March 29, 2010

Ten Ways to Personalize Your Web Site


Hostway Team

By Gail Seymour

Personalization can add value to your Web site by tailoring your offering to your visitor's needs. Good personalization makes your site more accessible, intuitive and relevant for your user. It also gives them more control, which in turn engenders a feeling of ownership, and therefore loyalty to your site.

  1. New Users
    When your visitors find your Web site for the first time, present them with an orientation page. This could be a pop-in page that fades out the background. Offer new users the option to register, set site wide preferences, or opt in or out of advertising.
  2. Design Layout
    Offering the user a choice of color schemes or design layouts can be little more than a gimmick. Used properly, though, visual tweaks enhance the user experience. As an example, a high contrast option for the visually impaired, or multiple language translations add genuine value, making your Web site more accessible. Using a cookie to remember these settings is then a matter of good manners, rather than a privacy issue.
  3. Cookie Crumb Trails
    Cookies can be used to record other small snippets of information. Remembering the visitor's name, and greeting them by it is an overused, but still effective, way to connect with the user. Another useful trick might be to remember the pages the user visited in their last session, and provide a link to “Your pages viewed.” A lot of people will return for the same information, without knowing how to quickly find it in their browser history.
  4. Referrer Redirects
    Another way to personalize your site without requesting further information from your user is to make use of the information you already have about them. Set up redirects by referrer that point visitors from certain sites towards content optimized for them. For example, send visitors referred by news sites to your Media Kit, or redirect visitors from shopping comparison sites to your special offers.
  5. Custom Content
    Allow visitors to include or exclude content from your Web site. Also allow them to decide the order of presentation, as this hands control over to them. It also makes the site more useful. This could be as simple as filtering RSS feeds through keywords, or using a template system with code blocks the user can manipulate.
  6. Rich Media
    Similarly, give users the option to include or exclude audio, video, flash or other rich media content according to their own preferences. Provide your content in multiple formats and always have a simple text version available.
  7. User Generated Content
    Whether it's allowing customers to create a wish list, or encouraging visitors to contribute news or article posts to your knowledge base, including your user in the process of content creation gives them a sense of ownership. With ownership comes loyalty.
  8. User Accounts
    Having users create an account makes the personalization more enduring across multiple computers. It also enables you to gather more information to tailor your offering with. Let users view their purchase history, track current orders or find tailored links to support materials for their products.
  9. Purchase History
    Use your visitors' purchase history to refine your site content for them. Exclude products their previous purchases make redundant, or offer upgrade pricing, express checkouts, or other cross-selling links.
  10. Communication Control
    Let your users manage the off site communication they receive from you. Give them the option to switch different channels on and off, and indicate the types of messages they want to receive. In this way a customer might opt out of all phone calls, but opt to receive both product updates and special offers by email, for example.

About the Author

Gail Seymour has been a Web site designer for more than 10 years. During that time she has won three Sitesell design awards, and has provided the content and copy for dozens of Web sites and more than 50,000 Web pages.

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