Delivering the Best User Experience through Targeting Techniques

You have heard the saying, “When you optimize for everyone, you optimize for no one,” right? It sounds obvious: target your optimization efforts for the right audience to achieve your online marketing goals. But studies show that most digital marketers still do not optimize by audience – for several likely reasons.

First, there are many possible dimensions that could be considered for targeting, and marketers simply might not know where to begin. Second, some type of targeting functionality is required on the site, and you might not already have this implemented.  But with the end goal being to improve the user experience while simultaneously lifting conversion and engagement, the benefits stand to outweigh the costs so long as marketers conduct their efforts deliberately and scientifically.

Let’s look at some of the different categories of segments that can be targeted, and some examples of how you might change the user experience based on each:

Targeting Category Examples
Behavioral – both past and in-session browsing activities. Show a special offer to new site visitors, or to those who visited recently but didn’t complete a purchase.
RFM – recency, frequency, and monetary value of visitor. Rewards frequent or high-value visitors with personalized content or loyalty perks.
Mobile – device and capabilities. Tailor content for small screens (versus desktops), or display different navigation if a touch screen is supported.
Geographic – country, region/state, and marketing area (MSA). Target relevant travel or seasonal promotions based on the visitor’s location.
Language Localize core navigation or promotional elements based on visitor’s language.
Browser and operating system Target the sale of software, peripherals, or services that may be specific to Macs versus Windows.
Time parting – time of day, day of week, and timezone. Engage visitors differently during business hours than during evening or weekend hours.
Contextual – referring site, search engine search terms, paid versus organic, and landing page. Personalize landing page content based on referring search engine, keywords, or text ad copy.
Externally defined – CRM, user databases, or third-party data sources. Target offers or upsell suggestions based on customer history data that resides only in your internal CRM system.

With numerous ways to target content around unique attributes of the visitor, the question remains: how to you know which segments to target?

You should begin by analyzing your site traffic using a web analytics or CRM solution to determine which segments are the largest.  Then, consider what the performance of those segments are vs. other segments, or vs. all unsegmented site traffic – do they appear engaged (as measured by pageviews, time on site, or repeat visits), complete purchases, or behave in other ways that indicate satisfaction and thus are profitable from a marketing standpoint?  If not, then you will recognize that large, underperforming segments are the ripest areas for targeting, and should thus be the focus of a targeting initiative.

Ideally you should also consider multi-dimensional segments, for example repeat visitors who browser during evening or weekend hours. More sophisticated cluster analysis techniques can be used to determine “sweet spots” of visitor who share similar characteristics and should be considered in your targeting efforts.

It is typical for web marketers to start out with a dozen or so “defined segments” with which to create targeted experiences.  The process of defining the segment and then creating the targeted content will vary depending on how your site is built and the technology that’s used.  Some web content management systems have targeting capabilities built in, but there are also separate targeting products available, many of which are part of optimization platforms that also include A/B and multivariate testing.

The examples above should suggest ways that you can create more engaging, relevant experiences for the visitor segments that you wish to target. Once you have launched one or more targeting efforts (typically called targeting campaigns), you’ll need to track their performance in your web analytics or CRM to see the effects and understand whether the campaigns are helping or hurting the user experience.  You should be looking at the same metrics you used to define the segments in the first place, typically a user goal like a conversion or registration.

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The next phase after launching targeting campaigns typically involves testing two or more alternative experiences within the same segment. This is essentially a “targeted test campaign”, and has several benefits. First, since a well designed test will have a control group showing the site’s default (untargeted) content, it provides an easy and inherently accurate way to determine whether the targeting campaign has caused a change in user behavior. Second, it provides a way to continually improve the user experience by rotating in new challenger treatments, and pruning out losing treatments. This virtuous cycle of targeting and testing provides a powerful optimization technique for web marketers, and it’s no wonder that many testing and targeting technologies are in fact bundled together for this reason.

So when you’re looking for a way to improve the user experience, consider targeting as one of the advanced techniques you should have in your toolbox. And once you’re up and running with a handful of targeting campaigns, add testing to the process to produce even better improvements. Remember that a better user experience leads to happier, more satisfied users, which in turn impacts your key marketing success metrics.

About the Author

Eric J. Hansen, CEO & Founder SiteSpect.Eric Hansen is the Founder & CEO of SiteSpect, Inc., and the chief architect of the firm’s non-intrusive technology for multivariate testing, behavioral targeting and digital marketing optimization. SiteSpect, is a Boston-based technology provider for multivariate testing, behavioral targeting, and digital marketing optimization.

Prior to SiteSpect, Eric was the founder and CEO of Worldmachine Technologies, an Internet development and consulting firm specializing in large-scale web engineering projects for organizations such as John Hancock Insurance, Putnam Investments, Hearst New Media, and The New England Journal of Medicine.

Prior to Worldmachine, Eric held product management and software engineering positions at several Boston- based technology firms including Princeton Transportation Consulting Group (, Raytheon Company, and the Center for Clinical Computing at Harvard Medical School.

Eric is a frequent speaker at conferences covering web analytics and optimization, and writes regularly on topics dealing with the intersection of marketing and technology. He received a degree in Cognitive Science and Psychology with honors from the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY.

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