3 Ways to Get Real Value from Personalization

Google knows what I’m searching for before I do. Seamless tells me what new restaurants I might like, and what I’m probably going to like on the menu. Spotify lets me know what my next favorite song will be. These sites might know my tastes better than I do.

These kinds of personalized experiences, once surprising and novel, are now the norm: Your supporters expect you to know who they are and recognize their involvement with your organization when they receive an email from you or visit your site. Hitting up one of your monthly donors with an ask for another one-time donation, without at least acknowledging that they’re already one of your best supporters, risks damaging one of your most valuable relationships.

Seamless is well acquainted with my love of dumplings

But every site’s needs are different. “Personalization” can mean everything from simple greetings by name (“Welcome back, Jack”) to advanced AI-driven recommendation engines. The technology (and level of investment) required can vary widely. Ask yourself: What do you want your users to get from a more personalized experience? Motivations for personalization tend to fall into one of three buckets: driving engagement, fostering community, or streamlining navigation.

Optimizing for engagement means driving a user toward an action — or series of actions — to deepen their level of involvement with an organization. Most of the websites we build ask users to get involved with an organization in some way: sign up to receive emails, donate, volunteer, or sign a petition. Often, the initial ask is made via a lightbox which appears when a user first visits the site, or at some trigger point afterward. That lightbox — or any other moment when a user’s flow is interrupted — is critical: It’s important to make the right ask at the right time.

For example, if you’ve already got the user’s email address, don’t waste their time asking for it again. If you know that someone donated recently, don’t ask them generically for another donation; thank them for their recent donation — and maybe ask if they would consider making it a monthly donation or would ask their friends to join them in supporting your organization.

Google News knows exactly what kinds of stories will make me furious

Similarly, fostering a sense of community requires surfacing details of a user’s history with the site or organization as a way of making them feel known. Sometimes it’s just about echoing back the things that you know about a person. Greeting by name, centering a map on a known location, acknowledging a person’s full history with you: All of these tactics make your website feel less like a tool and more like a community or home. Foregrounding this information is one of the easiest changes you can make to a website, if you have access to basic profile information on your users.

But you can also use what you know about your users to shorten paths to relevant information, reduce friction, and lower barriers to further engagement.

Getting the right people to the right content quickly can be tricky, especially if you’ve got a large site and a lot of content. Tools which match the taxonomy of your content to user segments (i.e., the taxonomy of your users) allows you to adapt site navigation and place contextual links that help each user find relevant content quickly and easily.

For example, you might set aside some space for a “resource center” that uses a user’s profile attributes to pull links relevant to the segment they belong to. Or, you could include related-content links to help a user find similar posts to the one they’re reading; plugins like Yet Another Related Posts Plugin for WordPress and Similar By Terms for Drupal can generate these links based on an existing taxonomy. If your site is particularly content-heavy, you might even invest in a learning personalization engine, which uses AI to analyze browsing patterns and make recommendations on the fly. You can find that kind of intelligence in dedicated personalization tools like RichRelevance, as well as more traditional marketing automation platforms like Marketo, which have been adding these features as natural extensions to their existing suite of tools.

All of this relies on a solid data strategy.

Any personalized experience depends on quick and easy access to the necessary profile data on each user, which can be a challenge when technology platforms get complicated. Keeping everything in sync between email systems, donation systems, volunteer management tools, personalization engines — and so on — can be a challenge for any organization.

Prioritize your most important relationships: for example, your repeat or recurring donors or customers. Work on getting that data into a place where the website can use it to personalize the messaging around an ask. Incremental progress toward a more personalized experience doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking — and a good partner can help you think through an integration strategy that is straightforward and achievable.


We’ve helped countless organizations develop personalized experiences, and our own platform, the BSD Tools, provides some simple technical building blocks that a developer can use to quickly build profile-aware features. Want to find out more? Get in touch with us.