The Psychology Behind Web Personalization


The Psychology Behind Web Personalization

Personalization of a user’s web experience is an essential part of modern marketing. This is not just hype created by marketing agencies or software companies trying to sell you something. Web personalization is based in science: a science that the most successful salespeople have been using for decades.

Website personalization makes your prospects and customers special. It’s a strategy that includes creating customized product recommendations, tailored call-to-actions (CTAs), targeted multimedia, and custom landing pages. Adjusting how pages load, capturing customer details, and answering chatbot questions are also website customization tactics. You can scour the Internet for website personalization examples to learn more about this process and get inspiration from brands who did it right.

Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, we can create this same kind of experience without an in-person salesman leading each prospect through the sales funnel individually. So, what is this psychology?

People Decide with Emotions

We as humans are emotional creatures, and we make many of our decisions based on emotions, or the feeling we get when we encounter a situation. If you walk into a store to buy something, and the staff does not even greet you at all, you are probably going to leave without making a purchase.

It is the same on your website. Personalization begins with a warm greeting. This means there are several factors you need to consider at the outset to help your prospect feel good.


  • Domain Name: Initially choosing your domain name is extremely important. Not only does it need to state who you are and what you do, but it needs to “feel good.” This is especially true for online businesses such as product sales or service providers. The Iowa Department on Aging changed its name and its website when elderly clientele pointed out that they were uncomfortable typing into a browser. Find yourself with an unwelcoming (or worse, inappropriate) name? Change it, and redirect traffic.
  • Colors: Yes, the colors on your homepage can be welcoming or they can turn a client on their heels and send them running. Each color of the spectrum can trigger an emotional response, and if you are not careful you may cause a reaction within a visitor to turn away from your site. Use color accordingly and you can entice people to return or make the desired reaction you are looking for.
  • Text: The text on your site also needs to be welcoming. Language and how you use it is vital to your website success. Struggling with how to get your message across in a welcoming way? Hire a professional writer to either write your copy for you, or work with you as a consultant to shape what you have written.

Your website is your first impression on many customers, and you never get a second chance at that if your homepage or landing pages don’t “feel good.”

People like Fewer Options

This seems counterintuitive, but this is called “analysis paralysis.” This happens when a customer is presented too many choices at once, and “freezes” because they are unable to decide.

The solution to this is not to sell fewer things, but to narrow choices first by category, and drill into a solution slowly. This way the customer can choose from only a few options at a time until they have reached a final conclusion.

This means the main navigation on your site should not have too many choices, and as the customer progresses down the sales funnel, their choices should be narrowing their choices to a more personal one.

Let’s say your web visitor has visited your website previously and shown interest in homeowner’s insurance. You don’t need to show him a page that also has choices for renter’s insurance. You already know the individual owns a home, and you know the area they are from because of location data.

You can use that information combined with other data about customers who live in the same area to offer your prospect the products he is likely to need. Since he has previously visited your site, he probably does not need to see your top of the funnel content that might cover the importance of flood insurance in the southwest. On his second visit, he is likely either ready or almost ready to purchase. Leading him that direction ensures you are not wasting his time.

People Justify Decisions with Facts

Speaking of that top of the funnel content, you may have visitors to your site who are simply doing research, and giving them good information and verifiable facts helps them build a trust in you and your brand.

If a person arrives at your site from a search engine search which leads them to one of your blog posts, you need to understand the psychology of where they are in the sales funnel. Since they are still in the curiosity, awareness, and discovery phase, they don’t want you to sell to them.

At this point, they are looking for you to inform them. This does not mean your blog content cannot close with a call-to-action, but that CTA should probably not be “Ready to buy?” Instead, it should read more like “click here to learn more.”

It’s important to note that when justifying decisions with facts, the law of diminishing returns applies. This concept states that as an investment in a certain factor increases, its marginal return will eventually decrease. In the context of website personalization, this means that if you gather more data about a user, the incremental benefit of each additional piece of data will decrease.

For instance, when a user first visits a search engine, it’ll show them a list of results relevant to their query. Hence, search engine optimization (SEO) must be a part of your website’s personalization strategies. And as the user continues to use the search engine, the latter will learn more about the former’s interests and preferences. This will allow the engine to show the user more relevant results over time. However, at some point, the engine will have learned as much as it can about the user, and the incremental benefit of each additional piece of data will decrease.

Preventing Loss is more Important than Gain

People tend to be more concerned about losing something than gaining it. This is called “loss aversion’ and is why people are often much more interested in the security of their information online than they are interested in the gain that might come from sharing it.

This works for and against personalization in two vital ways. The first is that people tend to opt out of sites that use cookies to track their information, and the new Apple Safari Update is proof of that, as it is designed to prevent some cross-site tracking that sites use for advertising like Google AdWords.

Preventing loss is a great example of the ‘sunk-cost fallacy,’ a cognitive bias that causes people to continue investing in something that’s not working because they’ve already invested a lot of time, resources, or effort into it. To avoid this stereotyped concept, it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of your personalization efforts regularly. If a particular strategy isn’t working, stop using it and find a better way.

However, if your site, whether through content or reputation can gain a customer’s trust, they are more likely to share information with you, allowing you to gain more knowledge and personalize their web experience even more.

Think of how willing customers are to share their location with Google so they can search for businesses nearby even when they know how much it tracks them. Consider also how many people will put an Amazon Echo in their homes for convenience, even though it is “always listening” and the consequences of that are still being tested in court.

This is because of the trust they have in Google and Amazon to treat their data ethically and keep them safe from loss.

Most People Follow the Crowd

The thing about personalization is that you don’t have to overdo it. Personalizing a web experience at scale is fantastic, and we have a ton of data to pull from to do so, but there are some general things you can do to initiate personalization.

Why? Because most people follow the crowd. Think of how many artists and writers use Apple products. In part, this is because they are more intuitive and geared toward the artist mind than other competing products, but it is also in part because Apple is used by their peers.

Using this data, you can determine how easy it will be to convince a customer from a certain area or occupation to use your services, and when the personalization of their experience might include convincing them to overcome this crowd bias.

Personalization starts with knowing a bit about human psychology and catering to that knowledge when you design customer journeys. Data is great, but paired with human understanding, it makes personalization much more effective.


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