Podcast: Real-time Website Personalization with Karl Wirth

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In this episode of Landing Page Optimization, SiteTuners CEO Tim Ash chats with Karl Wirth, CEO and co-founder of Evergage, a real-time web personalization solution company, about the different ways to serve contextual, personalized information from a web site.

First Time Site Visitors

Karl explains that real-time web personalization is conversion optimization that focuses on targeting different visitors in your site by serving them relevant communication in the web session based on their behavior to get them as a customer or a lead.

Tim brings up one of the challenges in personalization which is the company not knowing anything about a person when they first show up on a site. 

Karl acknowledges that a high bounce rate from initial visitors is the first challenge for most companies. He points out, however, that initial visitors bring a lot of information such as the referring source where they came from (e.g.  paid traffic, e-mail you sent them, another referring site) and that right there you can personalize by giving them a relevant welcome or changing the content to match the paid search term that they were looking at.  He says it’s similar to turning your whole site into a landing page. 

Device- Based Personalization

Tim adds that you also know things from the browser environment – the screen size, the operating system, and the device the visitor is on. 

Karl says that for a visitor is on a web site, you can call out to them that you can also be reached via mobile through your mobile application, and vice-versa.  He and Tim agree that if someone frequently visits a web site or uses an application, you can suggest for them to download the mobile application. 

Geo-Location and Anonymous Browsing

Karl mentions that you can point out your nearest stores based on the visitors’ geographic information.  He elaborates that in a web setting, geo-location is passed in from the IP address of the machine the visitor is on. 

He and Tim note, however, that geo-location is only somewhat reliable. There are cases where the visitor is using a host of their broadband provider and it provides an address in some other state other than where the visitor really is, and sometimes, visitors deliberately mask their location by using proxy servers to be anonymous. 

Karl points out that Google’s anonymous browsing has broad implications for personalization.  If someone is anonymous, you lose all the cookie history, so you’re unable to personalize based on behavior because it will look like a first time visit. 

Personalizing Based on Current Session and Number of Visits

Personalization can be done based on current session behavior. As the visitor is navigating through your products, your web site should be looking at things the visitor is clicking on, and building up a persona and intent model of the visitor (i.e. taking note of who the person is, what they’re looking for, if they’re interested or just browsing around). Based on this, you can show them appropriate calls-to-action to move them down the sales funnel.  The better designed your site, the easier it is for you to pick up the visitor’s role and intent based on where they’re looking.  

Karl mentions that you can also identify notions of intent based on the number of times a visitor has come back to the site.  For example, a person who’s visited 5 times in the past day is in a different state of mind in terms of how deeply they’re searching and trying to understand what you’re doing, versus someone who’s visiting for the first time or once every couple of months.  

The idea of personalization is talking differently to first time visitors versus repeat visitors.  For first time visitors, Karl recommends that you just let them be. If you have a well-designed site, you’re not going to necessarily tailor the personalization for the first few clicks of the interaction. However, if that person has been on the site several times, Karl suggests giving them a discount, or a survey to find out why they’re not taking the next step.  

Look at visitor’s behavior over the past visits and identify what’s important to that them (e.g. worried about safety) and which areas they’ve been looking at.  You can determine how you can nudge and encourage the visitor to convert by looking at previous visitors you’ve had success with who exhibited the same behavior

Letting Visitors Pick Up Where They Left Off

Tim and Karl agree that it’s imperative that you let visitors pick up where they left off.  Karl mentions that we remind a visitor who’s about to leave that they have items in the shopping cart with a bounce detect the message. So, when they visit again, the home page should also welcome them back,  show them the items in their shopping cart, and give them the option to continue buying the items, or to move on.  Similarly, if someone leaves halfway through a form fill, give them option to continue with the application and reinsert them back into the process. This way people do not lose the context or work they did during the last visit.

This should not be problem, as according to Karl, about 80% of people just leave their cookies, and only about 20% clear their cookies regularly. 

Personalization for B2B

Karl establishes that personalization applies to both B2B and B2C. He clarifies, though, that with B2B, the end-goal is to get the visitor as a lead, while in B2C, the goal is to get the visitor to purchase. 

We tend to think that web personalization for B2B is simpler because you’ll get the visitor to a person who will close the deal for larger, more complex products. Karl shares, however, that based on surveys, the B2B buying cycle has moved online - 70% to 80% of people are doing their research anonymously online even for large B2B purchases.  You’re not trying to convert them to the purchase on the web, but educating and adding value throughout the whole sale cycle on the web. You only get a name on to your marketing automation system on the last 20% of the sale cycle, so you have to personalize the web experience for 80% of the buying process. 

Karl adds that in B2B, people want to be empowered to do research on the website, which is why it’s important to turn the website to a great sales person by watching behavior:

  • Understand the visitor’s persona, the kinds of content that they’ve read, and suggest other relevant information that will help them along.
  • Build a return on investment (ROI) calculator into the site. When the visitor  puts information in the calculator, you understand the company size, the level of their problem, and so you can personalize and show them the lift they can expect if they use your solutions. 

Tim sees the value of the calculator and adds that it gives you prior context of the visitor when they contact you and are no longer anonymous. 

The two also discuss personalizing B2B to the account-level.  Karl says that Evergage supplements infrmation from data-append companies like DemandBase. Tim stresses the importance of knowing which industry the visitor is in, so you can show them relevant case studies and other supporting information. He notes that B2B companies tend to trust those with experiences relevant to their vertical industry. 

Integrating Into a Web Site

Karl explains that integrating personalization into a web site can be done without the help of the development team. A piece of JavaScript, similar to the tracking code of tools like Google Analytics, can be placed on the header, and when the script is triggered, a block or a div can be personalized. Even conditions with nesting can be supported - say, if a behavior is triggered for a repeat visitor, but another one is triggered for a repeat visitor who is also from the automotive industry.

Tim inquires about the price point to get started on personalization, and Karl notes that their starting price is around $6,000/year ($500/month) and charges can be based on the number of unique visitors. Ramp up can be done fairly quickly, assuming that the Content Management System can insert the JavaScript into the header, and users can then decide how much they want to personalize and track.

First Air Date: January 21, 2014

Listen online or download the podcast from WebmasterRadio.fm