A website is always being visited with a specific goal in mind. Sometimes that goal is generic, for example when searching for inspiration for your next summer outfit, and sometimes the goal is quite specific, for example when searching for a replacement bulb for your car. As a company you want the experience your customers have on your website to be as relevant as possible. Personalization can help in making the experience more relevant and help your customer in achieving their goals more easily.

Personalization does come with some pitfalls. An often seen problem with personalization arises when personalization isn’t specific (personal) enough which leads to content not being (significantly) more relevant. And of course concerns about privacy are only getting more relevant and prevalent. In this article we would like to share some possibilities and insights, based on our experience with personalization within UX projects.

What is personalization?

Personalization is nothing new and not only exclusive to websites and digital marketing. Enter a random retail shop and the employee will be personalizing his or her offerings to you on a continuous basis. The sales representative immediately makes a couple of assumptions based on your sex, age and clothing style for example. A good sales representative will also listen and look carefully for your reaction during your conversation and adjust the offering based on what he or she sees. All aimed at letting you leave the shop as a happy customer with their product and the experience. That is also something we aim for online. And now that is a very real scenario, because we have an ever increasing amount of data that make personalization possible.

Auotmatic personalization

Nowadays personalization is mainly about automatic personalization where algorithms determine what the visitor is presented with. If set correctly, this can help the user to shorten his search (user journey) because steps can be skipped. Another form of personalization allows the user to decide what he / she will be served. This is usually accompanied by a user account with which you must log in. Behind the login, users can, for example, decide themselves which topics they find interesting, how they want the site to be displayed, etc.

These options can of course also be combined, allowing the user to adjust the algorithm, for example by excluding certain things or marking suggestions as incorrect. This will give the user a greater sense of control and give the algorithm the opportunity to learn and serve better content to the user.

Related content

In addition to personalization, you also have cross-linking based on related content (or in the ecommerce industry: products). This involves looking at the content, for example the properties of the product, and making suggestions for similar products based on this. Traditionally personalization only looks at user behavior, but it makes sense that data from related content is also taken into account: if you are looking for a frying pan as a user, it makes sense that you go from the page about frying pan A to the page about related frying pan B . This is then picked up by the personalization algorithms. Smart personalization algorithms take this into account and prevent the personalized suggestions and suggestions from related products from showing the same.

Why should you personalize?

  • Personalization helps the user reach his or her goal faster, because content is better aligned with his or her goals.
  • This leads to a pleasant experience and more repeat visitors to your website.
  • A higher conversion and click-through, thanks to the relevant suggestions you make.
  • Content that is only relevant for a small part of your visitors and therefore is normally not very visible on your site, becomes immediately more accessible to the right visitors.

What should you pay attention to when personalizing?

Offering content so that it is as relevant as possible to the customer offers great opportunities, but there are a number of things to take into account. We would like to discuss 5 of these.

1. Let your customers know what they see and why

To display personalized content, information about the user must be collected in order to create a profile based on which suggestions are shown. This is of course done anonymously. It is wise to clearly communicate to users that they are being presented with personalized content and how these are generated (“These personal suggestions are shown because you have shown interest in Article X in the past”). If you do not do this, it may be that the personalized content leads to distrust, because: “How does the website actually know what I want?” You can also offer the user an option to opt-out.

2. Ensure that your personalized content does not result in limited visibility of other content on your website.

The more we guide the user through the content he sees and adjust that content based on personalization, the more important the question: is the visitor still free to choose? Don’t deprive the visitor of the freedom of choice, the freedom to search for content, evaluate and decide whether it is relevant. Sometimes the journey is as valuable as the end result itself. The question rises if certain parts of the website do not become inaccessible because of personalization? If certain content is well received and positively assessed, it is often used to show similar visitors. A process that reinforces and repeats itself, so that certain content can become completely invisible to users. That is precisely why it is always good to create a scenario in your personalization in which content is shown that falls outside of the created (personal) profile. In addition, you must always continue to offer a manual path so that users can choose their own path, this input is also needed for personalization.

3. Focus on the visitor

It is important that the focus is entirely on the visitor. Suggestions and shortcuts offered by the personalization algorithms should not be used to push certain products that the business finds important. The latter is counterproductive in many cases because it leads to less relevant content and therefore a less good user experience.

You can only start personalizing when you have a good understanding of who you are going to personalize for and what their needs are. Customer journey mapping is a good tool for this. However, a customer journey is by definition not personalized. It is always a generic representation of the journey that an average customer could go through. A distinction is often made between different segments of customers, but that is also where it ends. A customer journey will therefore never be a complete representation of the journey of one unique customer.

Based on the segmentation that takes place in the customer journey, choices are made about which channels are used, but also which content is displayed and what the next steps are. Personalization allows us to further tighten up those “general” rules and to tailor the content offered within the framework of the customer journey even more to the individual visitor. The better we know the user and his customer journey, the better we can do this and, for example, also offer shortcuts that make the customer journey easier and shorter.

4. Set clear and measurable goals for your personalization

If you want to apply personalization to your website or application, make sure that it is clear what you want to achieve with it, when that goal is achieved and that the correct measurements are made on the personalized content. Based on this, the added value of personalization can be assessed and is it possible to continuously optimize based on concrete data.

5. Give the visitor control and room for feedback

Optimization of the personalization can be worked on not only on the basis of data, but also by giving the visitor the opportunity to provide feedback. That can be done in different ways:

  • Enable the visitor to indicate his or her preferences, so that the visitor can exercise direct control over the type of content that is displayed. The input collected in this way can be used to further improve the algorithm.
  • Give the visitor the option to hide the personalized content. If this option is often used, it is a sign that the personalized content, at that location and at that time, was not relevant enough.
  • Collecting feedback can also be done in a very direct way, by literally asking them about it or doing user research.

In this way, valuable data is not only collected that can improve the algorithm, but the visitor also gains control over the situation.

Want to know more?

Do you want to know what personalization can do for you? We are happy to discuss the possibilities of personalization for your website or platform. Feel free to contact us.

To use personalization, a thorough understanding of the needs of your customers is essential. Do you want to map it well? Participate in our Customer Journey Workshop or Workshop User Research.

Bob Graat


Bob Graat is a consultant at GriDD. He has completed the Master’s in Industrial Design Engineering at the University of Twente with a graduation research into the innovation possibilities of a smart thermostat. For this he has immersed himself in ‘The internet of things’ and applied his design skills in a broad way.

Patrick Kerling


Patrick Kerling is a creative and analytical consultant. He likes to use his knowledge and creativity to create effective and user friendly solutions for information issues. Patrick likes to think conceptually, with a strong fundament in knowledge, data, skills and creativity.