Getting Started With Web Personalization: One Question Nonprofits Should Ask

Not much is getting more attention right now in the online world of “engagement” than personalization. Automated customization, tailored experiences, drip campaigns, marketing automation, data-driven segmentation — everyone, it seems, is using visitor data to put the right content, in front of the right person, at the right time. Right?

This is where it’s at if you are an online retailer. If I know you just read three travel blog posts about Paris, I’m going to show you my Summer Romance Deal!

But what if you are not selling widgets? You are a nonprofit, NGO, or federal agency and you are in the business of changing minds, and changing behaviours with your ideas? How should you be thinking about this next wave of online innovation? What can personalization and better audience segmentation based upon data do for my mission?

Optimized Experiences Matter — Even if They Are Not “Data-Driven”

For as long as we have been in business (20 years this year!), Forum One has taken what we call a mission-driven audience-centric approach to designing and developing web experiences. At the beginning of every project we take the time to understand the audiences our clients must reach to be successful. We discover their needs and motivations, their behaviors and tendencies. We observe, and we research, and we interview; and then we look at what we’ve learned through the lens of our clients’ missions. We do this to craft an online experience that resonates with and engages those audiences so that our client’s increase their impact.

And so ultimately, we are in the business of increasing reach, and influence, and yes, engagement. So to deepen engagement, for most NGOs, means making sure your ideas are read and shared more, your events are better attended, your programs get the attention of funders, and other experts and influencers want to connect directly with your organization.

This is the foundation of a solid web experience that is optimized for your audiences. Before you begin down the road of complex personalization, you must be armed with this knowledge of your priority audiences, your target audience segments, and how they can move your mission.

For example, in our work for The Peace Corps, one of their key goals was to get those wanting to volunteer to connect to the opportunities best suited for their them. They wanted to the website to do the work of getting the right volunteer, to the right opportunity, before Peace Corps staff are directly engaged with them, and before the application process. They did not need more applicants, they needed a more efficient applicant self-selection process. For the website to achieve this, we crafted the volunteer section to help visitors self-select. This did not require personalization based upon visitor patterns, or location data — though down the road it could get even better using these tools- it was smart optimization, based upon what we know about the mission, and the audiences.

Where to Start the Personalization Experience

If you craft your overall web experience based upon what drives your target audience segments, and what you want from them to impact your mission, then you are ready to take the next step and personalize the experience.

Start with this simple question:

If, for every visitor to your site, you know just one simple thing about them — the topics or subjects they most frequently read about on your site — how would you change the experience to optimize what you want from each target audience?

Now that you know this previously anonymous user cares about sustainable urban development, would you make sure the “featured event block” shows them the upcoming event that is related related to urban development? Of course!

Now that you are pretty sure that previously anonymous web visitor is a “career seeker” (because she was all over your career section) would you change the text of your email newsletter signup ask? You bet.

Technically, getting that information — and much more — about previously anonymous users isn’t too difficult. But once armed with it, our creative strategists, UX experts, and strategy leads can dramatically expand how we think about the website experience, and how to put it to work for your mission.

So What Data Can I get Without Breaking the Bank?

Without paying for third party data, and without having what can be relatively complex systems for integrating CRM data with your website, you can still learn a great deal about your web visitors, that can be used to optimize their experience, and help your website return value for your organization.

Here are the basics:

  • Location — where the site visitor is connecting to your website from
  • Browsing Activity — What they have viewed on your website
  • Search — What they have searched for (on your site, and if arriving from search, what they searched for)
  • Referring Source — Where they came to your website from

Tagging content appropriately within your CMS can make the “Browsing Activity” data extremely robust. You can tag content by subject matter, by geography its relevant too, by author, and perhaps most importantly, by the audience segment you believe it written for — a “donor”, a “policy maker”, a “researcher”. This will all depend entirely on your organization’s audiences and mission, of course.

I know we started this by teasing you about the one question you need to ask. But as you can see, even without sophisticated marketing automation tools, there isn’t just one question — there is one question for every type of data available. So if you are looking to make your website more mission-driven and more audience-centric, make sure you are asking these questions of yourself and your digital teams.