Personalization Prerequisites: Defining How You Will Measure Success

Personalization Prerequisites: Defining How You Will Measure Success

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Thought byDave Sawyer
June 16, 2016
Measure Success

You’ve just rolled out your new website redesign. Internal stakeholders love the fresh new look. You read a series of positive emails and chatter on your Slack channel. You’re feeling great because, hey, that was a lot of work. But how is the new site actually serving its customers? Has the level of engagement with your users increased, or are visitors getting confused and bouncing? Do you have access to reliable insights to know the difference?

Whether you’re optimizing a single product landing page or redesigning an entire network of sites, it’s critical to know how you’ll measure success. This certainly holds true for personalization initiatives as well, which often involve experimentation with tailored content and messaging.

But why is measurement so important? And how specifically can a personalization solution be measured? To answer these questions, let’s begin with a quick recap.

Previously in this blog series, I’ve outlined several prerequisites to implementing a personalization solution, including:

  1. Identifying your audience and defining how to segment visitors.
  2. Understanding how customers engage with your business and mapping out the touch points along their journey.
  3. Establishing a content strategy to inform how you’ll produce engaging personalized experiences.

While each of these prerequisites are essential in their own right, there is one area of focus that unifies them into a single strategy: measureable outcomes.

Personalization is essentially a process of optimizing a customer’s experience and, as with any optimization process, it is critical to be able to effectively measure outcomes and to compare results with previous data. Otherwise, how would you know if your investment was paying off?

Surely, without effective measurement, most systems would simply not work. For example, imagine how the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics would go if there was no measurement of athlete performance. How about a school system that didn’t measure students’ grades. What about a bank that didn’t track how much money was in your account.

The Importance of Measurement

Here are three reasons why measurement should be a core part of any digital strategy:

1. Measurement informs key decisions

Good measurement is about providing the data necessary to make informed decisions. In his book, How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of "Intangibles" in Business, author Douglas W. Hubbard writes:

“If a measurement matters at all, it is because it must have some conceivable effect on decisions and behaviour. If we can't identify a decision that could be affected by a proposed measurement and how it could change those decisions, then the measurement simply has no value.”

Within personalization, proper measurement reveals which content each visitor segment is engaging with the most. Effective measurement enables marketing managers to make decisions about how to best optimize experiences.

2. Measurement aligns everyone on common goals

Personalization can be difficult to implement because of the large cross-section of skills and disciplines involved. To have a comprehensive personalization strategy, you’ll likely need some combination of resources across the following areas:

  • Digital Strategy
  • UX / Design
  • Marketing Automation
  • Content Strategy
  • Analytics
  • Information Architecture
  • SEO
  • Content Development & Writing
  • Search Engine Marketing
  • CMS Administration
  • Web Development
  • User Testing and Usability

An effective personalization strategy aligns expectations in terms of the common goals of the project and, most importantly, how success will be measured. This is particularly important for larger companies that utilize team members from in-house marketing, outside agencies, contract consultants, and/or third-party technology vendors.

3. You need measurement in order to have improvement

Successful digital marketing efforts drive growth of some kind. And businesses are almost always thirsty for more of something.

  • →  Higher Ed: “We want to reach more prospective students”
  • →  Publishers: “We want to attract more paid subscribers”
  • →  Media: “We want to get more video views to drive ad revenue”
  • →  B2B: “We want to generate more leads”
  • →  Social Causes / Non-Profits: “We want to get more donors”
  • →  Software Companies: “We want to get more App installs”

Objectives describe what your organization wants to accomplish or what it is trying to improve. However, business objectives are often defined as subjective or qualitative rather than quantitative which makes them difficult to measure. For example, consider the objective to increase customer satisfaction, to improve user experience on mobile, or to increase engagement on social media.

This problem is prevalent in projects that are centered around a creative process, such as a website redesign, where stakeholders want something that is “fresh”, “modern”, “clean”, or “outside the box”. (How do you measure if something is “outside the box” or not?)

Results, on the other hand, are typically measurable, quantitative and specific. Without measurable outcomes, there is no way to show improvement. In other words, you need the before to show the after. The prolific author Dr. H. James Harrington put it best:

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

Measurement for Real-time Personalization

Okay, the case for measurement has been made. Now, let’s walk through several considerations for measurement in your personalization project:

1. Establish Benchmarks

How can you improve website conversions if don’t know your current conversion rate? In order to measure improvement, it is important to start with a set of benchmarks. Think of the benchmarks as your baselines. They are the starting points from which you will begin your process of optimization.

2. Define Metrics

Metrics are the standards of measurement by which the performance of your personalization campaign will be assessed. Useful metrics are quantifiable and not subjective. Many of the metrics involved will be key performance indicators (KPIs) that either describe the performance of the customer funnel or the effectiveness of the content. Examples include:

  • Conversion Rate
  • Stickiness Rate
  • Engagement Score Trend
  • Average Session Duration
  • Average Pageviews per Visit
  • Click Through Rate
  • Top Traffic Sources
  • New vs. Returning Visitors
  • Most viewed content
  • Segment performance
  • Visitor Loyalty
  • Bounce Rate
  • Website Traffic to Lead Ratio

3. Measure Consistently

In order for metrics to be truly useful, it is important to use consistent measurement processes so that results can be compared across segments and over time.

4. Know Where to Focus

Good metrics should be actionable. Unfortunately for many marketers, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with data and analytics. Google Analytics provides over 70 distinct reports - not all of which are important to making key business decisions. It is important to define which data will be the most important for you to collect and review.

5. Integrate Analytics

Most personalization solutions involve the use of a third-party platform, such as Acquia Lift, Optimizely Personalization, or Evergage. In order to get a clear picture how how a personalization campaign is performing, you’ll often have to combine metrics that are tracked in your website analytics platform (e.g. Google Analytics) with metrics that are tracked by your personalization platform.

A best practice is to integrate these two systems wherever possible. For example, if you’re using Acquia Lift for real-time personalization on the Drupal platform, you can send information from Lift into Google Analytics in the form of events. Doing this will enable you to analyze your personalization campaign performance along with your related web analytics.


The web and and the broader global digital ecosystem is the most highly measureable medium in the history of humankind. But the amount of data being captured is growing at an exponential rate and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or to lose focus.

In a single 24 hour period on the web, users generate billions of video views on YouTube, over 400 million Facebook photos, over 80 million Instagram photos, and over 500 million new tweets. Somewhere in this ocean of data are the interactions between your customers and your brand.

Before architecting a personalization solution for your business, it is essential to define how you’ll interpret the available data and how you’ll measure success.

What challenges have you had with measurement in your digital strategy? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @cmsdave or leave a comment in the form below.

If you're interested in learning more about personalization, download my eBook, The Basics of Real-Time Personalization. I also encourage you to watch an Acquia webinar that I presented: "Real-time Personalization with Drupal: How to Get Started​".