The Hidden Potential of On-Site Personalization (And 3 Ways to Get Started)

Marketing personalization.

Marketing is about sending the right message, to the right person, at the right time. When businesses try to reach everyone, they end up convincing no one.

According to numerous studies, the average consumer is exposed to as many as 10,000 messages from brands each day. What’s more, Microsoft has claimed that due to the increasing number of distractions we encounter on a constant basis, our attention span has been reduced down to a measly 8 seconds.

Whether you can personally relate to those numbers or not, it’s hard for anyone to deny it takes more effort today for a brand to capture (not to mention keep) your attention than it did just a handful of years ago.

If you want any chance of capturing the mind of a potential customer today, it’s not enough to create one message that speaks to everyone. Heck, it’s not even enough to create one message that speaks to one generalized audience.

Messaging today requires laser-like precision—almost as if you’re speaking to the exact needs of each individual customer.

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Impersonal selling still runs rampant

Drawing parallels to “real world” customer interactions is still a useful way to highlight just how detached and impersonal internet businesses can be.

For example, imagine walking into a big-box retail store and being welcomed by a greeter upon your arrival. Rather than asking what brought you in today, or whether they can help point you in the right direction, the salesperson launches into a long, canned presentation of the day’s best deals.

While it’s possible one of those offers may genuinely interest you, it’s far more likely the salesperson lost your attention the moment it became obvious their pitch wasn’t relevant to you.

They never had a chance of acquiring you as a customer, because they treated you like a catch-all “prospect,” rather than treating you like … well, you.

Relevancy is key to effective marketing

In years past, personalized, highly relevant messages have been difficult to achieve through traditional marketing channels.

Today, the capability to narrow your reach and refine your messaging to target a precise audience has brought about incredible efficiency in advertising. There’s almost no limit to how individualized the targeting and messaging of your ads can be.

While our ability to reach and attract our ideal customers with advertising has improved dramatically, most companies completely drop personalized messaging once a prospect finally reaches their site. The finely tuned ad leads back to catch-all copy on a homepage or product page, which creates a disjointed experience.

This begs the question: If it’s worth personalizing your advertising to drive unique prospects to your store, why not personalize your website in order to convert them to customers?

What personalization means for ecommerce

At this point, we’re all familiar with the ecommerce Recommendation Engine Amazon made famous: suggesting products you may like based on the shopping habits of yourself and others like you.

Product recommendations have been adopted by nearly every retailer at this point and there’s no question that as a conversion method they work to increase sales.

Recommendations also serve as a great example of personalization in practice, but they still leave an important question unanswered: How can you increase the relevancy of your marketing messages when a customer hasn’t yet made a purchase?

For example, it’s easy to recommend complementary products to a customer that has a history of purchasing from your store, but what do you do before they’ve made their first purchase?

Here’s where on-site personalized marketing can help, but it requires working with the information you do have (or can obtain) about shoppers who visit your store.

Below, I’m going to share three questions/approaches you can ask and answer to immediately improve the relevancy of your store for each new potential customer that visits your site.

Question#1: Where are your customers coming from?

Or, who is sending customers to your site?

Ecommerce stores get their traffic from a variety of sources, one of those being referrals. Maybe your store has been included in a gift guide, or maybe you’ve been mentioned in an article as the “best place to find X.”

These third-party referrals are generally strong sources of qualified buyers who are coming to you based on the recommendation of a trusted third party. To improve your chances of converting these visitors into customers, you’ll want to consider the following:

  1. What was the topic of the source (i.e. website) that brought them to you?
  2. What type of person reads or follows this referral site?

With the answers to those two questions in mind, you’ll be able to customize your copy and/or images to align with the referrer that sent them.

To give you an example, let’s say that you sell men’s and women’s apparel and your store was just featured on a fitness blog for women. We can surmise the visitors sent to our site will be fitness-minded women who have an interest in the type of product which was featured.

To optimize your conversions, you’ll want to be sure that your page includes:

  1. A headline that speaks to women and fitness, along with possibly a reference to either the site that sent them or the product that was featured.
  2. Images that feature active women.
  3. Social proof: Testimonials from like-minded customers, or a logo from the site that referred them.

Based on the scenario above, you tell me which page would convert better.

This one?

Personalized homepage.

Or this one?

Personalized homepage example.

What you can do today:

  1. Start by identifying what sources are referring customers to your store within your Shopify analytics panel. Alternatively, you could use Google Analytics to find similar data.
  2. Answer the two questions mentioned above for each referral source to determine what personalizations are needed and for who.
  3. Personalize your site for each referral source or create individual landing pages to redirect traffic.

Question #2: Does your store match your ads?

If you’re targeting a specific customer through your ads, but sending them to a generic landing page, at best you’re leaving money on the table. At worst, you’re actively throwing money away.

Unique landing pages are an option, but with the insane number of ad variations that are possible today, it’s become nearly impossible to create the individual pages you need for each ad without a large team or an agency as support.

The solution? Use UTM parameters to modify the content of your existing store dynamically to match the content of each ad.

If you’re not familiar with UTM’s, they are a string of identifiers that appear at the end of a URL to help identify where visitors are coming from.

UTM parameters

Image credit: Leonardo

If you’ve never created a UTM in the past, this Google worksheet makes it really simple to set one up.

Just complete the form fields—website URL, campaign source, and campaign name being the most important—and Google will generate a custom URL that you can use. The end result will look something like this:

You’ll want to create a new URL for each unique ad that you’re running.

Using the /source parameter and /campaign parameter is usually enough to make quick variations to your store that align perfectly with the ad your customer will see, even if that’s just the headline or call-to-action button.

For example, if you had an ad running on Facebook that was offering a 20% discount to returning shoppers, and another ad that was offering new shoppers free shipping, you could to change your headline to match each offer respectively.

The best part is, this all happens on a single landing page and only takes a few minutes to adjust.

What you can do today:

  1. Ensure that each of your ads has a unique URL (Use a UTM builder to create these).
  2. Create a list of personalizations based on each unique campaign parameter to match the copy and offers in the ad.
  3. Switch the headline or call-to-action using custom coding on your store, or with an out-of-the-box solution like RightMessage.

Question #3: What do you know about your list?

Chances are you have a newsletter or email list of some kind. If you do, you have a powerful asset at your fingertips.

Capturing an email is the next best thing to capturing a sale. You just need to know how to best leverage this powerful asset in order to send customers messages that will resonate.

If you’re like most ecommerce companies, your list is likely made up of past and current customers, as well as potential customers who have yet to make a purchase, but who have signed up to get updates or special offers. It’s also possible you’re capturing email addresses of would-be shoppers who have abandoned their cart.

Regardless of what stage they are at in your customer lifecycle, they each have unique needs.

If you’re storing their contact information in your email service provider (ESP) or customer relationship management (CRM) platform, you can begin collecting data to personalize their experience with your store. This collection can be done in a variety of ways: enriching details with a tool like Clearbit, sending surveys or quizzes, and the list goes on.

The easiest place to begin is to assess what you currently have. There is no need to overwhelm yourself with gathering everything immediately. You can start with something simple. Just identifying if someone is an existing customer or not is a good first step.

Once you have some data, this is where the magic begins.

Pulling this data to modify your store on-the-fly to personalize each experience will allow you to reach each customer at the right stage. These changes could include:

  1. Modifying the header and body copy to match a customers interest.
  2. Hiding forms or calls-to-action they’ve already completed.
  3. Changing a call-to-action based on where they currently are in the buying cycle.
  4. Surfacing discounts to new shoppers.

The possible variations are truly endless.

To give you an example of this in practice, Steven Pressfield, author of multiple novels including, The Legend of Bagger Vance, recently used personalization to dynamically feature books which had not yet been purchased by each individual subscriber on his list.

He did this by creating an ad for each book, all of which appeared at the bottom of his blog posts. Within his email database, he stored a record for each subscriber, indicating which book(s) they’ve purchased previously.

Now, when he sends an email to his subscribers to share his latest blog post, each subscriber is only shown ads for the books they haven’t bought.

If you haven’t purchased any books yet, you would see this:

Personalized CTA.

If you’ve purchased one or more of his books, but not Turning Pro, you would see this:

Personalized CTA example.

And the cycle continues until a subscriber has purchased every book.

What you can do today:

  1. Create a spreadsheet of everyone on your list, adding any additional columns of data you have on each individual (i.e. customer/prospect).
  2. Consider and implement ways you can gather this information from customers upfront moving forward, such as adding preference-based questions upon registration, etc.
  3. Use a data enrichment tool like Clearbit to expand your knowledge of your customers using just their email address.
  4. Pass the data you have on each customer to your website. This can be done with tools like RightMessage or by utilizing your email marketing app’s API to trigger changes on your site for each subscriber (requires some technical development).

What can personalization do for your store?

While on-site personalization is a relatively new concept and can take a bit of legwork to get right, the idea that customers respond best to individualized experiences has been known for ages.

Brick and mortar retail stores have historically had an advantage of offering individual attention through sales associates or personal shoppers, which consumers have desired.

With online shopping closing the gap between in-store revenue, the opportunity to win a customer by personalizing their experience online has never been greater. Today’s technology has made personalization both easy to implement early on and scalable as you grow.

Now that you’re more informed and armed with a few approaches to consider, I’ll slightly rephrase my previous question and ask it again:

If you’re personalizing your advertising to drive unique prospects to your store, doesn’t it make sense to personalize your website in order to convert them to customers?

Do you want to create your own online store?