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Content Strategy

Part 3: Correct your course for an optimised personalised content experience

Kevin P. Nichols • 4 minutes

This is the third of three posts in our content personalisation series.

If you missed it, here’s part one on Getting started with content personalisation. Part two offers advice to help take your content personalisation to the next level.


An ancient Turkish proverb advises: No matter how far down one path you have gone, you can always change course. Have you ventured down your own path to content personalisation in your organisation? Once on your way, did you realise that you had failed to develop a cohesive strategy to support your goals? Often when the aspect of personalisation is added into the mix of functionality for a rollout of a new website, an organisation overlooks the first and vital step of crafting a robust content strategy to stand it up for long-term success. Personalisation becomes just another “feature” that gets tacked onto a larger platform launch.

Personalisation is often launched without consideration of the content required to support it. If you’ve faced this scenario, you may feel as if your organisation has put the personalisation cart before the horse, and now you do not see the hoped-for results of customer retention and greater profits. You can still rectify your personalisation experience to be more effective and adaptable and able to evolve with your customer experience strategy. In this final post of the series, I’ll show you how to correct your course for an optimised personalised content experience.

Uncovering your path to success

First, let’s look at four strategic focus areas critical for operational readiness and effective personalisation execution. You should ask a series of questions for each of the four areas:

Answering these questions will help you identify gaps and issues so you can create a better strategy to support your users’ overall experience. Use the first and second articles in the Press Pause series to think through the specific considerations that go into designing a robust strategy. Remember that a shiny new platform built without a robust supporting content strategy is ineffective, doing only half its job! The following steps can help you along your path:

As this diagram makes clear, you first need alignment with brand and business stakeholders. Use a series of workshops and get your stakeholders who have a vested interest in personalisation to agree upon the goal, objectives, and success criteria for the personalisation experience(s). Define a strategy and then figure out what you need to do to get your current personalisation experience to adhere or comply with the strategy. You may have to leverage a content mapping exercise. Perhaps you will need to develop user scenarios or clickstreams to determine the steps a user goes through to accomplish a task. Regardless, identify the specific projects you need to ensure an effective, strategic approach.

Realising a better content experience

If you tied personalisation to a technology or platform launch, and you did not think through a detailed strategy and roadmap, then you probably have issues with your content. Personalisation is only as effective as the content you have to support it. You must have meaningful, relevant, and useful content that helps your customer complete a task or push them from one stage of your customer journey to the next.

Here are some questions to help you think through how your content experience should support personalisation:

  • Do you have a content plan and editorial strategy in place? See the previous blog article on Bricks but No Foundation for more information on how to create this each
  • Does your content plan include evergreen content, aspirational content, content on trends or insights, thought leadership and specific content written for personas or segments?
  • Did you plan for seasonal and event-related content, such as a product purchase anniversary, a birthday, or go-to-market (back-to-school) campaign?
  • Have you thought through which content you might need for each stage of your customer journey?
  • Do you have the necessary resources to create each type of required content?

Perhaps, you need to account for syndicated, curated and user generated content to augment your personalisation content experience. Maybe you will need to bring on additional resources or outsource content creation. Once you know which content is required, begin the process to create it as early as possible. Don’t forget to plan for translation and localisation, if these are required.

Some of the content necessary for personalisation should be built into the authoring process of any content you wish to personalise. For example, you can capture componentised content during your content creation process and these fields should be built into your content templates (such as those within a Content Management System or a copy deck). Each time an author creates content for an article, a product or service, he or she can capture an image, headline and tagline for short, medium and long descriptions. These can be used in promotional areas of your website, such as a hero space, or sidebar, or recommended content based on what a visitor has viewed or purchased. Your website can then feature recommended products or services that include a product image, a headline and short product description.

Building a content architecture to support your experience

Once you have your strategy in place and your content identified, you want to make sure you have the necessary architecture to support your content requirements. To do so, create a content model to capture the necessary requirements. A content model captures the content for personalisation as well as any rules or logic necessary to support it. This model should account for the structure of the content, including the content types, the modules or components within the types (image and short product name and description) and the rules for when, where and how each module or type of content will surface. Content Strategy Alliance has a detailed content model template.

Best practices to complete this effort include:

  • Consider the context in which content will be delivered
  • Plan the data structures required to deliver content across programs, channels and devices
  • Remember to build performance into the model (e.g., a process to measure content performance, with analytics—metrics and KPIs)
  • Leverage user journeys and content maps to frame the content model
  • Integrate front-end technology folks and back-end architects into the conversations early on. A senior system architect should also be involved
  • Structure content semantically and in a way where it is separated from presentation, and able to be re-purposed regardless of channel or form factor

If you don’t have a taxonomy as part of your content architecture, you will likely need one. A taxonomy can help you identify, categorise and label your content. You should account for the following areas within a taxonomy: products, services, personas, regions, customer journey steps, and quite possibly other areas. You should consult the services of a taxonomist to uncover the taxonomy requirements necessary to support your personalisation strategy and roadmap.

When you finish detailing out the architecture and content model, revisit your content plan. Identify all new content required for the experience and ask yourself if you must reprioritise or reframe the content scope.

Ensuring your technology stack supports your personalisation experience

Once you understand your strategy, roadmap, content requirements and architecture, then and only then should you begin to assess how your technology stack can support the overall experience. Look at systems you currently have and ask:

  • Does the technology and platforms support what you need for a solid foundation and the evolution of your personalisation experience?
  • Will customisation be necessary?
  • Do you need newer, different or additional systems?

Remember, it may seem more costly to address technology issues or gaps, but band-aids are not a good approach with personalisation since it comprehensively evolves to more complexity overtime.

When thinking through technology, leverage the customer lifecycle and content requirements. As a best practice, create a user-centric publishing model that starts with your users’ requirements and needs. Such an approach will ensure a content delivery process that include cross-channel experiences. Leveraging this model allows you to:

  • Create delivery models that are silo-agnostic and more responsive to being able to react to changes in user and technology trends
  • See technology needs more contextually
  • Visualise and develop a user-centric publishing model
  • Illustrate why it’s important to understand the journey(s) before buying technology
  • Demonstrate what is required to distribute content experiences in a relevant way along the journey
  • Eliminate or turn-off unnecessary functionality

In summation, there are some ‘gotcha’s’ to consider for technology and personalisation. You should make sure you talk through each of the areas:

  • Ensure your cache and rendering capabilities can support your personalisation requirements. Make sure you review any known issues to personalisation with regard to your content delivery network (CDN)
  • Know the difference between analytics tracked at a page level and component level or call-to-action level
  • Plan for system integration in areas of cross-channel metrics (E.g., email, campaign, web and instore point-of-sale, etc.)
  • Understand if you have a page-based content management system or a component based system, as each support different types of personalisation
  • Determine if you need a personalisation engine to support your objectives

All of these considerations should empower you to make more informed decisions. The end-goal is understanding the terrain around you so that you can take the next step on your path to success.

Part 3: Correct your course for an optimised personalised content experience

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About the Author

Kevin P. Nichols

Author and Executive Director, Experience at AvenueCX

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