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Streamline Your Site With Personalization

Web sites want to maximize engagement, but it’s hard to guess what each visitor will want to read or buy.  Pixels are cheap, so many sites approach this question by adding widget after widget, hoping that a user will find one they want to click on. This is the shotgun approach to boosting engagement. The problem with it is that user attention is expensive, and each additional widget distracts them from your content, products and ads.


The graphic on the right is a wire frame of a real news website that you’ve probably visited. The blue boxes represent the content; you can see that the information density of this layout is pretty low. This site is supported by ads, but there are so many buttons and recommendation widgets to click on, that I’m more likely to leave than engage after I finish the content.

It’s good to have options but too many choices can confuse users, and reduce conversion. They take different paths through your website, but their browsing is ultimately linear because they only look at one thing at a time. There’s a streamlining trend hitting the web which you can see on sites like USA Today. You can ride this trend and personalize your experience to boost engagement. Use what you know about the user to cut down on the options, and focus their attention on your content, products and ads.

Context and past behavior are the best indicators of what a user might want to do next. First time visitor? They’re less likely to follow you until they’ve gotten to know you, so encourage them to visit a few more pages before heavily promoting your Facebook page.

Frequent visitor or commenter? Their loyalty makes them more likely to recommend your site to others so see if they’ll share.

Heavy consumer? Show them a mix of related and diverse content from your site and see what they click on. This will teach you more about their interests and help you refine your recommendations and ads.

You should also consider the role of your home page vs. your content or product pages. Visitors to your home page often want to quickly navigate to something more specific. Users who land directly on your content or product pages from off-domain usually want to engage with your page first and then will be able to take another action.

In each of these cases, you should make an educated guess about what a user is most likely to do. Streamline your site, and use personalization to give them clear, relevant next steps. You want them to feel like they’re in a YouTube or Wikipedia vortex, and can’t stop clicking to the next cool thing.

Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a series about personalization. We’re looking for ways to help, so stay tuned to continue learning about personalization!

  • Mark Johnson
  • Phillwv

    Went to USAtoday. Impressed. Side buttons duplicate the top horiz menu. Clever.

    Thinking the side button nav was for tablet users, fired up the 7″ droid, dialled USAtoday and .. disappointed.

    Just a boring mobile theme. What a let down. I’ve seen complex websites smartly scale to small screens, and was really keen to see what usatoday might do.

    Worse yet: What’s with “get the usatoday app”?

    I don’t want an app just to read a website. The site should be the app.

    Btw, nice article, thanks. Refreshed my thinking, even though the lesson is a classic.

    Like to know who that “low content” example is.

  • I’m using wordpress for my site along with some sharing tools. Please have a look at for example this article (Go to the end of the article)
    Let me know if it has ADDthis active on this site using the plugin I’m using or not?
    Is addthis something else?


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  • Good Article! Makes Perfect Sense