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Up Close and Personalized: The Ins and Outs of Website Personalization

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The work of mission-driven organizations is urgent and necessary. Continually researching to learn what your audience likes, wants, and needs equips your organization with a valuable understanding of how you can effectively serve them. At Mighty Citizen, our philosophy on the subject is simple: we believe that website and content personalization works best when your audience can find what they need. Be accessible. Be helpful. That’s it.

Personalization looks different depending on many factors, including an organization’s size and the complexity of its audience. When done correctly, the benefits of personalization are a two-way street: You allow your audience to access what they need from you, which in turn gives you the ability to serve as many people as possible.

While personalization can be a powerful tool, organizations pursuing strategies that heavily rely on data collection need to understand the challenges. In 2021, people are rightfully aware (and dare I say, wary) of the risks associated with sharing their personal information and data.

As helpful as it can be, personalization can go too far. Play it too fast and loose and you’ll compromise the trust of your site users, costing you valuable resources without providing significant returns.

Understanding your audience is crucial in knowing how to best serve them.

Challenges of Personalization

We say it all the time: Research kills opinions. As an organization, we use data to drive decision-making. Data collection and interpretation are complex undertakings. Both require a strategy (for choosing what to track) and skill (when interpreting the information gathered).

There are a few common issues that organizations encounter with personalization efforts:

Challenges of Personalization

1. Data Collection

What information are you collecting and why? You should continually ask this question as you seek to better understand your audience. Understanding why you’re tracking what you’re tracking will help you make the most out of the information you collect. Be aware of any data that you’re collecting but not using. If you don’t need it, don’t ask for it.

2. Data Protection

In the unfortunate event that protected information is compromised in a cyberattack, an organization can lose the trust and confidence needed from its audience. What resources are you able to put in place to prevent this from happening? If your organization is unable to allocate the required resources (e.g. centralized data storage, password management tools, etc.) to protect your users’ information, you should rethink data collection efforts.

3. Data Interpretation

Regularly evaluating the information you collect is another crucial exercise in creating a personalized experience for your audience. When meaningful patterns arise in your data, are you asking how that impacts your audience’s experience? Are you pivoting based on what the data tell you? For example, if you’re a nonprofit collecting donor data and notice trends that spike at certain times of the year, what are you doing to capitalize on that information? Are you pivoting your messaging? Creating new content?

    An organization’s willingness and ability to be nimble and adjust based on new information can help make the most out of your personalization efforts. That’s the tricky and time-consuming reality of personalization. However, with the right tools, staff, and support—it can absolutely be done.

    While there are many different ways to personalize your users’ experience on your site, we commonly encounter the following four levels of personalization in our work:

    Level 1: An Easily Navigable Experience

    Personalization is about tailoring an experience or communication for a particular audience or role. Finding out who that audience really is and what their needs are requires coordinated and continuous work. For Mighty Citizen, achieving these goals often includes:

    • Discovery Sessions - The purpose of a discovery session is to learn as much as possible about an organization. For example, when Mighty Citizen works with an organization to redesign its website, we typically host multiple discovery sessions. The information gathered in these sessions helps us get a clear understanding of the organization’s needs, goals, pain points, and audience. The knowledge gained in discovery is integral to the overall design of the site.
    • Stakeholder Interviews - Stakeholder interviews allow you to meet one-on-one with critical stakeholders to better understand their perspectives. For website redesign projects, Mighty Citizen holds stakeholders interviews on behalf of the organization that we’re partnering with. Collecting insight from stakeholders as a third party allows us to get honest feedback so that we can dream up the best possible solutions.
    • Audience Survey - Sending out an audience survey is a great way to get feedback from the people that you serve, especially if you have a large swath of people who use your services. It’s important to evaluate the information that you gain from these surveys and trust the data to help you improve the experience of your audience.
    • Focus Groups - Focus groups are great for getting multiple perspectives at a time. Like stakeholder interviews, they are more intimate than an audience survey, while still allowing you to collect feedback from numerous stakeholders at a time.

      Information gathered from these efforts can be used to paint a more complete picture of what the audience needs and how the organization can best meet these needs. In this way, personalization is a ground-up pursuit.

      Site personalization efforts should not be implemented to patch over foundational issues like a confusing navigation system. And so begins my painting analogy: the final coat of paint doesn’t have the same effect if you don’t peel away the chipped paint and prime beforehand.

      Before progressing to other levels of personalization, Mighty Citizen strongly recommends getting the first level right first. This is the hard work that will eventually pay off the most. Personalization won’t happen overnight. You need to have a good understanding of your audience and above all, that takes time.

      The Different Levels of Personalization

      Level 2: Filter by Audience

      The second level of personalization involves creating a structure that allows your audience to view content tailored to their specific role. For example, common visitors to a university website may include students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The second level of personalization takes into account these different roles and builds a way for each user group to access the content specific to their role.

      Mighty Citizen had the chance to build this functionality during a website redesign project for Texas Lutheran University. If the visitors to their site have particular information in mind when they land on the site, they have the option to select an “Information for” dropdown at the top of the site and select from a list of Current Students, Future Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, and Parents & Families. Each of these selections will take the user to a distinct audience page with resources and information relevant to them.

      It’s important to know that this level of personalization works best when your audiences are mutually exclusive. If any of your user types overlap, then sending a visitor down one distinct path may provide them with only part of the information they need.

      Read more about our work with Texas Lutheran University.

      Level 3: Audience Login

      Depending on the needs of your user groups, it may be beneficial to create a login for your users based on their roles. An example of this type of personalization could be applied to an association’s website. A new member of an association would have different goals as a site visitor than a board member would. Creating login functionality would allow the association to immediately direct its users to suitable content on the website. In addition to tailoring a site visitor’s content to their role, the additional login functionality allows an organization to gate content that should be accessible to members only.

      Level 4: Individual Login

      This fourth and most in-depth level of personalization is tailored toward individual users. This level could be likened to your login and account for a streaming service. All of your historical data is saved within your account and the shows that you’re offered are tailored to your previous interests. The content that you see takes into account your individual tastes, refined over time to create a comprehensive profile of your interests.

      Personalization is tricky, but it can make your users’ interactions with you more efficient and valuable. As with most things, have a strategy before diving in, and make sure everything you do is informed by the data.

      Mighty Citizen Can Help

      Want a leg up on your personalization goals? Our experts can identify and implement a personalization strategy that fits your organization’s needs. Reach out and let us know how we can be a partner.

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