When Personalization Goes Too Far

Personalization

The more personal the interaction, the better the outcome. Right?

New research by Penn State prof Jim Jansen points out that’s not always the case. He compiled data from millions of search queries and ecommerce transactions and came to some surprising conclusions about personalization on the internet.

It’s better to personalize based on the task, rather than the person. As Jansen puts it:

[Personalization] is just so hard to do. You know, Gord is different than Jim, and Gord today is different than Gord was five years ago. Personalizing at the individual level is just very difficult and may not even be a fruitful area to pursue.

As designers and internet marketers we’ve already drank this Kool-Aid.

I don’t care about the age or gender or soft-drink preference of someone who comes to webpagefx.com on the keyword [seo pricing]. They’re looking for information about this topic and expect it to be given to them.

It does not matter that our website is not their favorite color. That’s personal, yet unrelated to the goal at hand. And not worth the time to worry about.

So resist the urge to over-personalize. The internet is still a task-focused environment.

Focus on the tasks, not whims of the individual user.

Hat tip: Search Engine Land