How To Implement Personalization And Behavioral Targeting On Your Blog

Giving a unique experience to every visitor ensures maximum engagement that convincingly inflates the conversion rate beyond your expectations. Generally, blog visitors' get the same content irrespective from where they're coming from and what's their intent. This leaves big holes in your lead generation and subscriber acquisition strategies. To overcome this, bloggers employ different methodologies with varying complexity. Two most popular methods to spawn engaging sessions from visitors are personalization and behavioral targeting.

Collection of rubber balls

In simple words, personalization and behavioral targeting involves serving of custom (relevant) content to the visitors on the basis of geographical and various demographical attributes. This can be done in 3 different ways.
  • Implicit personalization - In this technique, custom content is served automatically on the basis of predefined parameters. Visitor himself doesn't have any idea that his visit has altered the default content of the landing page. Content alteration is dynamic and instant through a chain of rules that are triggered automatically as soon as visitor's geographical or demographical data is collected by the personalization engine.
  • Explicit personalization - As the name suggests, this methodology involves direct interaction with the visitors by letting them choose the type of content they want to consume. This strategy is widely used on e-Commerce web sites and portals. To make it understand better in the context of a typical blog visitor, you can compare it with a custom message appearing on top of blog posts through WP Greet Box plugin asking social media visitors' to share, like, stumble or tweet the post.
  • Hybrid personalization - Combine the two strategies discussed above and you'll get a hybrid solution that not only serves custom content automatically but also lets the visitor fine-tune the selection through various on-page controls. This is generally implemented on high-traffic e-Commerce web sites.
In whatever way you implement behavioral targeting, you must define the scope and purpose of implementing personalization. It can be broadly divided into three categories, viz., content targeting, ad targeting and business funnel optimization. In this context, what does these three terms mean and how do they differ from each other?
  • Content targeting - It is the simplest and widely used form of personalization. A typical example is a multilingual blog serving same content in different languages to visitors' coming from different countries. The language-based alteration is just one of the infinite possibilities of content targeting. A more complex example can alter the content of sidebars on the basis of visitor's IP address or gender.
  • Ad targeting - High-traffic blogs generally use this technique to serve targeted ads to the visitors. Don't get confused by comparing it with PPC ads served by ad-networks like Adsense. Firstly, their ad-serving logic (rules) is not controlled by the blog owner, and secondly they are primarily served on the basis of post content and visitor's geographical and demographical data plays the secondary role just for picking local ads from the inventory. In a true sense, personalizing ads involves serving of select ads (generally direct advertisements) to the traffic on the basis of demographical and geographical data. And this whole ad-targeting campaign is under direct control of the blog owner.
  • Business funnel optimization - And last but not the least is applying personalization to get better results from your sales funnel. This is primarily done as re-targeting campaigns and is generally applied on returning visitors. For that, you need to retain the visitors' data and need to apply 'rinse and repeat' strategy till you get the desired results.

Pros and Cons of Behavioral Targeting

While implementing such techniques, there's always a positive outcome accompanied with some grey areas that may land you in trouble if not taken care of. We are going to discuss about both facets to see whether the positive side outweighs the grey one. Whenever you're implementing personalization, you're doing two primary things. You're collecting visitors' data and delivering custom content on the basis of that data. An average visitor almost always welcomes the latter, but the former may raise doubt in the minds of the visitors. Here are the pros and cons of applying behavioral targeting.
  • Pros - Better conversions (more revenue) - The more relevant content a visitor gets, the more engaged is the visit. This automatically increases the chances of conversions (e.g feed subscription, newsletter sign up, affiliate product sale), which essentially means inflation in revenue. And that's what a typical niche or a business blog strives to achieve.
  • Cons - Privacy issues - Implications of collecting visitors' data online has always been fiercely debated on different forums across the world. It's a sensitive issue and if not taken care of, it can ruin your online business within days. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has drafted a framework for web masters about privacy issues while implementing behavioral targeting. The crux of this report stresses on self-regulation and more importantly discusses about prohibition of collecting personally identifiable information (PII) under any circumstances. Data accuracy and data retention (duration and type of data) also comes into play especially if you're going to implement re-targeting campaigns for returning visitors. Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) has devised a handy online tool for users to opt out from behavioral advertising implemented by several popular advertising networks.

Implementing Personalization and Behavioral Targeting

Enough of theory, and now is the time to see how to actually implement personalization on your blog. You don't need to be a programmer or a coding ninja to do it. However, a working knowledge of HTML and basic PHP/CSS can make things easier for you. We can use the combination of BTBuckets, SiteApps and Google Analytics to power our behavioral targeting engine. So let's get started and see how we can create a pretty robust and reliable personalization engine for our blog.

Define goals - The very first step involves tabulation of clearly defined, achievable and feasible goals. Unless you don't know what you want to achieve from your personalization exercise, you'll never be able to move on to the next step. Create success metrics and give each one of them a unique name that will appear in the analytics reports. This way you set the foundation for measuring the success rate and return-on-investment (ROI) for any personalization campaign. Goal creation process is not easy as you may think initially. You must do extensive testing for a decent duration to get enough data to decide what to look for and what can be achieved. Use can use Google website optimizer to do MultiVariate or A/B testing. Simply creating these tests alone doesn't do the job. You need a large volume of data to achieve statistical confidence level for creating right success metrics. This Split and A/B Testing Confidence Calculator is an excellent tool to crunch your test data obtained from Google website optimizer.

Create segments/buckets - Once you've clearly defined your goals, sign up for a free BTBuckets account and move onto the next step of segregating users on this basis of success metrics defined in the previous step. In simple words, you define the type of visitors you'll be targeting against each respective goal. For example, social media visitors, French visitors, visitors landing on a specific post, visitors on XP machine and so on. Possibilities are infinite and I've just presented some of the simplest cases.

Creating buckets of visitors

While creating a bucket of visitors through BTBuckets, you'll be presented with lots of options as shown in the image above. The available segregating criteria is broadly divided into 3 parts, viz ., behavior, IP intelligence and technical. You can combine all the available options in a single rule forming large number of criteria to filter out the exact match you want. For example, you can create a bucket of French visitors landing on a specific post and having Windows Vista on their machine. Carefully create all the buckets segregating your blog traffic to test all of them against one or more goals.

Apply targeting logic - Now the next important step is the core of this implementation. Here you'll define the actual logic that will be applied against each bucket to achieve your goals. For each bucket, you'll define a unique chain of actions that will govern what to do when a visitor falling in that bucket lands on your blog. For example, if a visitor from France lands on your blog, you may define an action of serving the French version of your web page (through redirect) or a French version of an advertisement.

Apply targeting logic

As shown in the image above, you can trigger the logic by inserting a custom code on your web page. This can be done in two ways. If the related actions have nothing to do with change of appearance and content of the web page (e.g page redirect), you can opt for auto-insertion. In case you want to change the appearance or content of the web page at a specific location you can use the manual insertion mode that allows you to execute your custom code exactly at the location where you want it to appear. This custom code can be a simple HTML snippet or a complex JavaScript call. You can bind each action to a specific bucket for maximum flexibility giving you the desired results. You can also use dozens of pre-made and free applications from SiteApps to easily deploy these custom actions for each bucket.

Rinse and repeat - Fortunately, both BTBuckets and SiteApps provides tight integration with Google Analytics to better analyze your results. BTBuckets handy Google Analytics Segmentation procedure and SiteApps free and robust Google Analytics on Steroids application gives you two ways to analyze and optimize your personalization results. Whenever it comes to analyzing such type of data, I always suggest taking a long duration data set to get a clearer picture of the trends. Same thing applies here while you're crunching imported data from BTBuckets and SiteApps in your Google Analytics dashboard.

Miscellaneous Guidelines

So finally we have seen a way to implement behavioral targeting on a web site. But things don't end here. There are several important pointers and suggestions that can significantly improve your personalization campaigns. Here's a list of some of the guidelines.
  • Unless you don't receive decent traffic on your blog, there's no point wasting your time and money in implementing behavioral targeting.
  • Since privacy is a very sensitive issue related to personalization, make sure you have a privacy policy page that categorically discloses the information you're collecting from each visitor and how you're using it for personalization.
  • You can also use commercial behavioral targeting solutions like aSpecial Media and Criteo to power your personalization engine.
  • Make sure your targeting logic (custom code) doesn't slow down your blog. It can have adverse effect instead of yielding any positive results.

Now Your Turn

I'd like to know if you're using personalization on your blog. If yes, how you've implemented it and what challenges you've faced while deploying the whole system. If you know more ways to implement behavioral targeting, we'd love to know about it.

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About Rajeev Edmonds

MintBlogger author - Rajeev EdmondsRajeev Edmonds has been blogging since 2006 about digital marketing, social media and of course about problogging. He specializes in WordPress installation and Thesis theme customization. He is the founder and editor of MintBlogger where he blogs about new media strategies.

Since April, 2012, he's making his living entirely from his blogging efforts. He holds a post graduate degree in computer applications and loves to dig in CSS/HTML code. Read more →

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