Does Googlebot see the personalization? Does this affect your search rankings? As with many things concerning SEO and Google’s algorithm, the answer is unclear. The Google algorithm changes all time, so it’s important to take this advice with a grain of salt. That being said, there are some things that we can definitely say. Since Googlebot doesn’t collect cookies, when it sees your page, it will not see the personalization. Googlebot will see your universal landing page. This means that if your personalized landing page is significantly different from the universal landing page that Google sees, a red flag will be raised. For example, personalizing by changing 80% of the content on the homepage will fall under what Google calls ‘cloaking’. However, small to moderate amounts of personalization will likely have no impact on SEO. Further, if you want to personalize by making big changes to content, having the user log in to an account on your site in order to see the personalization also nullifies any potential negative SEO impact.
There are also more indirect ways that personalization can impact your SEO efforts. Google’s search algorithm places importance on what they call ‘personal history’, and ‘social connections’. Let’s look at each of them individually and how content personalization relates.
When looking at a user’s personal history, Google is basically asking them question – what has a user been searching for and clicking on? Have they liked a site on Facebook, or followed a company on Twitter? This SEO metric places a great amount of importance on first impressions and brand loyalty. As a company, you want to make sure that you offer first time visitors who click on a regular search results a great experience on your website. This encourages them to return to your site, and even click on your site over alternatives listed higher up in Google’s search rankings. This tells Google that your site should be shown higher up in the search rankings for this user. Ensuring your customer has a great impression of your brand also makes them more likely to show affinity to your brand in other ways, such as liking on Facebook or +1 on Google+ – metrics which tell Google to rank your site higher for that user. And while personal history has always been a factor in the Google algorithm, it is becoming even more relevant with the rise of new search interfaces such as Google Now, which present ‘cards’ to each user based on explicit (likes, shares) and implicit (search history) interests and needs.
What do your friends think about a website? Believe it or not, this is another metric that Google takes into account when determining how high to show your website in their rankings. These connections matter to Google, because in the same way that you might take advice from a friend offline, Google views your online connections as your personal set of advisors. So for example, if a user finds your website, has a great experience and proceeds to share one of your blog posts on their personal Facebook page, not only does this tell Google to rank your site higher for this user, but Google also ranks your site higher for that user’s friends. In essence, without even knowing it, by sharing your blog post, Google sees that as the user recommending your site to his or her friends.
So how does content personalization relate to this? Well, a great way to ensure that users have a great experience on your site is to personalize content for them. Remember, 74% of users get frustrated when brands show them content or promotions that are irrelevant to them. Using content personalization ensures that you will keep these 74% of users engaged in your brand, turning them into loyal customers and brand ambassadors. This, in turn, indirectly improving your SEO efforts by increasing your search rankings for your customers and their friends.
User Experience (UX)
A goal for every business website is for it to be as user-friendly as possible, providing a flawless and frictionless browsing experience for each and every customer. But now you want to implement content personalization, without it disrupting your UX. How do you do it? Here are some examples of how Airbnb designs a flawless UX interface designs that is different for every user.
Good UX should make personalization feel intelligently alive. In order to design a good site, you should design according to the different levels at which the users process their responses to it.
This refers to the practice of designing a user’s first impression of your site. When you consider the UX for your site, you want to immediately make a good impression. Airbnb does a great job of this. As soon as I enter their site for the first time, without having to enter any information, I am immediately shown personalized options for places close to me.
This refers to designing the experience a user has while using your website. Airbnb again is a great example of providing value through personalization after you book an Airbnb, while keeping their design sleek. After booking a place in Boston, the first thing I’m shown when I revisit the app is not options to book another place, but rather a guidebook to give me ideas for things to do while I’m in Boston. Right below they remind me of my recent searches just in case I want to book another trip too, just in case Boston isn’t my only destination.
This refers to designing for user’s thoughts after using your product or service. Reflection design should reflect the feelings that using the product induces, the image that it portrays, and your brand messaging. After returning from my trip in Boston, I am greeted with a personalized (based on my purchase history) “welcome home” banner. This allows me to reflect on my (hopefully) positive experience using Airbnb and solidifies my positive perception of their brand.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
According to Venture Beat, most companies see CRO as one of the most important aspects of digital marketing. 85% of marketers cite CRO as one of their main focus points of this coming year. However, despite the perceived importance of CRO, most websites struggle when it comes to raising their CRO. For the typical business, conversion rates range from 1%-3%. With these low numbers, it is unsurprising that about 4 in 5 businesses are not satisfied with their conversion rates.
There are many strategies available when it comes to improving conversion rates – A/B testing, mobile optimization, cross-platform testing, video marketing, the list goes on. However, one strategy that is not always mentioned in the same breath as those listed above, but is just starting to gain recognition, is personalization. The statistics for personalization when it comes to improving both micro and macro conversion rates are impressive:
- Personalized CTAs result in a 42% higher conversion rate than generic CTAs.
- Personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
- Marketers see an average 20% increase in sales when using personalized web experiences.
With the online marketplace becoming increasingly saturated, having an online presence is no longer enough to stand out. Getting potential customers onto your site is only half of the battle, now you have to hold their attention until they’ve paid you for your product/ service. Personalization helps address this problem specifically, by presenting ‘convincing arguments’ throughout all touch points with the user. Based on past behavior, you can establish future intent and present the content that would be the most convincing to each individual user. In other words, personalization is an effective way to present messaging that resonates with your customers. When they interact with your site, it becomes a reflection of their taste, interests, and needs.
Generally, A/B testing and personalization are both used in most digital marketing strategies as they go hand in hand. However, this does not mean that for personalization to work, you must A/B test, or vice versa. Personalization is useful independent of A/B testing. Now while both are useful and ideally would be used together, not all businesses have the capital for this kind of marketing strategy. So if you are faced with a choice between A/B testing and content personalization what should you choose? You should choose personalization, for several reasons.
(1) Personalization can benefit any business in any market. Whether you have several products and targeting audiences, or one service in a niche market, you can benefit from personalization. If a marketing goal for your business is to work on your product/ service’s value proposition, while targeting relevant content to your user segments, then personalization is for you.
(2) Personalization opens up a wide range of possibilities for your business while being relatively easy to implement. For example, with personalization you can increase customer retention, develop tailored navigation experiences and grab contextual data – opening the door to a wide range of marketing opportunities that would not be possible with just A/B testing.
(3) Personalization does not have a minimum traffic requirement. Small business with little traffic can get just as much utility out of personalization as a big high traffic website can. The same cannot be said for A/B testing.
In sum, both A/B testing and personalization are useful tools. Ideally, A/B testing would be used to confirm that your personalization strategies are working. However, if you have a limited marketing budget and can only use one, personalization is much more useful as a free standing tool than A/B testing is. So if you had to choose which one to do first, you should do content personalization, because A/B testing generic content will show you the ‘least worst’ generic content. In contrast, optimizing tailored content will actually give you the best messaging for the segment that you’re targeting.
Coming into the summer of 2014, sales of Coke had been in a steady 10-year decline. Their sales were roughly on par with their major competitor, Pepsi, although indications suggested that Pepsi were starting to pull ahead. What Coke’s marketing department did next is a great example of using personalization to create excitement about a brand, and turn customers and non-customers into brand ambassadors.
The personalization campaign that I am referring to is Coke’s “Share a Coke” campaign. Marketers at Coke realized that there is just something inherently exciting about seeing your name in a store or on a product, whether it be on a Starbucks coffee or on a fridge magnet. The share a Coke campaign captured this sentiment of excitement and created a personalized brand experience for its customers by printing names and phrases on coke products around the country.
Within one week, Coke began outperforming Pepsi – the company posted a sales growth of 30%. Equally as impressive, the campaign helped Coke gain 28% more customers compared with the same period the year before. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Coke’s campaign was how they used personalization to turn Coke drinkers into brand ambassadors. During the campaign cycle, Coke drinkers shared their personalized experiences more than 250,000 times by using the #ShareACoke hashtag. As more and more data came in, Coke were able to analyse the correlation between social sharing and sales – what they found was significant. The more #ShareACoke was tweeted in a specific area, the faster the sales for the area grew, providing validation for Coke’s social sharing marketing efforts.
The main point to take away from the Coke case study is that personalization is a powerful branding tool, allowing companies to turn customers into brand ambassadors through personalized interactions with them.
Note: Coke personalized not by adjusting content based on actions but by adding elements to a product that are biographic. However, this difference is not entirely important in this section. The main take-away is that the personalization as a concept is a powerful branding tool. The specifics of how Coke personalized are less relevant than the fact that they used personalization as a strategy.