Getting Personal

August 1st, 2002


Originally published in Unlimited

Why are the vast majority of websites generic and static, when the web is an interactive medium? A website isn’t just a collection of pages; it’s something you do, not view. It’s time website managers dusted off their log files, databases and other untapped goldmines of demographics, psychographics and clicko-graphics (how your visitors traverse your website), and tailored their sites to each visitor’s needs.

Wellington-based auction site TradeMe is a good example of mass customisation done right (and no, they aren’t a client). For a start, has a personalised welcome message offering users the ability to add auctions of interest to their own “watchlist”. There’s an easily customised “quick links” navigation bar, and simple ways to review past purchases, jump directly to auctions and update details. Unlike many similar sites, Trade Me is successful. This customisation – and the loyalty it engenders – is one reason.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Try these tips:

  • Greet registered users by name.
  • Don’t make your registered users regurgitate the same information on different forms. Prefill forms with the details you have.
  • Don’t try to extract too much information when users first register. Allow them to “express register” and add further information later.
  • Every time someone looks at your site you get an opportunity to update your visitor database. For example, when someone downloads a product datasheet, that fact should be noted in their profile.
  • Personalization has to deliver benefits. When you collect information, present a good value proposition to the user so they feel they’re getting the best end of the deal. Provide a prominent link to your privacy policy from the registration form. You’ll be surprised how forthcoming many visitors will be.
  • Give your registered users the option to automatically log in using cookies rather than keying in their user name and password on every visit (unless information needs to be secure).
  • Don’t make the mistake of building multiple areas of information that aren’t connected. It’s frustrating for the user to log in to their shopping cart only to find they must log in again at your discussion forums.
  • Remember the user’s shopping cart contents on their next visit if they didn’t complete the purchase.
  • Provide a wish list so users can add items of interest, without requiring purchase.
  • Monitor which products or services your visitors are looking at, then feature similar products on the home page on future visits. Analyzing visitor behavior can lead you to cross- and up-sell opportunities.
  • Do a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Just because the technology allows you to do something, that doesn’t mean you should do it.
  • If doing it yourself, create personalized web pages that interact with your databases using a programming language like PHP or ASP. Help yourself to thousands of prewritten web programs at

Stephan Spencer is founder/president of Netconcepts, a Madison, WI-based Web marketing agency that offers search optimization services.

This article first appeared on Unlimited in August 2002.