Personalization Prerequisites: Creating a Content Strategy

Personalization Prerequisites: Creating a Content Strategy

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Thought byDave Sawyer
June 02, 2016
Content Strategy

By 2018, businesses that excel in personalization will outsell those that don’t by 20%. Though the benefits are clear, the path to get there is not. Of all the challenges to implementing a content personalization solution, perhaps the most important challenge has to do with producing the content itself. It's time to revisit your content strategy.

Real-time personalization of the customer experience has been described as the holy grail of digital marketing. And the race is on. By 2018, businesses that excel in personalization will outsell those that don’t by 20%1. Though the benefits are clear, the path to get there is not.

In my introductory post in this blog series, I listed some of the common challenges that organizations face when implementing a content personalization solution. And while there are many types of challenges from practical to technical, perhaps the most important challenge has to do with producing the content itself.

Content Strategy

Personalization involves tailoring content to individual visitors in order to increase the relevance of their experience. But for a digital experience to be personalized in real-time, targeted variations of content must be pre-written and intelligently mapped to one or more visitor segments. The number of variations needed and the content formats required for each channel will vary from business to business, but no matter the scope of the project, it all comes down to one simple truth: a personalization solution can only be effective if it provides content that truly appeals to visitors. In other words, effective personalization requires great content. And lots of it. For this reason, the development of an effective content strategy is an important prerequisite to implementing a real-time personalization solution.

In fact, content strategy and personalization are both based on the same fundamental idea of making experiences meaningful. In her influential 2007 blog post, Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data, Rachel Lovinger wrote that "the main goal of content strategy is to use words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences."

Content strategy defines how you will provide valuable, findable, and meaningful content across channels. Personalization strategy builds upon this by defining how you will automatically identify and recognize your audience to deliver the right content to the right visitor at the right time.

Content Strategy Considerations for Personalization

In order to define a content strategy, it is important to first develop a strong understanding of how your customers engage with your business so that content can be developed to be relevant at each step along their customer journey. Equally important is knowing who the content is intended for. Rich personas can be used to describe the needs of distinct types of customers and to inform how visitors will be segmented. Once the audience and customer journeys are defined, it's time to tailor the user experience.

Let's walk through some of the key content strategy considerations for a personalization solution along with examples of the types of resources and tools that you might leverage in your personalization project.

1. Editorial Planning

When will the content be produced? Who will produce it? How frequently will new content need to be created? Effective editorial planning should provide answers to these questions. Example project resources that may need to be leveraged include:

  • An editorial styleguide to document guidelines and provide examples for content creation. This may describe phrasing, voice, tone, content length, etc.
  • A content inventory to list and describe all currently available content that can be targeted
  • A content gap analysis to identify where new content is needed to support marketing objectives and to ensure that relevant content is available for each persona or customer segment
  • An editorial calendar or production schedule to define how frequently content will be posted or updated across each channel

2. Content Reuse

Personalization allows content to be tailored at a granular level. Pages are not really “pages” anymore, but collections of modular content components that get swapped out as needed. How will components of your content be re-used across channels? How will the content format or design need to change to be effective across touchpoints? Example project resources include:

  • A distributed content management strategy document that defines the systems and processes for how content can be syndicated, cross-published, or centrally managed
  • A review of tokens that can be used within content to allow for variable data that can be changed depending on visitor context  
  • A review of image styles to identify how photos and other image assets are represented across touchpoints
  • Responsive design guidelines to ensure content formatting is optimized across devices

3. Navigation and Content Hierarchy

Personalization technologies often leverage data based on an anonymous visitor's click path or browsing history to recommend new content. For this reason, it is important that navigation be optimized for usability and structured in a way that visitors are guided towards the next step in the customer journey. Example project resources may include:

  • A detailed site map which describes the overall structure of the content within the site as well as how it is prioritized and organized
  • A review of web server error reports to address broken links and other navigation issues that may be resulting in a poor user experience
  • An SEO analysis to identify the top sources of organic inbound traffic and which content those visitors are engaging with the most
  • A review of URL patterns used in order to ensure consistent cross-linking and effective use of URL parameters that facilitate analytics tracking

4. User Flows and Calls to Action

An effective content strategy plans for not only what the content is about but also its purpose in terms of business objectives. In order to guide visitors towards conversion, it is important to have intuitively mapped user flows and clear calls to action. Content needs to be written to motivate the visitor to engage further. Example project resources may include:

  • A customer journey map that describes the touchpoints across channels as well as the intended paths in the buying process.
  • The configuration of funnels to ensure that user flows can be effectively measured
  • An editorial headline guide that defines how content headlines and other calls to action should be written

5. Content Structure, Taxonomy, and Metadata

To facilitate the automatic delivery of content to a specific segment, a personalization solution needs to identify the best content for a specific visitor. This is largely accomplished through taxonomy and metadata. By enriching content with metadata, we enable content to be reused dynamically and to be more useful to other systems within the digital ecosystem. Example project resources may include:

  • A content model document that describes the taxonomy and structure of the content used within the user experience
  • A review of the meta tag configuration within the CMS to ensure that content editors and producers can consistently enter descriptions and other metadata such as Open Graph tags or source attribution
  • A review of HTML templates to ensure that title tags, heading tags, meta tags, and rich snippets are implemented according to best practices

6. Content Development and Production

Creating content that is relevant to each type of customer involves a lot of work and a deep understanding of the customer's needs and goals. Skilled writers or content development resources who can create new content will be required. Example project resources may include:

  • A content analysis report which summarizes the existing content in terms of readability and effectiveness of communicating the value of your brand
  • A modern CMS platform such as Drupal 8, which enables content teams and non-technical users to easily draft, preview, and publish new content
  • A publishing workflow configured in the CMS to ensure that content gets staged, reviewed, and easily pushed to production. (Example: Workbench for Drupal)

7. Multi-Channel

Consider the variations of the same content you'll need for each channel. Mobile app vs responsive site, email newsletter vs Facebook page, etc. Example project resources include:

  • An inventory of all channels and touchpoints and how content gets published to each
  • A hashtag strategy to ensure consistent social aggregation and tagging by your followers
  • An integration plan for enabling your CMS to exchange data with other channels for automated publishing (e.g. feeding CMS content into an email newsletter or automatically sharing new CMS content to social channels)

8. Internationalization

Will your content need to be translated into multiple languages? Will you need to support multiple currencies? Is your digital experience based on the local timezone of the visitor? Consider how the content needs to be represented to serve users in different countries, regions, or markets. Example project resources include:

  • A localization strategy to define how content will be changed for various geographic regions
  • A translation workflow document that describes how translated versions of content are tracked and updated
  • A translation partner or service to provide content translations in various languages as needed


The amount of work involved with creating targeted content variations for personalization can be quite substantial – and overwhelming for some. Organizations who are new to personalization should start out small and keep personalization features simple. But regardless of project scope, a carefully defined content strategy can provide the process and guidelines necessary to get there.

If you're interested in a more complete overview of what's involved with implementing a real-time personalization solution on the Drupal platform, download my eBook, The Basics of Real-Time Personalization. I also recommend you watch the recording of my DrupalCon New Orleans session, co-presented with John Money, Senior Solutions Architect at Acquia: Web Personalization for Drupal: Your Roadmap to Get Started.

Stay tuned for the next post in this blog series on personalization and, in the meantime, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @cmsdave or leave a comment below.

1 Source: Gartner