Being from England originally, one of my favorite websites finally got a major homepage redesign today. For years, the trusty english news website, BBC.co.uk looked like it was something that was stuck in the late 90’s. And although it was full of lots information and news on the homepage, it included lots of news that you didn’t necessarily care about. So just how did their homepage redesign rate?
Well, not only did they finally make the homepage look more modern, but they made it relatively user-personalizable. While it doesn’t offer as much personalizable content as say, MyYahoo, its very easy to use and change. You can drag and drop news sections around, and customize what you want to see in them. You can also change the basic color scheme. Shame you can’t add in your favorite blogs and RSS feeds though, just a few preselected BBC ones. If offers personalizable weather locations, but how come no stock quotes or similar things? Overall, a good homepage redesign…
But all this user personalization got me to thinking. When should a site offer personalizations, and to what degree? And when shouldn’t you offer it? Seems like its pretty random. But if you think about it, site personalization is great if you aren’t trying to control the flow and choices of the visitor, by offering calls to action. But as soon as you offer full site customization, the user can control their own content, and you lose the ability to direct and entice the visitor to do what you want them to do (sign up, learn more etc).
So if you are a portal site, which concentrates on longer average time spent and more ads being served, and you don’t necessarily care where they go on your site, as long as they stay on it, then I recommend offering site personalization features. But for corporate sites who are trying to sell a specific set of items, or generate leads, don’t offer personalization. Instead, think of clear calls to action that help acheive your site’s goals. This is the reason why you see personalization on portal sites like Yahoo and AOL that have a lot of content, but not on sites like Apple.com or Salesforce.com. Go take a look, you will see the difference – lots more direct calls to action on these last two sites, with no hint of offering personalization.
One form of personalization though that is good for any site, is showing content based on segmenting the website visitors. And by this, I mean showing content that relates to the type of visitor – a great example is showing different content to repeat visitors (e.g. welcome back, have you seen the new ‘x’ product). This method has been proven to increase conversion rates and usability levels, and is much more of a ‘personal’ website visit.
Another segment personalization example is detecting whether the visitor arrived from a specific campaign (like paid search), and then customizing the site and messaging they see based on the campaign they clicked from. This is a much more fluid and easier transition, and generates much higher conversion rates. Nothing worse than clicking on an advert on Google, only to arrive on the site and find no mention of the thing that was the reason you came there in the first place for! I don’t know about you, but that immediately makes me click away, thus wasting the click they paid for to get me to their website!