What Website Personalization Really Means in the New Era of Search

Personalization in search

At this point, there’s little room to doubt how highly people value feeling seen and catered to as individuals when they’re interacting with a brand. An estimated 77% of consumers say they have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience. Customers crave personalization — and businesses are eager to respond. But industry conversations around personalization often revolve around using consumer data to tailor communication or to retarget prospects. While these are important tactics to consider, they miss a major opportunity when it comes to search. 

Search experiences have radically changed. Search technology is increasingly equipped to understand natural-language queries, and consumer expectations have never been higher. People want answers that are not only accurate, but that truly reflect the intent behind their searches. Personalizing the customer experience isn’t just about creating a dynamic website — it’s about better understanding your audience’s behavior and intent signals at every stage of their journey, on every platform they’re using to ask questions. 

Use site search tracking to understand the on-website journey.

To deliver a more personalized, answers-first experience on your website, you need to have processes in place to track and measure the journey that’s already happening there. 

What exactly do you need to know about the existing customer search journey on your website? The most useful tools for this purpose are ones that give you visibility into three things:

  • How often people are using the search functionality on your site
  • What terms they’re using when they search
  • How effectively the search results lead to further engagement with your site (or how often people navigate deeper based on the answers they got)

Let’s say you’re a healthcare organization. You’re looking to understand things like: Are patients on your website searching for providers by specialty or by appointment time? What searches most often result in patients clicking on a related page or calling your practice to book an appointment? This is critical to understanding the types of searches that are most likely to lead to key actions (which, of course, means you also need to internally identify which actions are most valuable, so you can optimize for them based on what you learn). 

Successfully mapping and tracking the customer journey lends you a deeper understanding of your customer — and it’s how you get ready to craft a search experience that’s relevant for each consumer.  

Deliver tailored answers to key customer questions.

Combined with general research about what consumers are asking about your business, tracking the customer journey on your website can show you what their most popular — and most important — questions are. 

Providing answers to basic questions like “closest store location” or “what are your hours?” should be a given. But what about more complex queries? To use the healthcare example again, if you learn that customers are frequently relying on site search for questions like “which doctors near me speak Spanish?” or “family doctor who takes Saturday appointments,” you need to make sure they’re finding direct answers to those questions, without having to click around on your site. 

Research suggests that if customers can’t find what they’re looking for in two or three attempts, they will abandon your website. They won’t have the patience to dig through a mass of content to find the information they’re looking for, so you’ve got to provide direct answers to their specific questions. 

But answering these types of multi-dimensional queries requires interrelated information from across your organization, drawing on diverse attributes like provider specialties, languages spoken, appointment times, and more. You need to structure your information so that you can deliver the right answers to these questions by building and maintaining a brand knowledge graph. (We really cannot overstate the importance of having a well-developed brand knowledge graph.)

If you want to deliver the elusive “personalized experience” to your customers, it isn’t enough to take paint-by-numbers steps like adding their name to an email or creating a custom push notification. You need to understand their individual journey — and deliver answers to all the questions that come along with it.

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