April 19, 2023

Find your people: Identification Rules for Website Personalization

Alex Angstrom

Associate Director, Strategy

Alex Angstrom, Associate Director of Strategy, shares his thoughts on how to approach user identification as part of a personalization campaign. 

In our last two posts about how website personalization works, we covered the bases of how to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for campaigns and how to approach audience segmentation in a personalization-friendly way. This article will cover the topic of identification, which is perhaps the most pivotal step in planning and deciding on your approach to the personalization process.


Three Ways to Identify Users

Let’s say you are designing a personalization program, and you’ve set your goals and also created a list of audience personas to target. The next thing you will need to input is how you will identify your website visitors in order to segment them. 

Identifying website users can be done in three (3) main ways, which we’ll call implicit, explicit, and off-site. 

More details about each of these methods can be found in the table below:

Methods Description Samples Data Sources Strengths Risks
Implicit users are categorized based on inferences about their web footprint IP locations, SERP terms, content consumption, clicks, or referral source Proactive "Intelligent" and seamless False positives, can be creepy, takes longer
Explicit users volunteer data that categorized them into a segment Account registration or log in, widget interaction, or form submission More certain, less risky categorization Explicit user inputs required
Off-Site users complete an action is an off-site trackable touchpoint Email link click, social campaign click, search query keywords(s) Useful for both proactive or retargeting  Requires multiple touchpoints 

Real Examples of Personalization 

As a team who’s been obsessed with personalization for almost as long as it’s existed, we’ve seen a lot. Consider these examples of identifying website users to help clarify the above concepts!

  1. Implicit Scenario: a prospect is browsing your site and clicks on the wrong industry-specific page in the site navigation by mistake. To avoid immediately personalizing the homepage imagery to match that industry on their next visit, you can set more complex rules, e.g. that the user has to click to three (3) different page that are all related to a certain industry before the site will personalize according to that industry segment. 
  2. Explicit Scenario: let’s say you have a large set of website personas in your CRM that you want to personalize for beyond geographic location or industry. By identifying the purchase history for each customer via tags on their records, you can add a personalized block to the logged-in state of the customer portal with suggested product resources and timely reminders to reorder.
  3. Off-Site Scenario: you might think this method simply sounds like a retargeting campaign. But by utilizing campaign links with UTM tags, off-site campaigns end up creating very dialed-in website personalization for users that can be driven from email, SMS, or social media; they can also leverage main website pages and don’t need to rely on microsites or campaign landing pages to create a tailored experience.

There are plenty of other stories just like these, and they are all proof that website personalization is trickier than it looks on the surface! The important thing is to keep pivoting and iterating your way into a successful personalization process, one that is right-sized for you and your users.


Applying Identification Strategies to Your Brand

Below is a summary of each identification method and when to consider using them:

Remember, each of these methods comes with pros and cons; no one of them is universally superior to the others. The most effective method for your brand will depend on the nature of your audience, what kind of data you can gather about them, and how that data is gathered. 

As always, try to keep your approach simple, starting with a single method as your entry point, and as you start to learn from your first campaigns, you can deepen your use of identification methods from there. 


If you’d like to get even nerdier about personalization, we’re more than happy to indulge. Get in touch with us and let’s see what’s possible for your brand!