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Web Personalization for Nonprofits

Kurt Voelker

Vice President, Business Strategy and Growth, Forum One

Automated customization, tailored experiences, drip campaigns, marketing automation, data-driven segmentation – everyone, it seems, is using visitor data to put the right content, in front of the right person, at the right time. Right?

If you’re an online retailer, personalization is one of the most useful sales mechanisms you can employ.  If I know you just read three travel blog posts about Paris, I’m going to show you my Summer Romance Deal!

But what if you are not selling widgets? What if you’re a nonprofit or federal agency in the business of changing minds and behaviors with your ideas? How should you be thinking about this next wave of online innovation?

The main question you should ask yourself is: “what can personalization and better audience segmentation do for my mission?” 

Optimized experiences matter, even if they aren’t “data-driven”

For as long as we have been in business (24 years this year!), Forum One has taken what we call a mission-driven, human-centered approach to designing and developing web experiences.  At the beginning of every project, we take the time to understand the audiences that our clients need to reach in order to be successful. We discover their needs, motivations, behaviors, and biases. We observe, research, interview, and then we look at what we’ve learned through the lens of our clients’ missions. We do this to craft an online experience that resonates and engages with those audiences so that our clients increase their impact.

Ultimately, we are in the business of increasing reach, influence, and, you guessed it—engagement. For most mission-driven organizations, deepening engagement means ensuring that your ideas are increasingly read and shared, your events are better attended, your programs are getting the attention of funders, and other experts and influencers are wanting to connect directly with you.

This is the foundation of a solid web experience optimized for your audiences. Before creating complex personalization, you must understand and empathize with your priority audiences and audience segments, and how they are a part of achieving your mission.

Where to start the personalization experience

If you craft a web experience based on what drives your target audience segments and what you want from them, then you are ready to take the next step in personalizing their experience. Start with this simple question:

If you know just one thing about your website visitors– for example, the topics or subjects they most frequently read about on your site – how can you change their experience to optimize action?

For example:

Now that you know a user cares about sustainable urban development, would you make sure the “featured event block” shows them your upcoming event related to urban development?  Of course!

Now that you are pretty sure that a visitor is a “career seeker”, would you change the text of your email newsletter signup ask? You bet.

Technically, getting this kind of information (and much more) about your users isn’t very difficult (check out some of our blog posts on mining analytics for insights!), and once armed with it, you can dramatically expand on how you approach your website experience and how you can put it to work for your mission.

Getting data without breaking the bank

Without paying for third-party data, and without having what can be relatively-complex systems for integrating CRM data with your website, you can still learn a great deal about your web visitors. This information can help you optimize their experience, and in turn, help your website return value for your organization.

The basics:

  • Location: The geographic area where the user connected to your website
  • Browsing Activity: What they viewed on your website
  • Search: What they searched for on your site directly; or if arriving from a search engine, what they searched by.
  • Referring Source: How they came to your website

Tagging content appropriately within your content management system (CMS) can make browsing activity data especially robust. You can tag content by subject matter, geography (if relevant), author, and perhaps most importantly, by the audience segment you believe it is written for, for example, donors, policymakers or researchers.

 If you are looking to make your website more mission-driven and more audience-centric, make sure you are asking these types of questions of yourself and your digital teams.

Written By

Kurt Voelker

Vice President, Business Strategy and Growth, Forum One

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