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Eight Mistakes in Web Personalization

Overcoming the common barriers to success A Baynote eBook for marketers.

It’s all about you Personalization defined The benefits of personalization The Eight Mistakes Mistake #1 Living and dying by profiles Mistake #2 Building your personalization strategy on rules alone Mistake #3 Thinking like NASA Mistake #4 Waiting for the ‘big signals’ 2 4 5 6 7 8 Mistake #5 Looking backward instead of forward Mistake #6 Letting personas drive personalization 12 13

Mistake #7 14 Limiting your personalization to the web Mistake #8 Forgetting the power of search Let’s re-cap Get Adaptive Conclusion About Baynote Resources 15 16 17 19 20 21

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It’s all about you.
Your sister has had another baby. Nice. Now you’ve got a dilemma. If you go to your favorite ecommerce website and buy her that little set of onesies, you’ll never hear the end of it. Because every time you come back to the site, you’ll be besieged by ‘Little Me Layette Sets’, bodysuits, blankets and tiny, reversible hoodies. ‘Honestly, folks, it was just a one-off. I’m still into the Ramones.’

Only 23% of online shoppers rate their experience as excellent.
Baynote ‘Online Holiday Shopping Experience Survey’

We’re into the second decade of the 21st century. Why are so many websites’ attempts at personalization still so clunky?
It’s not like it’s a new idea. The vision of personalized web experiences has been around for more than twenty years. But for most websites and other digital channels, the promise is far from the reality. Clearly, something is holding marketers back from delivering the relevant, timely, highly targeted web experiences that we can all picture. This eBook is about these obstacles – and the things marketers like you can do to overcome them.

It’s based on our experience in helping some of the world’s most successful online brands deliver highly personalized experiences without investing millions in over-engineered ‘platforms’ or deploying dozens of expensive analysts (a few clever analysts go a long, long way if they’re focused on the right things). We call this new approach ‘Adaptive Personalization’ because it takes a Darwinian approach to the problem (sped up a bit). The idea is simple: the best content for any specific interaction is that which is best adapted to what the visitor wants to do at that precise moment. It’s all part of our Adaptive Web vision. But more on that later…

Personalization defined.
Traditionally, personalization has meant: Serving specific content to a web visitor based on the things you know about him or her.
Instead of treating everyone exactly the same, personalization is about leveraging important clues about each visitor, including their profile (if they’ve completed one), their past behaviors (such as recent purchases) and things like their browser version or ability to handle Flash. The Adaptive approach adds an important dimension to the traditional personalization vectors: intent. If a profile tells you about who is visiting, intent clues can indicate why they’re there. These intent-based indicators are driving a new kind of personalization that’s changing the way marketers think about customer engagement.

The benefits of personalization.
Done correctly, personalizing your customers’ online experiences delivers massive benefits that can be grouped into two big buckets:
Increased conversion rates However you define conversions – sales, downloads, sign-ups – the right personalization can dramatically improve them. Happier customers When they get what they came for, people stay loyal, tell their friends and return fewer products. So the big metrics that drive customer lifetime value go up. And the benefits go beyond e-commerce product recommendations, extending to content sites, too.

In a few months, we’ve had a significant improvement in our conversion rates. It’s been trending towards a double-digit increase. And I don’t take that lightly.
Joe Nashif US Appliance

The Eight Mistakes.
Here are eight of the top personalization mistakes and misconceptions we’ve seen repeated over and over again. Some may seem obvious, others might be new to you. But they’re all much too common for comfort…

Living and dying by profiles.
Most marketers think you just can’t do personalization without detailed profiles. They’re wrong.
Adaptive Action Think about the intent clues your web visitors are sending out as they click through your site – things like scrolling, dwell time and on-site search. Now think about how you can leverage these even if you don’t yet know the visitor.

Mistake #1

Think about it: if you’re marketing effectively, a large proportion of your web traffic will be new visitors; people you have no data on. But that doesn’t mean you know nothing about them. In fact, if you’re looking, you can pick up dozens of clues from each session. We call these intent clues because they tell you what the visitor is trying to do – and they’re available to you whether or not you know the name, address and shoe size of the visitor. Once you’re tuned in to intent clues, adding in profile data can be quite valuable. But without any insight about intent, profile data alone has limited personalization power.

The shift to adaptive web technology is a reflection of the fact that your customers know themselves far better than you ever will.
Eric T. Peterson Web Analytics Demystified

Building your personalization strategy on rules alone.
Most personalization tools are essentially rules engines with digital bells & whistles.
The rules (“If they do this, give them that.”) are created by expert analysts who, ideally, understand both web dynamics and the ins and outs of your business. In other words, they’re rare and expensive people doing a laborious manual task. The problem is that, on their own, personalization rules don’t work. Here’s why:
consumer Case notes nt clues to spot a utfitters used inte Urban O t driving daptive Web conten trend early, with A in sales for a specific cut of dress. se a triple-digit increa dising in action. Dynamic merchan

Mistake #2

They multiply like rabbits. Rule stacks start growing on day one and never stop. That creates a management headache that grows, too. They clash. As rules multiply, they start disagreeing with each other. These rule conflicts are an overhead in themselves. Their uplift degrades. Because of the above dynamics, the benefits of rule-based personalization always tend to get smaller and smaller over time. Adaptive Personalization uses rules, but sparingly – to handle exceptions (like promotions) and to hard-wire key business rules (like blocking licensed content from some territories). But rules can never handle the real-time heavy lifting that personalization demands. Adaptive Web systems generate the best content for each interaction automatically based on intent clues – so the need for manual rule creation and deployment is minimal.

They’re labor-intensive and expert-intensive. Good rule sets are incredibly complex. Bad ones are, too. They go out of date quickly. As your business and your market changes, your rules need constant tweaking and replacing. Out-of-date rules can inhibit conversion.

Mistake #3

Thinking like NASA.
A lot of marketers think personalization is a massive exercise requiring an overhaul of people and processes supported by expensive technology and long, painful deployments.
If that’s your approach, it’s better not to do it at all. To be effective, personalization needs to be deployed quickly, require little or no change in the way you work, and deliver measurable ROI wins within 90 days (not nine months). First-generation personalization platforms were like first-generation CRM – they demanded wholesale organizational change and they fell flat on their faces. Intentbased personalization is simple, automated and self-improving. Better still: it pays for itself with immediate and long-term revenue uplift.

The ROI was immediate. After a few short weeks we have already seen a 59 percent lift in average order value and a 38 percent lift in conversion rates.
Scott Blair, Sun & Ski Sports See Scott’s experience on video

The new expert: all of us. The best guide for accurate personalization is the crowd: the tens of thousands of users that have already visited your site. The Adaptive Web asks, “What did like-minded people with similar intent do?” and “What content helped them do it? “Of course, to be useful, the system has to generate the answers in real time instead of waiting weeks for the data collection, analysis and rule deployment.

Mistake #4

Waiting for the ‘big signals’.
Most personalization solutions are based on watching the big, fat, obvious behaviors like purchases. The problem is, these behaviors are by definition far less frequent than all the things people do on your site before they purchase.
You can learn an awful lot from what happens between the big behaviors. At the other extreme, monitoring clicks can mislead by being too ‘noisy’ – they’re distorted by mistaken attempts to satisfy a need (after all, the most popular click on the web is the back button). The sweet spot for understanding intent is to focus in on what people are engaging with. Paying attention to engagement activities like page views, dwell times, mouse movements, scrolls and video views can give you priceless intent clues – as long as you can detect and act on them in real time. Responding to these micro-behaviors while the session is still live is where the real uplift comes from web personalization. Waiting for a purchase so you can adapt the next visit is too little, too late. Adaptive Personalization acts on real engagement patterns before the visitor clicks away.

The signals...

Engagement Clicks Noisy Purchases or Conversions Infrequent

Looking backward instead of forward.
The adaptive web process creates a continual feedback mechanism that responds quickly to changes in visitor behavior that would otherwise be difficult to discover.
Eric T. Peterson Web Analytics Demystified

Mistake #5

Expert analysts and merchandisers who understand the web and your business are worth their weight in gold. They also tend to cost their weight in gold – and for good reason.
If you’re using your experts to analyze thousands of web sessions, slice and dice the data, generate insight and create rules to capture that insight, you’ll never be as responsive or as profitable as you need to be. Because analytics are essentially looking in the rear-view mirror – and customers tend to be out in front of you, not trailing behind.

It’s time to get over the ‘insight lag’ that plagues so many digital marketing initiatives. The Adaptive Web is automated. Instead of getting experts to analyze spreadsheets and look for patterns, the system itself should be harvesting what we call micro-behaviors to determine intent and deliver the best content for the moment. Adaptive means self-learning. Just as importantly, your Adaptive Personalization solution should monitor the results of each interaction to automatically improve over time. Soon, the expertise is in the system instead of in the heads of your rock star analysts – so you can focus them on adding strategic value at a much higher level.

Letting personas drive personalization.
Personas – portraits of representatives of a typical consumer segment – are an important way of adding depth and granularity to your understanding of your web visitors.
But no person is a persona. As a customer, your persona changes with every visit to a website – or even within a visit – as your intent changes. Today, you’re looking for a gift for your newborn niece. Tomorrow, you’re into tennis rackets. Treating a visitor like a persona is segmentation not personalization. And visitors can feel the difference. Like-minded peers The concept of like-minded peers is central to the Adaptive Web vision. Again, the idea is simple: it’s not about grouping visitors according to their demographics; it’s about grouping people who shared a similar intent, and using this insight to guide personalization. Personas are static. Like-minded peer behavior is always being updated by real-world engagements. And because it’s specifically intent-driven, the like-minded peer model addresses the reason each visitor is engaging with you at this moment.

Mistake #6

Limiting your personalization to the web.
We’re continually improving what we’re showing,” says Marty Keane, Senior VP of ecommerce at Bluefly, Inc. “It’s a quantitative way to ensure that the customer is seeing more of what she wants to see.”

Mistake #7

Your website is probably your most important engagement channel but it’s not the only place you interact with people.

An effective personalization strategy is one that lets you take your learning from web interactions and apply it across all digital touchpoints, including the mobile web, email, mobile apps and social media. The goal: consistently relevant engagements across all channels that deliver the content each visitor is most likely to respond to. Your customers and prospects see you as a single brand. Why raise your responsiveness in one channel and leave the others in the dark ages?

Case notes Turkcell used visito rb intelligence to gen ehavior and crowd erate adaptive navi gation menus within a m obile application.

Forgetting the power of search.
Adaptive Action Analyzing your on-site search activity can be a powerful guide for SEO and search marketing. Understanding how people search on your site can help you discover new keywords improve paid search reach and boost natural search performance. (Shameless Plug: our Search Insights module does exactly this.)

Mistake #8

Search is one of the most powerful intent signals any user can transmit. But most websites (and many personalization platforms) ignore it completely.
It’s a simple concept: the search key phrase that brings a visitor to your site should be a primary driver of the content they see. Whether it’s natural search or pay-per-click, the search term is a big, bright, neon sign that says, “I’m looking for X.” To ignore it and serve up generic content is simply malpractice.

On-site search is just as powerful an intent indicator and, with an Adaptive Web approach, you can combine it with the micro-behaviors that led up to the search to further hone your response. Of course, on-site search is more than an intent indicator, it’s also a primary user experience dynamic – and that means it deserves the benefits of personalization.

Case Notes d the Baynote customer Intuit TurboTax use wisdom of crowds to achieve: e Four times better search performanc • t savings More than $300,000 in support cos • $300,000 in additional revenue • ax Uses Forrester Research, Inc Intuit TurboT t Less Taxing Crowd Wisdom To Make Site Suppor

Let’s re-cap.
So where have we been? We’ve seen that web personalization can strap a rocket to your conversion rates; keep web visitors coming back for more; and drive improvements in all other digital channels. But only if you do it right.
We’ve also seen that eight common mistakes are holding marketers back from harnessing the power of web personalization: Over-relying on profiles – instead of actual intent. Depending only on rules – instead of being guided by like-minded peers. Thinking like NASA – instead of deploying fast and driving ROI in weeks. Mis-using your experts – instead of automating the task and freeing them to add real value. Waiting for the big signals – instead of responding to micro-behaviors. Letting personas blind you – instead of guide you. Forgetting about other channels – and limiting yourself to the web. Under-valuing search behavior – and all you can learn from it. Some of these may sound obvious, but in our experience with over 200 website deployments, they’re still incredibly common. If you’re eager to put personalization to work, there’s a much better way.

Get Adaptive.

So how can you start to apply the principles of Adaptive Personalization on your website and other digital channels? Here are some action points.

Use our stuff Skip ahead a couple of pages for a bunch of resource suggestions. Dive in to learn more about the wide world of web personalization, digital marketing optimization and (pardon the commercial) how Baynote can make it all work for you.

Figure out how you’re personalizing now If you aren’t sure, find out if you’re doing any personalization today and how it’s being done. Is it rule based? Who is creating and maintaining the rules? How often are they being updated? Then build on what’s being done already (if anything).

Rally the troops Get people excited. The potential of adaptive personalization is huge and even though you don’t have to run a NASA project (see mistake # 3 ), you will need help and support. Plus, it’s more fun.

Get engaged You know there’s more to life than clicks and purchases. There’s engagement (remember mistake 4 ). But are you doing anything with engagement to improve your marketing now? Is it enough? Answering these questions can expose opportunities for both quick wins and big improvements.

Play mistake bingo Have some fun with these eight mistakes (and gather some serious info in the process). Ask around your organization about personalization - what’s been done, what’s worked (or not) and why. See how many of the mistakes get mentioned. You’ll learn a lot about who’s thinking what and how you might have to position any initiatives with them.

Talk to Baynote! We’ve got lots more to show you than we could ever cram into one eBook. Go on, give us a call at (408) 973-1889 or send us an email at We won’t give you the hard sell, we’ll just share our enthusiasm for the Adaptive Web and show you how you can harness it within a few weeks.

You’re ready to improve your web personalization. Whatever you do, don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Think automation. Think real-time. Think responsiveness. Think fast, light deployment. Think crowd intelligence.
It’s all part of the Adaptive Web and it’s a new paradigm that’s completely changing the way companies market themselves online. If we only leave you with one thought, it should be this: serving customers’ immediate needs always pays dividends. With Adaptive Personalization, you detect customer intent faster and respond more effectively.

Shoppers cite e-commerce website navigation and site search as features that most need improving.
Baynote ‘Online Holiday Shopping Experience Survey’ See the results of the survey here

About Baynote
Baynote is a world leader in the Adaptive Web. Heck, we helped pioneer the concept.
We’ve helped over 200 top websites – including sites for AT&T, Dell, Expedia, Intuit, Fox, Urban Outfitters and many more –to improve their online engagement by listening to the intent of their visitors and responding in real time. Our Adaptive Web Suite™, based on the Collective Intelligence Platform, is a completely new approach to optimizing digital engagement. Find out more from our website Book a live web demo here Check out the Baynote Adaptive Web Blog

Case notes One marketing team saw a 400% uplift in conversion by targeting emails to known users based on the intent clues from their recent web visits.

Liked the eBook? Time to dig deeper
The Strategic Value of the Adaptive Web A new white paper by Eric T Peterson of Web Analytics Demystified, on the role of an adaptive approach in improving the online customer experience. Download it now > Personalization Best Practices Webcast In a presentation to the American Marketing Association, Carlos Carvajal, Baynote CMO, shares his personalization best practices based on over ten years of experience working with hundreds of global brands. Watch it now > Adaptive Web Success Stories Real-world experiences from the likes of Expedia, TurboTax and Netshoes. Read them now >

Top bloggers on digital marketing. We get a lot of inspiration from these top thinkers, bloggers and online resources:
Econsultancy – the online community of digital marketers and publishers of best-practice digital marketing advice. The Forrester Blog – a must-read for interactive marketing professionals. ReadWriteWeb – one of the best and most popular technology blogs in the world. Ann Handley – Ann & the gang at Marketing Profs share insight with wit. Nice. The Innovative Marketer – Steve Gershik on all things demand gen. – What Linda Bustos dosen’t know about e-commerce isn’t worth knowing. Which Test Won? – Anne Holland’s excellent blog on A/B and multivariate testing. Greg Verdino – Greg is a futurist, marketer and author with keen insights into the rise of the empowered consumer. Steve Rubel – Steve is an insightful, engaging trend-watcher on digital marketing The Content Marketing Institute – An excellent resource for content marketers. Marketing Interactions blog – Ardath Albee is a hugely influential blogger and author on issues relating to complex sales. Retail Online Integration – including excellent bloggers on online retailing.

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