These days, everyone is talking about personalization in Web content – and savvy marketers are looking ahead to AI and the tremendous benefit it could have in the personalization process.
Personalized content has long been known to be more effective than generic content. Email marketers in particular swear by first name personalization and other ways to deliver a unique experience.
Still, there’s always been a few drawbacks when it comes to personalized content:
- Personalized content has, historically, taken a lot longer to develop than generic content.
- “Over-personalized” content can be jarring, especially when user data is poorly applied.
With that in mind, most companies have focused on customizing content to the buyer persona level but not much further. Some brands, especially in e-commerce, have found ways to deliver custom recommendations that raise sales without raising eyebrows, too.
But the way we think about content personalization is about to change for good.
We stand on the threshold of a complete revolution in content personalization.
It’s called smart content and it will challenge all your assumptions about what’s possible.
What Is Smart Content?
Smart content takes the idea of content personalization further than ever.
“Personalization” can be as simple as a custom greeting – and it often is. In fact, personalization often stops with just one or two factors. Done well, it goes as far as, perhaps, combining a buyer persona with a step in the buyers journey. Still, the final content remains limited by its largely static nature.
Smart content not only tracks and utilizes more factors, but it does so in a way that’s modular and seamless. Using Big Data and, often, artificial intelligence, it draws on multiple factors and then generates content based on the intersection of as many of them as make a meaningful difference.
It might draw on any or all of the following factors:
- The user’s name.
- The user’s location.
- The user’s browser.
- The user’s device.
- The user’s language settings.
- The user’s email address.
- The user’s buyer persona.
- The user’s buyers journey step.
- The user’s form history.
- The user’s on-site browsing history.
- The platforms (Web or social) that drew the user to the website.
- Advertisements, if any, that have drawn the user to the website.
- Offers, such as discount codes, that the user hasn’t redeemed yet.
- As many other details as you could ever intuit or get your users to share.
But how can you possibly build a base of content that accounts for all of that stuff? The secret of the top marketers: Sophisticated smart content is generated at the moment the user calls for it.
It’s far too complex for someone to write, design, research, and edit new content every time all these factors come together in just the right way. As a result, smart content often uses modular elements that combine based on the specific traits of each user.
Each of these modules is “single-source,” meaning a change to any of them affects any Web visitor who invokes them in the future. Because teams will be dealing with “snippets” of 50-500 words instead of vast collections of data, subject matter experts can focus on each piece without affecting the others.
Why Smart Content is Important
To understand the importance of smart content, let’s take an example.
A user in the Netherlands logs on to your website to find out more about booking a tour of New York City. With Google Analytics, you know instantly what country she is in.
However, there are many language communities in the Netherlands, so your smart content takes into account the user’s language settings to display content in French. She never had to sit at a gateway page or scroll through every country on Earth to get the right content.
The combination of IP and email domain tells you that the user is most likely looking for group tours for a corporate organization. The domain points to a small software company with less than ten staff, so your smart content adjusts to put relevant offers first.
Your visitor begins to browse. By looking at browser and device settings, you avoid any content that might slow things down or raise a security error. Naturally, your responsive Web theme adjusts to the user’s tablet – she’s checking your site during her daily train commute.
Since bandwidth is a bit limited, your smart content serves shorter videos and disables autoplay.
You’ve never had this user on your site before, so you can’t display custom recommendations based on past browsing. However, your analytics suite figures out which ad campaign brought the user in – instantly applying a discount code and readying a follow-up if it isn’t used.
(That could include, for example, an email message and retargeting ads across the Google network.)
Thanks to cookies and other materials already active on the user’s laptop, you also know that she has checked out Frommer’s Travel Guides as well as several independent travel blogs. Your content automatically adjusts to feature the testimonials you got from those blog authors.
Based on past sales from other Dutch customers, you know they have a fondness for historical sites from the era of exploration around New York. Your content seamlessly slots the “Historic New Amsterdam Tour” in with other tours popular with small enterprise customers in general.
As the user browses your blog, the most salient offers and CTAs appear at the bottom of each post. Your Pre-Flight Checklist populates with everything she might need to know about inoculations, visas, and flights. Luckily, in this case, there are only two major originating airports to account for.
As the user completes her morning train journey, she forgets to bookmark your site. Luckily, she did place a particular tour in her cart and looked at three different blog posts, each for a different amount of time. Based on this, you’re able to issue a newsletter with a custom selection of articles and a reminder.
The whole visit takes less than 20 minutes, but it sets up a sale less than two weeks later.
What do you notice about this scenario?
The User Doesn’t Have to Spend a Lot of Time Specifying Details
All throughout the scenario, there were points where users would normally be expected to punch in details on a form. As any marketer knows, though, the longer your forms get – and the more of them there are – the less likely any given user is to take the time for them.
With custom content, everything you should “already know” about a customer is embedded in the online experience without any extra work.
Not only does this ensure visitors only have to focus on submitting the most relevant data for the job, but they don’t have to spend a lot of time searching for content that pertains to them. Each page should serve up the goods, “auto-curating” as the user goes.
The More Data You Collect, The More Effective Content Becomes
Sure, there will be times when you have scant details on a user’s needs. That said, nearly all of the fourteen factors we listed above are things you’ll know about any user from the very first time they drop by. The rest will come as they interact naturally with your content.
The ultimate smart content experience might only be possible after a prospect makes their first buy and has an established history with you. Ideally, though, smart content implementation is an iterative process where the end result gets better and better with time.
Smart Content Vs Conventional Personalization
Smart Content is About People, Not Categories
Traditional content personalization focuses on figuring out which of a small set of pre-defined categories a user fits into, then treating them as if they’re exactly like all other members of that group.
Smart content is granular enough so that each individual can have a fresh, targeted experience.
Smart Content Uses “Blocks,” Not “Fields”
Old-fashioned custom content is driven by limited, scattershot sharing of information by the user. It takes the answer to the “name field” and plugs it in across all the pages, for example.
The content won’t change or improve until the user gives up more info, and no matter what information is added, it doesn’t fundamentally transform the nature of the content.
In shot, “Fields” are a single serving of relevant facts. Smart content uses building blocks.
This means that entire blog posts, whitepapers, and other content can be assembled based on a user’s demonstrated needs. Individual aspects of the content, such as which testimonials and CTAs are used, instantly adjust according to the situation – but so will things like the structure of a post and which topics are given the most attention.
The outcome here is so dynamic that there may be 10, 20, or 30 “variants” of your site that users see on a regular basis.
Smart Content Leverages Automation
When it comes to any complex system, big things are built up out of smaller ones. It’s true of all the chemical elements in the universe, every cell in our bodies, and a well-run smart content site.
Automation is crucial for smart content. After all, your site could be composed of dozens or even hundreds of “blocks,” so there needs to be a system that can serve them in the right order every time. Each block, in turn, needs to be fairly small and self-contained.
When it comes to initial writing and editing, using a block-based approach helps to ensure each content creation team member knows which pieces are within their area of expertise.
Once content is created, automated systems apply rules to deliver output according to the right structure and design. Plus, any corrections or changes instantly propagate down the whole waterfall.
Smart Content is Extensible with AI
A smart content site needs to be serving novel combinations of data even as it collects more data based on user interactions. AI will be absolutely vital here: Once your site gets more than a few hits a day, it’s too much for anyone to keep track of.
In the best case, your site is always learning ... using dwell time, navigation behavior, and more to refine its underlying assumptions.
Smart Content Connects With Your Other Systems
Of course, AI can’t reach its full potential if it’s only talking to itself. The back-end that drives you site should also be communicating with your Customer Relationship Management system, your service representatives (or customer service chat bot) and any other system that propels customization at any link of the value chain, even going so far as lead scoring each user session.
The Impact of Smart Content
For Your Company
- You build a reputation for fresh content that really meets your Web visitors’ needs.
- SMEs in your content team get to focus most of their effort on creating great work.
- Your systems are constantly working together to learn more and serve users better.
- Content is always adjusting, so it gets old and goes out of date much more slowly.
- From segmentation to conversion, you’re more likely to accelerate a buyers journey.
For Your Visitors
- Users spend a lot less time worrying about your needs (data) and more time on their own.
- Users have shorter, but more productive sessions since irrelevant content is pruned away.
- Users won’t get tired, annoyed, or distracted by having to search for the pages they need.
- Users have more positive sentiment for your brand since they feel like you “get” them.
- Users are more likely to share with their friends and colleagues (giving you more data!)
Where Can You Use Smart Content?
You can use smart content just about anywhere – and in the future, there may be more smart content than static content. For now, though, digital marketers are pioneering exciting techniques by giving a lot of attention to the key elements of their current content strategy.
Consider the amazing potential for:
Blog posts may well be the most obvious place to start. There are a couple of different ways you can utilize smart content on your blog posts.
You have the ability to serve up different CTA's to different people based on the interactions they have had on your site. This way, users shouldn't see a call to action for something that they have already downloaded, ideally it would change to whatever the next logical step is in that user's journey.
Videos are another great way to leverage smart content on your blog posts. Based off of information you already know about the visitor, you can serve up helpful video content through its own module, that first time visitors might not see.
Thought Leadership Content
Thought leadership content breaks down along different lines than blog posts. For example, you might use the data you gather from a prospect to determine which, of a pool of otherwise static case studies, you serve to them.
Or, you might present a custom research paper that draws on the same pool of verified scientific data to address the specific questions the user is interested in.
Product Catalogs and Offers
If you’ve been on Amazon any time in the last decade, you know just how powerful a little bit of customization can be when you’re facing down a slew of things you might be interested in.
Simply putting the most salient offer first – after you’ve deduced what it is – has the potential to send your conversion rate into the stratosphere. The more immersive the experience, the better.
Almost Anything Else
Just about any type of content using text and photos or illustrations will fit smoothly into a smart content strategy. Some content, like videos, is much tougher to customize efficiently on the fly – anyone who has ever seen those ubiquitous “Finger Family” videos on YouTube knows that algorithms often have surreal results when they’re asked to slice and dice footage.
You can however use different on page "Modules" to serve up different videos based on a few known characteristics. Outside of these few exceptions, the sky is the limit.
Before long, the best corporate websites will be almost entirely “smart-powered.” We could start seeing modular, custom sites handling the business of the Web by 2020. Who knows how much deeper content could go as AI improves and the Internet of Things goes online?
Someday, we might even be looking back on this as the dawn of Web 3.0.
Now’s the time to start experimenting with smart content. It has a “Wow!” factor like nothing else and will put you on the map for custom, carefully-curated content no matter your industry or audience.