiences that make them feel unique and appreciated.

That’s the future.