One approach to developing personalized Web sites allows marketing and content personnel to manage the Web site with a minimum of programmer and other IT staff assistance so you can react instantly to your market.
- Profile your customers
- Create customized content
- Integrate the Web into the enterprise
- Understand customer buying motives
- Improve customer service
Tailoring Content Based on Profiles
Your customers are looking for personal attention, and personalization can tailor your Web site for each individual. Providing personalized Web content based on individual needs and preferences helps you create loyal customers by providing extra value for the time spent at your Web site.
The application server selects appropriate content that will appeal to your audience based on rules stored in HTML template files. The template files also determine how content will be formatted, which means that the design of your Web site can be separated from the content creation – making it easier to develop and maintain a personalized Web site.
There is a well defined procedure for creating a personalized Web site that leads to a successful implementation.
- Create a profile database to store user preferences and other profile information
- Develop “content objects” that will be used repetitively throughout the site
- Create a “content database” of material, such as catalog information, that will use consistent formatting
- Create HTML templates that will provide a consistent format to pages
- Add personalization rules to HTML templates that select appropriate content for each individual
Creating the profile database for a personalized Web site can be a challenge – not because of technology, but because we may not know how to segment our market. Fortunately, the process can be simplified by starting with the questions your salespeople currently use when presenting to prospects.
For example, if your salespeople usually ask prospects questions about where they use products like yours, preferred quantity in an order, and similar questions, then you are on the road to knowing the types of preferences to store in your profile database. Then, as new questions or types of preferences arise, you can easily add them to the profile database, so that every page in your Web site has easy access to an individual’s entire profile. This means that any page can be personalized based on any answer – from the current Web session or any previous session.
In addition to including questions within content pages for explicit profiling, Web developers can incorporate behavior-based profiling into Web sites. This implicit profiling technique means that you are not limited to form-based responses, but good systems can also observe Web behavior and tailor content.
Whether you need only a few profile characteristics or hundreds of preference indicators, personalization makes it easy for you to create customized content – on any page – with a minimum of effort on the part of your Web developers.
Creating Personalized Content
It is easy for Web developers to create customized content because personalization systems work the same way that sales professionals tailor their presentations. Creating personalized content is done by defining the conditions when content will be shown, then tags are used to specify those rules.
For instance, you may have a promotion aimed at golfers, and the profile database stores information about their hobbies. While this is a relatively simple personalization rule, it is used frequently by most Web developers because it provides an easy, precise way to tailor content to an individual’s profile.
Of course, not every personalization rule is as simple as the golf promotion. Complex personalization rules are supported with minor variations in this example. In addition, many business rules lend themselves to being expressed in traditional SQL commands. That’s why some personalization systems support a full-range of SQL commands with their parameters. The SQL commands used most are:
- Select – Choose records from a content database, an order processing database, or a database of special profile information
- Update – Change existing records in any database permitted to the Web server
- Insert – Add new records to databases of profile, content, accounting, or other information
- Delete – Remove records based on a set of conditions, if system permissions allow
Content Management Options Provide Flexibility
The content on large Web sites has grown dramatically, causing a management problem that just keeps on growing. Material can appear on a single page or in a catalog of thousands of products, and all pages need to have a unified look and feel. Personalization systems can draw content from a number of sources, which means Web developers can choose the approaches that meet their needs.
Content may be stored in several ways:
- Within the template file for use in that individual document
- Stored in “content object” files that can be included in multiple documents
- Database records of pure content that can be formatted by the template document
A variety of content management techniques are available, such as transferring content from traditional print-based tools.
In addition, database publishing techniques allow content developers to enter material via forms so they don’t have to use any HTML tags. This makes it easy for authorized people to add content that can be immediately available on the Web site.
Recognize Individuals Automatically
Most people appreciate being recognized, and Web users don’t like to remember IDs and passwords — they just want to be recognized and treated as individuals. Personalization turns static Web pages into dynamic content by automatically recognizing individuals as they move from page to page during a session, and when they return to your site in the future.
This is done by assigning each person a unique Coravue ID that is stored on their computer as a “cookie” and in every bookmark they save on your site. Since most people recognize the value of cookies, they can just enter your URL and Coravue will automatically sense who they are and use their profile to customize the site just for them.
For the people who do not allow cookies to be stored on their computer, their bookmark tells the system who they are, so the site is automatically customized for them, too.
Up-Selling in E-Commerce
There are many ways you can build a relationship with a customer when your site automatically recognizes an individual. For e-commerce sites that store product purchase history, customers who have purchased a popular product can see pages that promote related products, while new customers can be shown the popular product. This avoids the waste of promoting a product to a customer who already purchased the product, and it leads customers to products that complement existing purchases.
Serving Customers Like They’ve Never Been Served
The Web can reduce customer support costs – but only if the customer can find the support information they need.
As the number of products sold by a company increases, the number of customer support pages on the Web site increases – to the point where a customer can’t find the information they need. So, they return to the traditional approach of calling a support center and not only asking for help, but also complaining that the Web site was of little use.
The solution is to automatically recognize customers when the return to your Web site looking for help and display the support information only for products they have purchased. This reduces the time they spend searching for support information and reduces your call center expenses. It also provides you with an opportunity to sell related products to the customer by presenting them with “valued customer” specials based on their purchase history, interests, or Web behavior.
What better way to keep a customer than to solve their problem and offer a special on a product you know they can use!
Self-Paced Training Improves Productivity and Reduces Costs
As products become more complex, customers need more and more training so they can obtain the maximum value from your products. At the same time, your employees need additional training so they can sell and support customers.
A personalized Web site can provide self-paced training by storing in the profile database answers to questions about their understanding of the material that are included throughout the training material. This allows the Web site to adjust the level of training material “on the fly” as the student is learning, which provides instant feedback and direction.
Integrating with the Enterprise
While it’s important to treat your Web guests as individuals, it’s also important for your Web developers to have a personalization system that can be easily integrated with the existing enterprise computing environment. The Coravue Application Server uses industry-standard SQL database technology to store user profile data, as well as data for content, accounting, and control.
This not only means that personalized Web sites respond quickly, it also allows a Web site to be integrated with traditional SQL databases used throughout corporations. By extending existing database applications to the Web, corporations can now deliver applications to customers and employees around the world, and those applications can be automatically tailored in real-time to the needs and authorization of those individuals.
The ID is more than a way to personalize a Web site. It’s also a way to track each individual so you can learn how different profile characteristics affect Web behavior.
Personalization includes each person’s ID in a log that shows the date and time every page and every graphic was displayed. This means you can perform tabulations that have never been possible, such as:
- How many men versus women saw each product?
- Are different hobbies related to purchase behavior?
- Is the person’s title related to the length of the sales cycle?
- Do people with higher education use text links or graphic links more?
How to Get Started
With a good personalization system, it’s easy to take advantage of the benefits of Web personalization because you don’t need a dedicated staff of software programmers – you can begin by having your present Web developers use their favorite HTML tools to add tags to your existing Web pages.
This means there is no expensive re-design, no new dedicated server hardware, and no additional system administrative overhead.
As you can see, we’re more than a software company. We’re here to help you take advantage of today’s most powerful marketing technology by applying one-to-one relationship marketing techniques with Web personalization.