Why so obsessed with personalisation?

Paul Boag

Many website owners seem obsessed with the idea of personalisation. But is this obsession justified? Do the majority of websites actually require personalisation features and are they desirable?

Personalisation is one of those buzzwords that people like to throw around. It feels like every other invitation to tender we receive has something about personalisation in it. Often exactly what that involves is left vague, probably because the person writing the document doesn’t have a very clear idea of what they want.

When personalisation works

Personalisation certainly has its place. It makes a lot of sense on regularly used ecommerce sites like Amazon, where making recommendations based on previous activity has a direct impact on sales. However, outside of ecommerce the use cases for personalisation are much rarer.

Amazon personalisation
Personalisation makes a lot of sense on a regularly used ecommerce site like Amazon.

That is not to say there are none. For example, personalisation is great if you are supporting existing customers. However, despite what many seem to think, it holds little benefit for sites whose primary purpose is as a marketing tool.

In fact personalisation can do more harm than good.

The problems with website personalisation

For a start the login and signup process required by personalisation creates a barrier. Yes, cookies can be used to minimise this problem, but getting initial signup is a challenge. Many users see personalisation for what it often is, a ploy to extract personal details.

Then there are the issues surrounding delivering personalised content. This involves creating custom content for specific audiences and associated taxonomies to support it. This is hard to create and maintain, so adding a substantial associated cost.

Talking of costs, you also need to consider the cost of technical implementation. Creating personalisation functionality is not cheap and even implementing an off the shelf system takes time.

Pinning down tangible benefits to personalisation can often be hard, while the potential challenges are easy to see.

For me personalisation is more effective and easier to implement away from the website.

Personalisation outside of the website

A good digital strategy should include personalisation in its use of email and social media. This is where you can start to become very targeted in your communications.

After all we know considerably more about users who have chosen to give us their email and even more about those using social networks like Facebook.

Email and social media are also more appropriate environments for personalised communication. There is an expectation that communication via email or social media is personalised where personalisation on a website can feel intrusive and even creepy.

Before you next request personalisation in a web project, ask yourself whether it really is appropriate and whether it will bring tangible benefits to your business and its customers.

“Hand Holding Laptop With Register Sign” image courtesy of Bigstock.com